Do Garter Snakes Make Good Pets?

When I was young, I used to catch garter snakes around my home in Washington State. Though I didn’t dare then to try to keep one as a pet (my mom is really afraid of snakes) I recently did some little research and found a lot of helpful information.

So do garter snakes make good pets? Garter snakes are generally gentle and docile in nature–making them a good species of snake to keep as a pet. Most garter snakes won’t bite, instead preferring to spray a musk to ward off danger. They are also small, only growing between 23 to 30 inches long, though some have been known to grow larger than that.

Their habitats often consist of a glass or plastic terrarium that is around 3 feet in length. Because garter snakes are not large in size, they don’t require large habitats. Furthermore, garter snakes have a relatively simple diet of mice, fish, earthworms, leeches, or slugs. They generally only eat twice a week, making it easy to care for them.

A Garter Snake’s Habitat in a Home

A garter snake’s small size makes it a good pet if you want to raise a snake but don’t have a lot of room to house one. Garter snakes are generally housed in glass or plastic cages called terrariums.

These terrariums need to be at least three feet in length or 20 gallons in size to make sure your garter snake has plenty of room. The cage itself should also be escape proof since garter snakes are small and can squeeze through any space they can fit their head through. Having a larger cage also means that your snake will be more comfortable with the temperature because it will be easier for you to maintain an ideal temperature.

Besides the cage itself, garter snakes need to have the bottom of their cage lined with material. There are a few acceptable types that will help your garter Snake remain healthy:

  • Newspaper
  • Paper Towels
  • Cyprus Mulch
  • CareFresh Bedding (a paper product)

Some of these options vary in ease of removal and cost of replacement when cleaning your garter snake’s cage. This is a personal choice you have to make. Overall, your garter snake’s upkeep is relatively inexpensive in comparison to other snakes which might require larger cages, more food, and higher quality accessories.

There are many other accessories that you can use to furnish your garter snakes cage and help it feel at home:

  • A water bowl- key in keeping your snake hydrated and providing a pool for it to swim in
  • Climbing accessories- This one is not as necessary to your garter snake’s well-being, but it is still recommended
  • Accessories your garter snake can hide under or in- Sometimes your snake may feel threatened or scared and need a place to retreat, so providing a rock or small shelter for your snake is key
  • A heat lamp- This is key in maintaining the temperature balance of a habitat
  • If you click here, you can find the article I wrote on my all time favorite accessories for a pet snake. I talk about the essentials for pet snakes, and also the fun, nonessentials.

For more details on garter snakes and their habitats, visit Reptile Knowledge.

Buying a Garter Snake vs. Catching a Wild One

If you live in an area where garter snakes roam freely outside, you may find yourself wanting one as a pet. Their small size, lack of poison, and gentle nature make them an ideal species of snake to own. However, is catching a garter snake the right way to get one as a pet? And, what can you expect if you do catch one?

Wild garter snakes are often more timid of human interaction and may take a while to settle down once you catch them and place them in their new habitats. Some garter snakes may never settle down, even after they have been properly provided for.

Garter snakes bred in captivity are easier to care for, and most snake experts recommend you buy your snake rather than catch it.

However, if your heart is really set on catching your own garter snake, you need to understand that your snake may never truly settle down. Your snake may be easily frightened and often leave you covered in musk. They might be more likely to bite you than a captive bred snake.

Wild Garter Snake Care

Captive bred garter snakes often make better pets because they are accustomed to human interaction, enclosed habitats, and feeding on relatively easy meals for you to prepare. However, if you are interested in catching your own garter snake, here are a few tips for you.

When you bring your newly captured snake back to your home, leave it alone for three days in its habitat. This will allow your snake time to adjust and become comfortable without being harassed. Your snake may also be shy if it comes from the wild, and this may cause it to hide and refuse to eat every time you are around. 

Catching wild snakes involves a host of considerations that buyers of captive-bred snakes don’t usually have to face; the biggest of these is getting a recently caught snake to feed. 

Wild garter snakes may refuse to feed in the beginning. This could be because the wrong food is being offered, so do your research and make sure you are feeding your snake the right foods. You may need to try several different foods before you find something your snake will like. We wrote an article all about what garter snakes eat. Click here to read the article.

In extreme cases, your snake may refuse all food and attempt to starve itself to death. In these cases, I recommend releasing the snake in the environment you caught it in and purchasing a captive bred garter snake.

Another tip I have for you wild garter snake fanatics is to know what type of garter snake you’ve caught. Certain types of garter snakes will eat different types of food depending on what region of North America they come from, so it is important to know what your wild garter snake prefers to eat.

On the plus side, both captive bred and wild garter snakes have docile temperaments are are not likely to be a problem, but as I’ve mentioned before, not all snakes are the same.

For more information on wild garter snakes visit

How big do garter snakes get? Garter snakes generally grow to be between 23 to 30 inches, but some can grow up to 5 feet in length.

What do baby garter snakes eat? Baby garter snakes will eat insects such as earthworms, night crawlers, or cut up pieces of pinky mice. These will help the young garter snake learn to eat. A baby garter snake might not eat for ten days. After that, you should find a way to encourage your baby garter snake to eat.

How long do garter snakes live for? A garter snake can live up to ten years, but records show that some garter snakes can live up to 17 years.

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