Your Ultimate Guide to Pet Garter Snakes

garter snake as pet

As someone with a passion for reptiles, I’m excited to share my knowledge and experience with you. Garter snakes are fascinating animals that make great pets for both beginner and experienced reptile owners. In this guide, I will provide you with all the information you need to ensure your garter snake is healthy, happy, and thriving.

During this guide, we will cover various aspects of garter snake care, including their habitat, diet, behavior, enclosure requirements, and lifespan. Additionally, we will touch on interesting facts about garter snakes and the importance of proper handling.

Key Takeaways:

  • Garter snakes make wonderful pets for both novice and experienced reptile owners.
  • This guide will cover all the essential aspects of garter snake care, including habitat, diet, behavior, enclosure requirements, and lifespan.
  • Proper handling and care are essential for the health and well-being of your garter snake.

Choosing a Garter Snake as a Pet

If you’re looking for a pet that doesn’t require a lot of space, yet is still interesting and entertaining, a garter snake may be the perfect choice for you. Garter snakes are relatively small and easy to care for, making them ideal pets for beginners or those with limited space.

One of the biggest draws of keeping a garter snake as a pet is their docile nature. These snakes are typically not aggressive and are generally easy to handle. Additionally, they are known for their lively, curious personalities, which can make for some entertaining interactions with their owners.

When it comes to choosing a garter snake as a pet, there are several different species to consider. Common garter snakes, eastern garter snakes, and ribbon snakes are some of the most popular species that are frequently kept as pets. Each species has its own unique characteristics, so it’s important to do your research and choose the one that fits best with your lifestyle and preferences.

Choosing a Garter Snake as a Pet

Garter snakes are a great choice for pet owners who are looking for a low-maintenance and engaging pet. These snakes have a lot of personality and are generally easy to care for, making them a great choice for first-time snake owners.

When choosing a garter snake, it’s important to select one that is healthy and well-started. Look for a snake that is alert, active, and responsive to handling. Be sure to ask the breeder or pet store about the snake’s feeding schedule, as well as any health issues they may have experienced in the past.

It’s also important to make sure that you’re prepared to provide for the snake’s needs, including a suitable enclosure, proper nutrition, and a clean and stimulating environment. If you’re uncertain about any aspect of caring for a garter snake, be sure to do your research and consult with a veterinarian or experienced snake owner.

Garter Snake Care Tips

As a new owner of a garter snake, it’s important to understand the care requirements to keep your pet healthy and happy. Here are some essential care tips:

Aspect of Care Recommendation
Temperature Provide a thermal gradient between 75-85°F (24-29°C) on the warm end and 65-75°F (18-24°C) on the cool end of the enclosure. Use a heat source like an under-tank heater or ceramic heat emitter.
Humidity Maintain a humidity level between 40-60%. Provide a moist hide box to aid shedding.
Lighting Provide 12-14 hours of light and 10-12 hours of darkness per day. Use a low-wattage fluorescent or LED bulb.
Substrate Use a substrate that is safe and easy to clean, such as reptile carpet, paper towels, or coconut coir.
Enclosure Maintenance Clean the enclosure regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria. Replace the water bowl and substrate as needed.
Veterinary Care Regularly bring your garter snake to a reptile veterinarian for check-ups and fecal exams.
Health Issues Be aware of common health issues in garter snakes, such as respiratory infections, parasites, and mouth rot. Seek veterinary care if you notice any signs of illness.
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By following these care tips, you can provide a comfortable and healthy environment for your garter snake. Remember to research and understand your specific species’ needs and behavior to ensure the best care possible.

Creating the Ideal Habitat for Your Garter Snake

When it comes to providing a suitable habitat for your garter snake, there are a few key factors to consider. These include the size and type of enclosure, the temperature and humidity levels, and the overall layout of the habitat.

First and foremost, it’s important to choose an enclosure that is appropriately sized for your garter snake. A 20-gallon tank is typically sufficient for one adult garter snake, while larger species or multiple snakes may require a larger enclosure. The enclosure should have a secure lid to prevent escape and should be made of glass or plastic to facilitate easy cleaning.

Next, it’s important to consider the temperature and humidity requirements of your garter snake. While the specifics may vary depending on the species, most garter snakes require a temperature gradient within their enclosure, with a warm side and a cooler side. The warm side should be maintained at around 80-85°F while the cooler side can be around 70-75°F. A basking spot with a heat lamp can be provided to create the warm side temperature.

Garter snakes also require access to both a dry and a moist area within their enclosure. The moist area can be created by adding a shallow water dish or by providing a moist substrate such as sphagnum moss. The overall humidity level should be maintained at around 50-60%. Ensure the substrate you choose is not too wet as this can lead to dermatitis.

It’s important that your garter snake has suitable hiding spots as well. These can be provided by adding rocks, branches, or artificial hide boxes. This will help them feel secure and reduce stress.

Finally, consider providing your garter snake with climbing opportunities to mimic their natural environment. This can be achieved using branches or other décor items that allow the snake to climb and explore. Regular cleaning and maintenance of the enclosure are important to maintain a healthy living environment.

A Balanced Diet for Garter Snakes

Garter snakes are carnivores, which means they require a diet primarily of meat. In the wild, they feed on a variety of prey, including fish, amphibians, insects, and small mammals. As a pet owner, it’s essential to provide a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.

When it comes to feeding, garter snakes typically eat every three to four days, with younger snakes requiring more frequent feedings. It’s crucial to offer appropriately sized prey that is easy for the snake to swallow. A general rule of thumb is to offer prey that is no wider than the snake’s body.

While garter snakes can thrive on a diet of feeder fish, it’s important to offer a varied diet to ensure proper nutrition. This can include earthworms, crickets, and appropriately sized rodents. Frozen and thawed prey can also be suitable, but ensure that it is fully thawed and warmed to room temperature before feeding.

It’s crucial to avoid feeding wild-caught prey, which can carry parasites or toxins that can harm your snake. Additionally, never offer live prey, as this can be dangerous for both the prey and the snake.

It’s worth noting that garter snakes can be finicky eaters, and some may refuse to eat at times. If your snake is refusing food, monitor their behavior and ensure that they have appropriate temperatures and a suitable environment. If the problem persists, consult with a veterinarian.

Understanding Garter Snake Species

There are several species of garter snakes commonly kept as pets, each with its unique set of characteristics and care requirements.

Species Appearance Behavior Habitat
Eastern Garter Snake Small, thin-bodied snake with stripes running down the length of the body. Docile and easily handled; often found near water sources. Prefer moist environments with access to both land and water.
Plains Garter Snake Similar in appearance to the Eastern Garter Snake, but with a more subdued coloration. Active during the day and enjoy burrowing in soil and sand. Found in a wide range of habitats, from prairies to woodlands.
Red-sided Garter Snake Brightly colored with red stripes running down the sides of the body. Active and curious; known for their tendency to climb trees and shrubs. Prefer aquatic environments with access to basking areas and hiding spots.

It’s important to research and understand the specific needs of the species you plan to keep as a pet. For example, the Red-sided Garter Snake will require an aquatic environment with plenty of hiding spots, while the Plains Garter Snake will need a drier habitat with plenty of burrowing opportunities.

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Fun Fact:

Garter snakes initially use their sense of smell to track prey, but once they get close enough, they switch to using their sight to strike.

Exploring Garter Snake Behavior

Garter snakes are fascinating creatures with unique behaviors that make them great pets. As a new garter snake owner, it’s important to understand their natural instincts and social tendencies.

One of the most notable behaviors of garter snakes is their willingness to tolerate and even enjoy handling. They are generally docile and will rarely bite unless they feel threatened or cornered. However, it is important to note that they may release musk if they are frightened or stressed, so it’s best to handle them gently and confidently.

Garter snakes are also known for their curious and exploratory nature. They enjoy climbing and burrowing, so it’s essential to provide them with an environment that caters to these tendencies. This can be achieved by adding branches, logs, and rocks to their enclosure, as well as providing multiple hiding spots.

It’s important to keep in mind that garter snakes are solitary creatures, and they do not need the company of other snakes. In fact, housing multiple garter snakes together can lead to aggression and stress.

Finally, garter snakes are ectothermic, which means they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. You may notice that they bask in the sun or hide in cooler areas of their enclosure to maintain a comfortable temperature. As a responsible owner, it’s crucial to monitor the temperature of their enclosure and provide appropriate heating and cooling options.

Establishing the Perfect Garter Snake Enclosure

Creating the ideal habitat for garter snakes is essential for their health and well-being. When setting up an enclosure, it’s important to consider the size and type of enclosure, temperature gradients, and lighting requirements.

Enclosure Size: Garter snakes are relatively small, so a 20-gallon long aquarium is suitable for one or two adult snakes. If you plan on keeping more than two snakes, consider a larger enclosure.
Hiding Spots: Garter snakes need hiding spots to feel secure. Include several hiding spots, such as logs, branches, or artificial caves.
Dry and Moist Areas: Garter snakes require both a dry and a moist area in their enclosure. Use a substrate that holds moisture, such as coconut coir or sphagnum moss, in the moist area. Keep the dry area clean and free of substrate.
Climbing Opportunities: Garter snakes enjoy climbing, so provide branches or other climbing structures in their enclosure.

It’s also important to maintain the appropriate temperature gradient in your garter snake’s enclosure. The warm side of the enclosure should be kept between 75-85°F while the cool side should be between 65-75°F. A basking spot should be provided at one end of the enclosure where the temperature can reach up to 85°F.

Lighting is also an important consideration. Garter snakes require a 12-hour light and 12-hour dark cycle. Use a UVB bulb to provide necessary lighting and ensure that it is replaced every six months.

Regular cleaning and enrichment activities are also essential for maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment for your garter snake.

Fascinating Facts About Garter Snakes

Did you know that garter snakes are one of the most widespread snake species in North America? They can be found in a variety of habitats, from forests to wetlands, and even urban environments.

Garter snakes are also unique in their ability to tolerate cooler temperatures, making them one of the few cold-blooded animals that can survive in colder climates.

Another interesting fact about garter snakes is that they have a defense mechanism known as “musking.” When threatened, garter snakes release a foul-smelling substance from their scent glands, deterring predators from attacking.

Furthermore, garter snakes are known for their intriguing reproductive habits. Female garter snakes are capable of storing sperm for several months, allowing them to fertilize their eggs at a later time when conditions are optimal for hatching.

Did you know that garter snakes are also important to the ecosystem? They are known for controlling rodent populations and serving as prey for larger predators, such as birds of prey and larger snakes.

Overall, garter snakes are a fascinating and often misunderstood species. By learning more about these remarkable creatures, we can better appreciate their unique qualities and the important role they play in our environment.

Handling Garter Snakes with Care

If you’re new to handling reptiles, you may feel a bit nervous about picking up your garter snake for the first time. Don’t worry, with the right technique, handling your snake can be a safe and enjoyable experience for both of you.

Before you attempt to pick up your snake, make sure your hands are clean and dry, free of any lotions or oils that could harm the snake’s delicate skin. It’s also a good idea to handle your snake when it’s relaxed and not in the middle of shedding or eating.

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To pick up your snake, gently scoop it up from underneath using both hands. Support its entire body, making sure not to squeeze it too tightly. Keep your movements slow and steady, avoiding sudden jerks or movements that could startle the snake.

When holding your snake, make sure to support its entire body, including the head and tail. Avoid picking it up by the tail, as this can cause injury and stress to the snake. You can also use a snake hook to gently lift and support the snake if you’re uncomfortable using your hands.

Remember, garter snakes are generally docile and unlikely to bite if handled gently and confidently. However, if your snake does become agitated or defensive, it’s best to return it to its enclosure and avoid handling it until it has calmed down.

With practice and patience, you’ll develop a strong bond with your garter snake and enjoy the unique experience of handling these fascinating creatures.

The Lifespan of a Garter Snake

As a pet owner, understanding your garter snake’s lifespan is crucial in providing proper care and ensuring its well-being. On average, garter snakes can live anywhere between 5 to 20 years, depending on their species, genetics, and living conditions.

The lifespan of a garter snake can be influenced by various factors, including diet, temperature, humidity, enclosure size, and cleanliness. Providing adequate nutrition, maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity levels, and keeping the enclosure clean and sanitized are essential in promoting your garter snake’s health and longevity.

The average lifespan of different garter snake species can vary significantly. Common garter snakes, for instance, typically have a lifespan of 5 to 7 years, while ribbon snakes can live up to 10 years. Eastern garter snakes, on the other hand, have been known to live up to 15 years.

It is important to note that garter snakes kept in captivity generally have a longer lifespan than their wild counterparts due to the lack of predators, disease, and environmental stress. Additionally, providing proper care and a healthy diet can further extend your pet garter snake’s lifespan.

As a responsible pet owner, it is essential to be aware of your garter snake’s lifespan, so you can adjust your care routine accordingly and ensure that it thrives throughout its life. With proper care and attention, your garter snake can live a long and healthy life by your side.


In conclusion, owning a garter snake can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for pet owners. However, proper care and attention must be given to ensure the snake’s health and well-being.

Throughout this guide, we have covered various aspects of garter snake care, including their diet, habitat, behavior, and handling. By following these guidelines, new owners can provide a safe and comfortable home for their pet and establish a strong bond with their snake.

It is important to remember that owning a garter snake comes with the responsibility of providing them with the proper care and attention they need. This includes regular veterinary check-ups, maintaining a clean enclosure, and providing a suitable habitat and diet.

In summary, owning a garter snake requires patience, commitment, and continuous learning. However, the joy and satisfaction of having a friendly and fascinating pet can be well worth the effort. With the information provided in this guide, new owners can confidently embark on this exciting journey of pet ownership.


Q: Can I keep a garter snake as a pet?

A: Yes, garter snakes can make great pets. They are small in size, require manageable care, and tend to have a docile nature.

Q: What are the essential care tips for garter snakes?

A: Garter snakes require specific temperature and humidity levels, proper lighting, suitable substrates, and a clean enclosure. Regular veterinary check-ups are important, and common health issues may need to be addressed.

Q: How do I create the ideal habitat for my garter snake?

A: To create the ideal habitat for a garter snake, you’ll need an appropriately sized and structured enclosure, hiding spots, both dry and moist areas, climbing opportunities, and safe exploration options.

Q: What should I feed my garter snake?

A: Garter snakes have a balanced diet consisting of a variety of food items. They should be fed regularly and provided with proper nutrition to maintain their health.

Q: What are the different garter snake species?

A: There are several garter snake species commonly kept as pets, each with its own distinct appearance, behavior, and habitat preferences.

Q: What is the behavior of garter snakes like?

A: Garter snakes have specific natural instincts and social tendencies. They can display aggression, and understanding their behavior is important for appropriate handling.

Q: How should I set up the perfect garter snake enclosure?

A: The ideal garter snake enclosure requires appropriate temperature gradients, suitable lighting, and the necessary equipment for a healthy and stimulating environment. Regular cleaning and enrichment activities are essential.

Q: What are some fascinating facts about garter snakes?

A: Garter snakes have unique adaptations, interesting reproduction methods, and play important roles in ecosystems.

Q: How do I handle a garter snake properly?

A: Handling garter snakes requires gentle and confident techniques to prevent stress or injury. Step-by-step instructions and tips on safely picking up and supporting a garter snake are important to follow.

Q: What is the typical lifespan of a garter snake?

A: Garter snakes have varying lifespans, influenced by factors such as proper care, diet, and overall health. Providing the best possible care can extend a pet garter snake’s lifespan.

Featured image: Wilson44691, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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