What Do Garter Snakes Eat?

Garter snakes are just as common in the United States as the food they eat. They are frequently kept as pets, and it is important for their owners to know their diet. These snakes are hunters, but what could they possibly be hunting for?

What do Garter snakes eat? Pet Garter Snakes eat a variety of food including mice, fish, and earthworms, to name the most popular options. Young Garter snakes prefer small worms, earthworms, or fish. Adult Garters prefer well thawed frozen mice and fish. Most often the Garter snake does not stick to one strict diet but needs a variety of options to help with their health and nutrient intake.

What to Feed a Garter Snake

Garter snakes are fascinating and complex creatures. They can make great pets but must be cared for with caution. What to feed them is only the beginning; it’s important to be aware of the way to feed them, the timeline for feeding, and places to go to obtain their food.

Garter snake diet in captivity may consist of:

  • Mice
  • Fish
  • Earthworms
  • Crickets
  • Small pieces of raw chicken

Where to Get Garter Snake Food

Garter snakes are known predators. They are carnivorous and love a good fish or mouse depending on individual preference. Mice are a popular choice among Garter snake owners because they typically provide a complete balance of nutrients that they need.

When offering fish and worms, it is more difficult to obtain that nutrient-rich balance and that choice necessitates a wider variety of food.

Mice are hard to handle for young Garter snakes, so that food choice typically needs to be introduced into the diet with a few trial and error test runs. If you have decided to purchase your Garter snake at a more mature point in its life, then you will want to learn as much about what kind of food it is used to. It will be significantly harder for you to change or adapt the diet of a Garter snake rather than raising it up in the diet you prefer. 

Many people have mentioned the Garter Snakes love for a good slug, but don’t mention it as a main food group for them. Slugs are typically seen as a sort of snack or treat for your snake.

Like with many pets, we find joy in giving them treats or extra things to keep them happy. Snakes are no different. Even though they can’t play dead or do a dance for a milk bone like a dog, a Garter snake can still be given the same treatment with a juicy slug or another popular treat.

Chain pet stores are always a safe option when looking for food for your pet Garter snake. They offer earthworms and mice sold specifically for the purpose of being food for your Garter snake. Don’t worry– they lived a good life!

Pet stores are also good sources of information on how to find other food items or treats, and they may also have good tips on diet and supplemental nutrients. Sometimes you can find a manufactured Garter snake food made of many different things, but those options are not popular among snake enthusiasts.

Garter Snake close up in the water

Concerns with Fresh Food

The last thing you want to happen to your pet snake is for them to get sick from the food you’re feeding them. A lot of snake owners have found that parasites tend to become an issue when dealing with some fish and worm choices. 

A few enzymes that can hurt your snake have been found in some types of fish typically given to snakes. It is called Thiaminase. It’s important to stay vigilant when choosing food for your snake. When obtaining a new snake always be sure to ask about the dangers of some food over others.

Frozen mice choices have been mentioned multiple times as the safest option for your Garter snake. There is significantly less risk in a good mouse as opposed to certain types of fish.

How to Feed Them

There is much debate about live vs. dead food given to your Garter snake. I have seen a lot of chatter about the benefits of frozen mice that are thawed and given to the snake. Other people have found that their snake loves live fish in a water bowl.

The habits, willingness to try new ways of feeding, and confidence level of your Garter snake will change the way you decide to feed them. Earthworms on a tray have been sufficient for some and live mice roaming around the cage have worked for others.

Another factor in finding out how to feed your snake is your personal comfort zone. You are not depriving your pet Garter of any necessary nutrition or joy by choosing a deceased rodent or fish option over another. If you are only comfortable with the frozen options, then you should be focused solely on what types will give the snake a well-rounded diet. 

A lot of people have found that live prey isn’t worth the hassle because of distress caused to the owner and any harm that may come to your snake during the feeding process. Check out this Snake Owner article about live feeding: Why Feed Pet Snakes Dead Mice?

Your snake will become accustomed quickly to how feeding time works and what kind of food it eats. This will also be an easy choice to make if you purchase a Garter snake young and raise it on dead animals instead of live prey. The idea is that they won’t actually know the difference. Food will be food to them whether it is running around their cage or given to them on a plastic tray.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You always want to be comfortable when feeding your snake because its happiness and your happiness are dependent on your comfort level. Once you have a routine, worries will disappear. Snakes aren’t like humans and don’t have to be fed regularly. You and your Garter snake will develop a rhythm that works for you both.

How Often to Feed Garter Snakes

The timeline for when to feed your Garter snake depends on how big and how old the snake is. If it is just a small baby, it will eat more often because it will consume small portions of food. A baby will most likely be eating earthworms or small fish, and those options aren’t as filling as a mouse will be for the bigger snakes.

The smaller and less nutrient-rich foods that typically are fed to young garter snakes means that they will need to be fed more frequently than the adults do.

Some websites have tried to create a set schedule for feeding Garter snakes, but a lot of seasoned owners have found that instinct plays just as big a role in feeding schedules as routine. The problem with a set schedule is that your snake may have a different preference than the next.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with trial and error with your snake. The table below presents some general guidelines for an average time frame for Garter snake feeding but shouldn’t be taken as law.

Approx. Frequency of MealsEarthwormsFishMice
Young Garter SnakeApprox. every 2 daysapprox. every 4-5 daysNot Advisable
Adult Garter SnakesApprox. 2x a weekapprox. every 7-10 daysapprox. every 7-10 days

Related Questions

Are Garter Snakes Dangerous? Garter snakes are a typical household pet and aren’t a serious threat to humans. Caution should always be exhibited and it’s important to care for Garter snakes appropriately. Garter snakes may have a small amount of venom but isn’t fatal to adults. Kids should always have supervision when dealing with animals. 

How Long can a Garter Snake go Without Eating? It is never a good idea to keep food from your snake. To keep a healthy and happy Garter snake you want to feed them at least once a week depending on size and habits. It is also possible to overfeed your snake causing obesity, so you want to stay vigilant with how your snake looks and acts. 

Ashley Gallenbeck

Writing is my passion. I am a student, and I absolutely love to learn about and discover new things.

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