Are Garter Snakes Dangerous? Can They Harm Humans or Animals?

When it comes to snakes, there are few species as recognizable and widely encountered as the garter snake. With their slender bodies, distinctive patterns, and often vibrant colors, garter snakes are a common sight in many parts of the world. 

However, despite their ubiquity, there remains a lingering question: are garter snakes dangerous?

Garter snakes are generally not dangerous to humans or animals. Their bites are harmless and rarely break the skin, which makes them popular as pets. If you get bitten by a garter snake, it’s advisable to wash the area with soap and water and monitor for any signs of infection.

Keep reading to learn more about how dangerous garter snakes are and whether you can keep them as pets.

Are Garter Snakes Dangerous?

a photo of a garter snake to show are garter snakes dangerous

Garter snakes, scientifically known as Thamnophis sirtalis, are generally not considered dangerous as they are non-venomous and possess a mild temperament. 

Their primary defense mechanism is to release a pungent odor and musk rather than resorting to biting. Even if they do bite, it is usually a last resort and not intended to cause harm.

Can Garter Snakes Harm Humans?

Garter snakes are generally not harmful to humans. They are non-venomous and their bites are not strong enough to break human skin. In the rare instances where a bite breaks the skin, the risk of infection is minimal, and basic wound care with soap and water is usually sufficient.

However, it is still important to treat garter snakes with respect and caution. If you encounter them in the wild, it is best to observe them from a safe distance and avoid provoking them. This will minimize any potential stress to the snake and reduce the likelihood of a defensive reaction.

Can Garter Snakes Harm Other Animals? (Cats, Dogs, etc.)

Garter snakes are generally not harmful to larger animals such as cats and dogs. Their small size and non-venomous nature make them unlikely to cause serious harm or injury.

In most cases, interactions between garter snakes and cats or dogs result in curiosity rather than aggression. Some pets may be intrigued by the movement of a garter snake and may attempt to investigate or play with it. However, garter snakes typically avoid confrontation and will try to escape if they feel threatened.

While garter snakes are not typically dangerous to cats, dogs, or other larger animals, it is still important to exercise caution and monitor their interactions, as some pets may have a higher prey drive or a natural instinct to chase small animals, which could result in unintended harm to the snake. Additionally, some pets may have allergic reactions to snake bites or may be more susceptible to stress-related illnesses.

It’s worth noting that there may be rare cases where a garter snake bite causes discomfort or minor injury to a pet, particularly if the snake feels cornered and tries to defend itself. If you notice any unusual symptoms or significant reactions from your pet after an encounter with a garter snake, it is best to consult with a veterinarian for appropriate care and guidance.

Overall. if you have garter snakes in your vicinity and are concerned about your pets’ interactions with them, it is advisable to keep your pets supervised and discourage them from approaching or playing with the snakes. This will help minimize any potential harm to both the snake and your pets.

Can You Keep A Garter Snake as Pet?

Garter snakes are popular reptile pets due to their manageable size, ease of care, and interesting behavior. They can thrive in captivity if provided with the appropriate environment, diet, and care.

When considering a garter snake as a pet, it is important to choose a captive-bred specimen from a reputable breeder, as wild-caught snakes may have difficulty adjusting to captive conditions and may carry parasites or diseases. Additionally, it’s essential to research and understands the specific needs of garter snakes before bringing one home.

Here are some key points to consider when keeping a garter snake as a pet:

  • Enclosure: Provide a secure and escape-proof enclosure with enough space for the snake to move around comfortably. A glass or plastic terrarium with a secure lid is suitable. Ensure the enclosure has appropriate ventilation and maintain proper temperature and humidity levels.
  • Substrate: Use a suitable substrate such as aspen bedding, reptile carpet, or newspaper. Avoid substrates that can cause ingestion problems or retain excessive moisture.
  • Temperature and Lighting: Garter snakes require a temperature gradient within their enclosure. Provide a warm basking area (around 80-85°F or 27-29°C) and a cooler side (around 70-75°F or 21-24°C). Use a reptile-specific heat source like an under-tank heating pad or heat lamp. While garter snakes don’t typically require special UVB lighting, providing a natural day-night cycle is beneficial.
  • Feeding: Garter snakes are carnivorous and primarily eat small prey such as earthworms, fish, frogs, and rodents. Offer a varied diet of appropriately sized prey items that are properly sourced and not collected from the wild to prevent potential parasites or toxins.
  • Handling and Interaction: Garter snakes can tolerate gentle handling but may be stressed by excessive handling. Avoid handling them during shedding or after feeding to minimize stress, and always support their body while handling.
  • Veterinary Care: Schedule routine check-ups with a reptile-experienced veterinarian to ensure their well-being. Ensure your snake receives appropriate vaccinations and treatments for parasites, as recommended by a veterinarian.

Remember, responsible pet ownership includes providing a suitable environment, proper nutrition, and veterinary care. So, make sure to do your research and consult with experienced reptile owners or herpetologists to ensure you can meet the specific needs of a garter snake before deciding to keep one as a pet.

How Dangerous Are Garter Snake Bites?

Garter snake bites are generally considered to be harmless, as they have small, rear-facing teeth adapted for grasping and swallowing prey rather than causing injury. When they do bite, it is usually a defensive response when they feel threatened or cornered. 

In most cases, a garter snake bite will cause little more than a slight puncture or scratch. The bite marks are generally superficial and do not result in severe pain or long-term effects.

However, if you have any concerns or are unsure about the severity of the bite, it is always best to seek medical advice.

What to Do If A Garter Snake Bites You?

If you are bitten by a garter snake, it is important to remain calm and take the following steps:

  • Gently clean the bite area with mild soap and water. This helps remove any bacteria that may be present on the skin’s surface.
  • Examine the bite site for any signs of swelling, redness, or increased pain. While garter snake bites are usually minor, it’s important to monitor the area for potential infection or allergic reactions.
  • If there is minor bleeding, you can apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or bandage to help control it. However, garter snake bites typically do not result in significant bleeding.
  • Over the next few days, keep an eye on the bite site for any signs of infection, such as increased swelling, pus, warmth, or persistent pain. If any signs of infection occur, seek medical attention promptly.

Remember, garter snakes are non-venomous, and their bites are typically benign. However, individual reactions can vary, and some people may have allergies or sensitivities that could cause a more significant reaction. 

if you experience severe pain, excessive swelling, difficulty breathing, or any other severe symptoms, it’s highly recommended to seek medical advice. 

How to Avoid Getting Bitten by a Garter Snake?

To minimize the risk of getting bitten by a garter snake, follow these guidelines:

  • Give Snakes Space: When you encounter a garter snake in its natural habitat or even in your yard, it’s important to give it space and avoid unnecessary interactions. Respect their territory and observe them from a safe distance.
  • Stay Calm and Avoid Sudden Movements: Sudden movements or aggressive behavior can startle a snake and make it feel threatened. Maintain a calm demeanor and move slowly and deliberately in the presence of a snake to avoid triggering defensive reactions.
  • Wear Appropriate Footwear: When walking in areas where garter snakes are known to reside, consider wearing closed-toe shoes or boots to provide a barrier between your feet and the ground. This can help prevent accidental bites if you inadvertently step on or near a snake.
  • Watch Where You Step: Be cautious when walking in tall grass, brush, or rocky areas where snakes may be hiding. Look ahead and watch where you step to avoid accidentally coming into close contact with a snake.
  • Use Caution When Handling: If you choose to handle a garter snake, it’s important to do so with care and expertise. Only handle snakes if you have the necessary knowledge and experience, as mishandling can stress the snake and increase the risk of a defensive bite.
  • Educate Children and Pets: Teach children to avoid touching or harassing snakes and educate them about the importance of respecting wildlife. Supervise pets when they are outdoors to prevent them from engaging with snakes.
  • Seek Professional Help: If you encounter a garter snake or any other snake in your home or property and feel uncomfortable handling the situation, it’s best to contact a professional wildlife removal service to safely and humanely handle the snake’s removal.

Garter snakes are generally non-aggressive and prefer to avoid confrontation. By respecting their space and practicing caution, you can minimize the chances of getting bitten by a garter snake.

Check out this video to learn more about the severity of a garter snake bite.


In summary, garter snakes are generally not dangerous to humans or animals. Their bites are mild and rarely cause harm. 

With proper care, they can be kept as pets, making them a popular choice among reptile enthusiasts. However, it’s important to treat them with respect and observe them from a safe distance in the wild, to minimize the risk of getting bitten by them.

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