The Complete Guide To Caring For Your Garter Snake

Are you considering adding a garter snake to your family of reptiles? These fascinating creatures make great pets for beginners and experienced herpetologists alike. But before you bring home your new slithery friend, it’s important to understand how to properly care for them. From creating the ideal habitat to feeding and handling, this complete guide will walk you through everything you need to know about caring for your garter snake. So, grab a notebook and get ready to become an expert in garter snake care!


When it comes to housing your garter snake, there are a few key factors to consider. First and foremost, you’ll need an appropriate tank size for your snake. Garter snakes can vary in size depending on the species, but a general rule of thumb is to provide at least a 20-gallon tank for an adult garter snake.

Next, you’ll want to set up the tank in a way that mimics the natural environment of a garter snake. This includes providing hiding spots such as rocks or logs, as well as branches or plants for climbing. It’s important to create a secure and comfortable space for your snake to feel safe.

In terms of substrate, there are several options available. Newspaper or paper towels can be used as simple and easy-to-clean substrates. Reptile carpet or coconut fiber bedding can also be used, providing more naturalistic options while still being easy to maintain.

Maintaining proper temperature and humidity levels is crucial for the health of your garter snake. Garter snakes require a temperature gradient within their enclosure, with one end of the tank being warmer (around 80-85°F) and the other end being cooler (around 70-75°F). This allows them to regulate their body temperature by moving between different areas of the enclosure.

In terms of humidity, garter snakes prefer relatively low humidity levels compared to other reptiles. Aim for around 40-50% humidity in their enclosure by misting with water occasionally and ensuring adequate ventilation.

Remember that each individual may have slightly different requirements when it comes to housing setup, so always observe your garter snake closely and make adjustments as needed based on their behavior and overall well-being.

Transition: Now that we’ve covered how to set up an appropriate housing environment for your garter snake let’s move on next section: Tank setup

Tank size

Choosing the right tank size for your garter snake is crucial for its overall well-being. As a general rule, a tank that can comfortably accommodate your snake’s length and provide enough space to move around is ideal.

For juvenile garter snakes, a 10-gallon tank is usually sufficient. This allows them to explore their environment while still feeling secure. However, as they grow, you will need to upgrade to a larger tank.

Adult garter snakes typically require at least a 20-gallon long tank. This provides ample space for them to stretch out and engage in natural behaviors like slithering and exploring their surroundings.

It’s important to remember that garter snakes are active creatures and benefit from having room to move. Providing adequate space ensures that they can exercise and maintain good muscle tone.

In addition to the size of the tank, it’s essential to consider vertical space as well. Garter snakes are known climbers and enjoy perching on branches or other elevated surfaces within their enclosure. Adding some height or incorporating branches or plants can create an enriching environment for your snake.

When setting up your garter snake’s tank, be sure to include hiding spots on both ends of the enclosure. These hide boxes give your snake a sense of security and privacy when needed.

In summary, choosing the appropriate tank size for your garter snake is essential for its physical and mental well-being. Adequate space allows them to explore, exercise their natural behaviors, and feel secure in their environment.

Tank setup

Setting up the tank properly is crucial for providing a comfortable and safe environment for your garter snake. Here are some key considerations:

Tank size: Garter snakes are active and need ample space to move around. A 20-gallon tank is a good starting point for one adult garter snake, but larger species may require bigger tanks.

Tank setup: Create a naturalistic habitat by adding hiding spots like rocks, branches, or commercially available reptile hides. These provide security for your snake and mimic its natural environment.

Substrate: Choose a substrate that retains moisture well, such as coconut husk bedding or reptile bark mulch. Avoid using cedar shavings or pine as they can be harmful to snakes.

Temperature: Maintain an appropriate temperature gradient in the tank with warm and cool areas. Use an under-tank heating pad or heat lamp to create a warm basking spot of around 85-88°F (29-31°C), while the cooler end should be around 70-75°F (21-24°C).

Humidity: Garter snakes do not require high humidity levels like some tropical reptiles, but it’s important to provide adequate humidity of around 50-60%. This can be achieved by misting the tank occasionally and providing a water bowl for drinking and soaking.

Remember to monitor the conditions regularly and make adjustments as needed to ensure your garter snake stays healthy and comfortable in its tank setup.


The substrate refers to the material that lines the bottom of your garter snake’s tank. Choosing the right substrate is important for maintaining a healthy and comfortable living environment for your pet.

There are several options available when it comes to substrate for garter snakes. One popular choice is reptile carpet, which is a durable and easy-to-clean option. Reptile carpet provides a comfortable surface for your snake to slither on, and it can be easily removed and cleaned as needed.

Another option is paper towels or newspapers, which are inexpensive and easy to replace. This type of substrate also makes it easier to monitor your snake’s waste and the overall cleanliness of the tank.

Some reptile owners prefer using aspen bedding as the substrate because it mimics the natural habitat of garter snakes. Aspen bedding holds moisture well and helps maintain proper humidity levels in the tank. However, be cautious when using cedar or pine shavings as they can release harmful chemicals that may be toxic to your snake.

Regardless of which type of substrate you choose, make sure to avoid anything with sharp edges or particles that could potentially harm your snake if ingested. Regularly clean and replace the substrate as necessary to prevent odors and keep your garter snake’s enclosure clean.

In addition to providing a suitable substrate, remember that each garter snake species may have specific environmental requirements when it comes to temperature, humidity, lighting, etc. Be sure to do thorough research on caring for your specific species so you can provide them with an optimal living environment


Maintaining the correct temperature is crucial for the well-being of your garter snake. These reptiles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature.

The optimal temperature range for garter snakes is generally between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 29°C). It’s important to provide a thermal gradient within their enclosure, with one end slightly warmer than the other. This allows your snake to choose its preferred temperature at any given time.

To achieve this, you can use an under-tank heating pad or a heat lamp. Place the heating source on one side of the tank, creating a warm basking spot that reaches around 85°F (29°C). The opposite side should be slightly cooler, around 75°F (24°C).

Regularly monitor the temperatures in your snake’s enclosure using thermometers placed at both ends. This will help ensure that proper conditions are maintained throughout the day and night.

It’s worth noting that garter snakes are adaptable creatures and can tolerate slight variations in temperature as long as they stay within a safe range. However, extreme fluctuations or prolonged exposure to temperatures outside of their ideal range can lead to stress or health issues.

In addition to providing appropriate heating elements, make sure you also have a reliable source of coolness available for your snake. This could include hiding spots or areas with shade where they can retreat if they feel too warm.

Remember that different species may have specific temperature preferences, so it’s essential to research and understand the requirements specific to your garter snake type.


Maintaining the right humidity level in your garter snake’s enclosure is crucial for their overall health and well-being. Garter snakes typically thrive in environments with moderate to high humidity levels, ranging from 50% to 70%.

To achieve the ideal humidity level, you can take several steps:

Providing a Humid Hide: Creating a humid hide within the enclosure is essential. This area should have a damp substrate, such as moist soil or sphagnum moss, and be large enough for your snake to comfortably fit inside. The humid hide offers a retreat for your snake when it needs increased moisture.

Misting: Regularly misting your snake’s enclosure with dechlorinated water helps maintain proper humidity levels. Pay close attention to any areas that may dry out quickly, such as under heat lamps or near ventilation.

Water Dish: Providing a shallow water dish filled with clean, fresh water is essential not only for drinking but also for maintaining humidity levels in the enclosure.

Monitoring Hygrometer: Using a hygrometer will allow you to monitor the humidity levels accurately. Place it at different locations within the enclosure to ensure consistent readings.

It’s important to note that excessive humidity can lead to respiratory issues and skin infections in garter snakes. On the other hand, low humidity can cause shedding problems and dehydration.

By carefully monitoring and adjusting the humidity levels within your garter snake’s habitat, you’ll help create an environment that mimics their natural habitat and promotes their overall health and well-being


Feeding your garter snake properly is essential for its health and well-being. Garter snakes are carnivorous reptiles that primarily feed on small prey such as insects, worms, fish, and amphibians. When it comes to feeding your garter snake, there are a few key things to keep in mind:

What to Feed: Offer a variety of food items to ensure a balanced diet for your garter snake. You can provide live or pre-killed prey depending on your snake’s feeding response and preferences.

How Often: Juvenile garter snakes should be fed more frequently than adults. For young snakes, offer appropriately sized meals every 3-4 days. Adult snakes can be fed once every 7-10 days.

Feeding Method: Garter snakes typically swallow their prey whole after striking and constricting it with their bodies. It’s important to observe the feeding process to ensure that the snake is able to successfully consume the prey item without any difficulties.

4: Supplements: Although garter snakes primarily obtain all necessary nutrients from their prey, it may be beneficial to occasionally supplement their diet with calcium powder or vitamin supplements designed specifically for reptiles.

Remember, each individual snake may have unique dietary requirements based on factors such as age, size, and overall health. It’s always best practice to research specific care guidelines for the particular species of garter snake you own.

Transition: Now that we’ve covered how to properly feed your garter snake let’s move on to another important aspect of caring for these fascinating creatures: handling them safely and confidently

What to Feed

When it comes to feeding your garter snake, it’s important to provide a diet that is suitable for their needs. Garter snakes are carnivorous and primarily eat small prey items such as insects, earthworms, fish, frogs, and small rodents.

Insects like crickets and mealworms are commonly fed to garter snakes as they provide essential nutrients and are readily available. It’s important to ensure that any insects you feed your snake are gut-loaded or fed a nutritious diet themselves so that your snake receives optimal nutrition.

Feeding frequency can vary depending on the age and size of your garter snake. Younger snakes may require more frequent feedings every 3-4 days, while adult snakes can be fed every 7-10 days. It’s important not to overfeed your snake as obesity can lead to health issues.

Always monitor the size of the prey item you offer to your garter snake. The general rule of thumb is that the prey should be no larger than the widest part of your snake’s body. This ensures that they can safely swallow their food without risk of choking or injury.

It’s also worth noting that some pet stores sell commercially prepared frozen/thawed mice or fish specifically designed for feeding reptiles like garter snakes. These options can be convenient and provide a balanced diet for your pet.

Remember, variety is key when it comes to feeding your garter snake! Offering a range of food items will help ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients in their diet. If you’re unsure about what specific foods are suitable for your particular species of garter snake, consult with an experienced reptile veterinarian or do thorough research from reliable sources.

How Often

Feeding frequency for garter snakes can vary depending on their age and size. Generally, adult garter snakes should be fed around once every 7-10 days, while younger snakes may require more frequent feedings of every 4-5 days.

It’s important not to overfeed your garter snake, as obesity can lead to health problems. Feeding them too frequently can also cause digestive issues. Monitor your snake’s body condition and adjust the feeding schedule accordingly.

When it comes to the quantity of food, offer prey items that are about the same width as the widest part of your snake’s body. This ensures they are getting an appropriately sized meal.

In addition to a regular feeding schedule, make sure to have a freshwater source available at all times for your garter snake to stay hydrated.

Transition: Now that we’ve covered how often to feed your garter snake, let’s move on to another important aspect of caring for these fascinating reptiles – handling.


Handling your garter snake is an important aspect of caring for it. Before you attempt to handle your snake, make sure that you have washed your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. This helps to remove any scents or residues that might be on your hands and prevents the transfer of harmful bacteria to your snake.

When handling a garter snake, it’s important to remember that they are delicate creatures and can easily become stressed. You should always approach your snake slowly and gently. Start by placing one hand under its body while supporting its weight, and use the other hand to support its tail.

It’s important not to grip or squeeze the snake too tightly when handling it, as this can cause injury or stress. Allow the snake to move through your hands at its own pace, and never force it into a position or movement.

Some garter snakes may be more comfortable being handled than others. If you find that your snake becomes agitated or tries to escape during handling, it may prefer less frequent or shorter handling sessions.

Remember that each individual garter snake has its own unique temperament and preferences when it comes to handling. Always observe how your particular snake responds during each interaction and adjust accordingly.

By following these guidelines for proper handling, you can ensure a positive experience for both yourself and your garter snake. Handling allows you to bond with your pet while also monitoring their health and well-being on a regular basis.

Transition: Now that we’ve covered how to handle garter snakes safely, let’s move on to the next topic: Health. It’s important for every reptile owner to be able to recognize signs of illness in their animals so they can seek appropriate treatment if necessary.


Keeping your garter snake healthy is essential for its well-being and longevity. By being attentive to their health needs, you can prevent potential issues and provide the best care possible.

One of the most important aspects of garter snake health is monitoring for any signs of illness. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as:

Loss of appetite

Weight loss

Abnormal shedding

Respiratory issues (such as wheezing or difficulty breathing)

Changes in behavior or activity levels

If you notice any of these signs, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care promptly. Garter snakes are generally hardy creatures, but early intervention can greatly increase their chances of recovery.

In terms of treatment, a qualified reptile veterinarian will be able to assess the situation and provide appropriate medical care if necessary. This may include medication, supportive therapy, or adjustments to their habitat conditions.

To help maintain good overall health for your garter snake, ensure they have a clean and suitable habitat. Regularly clean their tank and remove any waste or uneaten food promptly. Additionally, make sure they have access to fresh water at all times.

Remember that prevention is key when it comes to keeping your garter snake healthy. Maintaining proper hygiene in their enclosure, providing a balanced diet tailored to their needs, and ensuring optimal temperature and humidity levels will go a long way in promoting overall well-being.

By being proactive about your garter snake’s health needs and seeking professional assistance when needed, you can enjoy many happy years with your scaly companion.

Signs of illness

It’s important to closely monitor your garter snake for any signs of illness. Here are some common indicators that your snake may be unwell:

Changes in appetite: A decrease in appetite or refusal to eat can be a sign of underlying health issues, such as respiratory infections or digestive problems.

Weight loss: If you notice that your snake is losing weight despite normal feeding habits, it could indicate an underlying health issue that needs attention.

Abnormal behavior: Keep an eye out for any unusual behavior, such as lethargy, excessive hiding, or increased aggression. These changes in behavior may signal distress or illness.

Respiratory issues: Watch for symptoms like wheezing, rapid breathing, open-mouthed breathing (especially when not basking), and mucus around the nose and mouth. These could indicate respiratory infections that require veterinary care.

Skin abnormalities: Check your snake’s skin regularly for any sores, blisters, redness, swelling, or discolored patches. Any abnormality should be investigated further by a veterinarian.

Stool abnormalities: Pay attention to your snake’s droppings. Loose stools or diarrhea can be a sign of gastrointestinal issues or parasitic infections.

Urinary tract problems: Frequent urination without drinking water is something worth investigating with the vet.

If you observe any of these signs in your garter snake’s behavior or physical appearance, it is crucial to consult a reptile veterinarian who specializes in treating snakes. Early detection and prompt treatment can greatly improve the chances of recovery and ensure the well-being of your pet garter snake


If your garter snake shows signs of illness, it’s important to take prompt action to ensure their well-being. Here are a few common signs of illness in garter snakes to watch out for:

Loss of appetite: A sudden loss of interest in food can indicate an underlying health issue. Monitor your snake’s eating habits and consult a veterinarian if they stop eating for an extended period.

Abnormal shedding: Difficulty shedding or incomplete sheds can be a sign that your snake is dehydrated or suffering from skin issues. Maintain proper humidity levels in their enclosure and provide a moist hide to aid in the shedding process.

Respiratory problems: Wheezing, gasping for breath, or mucus around the mouth and nose could indicate respiratory infections. Seek veterinary attention promptly as these conditions can worsen quickly if not treated.

Changes in behavior: Any sudden changes in behavior such as lethargy, excessive hiding, or aggression might indicate an underlying health problem that needs attention.

External parasites: Check your snake regularly for ticks, mites, or other external parasites that may attach themselves to their skin. If you notice any infestations, consult with a reptile veterinarian on appropriate treatment options.

Remember, proper husbandry practices play a crucial role in preventing illnesses among garter snakes. Providing them with clean water, maintaining appropriate temperature gradients within their habitat, and ensuring good hygiene will go a long way toward keeping them healthy.


Breeding garter snakes can be a rewarding experience for snake enthusiasts. However, it’s important to note that breeding should only be attempted by experienced snake keepers who have a good understanding of the species’ needs and requirements.

Before attempting to breed your garter snakes, you should make sure they are in optimal health and condition. Ensure that they are at least two years old, as breeding younger snakes can put unnecessary strain on their bodies. Additionally, provide them with proper nutrition and maintain appropriate temperature and humidity levels in their enclosure.

To encourage breeding behavior, you will need to create a suitable environment for your garter snakes. This includes providing them with adequate hiding spots, such as rock formations or vegetation, where they can feel secure during the courtship process. It is also recommended to set up separate male and female enclosures initially and introduce them during the mating season.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs in spring or early summer, male garter snakes may engage in elaborate courtship displays to attract females. These displays often involve intricate movements and postures designed to impress potential mates.

If successful mating occurs, female garter snakes will undergo gestation for approximately three months before giving birth to live young. It’s important to monitor the pregnant female closely during this time and provide her with extra warmth and nutrition as needed.

Caring for baby garter snakes requires attention to detail. The newborns are typically independent from birth but may require smaller food items than adult snakes. It’s essential to provide them with appropriately sized prey items that are easy for them to consume.

Remember that not all species of garter snakes breed readily in captivity, so it’s crucial to research specific requirements for your particular subspecies or locality before attempting breeding endeavors.

In conclusion, breeding garter snakes can be an exciting endeavor but requires careful consideration of various factors such as age, health status, environmental conditions like temperature and humidity regulation as well as appropriate nutrition. If done correctly, breeding garter snakes can be a rewarding experience that allows you to witness the fascinating life cycle of these captivating reptiles.

Preparing for Mating

If you’re interested in breeding your garter snakes, it’s important to properly prepare for the mating process. Here are some key steps to take:

Ensure Proper Nutrition: Before attempting to breed your garter snakes, make sure they are in optimal health and receiving a balanced diet. Garter snakes require a varied diet consisting of appropriately sized prey items such as earthworms, fish, and amphibians.

Create Suitable Living Conditions: Provide your garter snakes with an environment that mimics their natural habitat. This includes providing a spacious tank with adequate hiding spots and temperature gradients.

Consider Seasonal Changes: Garter snakes typically mate during the spring or fall when temperatures fluctuate and days become shorter. Mimicking these seasonal changes in captivity may help stimulate breeding behavior.

Introduce Mating Partners: If you have multiple garter snakes of opposite sexes, introduce them gradually under supervised conditions. Ensure that both individuals are healthy and mature enough for mating.

Observe Courtship Behavior: During the courtship period, male garter snakes will perform elaborate courtship dances to attract females. Typical behaviors include tongue-flicking, coiling around the female’s body, and rubbing against her to leave scent marks.

Remember that breeding reptiles requires expertise and careful consideration of various factors such as genetics, health history, and appropriate care for hatchlings. Therefore, it is recommended that beginners seek guidance from experienced breeders before attempting to breed garter snakes.

Signs of Pregnancy

Garter snakes are ovoviviparous, which means they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. If you suspect that your female garter snake is pregnant, there are a few signs to look out for:

Increased Size: As the pregnancy progresses, you may notice that your snake’s belly becomes noticeably larger. This is due to the growing embryos inside her.

Changes in Behavior: Pregnant garter snakes may exhibit changes in behavior such as reduced appetite or increased aggression. They might also become more restless and start exploring their enclosure more frequently.

Sunken Ventral Scales: Gently lift your snake and examine the ventral (belly) scales. If you notice any sunken or indented scales, this could be an indication of pregnancy.

Palpation: If you’re comfortable handling your snake, you can gently palpate her abdomen using very light pressure with your fingertips. Be careful not to apply too much pressure or squeeze too hard as this can harm the developing embryos.

It’s important to note that not all female garter snakes will become pregnant every breeding season, so don’t be alarmed if your snake doesn’t show these signs. However, if you do suspect that she is pregnant, it’s crucial to provide her with appropriate care during this time.

To ensure a healthy pregnancy and successful birth, make sure she has access to clean water at all times and provide a warm basking spot for thermoregulation purposes.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to properly care for baby garter snakes once they’re born.

Caring for Babies

Caring for baby garter snakes requires some special attention to ensure their health and well-being. Here are a few important aspects to consider:

Housing: Baby garter snakes can be housed in smaller enclosures compared to adults. A 10-gallon tank should provide enough space for them to move around comfortably.

Temperature and Humidity: It’s crucial to maintain the right temperature and humidity levels in the snake’s enclosure. Provide a temperature gradient ranging from 75°F (24°C) on the cool side to 85°F (29°C) on the warm side. The humidity should be around 50-60%.

Feeding: Baby garter snakes have small appetites and require appropriately sized prey items, such as newborn mice or fish pieces. Offer food once every three days initially, gradually increasing it as they grow.

Handling: While handling baby garter snakes can be enjoyable, it’s essential to do so with care and gentleness. Make sure your hands are clean before handling them, avoid sudden movements, and support their bodies properly.

Health Monitoring: Keep an eye out for any signs of illness in your baby garter snake, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, abnormal shedding, or respiratory issues. If you notice any concerning symptoms, consult a reptile veterinarian promptly.

Remember that baby garter snakes may not have developed fully at birth and will grow rapidly during their first year of life. Providing them with proper nutrition and maintaining optimal living conditions will help ensure their healthy growth into adulthood.


Caring for your garter snake can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. These snakes are great pets for beginners due to their relatively low maintenance requirements. By providing them with the right housing, proper diet, and regular handling, you can ensure that your garter snake stays healthy and happy.

Remember to choose an appropriate tank size that allows your snake to move around comfortably. Create a suitable tank setup with hiding spots, branches, and other enrichments to mimic their natural habitat. Use an appropriate substrate such as aspen shavings or reptile carpet that is easy to clean. Maintaining the correct temperature and humidity levels is crucial for the health of your garter snake. Provide a warm side of the tank with a heat source like an under-tank heater or heat lamp, along with a cooler side where they can regulate their body temperature.

Feeding your garter snake a varied diet consisting of appropriately sized prey items like earthworms, fish, rodents, and insects is essential. Feed them every 5-7 days when they are juveniles and adjust the frequency as per their growth rate. Always handle your snake gently and avoid excessive handling immediately after feeding. Regularly observe your garter snake for any signs of illness such as changes in appetite, skin problems, respiratory issues, or abnormal behavior. If you notice anything concerning, consult a veterinarian experienced in reptile care who can provide proper treatment if necessary.

Breeding garter snakes requires careful preparation including creating ideal conditions for mating and providing adequate care during pregnancy and birth of babies (if applicable). It’s important to research extensively before attempting breeding.

In conclusion, taking care of a garter snake requires attention to detail but it’s not overly complicated. With the right knowledge and commitment to meeting their specific needs, you can enjoy many years with these fascinating creatures as part of your family!

Leave a Reply