What to Feed a Garter Snake: Complete Garter Snake Feeding Guide

If you’re looking for information on what to feed a garter snake then you’ve come to the right place.

Over the years there’s been a huge amount of mis-information shared in books and online about garter snake feeding.

In this guide I want to set the record straight and share the very latest thinking about feeding garter snakes. 

What do garter snakes eat?

Mice

Mice are probably the best possible source of food for garter snakes.

Mice not only offer all the nutrients that your snake needs but they’re also cheap and easy to source from any good reptile shop. 

Coming in a range of different sizes, they’re suitable for almost all garter snakes, though tiny hatchlings may struggle to swallow pinkies. In these situations you can try feeding just part of the mouse.  

I recommend buying frozen rodents and defrosting them at home. Feeding live mice can pose a risk to your snake, as well as being illegal in some areas. 

Mice typically aren’t a natural part of a garter snake’s diet, so some specimens may need a little “convincing” before they’re readily accepted.

I find that warming up the mouse tends to make it more appealing. I do this by placing the mouse into a plastic bag and suspending it in warm water for a few minutes before feeding. Ensure the mouse is warm – but not hot – before offering it to your snake. 

A second option to make mice more appealing for fussier garter snakes is to “scent” it with another food that your garter snake enjoys – such as fish. Simply rub the mouse with the scenting food before offering it to your snake. 

Fish

Fish are probably the most “traditional” food item for garter snakes.

That said, feeding fish can come with risks.

This is because some fish contain an enzyme called “thiaminase” which destroys vitamin B1. This can result in a vitamin B1 deficiency in your snake which, in extreme cases, can be fatal. 

Goldfish, tuna, bream and the fathead minnow are all known to contain thiaminase so should be fed only in very small amounts.

In contrast fish such as pollock, haddock, cod, salmon and trout are considered safe for garter snakes as they lack the thiaminase.

Earthworms

If your young garter snake refuses to eat mice or fish then earthworms can represent another option. They are, however, far less popular because there have been suggestions that they have the potential to introduce parasites. 

Be sure to feed earthworms in a shallow food bowl, to prevent them from burrowing down into the substrate, never to be seen again. 

Supplements

If your snake is eating either worms or fish they will need vitamin and mineral supplements a couple of times a month.

The three most important supplements they need are calcium, vitamin B1 and vitamin D3. 

Vitamin B1 is essential if your snake has been eating fish with thiaminase and D3 helps to metabolize calcium. 

How Much to Feed Your Snake

Your snake should have a bulge when it’s eaten, but this shouldn’t be so prominent that it looks like it’s going to explode.

If you are feeding mice to your snake, the girth of the mouse should be about the same as that of your snake.

Feeding Problems with Garter Snakes

In general, garter snakes are good eaters and there isn’t that much that will turn them off their food. However, there are exceptions to the rule and there could be a number of reasons why your snake won’t eat.

First of all, your snake might not like the food that is on offer. In this case you will have to try it on different foods. 

Snakes sometimes prefer their prey to move and if they’ve not taken to you dangling their food in front of them with tongs, you will have to resort to live prey. Earthworms are a good choice in this situation.

Lastly some garter snakes won’t eat if being watched. In this case you probably won’t have much luck if you dangle the food in front of it. It is better that you put the food in a bowl and leave your snake to eat at leisure. 

Richard Adams

4 thoughts on “What to Feed a Garter Snake: Complete Garter Snake Feeding Guide”

    • Ho Novalee – Pretty much any garter snake species stands a good chance of accepting worms or fish. That said, all reptiles are individuals, so there’ll always be the odd specimen who won’t take to a certain food type no matter how hard you try.

      Reply
  1. this is helpful! we have been feeding our baby snake earthworms and recently she stopped eating, we were very worried and did some research. we decided to try feeding her fish also and start giving her suppliments

    Reply

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