One of the most important and foremost areas of owning a reptile is to provide not only a proper cage for a garter snake but to make sure you pick one that’s high quality as well. Basically, the priority list for ensuring that your snake stays alive for as long as possible will go from housing to food. There is also a lot of misinformation out there regarding certain aspects of raising and owning a garter snake that I hope to clear up. This might be a lengthy care guide for some or more than what they’re used to but as the garter snake is one of the most popular reptile pets out there, there’s a mound of information on them as well.
First, there are two common mistakes when it comes to housing a garter snake or effectively taking care of one. First of all, it’s highly common for brand new or inexperienced owners to provide their gecko with a cage that way too big for what they actually need. It’s not uncommon for people to go the extra mile and buy 50 to 70 gallon tanks all for one small pet which is a horrible idea. Some people even think this is a good idea because their pet should grow into it and while that is true, there are limits.
When you have a baby snake, you definitely aren’t going to need a 50 gallon tank, that’s way overdoing it. Also, while a garter snake can be commonly found near the water at their natural environment, you won’t find them too wet and they really don’t like to be in the water that much, so you can rule them out as being aquatic animals. Ideally, you don’t need a huge cage but all you really need to make sure of is that a cage is not only clean, but it’s constantly dry and that it’s not easily escaped. Also, you need to take a special note of the cage size and to make sure that you equip the cage with the right furniture.
What Should The Cage Size Be?
When you’re picking out a cage, the main problem you want to avoid is picking out a cage that tends to be too large or too small. If your cage is too small, then you’ll run into the problem that the snake won’t be able to move around, it won’t be able to do any exercise and the health will drastically decline because of this. However, if you have a cage that’s too large, then the snake’s going to feel very anxious all the time and insecure. Yes, snakes do have those emotions and it affects their behavior.
If you’re looking for a guideline to go by when you’re comparing the length of the garter snake, then what you want to do is take the actual length of the snake from the tip of the tail to the head and make sure that the tank’s height plus width is longer by quite a decent margin. This doesn’t mean you need to go nuts and buy a huge tank, but you want some wiggle room for the snake. Some people say that you should have space that’s twice the length of the snake just in width but all that really isn’t necessary.
However, another guideline to go by is that if a snake is up to three feet long, then an aquarium tank that’s two feet long and two feet high really would be just fine.
Now the common confusion comes when it’s time to pick out a cage for a baby snake because it ideally shouldn’t be larger than five gallons (but some people have gotten away with larger). If you really want to condense and save space, you could even get away with a tank that’s smaller than five gallons. You have to determine the size of the cage needed by their age and their size, and if you’re housing a snake that’s less than a year old, then you really don’t need a cage that’s larger than five gallons.
However, once a baby garter snake grows into a male, they can reach up to two feet long and that’s when you’ll want to consider upgrading to a 15 gallon tank, as this is the perfect size. Now, if you’re looking to store a breeding pair together or you’re looking to just put together two snakes, then you’re going to want a 25 gallon tank because they should still have plenty of room even with the both of them. If you want to provide more room, then you have to do it within reason. Really though, if you’re just using an cage, then you’re not going to need much more room.
However, if you’re using a planted terrarium instead for whatever reason you can upgrade to a slightly larger one. I would recommend that you go no further than the 35 gallon tank mark.
How To Prevent Escape
A snake running around about your house is more than likely one of the last things that you want and the scary part, they’re highly effective at escaping because of their anatomy. They can squeeze through some of the smallest holes and if there’s an escape route, they’re going to find it. This is why they’re very skilled at getting out of cages. One of the most important parts of garter snake care is to make sure that they can’t escape their cage and that the cage is secure. Ideally how they escape is, they will find some of the openings in the cage if it hasn’t been inspected properly.
You won’t know if a snake can get through a hole until it’s too late because they’re very determined, they don’t just give up. If a snake has the will and the ability to make it past the eyes, then the rest of the body will compress and allow it to escape the enclosure. This is why cage inspection is one of the most important things that you’ll do when you’re selecting a cage or adequate housing structure.
Also, if you have a cat around the place anywhere, your cat will more than likely become the happiest cat ever as it detects a new meal. Not only that but if you live in an apartment then your landlord will more than likely be less than pleased with you depending on the type of lease and what kind of pets you’re allowed to have. Also, I doubt your immediate neighbors are going to be too thrilled that you were too careless to inspect a cage and now there’s a garter snake running around the community.
So no matter what kind or brand of cage you get, you need to make absolute sure that it’s 100% escape proof and that you inspect nearly every inch of that cage, you want to be sure that there are absolutely no holes or gaps anywhere that’s accessible. First, check all of the lids on the cage and make sure that they’re not only firmly attached but they’re secured tightly as well. You don’t want a lid to just be sitting on there, you want to make sure that it’s a snug and tight fit.
Garter snakes may not be as strong as a python or boa but they are still moderately strong enough to push open faulty lids and will do so if they find one. You should never underestimate the ability of any kind of reptile no matter how small the animal is because one of the main things you should know when researching garter snake care of any kind of reptile care is, some of the smallest pets might surprise you with their ability. When you’re dealing with an aquarium made out of glass, it should come equipped with a screen lid and usually these are snapped onto the sides or top.
If the snake can fit in between the grilles where it snaps down, then it’s going to get out, so you need to make absolute certain that there are no gaps like this on the aquarium outlet. Or if there is even the slightest gap, then use your best judgment and make sure that if the snake were to try to push through, that it wouldn’t be able to get past the eyes. However, when you’re housing a baby snake in an aquarium, they more than likely will be better off equipped with a screen lid rather than a grille.
Now there are some brand name cages out there that tend to be plastic and these will work fine but aren’t used much because sometime they have electrical cable holes that are often overlooked. Inspect them thoroughly and make sure that there are no holes your snake can get through when inspecting it. Young snakes seem to do ok in these plastic enclosures but remember, while the garter snake isn’t the strongest breed out there, it can push through moderately shut lids.
Also, if you plan on using something such as a rubber maid or some kind of container, then you’re going to want to thoroughly inspect the side of the containers and to inspect all around the area for any kind of holes that may be present. Overtime, dragging Rubbermaid or other containers across the ground may have created holes you didn’t even know existed. Especially when other huge containers stay stacked on top of them for so long, they can become cracked or have holes created in them.
Furniture/Decorations In The Cage
When it comes to decorations in the cage, some owners don’t have any and the garter snakes do just fine, but they really don’t require much as for furniture. All you ideally need is a cage that’s strategically placed in a place that’ll get the right temperature, some basic logs and some plants and you’ll more than likely do just fine. However, it gives a nice cosmetic appeal if you add some realistic looking things that appeal to the eyes in there. The snake really isn’t going to care though as long as it gets to eat and go about its day.
Really, the needs of a snake boil down to having a cage and having some water supply. Tying directly in with the decorations, the snakes only need a place to hide and they’ll be just fine. That’s really all they need to feel secure and most people call it a shelter but some people call it a hiding box. Your box or shelter will be relatively small and it will be solid enough to place inside of a cage. You don’t want it to fill the cage too much but you want it to be large enough so that the snake can curl up inside of it.
It’s hard to plan out but the best and most ideal hiding place is one where the snake can touch the sides of the hiding spot when it’s curled up but that’s a hard goal to achieve, so just stick with providing an adequate one to get the ball rolling. Most people like to use common and generic pet store doodads such as some logs or some boxes that they’ve cut holes into but you can make your own as well and make something creative. However if you decide to go with something such as cardboard or a box, you’ll have to replace it completely if it gets dirty because remember, those kinds of shelters can’t really be cleaned, they have to be replaced.
One of the other important features to have in a cage that’s absolutely essential is owning a water dish so that it has a steady supply to fresh and clean water. You need to make sure that the water never ever runs dry and that is to be kept fresh. You don’t want your snake drinking out of dirty water that it has been defecating into or that dead prey is floating around in, so change it accordingly with whenever you need to change it. The snake doesn’t only just drink from their water bowl, but when they feel the need to, they’ll go into the bowl to cool down as well, so keep a fresh supply of water.
When a snake feels overheated or they feel hot on a particular day, you might find them spending a good majority of their time just soaking in the water bowl. Garter snakes will often be found near aquatic conditions out in the wild but you don’t want to keep them in aquatic conditions inside of a cage, a water bowl will do just fine as the only source of water. The only thing that really brings them into the water in the wild is that their prey tends to go into the water, which is why they spend a good amount of time there in the wild.
One of your main concerns of the cage is keeping it dry because if you fail to keep a cage clean, then you might end up giving your snake blister disease which isn’t fun to treat. Newborn snakes however need to be carefully watched because what can happen with them is they can end up drying out which in turn may cause some shedding problems due to some dry air, which is something you’re going to need to keep an eye on. In this particular case, it might benefit you to provide what’s known as a humidity box inside the cage. All this is, is a box that contains some dampened moss which helps raise the humidity and keeps the snake a little moist. The best boxes for this purpose will have a hole on the top and on the bottom to help the cage as well.
Ideally other than that, anything else you add into the cage is purely cosmetic and you don’t actually have to do it. Things such as branches from trees, some rocks for cosmetic appeal and other things you can add in the cage are completely up to you and not necessary.
Substrate essentially is what will be covering the floor of the cage and it’s the material that you put on the bottom of the cage. There are so many different kinds of substrate out there that sometimes it can be hard to choose, especially for a brand new pet owner who knows nothing about the stuff. You have a wide variety of safe and perfectly efficient substrates for garter snakes, which range all the way from paper towels to even butcher’s paper. Basically, anything soil based or anything that would ideally fit inside of a terrarium will work.
Now, if you want to get fancy, you can even use things such as shavings which are aspen. However, the one thing you want never want to use is what’s known as cedar shavings because they’re harmful to snakes. Some people have even gone as far as adding indoor carpet looking substrate to their cage but I really don’t recommend this one because it’ll be highly difficult to clean and change all the time. Now you’re going to have to make a decision here between easy to clean and looking pretty.
When you have a naturalistic looking environment, it may look great from the outside but it’s not exactly fun to clean. However on the other hand, you have paper towel type substrate which looks awful but all you have to do clean it is simply pick it up. One of the drawbacks for lazy people when doing proper garter snake care is that they tend to expel their nutrients quite frequently and something you’re going to have to deal with when you own a garter snake is that they’re going to defecate a lot. For lazy people who refuse to change the substrate often and clean the cage will more than likely stink up the house and have to deal with the wretched smell it produces.
This is why a cage must be cleaned out quite frequently, so you’re going to have to pick between easy to clean or looking great. However, no matter what kind of substrate you’re using, the good news is that you’re not really going to have to change the cage more than once a week and that’s really it. Of course, If you’re housing more than one garter snake (which isn’t recommended for new owners), you’ll make some messes faster and might actually to clean the cage twice a week. One of the many other reasons that you’ll discover below which I prefer a mouse diet over the meal worm diet is because they’re not as messy and they don’t defecate as often.
Using paper towels really is the easiest way to substrate the cage and the easiest way to spot clean as well. It’s extremely easy to go through the cage and spot where the mess is when you have paper towels laid down. Also paper towels can be used to clean the glass as well and they’re relatively cheap at just about any kind of market or general store that you go to.
Now when it comes to temperature, all snakes and reptiles alike are going to be cold blooded, which is why keeping an optimal temperature is going to be one of the utmost importance. What being cold blooded essentially means is that they tend to need all the heat they can get in order to keep their metabolism high and in order to lose weight. They rely on temperature essentially to lose weight. When a snake becomes too cold, you’ll notice some behavior changes such as they’ll move around sluggish and they won’t be able to eat their food effectively.
You’ll notice that they may even regurgitate food which isn’t pretty to look at (this is just another word for throwing it up) and when a snake is pregnant, it’s absolutely essential that there’s enough warmth in the cage or enclosure to digest as much food as possible. While the room temperature might be at a certain temperature, the garter snake needs to be just a little warmer for it to function properly. If you live in a very heated area such as a home that requires constant air-conditioning or central cooling, then you’re going to have to make sure that it’s a little extra warm in the enclosure.
However, you need to make sure that it’s not too warm because when it gets too warm the opposite happens and they become depressed and may not eat or stop eating altogether. So you want to make sure that it’s vital to keep in touch with the correct temperatures. The ideal temperature inside of a snake’s enclosure is going to be anywhere from 75 degrees to 85 degrees at the high maximum for at least the garter snake. However, the reason you want differing temperatures in the cage is because you want the snake to have the option of cooling off or getting warm.
What this is called is a temperature gradient, where you make one area of the enclosure warmer than the other and the easiest way to do this is with an overhead light bulb. First and foremost, you never ever want to use hating rocks or what they call hot rocks as pet stores because this can have bad results for your pet. If your pet decides that a rock looks great and it wants to go on top of one, it will burn itself and potentially melt the snake if the rock is too hot. That’s why it’s better off just not going with any kind of “hot rock” no matter how much the pet store tries to pressure you into buying one.
Some of them may be placed inside of a plastic container but the problem with this is, nothing is stopping the snake from wrapping around the container and over time, it may acquire some burns from the rock and you’ll have one angry garter snake if this happens. Another thing you want to watch out for is direct sunlight because while in captivity they can’t handle direct sunlight as well as they could in the wild. They’re used to the room lighting and the overhead lighting that you’ve provided in the room when they’re born in captivity, they’re not used to the kind of light that you’re trying to give them when you expose them to direct sunlight.
Now, some people will say they prefer to use a heating pad under one side of the cage and while this does work, it can be a little more costly than your other options, so use it if you want. There is plenty of different commercial type heating pads out there or off brand pads that may cost a little less as well. Some people have said they’ve had success with electric blankets as well but I’ve never seen the point of these outside what people say about them. However, fluorescent bulbs will generate little to no heat when they’re turned to the lowest setting and they’re completely safe for snakes.
Now, you’re going to want a thermometer as well as this should be common sense. I’m not talking about going down to your local Wal-Mart and just getting the cheapest thermometer that you can find but you want to make sure you get a digital one so that you can take the most accurate results possible. Usually the more expensive ones will give you a better reading and a lot of them will stick right on the side of the enclosure. Generally, when you’re reading the temperatures of the enclosure, there’s really only two numbers that you should be looking for.
You want to make sure that it only goes to a minimum of 70 degrees and a high of 85 degrees. Some people say 87 is the optimal temperature on the hot side but this will vary from owner’s experience to others. You’ll have to find what works best for you and what’s easiest to maintain in your particular case. However, don’t let the temperature get anywhere near 90 degrees or over because this is when the temperature starts to become potentially dangerous and might end up killing your snake.
Now what most snakes including the garter snake do when they’re just too hot is they like to escape to a water dish which I hope you haven’t placed in the hot section of the gradient or else you might be making the water too warm to serve its purpose. It’s fairly easy to tell when a snake is overheating because it’ll just run around the cage with its mouse open kind of like it’s in a race, so you should get it into water immediately if you see it doing this.
Feeding a garter snake seems to be one of the most commonly asked questions in the community and a lot of people give the wrong answers. A lot of people who work in pet stores who just guess or the people on various forums who insist they just eat crickets are wrong. There are quite a few different things that the garter snake can eat but there are also some things you need to watch for, which is why you must be careful what you feed it.
The first things we’re going to discuss are mealworms which I highly do not recommend. First of all, if you feed your garter snake mealworms, then you’re going to have to make sure you’re cutting up the mealworms into segments and that’s not enough to reduce the serious risks that come with mealworms. Bad mealworms are one of the top reasons that your snake may come down with a parasite infection which is covered in the health section of this guide. Once your snake has a parasite infection it’s almost nearly impossible to get rid of them in some cases.
Sure, there’s medicine available and there’s surgical options available, but this is only available in special cases, is expensive and the medicine more often than not plain doesn’t work. When you’re dealing with a parasite infection, they’ll try to push medicine on the snake but it more than likely will have no effect or the parasites will keep coming back. So it’s really advised that you stay away from mealworms just for that reason alone. However, that’s not the only reason I advise you to stay away from them.
The second reason is that they’re not very high in vitamins or nutrients that helps keep your snake alive. So what’s the most recommended and top food that you should be feeding your garter snake? The answer is simply mice and you can go about this in two different ways. First, you can feed your snake live mice which has some risks on their own and they can be filled with parasites but you should be alight f they’re captive bred and taken care of.
However, the safer and better option is thawed mice. Sure, some snakes will prefer to have live food that they can chase down and hunt, but it’s much better to be safe and rid the food of all potential parasites living inside of it rather than to feed it live mice and run that risk. As we said, getting rid of parasites is often complicated and most of the time it doesn’t work.
There’s also a fish platter, but I highly do not recommend utilizing this because it’s one of the highest rates of parasitic infection, so it’s best to steer clear of it. Feeding can be done once a week once they’re fully grown adults or once every couple of days ideally but when they’re just babies, you’re going to want to make sure you’re feeding them every single day because they require constant nutrients. Don’t try to feed them any kind of food that’s too large to swallow or that common sense would rule out.
Vitamins are a very touch and go subject with garter snake care because while some people recommend them, there’s an equal amount of people who can tell you they’re really not necessary. However, this will really depend on the diet and the eating habits of the snake, so if you’re feeding earthworms to the garter snake, then you should be wary because they’re very deficient in calcium. Your snakes won’t be getting a correct amount of calcium in their diet if you’re only feeding them earthworms, and if you’re feeding them fish fillet, it’s not going to be anywhere near complete on the nutrition scale.
Now while it’s not absolutely necessary because they survive in the wild just fine without it, but if you want to ensure that your pet is the healthiest it can be, then you might want to consider adding some natural minerals to it’ diet, considering that it’s living off of fish or mealworms. Really though, you only need to do this a mere once or even twice a month as it isn’t really required at all and they get this benefit from most other meal groups.
If you’re looking for the best maximum results, then you’re going to want to use a combination of Vitamin B1, some calcium that usually comes in powder form and some Vitamin D3. These will be the most helpful to your snake and to ensure they grow up at a healthy rate and stay healthy. There are multiple stores and sources around the internet for purchasing these multi-vitamins and you have to carefully select which one you want to use based on the vitamin that you’re feeding to the snake.
It’s been said in more recent reports that if you try to use calcium on earthworms, it kills them instead of just sticking onto them and being used as a meal, so if you’re feeding the pet earthworms, you really don’t have to worry about calcium. However, you might be able to keep them alive long enough to be eaten if you simply just sprinkle some powder on them rather than dragging them through it and covering them with it. This should be done immediately before feeding, but if you decide to feed vitamins to other types of food, you might have to wait 24 hours for the vitamins to digest to feed them to the garter snakes.
With all vitamins though, you want to impose limits on how much vitamins your pets are taking because while you really can’t overdose on vitamins, you’ll create more waste than necessary and you’ll just be spending more money than necessary on these things.
One thing that you need to be on the lookout for is potential health issues that may come up so hopefully all of those can be addressed here and all of the common issues and health problems that may be encountered while doing basic garter snake care. Some of these health issues will include some vitamin decencies, the dreaded parasites no pet owner likes, blister disease and some potential shedding problems that you might run into.
However, you might want to check with your health provider or vet on other possible health conditions because this is just a small sample of the most common health problems and there are many more out there where this one came from. There’s not a lot of decent health professionals out there that deal with snakes but you’ll have to do a search in your local area or online to find a decent one on your budget. The most serious problem that you need to be aware of and that you need to know how to react to is easily parasites.
Garter snake care requires a good deal of knowledge about parasites because it’s a common problem and it’s the most life threatening issue with almost all breed of snakes. Even in some other type of exotic pets, it’s a common problem to have to deal with parasites, but thankfully, dealing with them is relatively easy if you know how to spot the signs. This is the main reason why I never prefer or recommend anyone to feed their pet snake any kind of earthworms or fish because this is the main reason they contract parasites.
This is also the main carrier of parasites as well, and it’s usually almost a guarantee if you spend a lifetime feeding off of earthworms that you will encounter parasites every once in a while. However, in a recent study it was revealed that all wild caught amphibians were easily the number one carrier of parasites and spreaders as well. Also, you should probably stray away from live fish while in captivity because depending where they came from and how well they’re taken care of, they can be carrying parasites as well.
Now what kind of infections are we talking here? Well, there are quite a few different microorganisms out there that could potentially infect your pet such as a virus, some bacteria or even protozoan. Feeding your snake live fish usually isn’t that common though so if you notice a sudden parasite infection and your garter snake’s main diet consists of earth worms, then it’s more than likely you’ve already found the culprit. The key is to catch them before they can do what they do best and that is infect the body from the inside out. What they’re going to do early on is try to burrow into the snake’s lung. However, sometimes this process takes years and you don’t even know its happening.
It’s very difficult to predict when this will happen or how it happens but it’s definitely something you need to watch for because over the years it could be just working and burrowing its way into your snake’s lung. It could’ve been living inside of your snake for months or even years without your knowledge that anything was wrong.
One of the earliest signs that should warrant a trip to the veterinarian is the small little lumps all along the snake’s body that will appear just right under the skin. You’ll notice that it almost appears as if it’s pressed up the skin and this will be your number one sign of evidence and any skilled veterinarian who has experience working with a garter snake should be able to remove it before it becomes an issue or decides to dig its way deeper. How these are removed is simply by making a small little incision in the snake and then the worm will be pulled out and while this sounds relatively painful and serious, it’s far better to make a small hole and save its life rather than to wait for years or months down the road.
This means that the worm has successfully migrated out of the lung and that your snake may continue to live freely again. However, the more serious route is if the worm has decided to make its way and stay inside of the lung because there actually is no way to remove a worm from the lung of a snake or else it’ll kill it. Once you have a living worm in there doing damage, there’s only one thing that’s worse believe it or not and that’s having a dead worm inside of the lung because now you know for sure there’s absolutely no way to get it out.
Some people have reported that these parasitic worms can even grow up to be two feet long inside of a snake. That’s just downright scary when you think about it and if you ever encounter a worm that makes it past the six inch point, your snake has a very slim chance of living. You’ll also notice as another symptom that you might see some swelling around the lung region and it’ll become inflamed. The worm’s presence basically causes this and it’s something that you need to look out for. Another sign that you need to be cautious for or look out for is that the snake might make a slight popping sound when it tries to breathe.
Sometimes however with some parasites is that there are absolutely no symptoms at all and it can just continuously keep growing without anything you can do about it. That’s one of the downfalls of garter snake care and taking care of them because they can handle worms a lot better than other species can and you might never actually know the snake ever had a worm until it dies. Really, the main problem with a parasitic infection is, that there can be no sign or warning between the point of ingesting the food that causes the problem and the actual infection.
So you might from eating a mealworm to having a worm in the snake’s lung in a matter of one year without ever even noticing it, which is why I would highly recommend just staying away from feeder fish or mealworms. Also, if you have a batch of garter snakes that you’re breeding together then you might want to keep a close eye on all of them, especially if one of them gets sick from a batch that all of them have eaten from.
Another condition you’ll need to be familiar with that you’ll not be able to do anything about is known as SGSDS (sudden garter snake death syndrome). There’s nothing you can do about it and there’s nothing you can really do to predict it or to fix it. Some people believe that these deaths are the result of parasites and some people believe that these are the result of people improperly handling their snakes inside the enclosure and letting them live in poor conditions.
There are however, some de-worming medications out there on the market if you suspect something may be wrong with your snake or if you see any signs that a parasite infection may be beginning to take form. You shouldn’t wait and delay anytime soon, make sure that they get the medicine soon. However, just be warned that some of these worms have been proven to be resistant to the treatment options even the medicines. The best way to avoid this altogether is to feed your snake some de-thawed captivity mice and you’ll be free of any risk of parasites.
Another thing you’ll want to be familiar with is vitamin deficiency. You’ll notice the plain and clear symptoms such ass loss of coordination and you’ll notice the motor control is a bit sketchy as well as it moves around slowly and in a random pattern. At first, once you start first noticing the signs, there’s really nothing too serious about this however, if you let this go on long enough, it can be highly fatal so you don’t want to let it go on for too long or to the point of having a serious deficiency.
You have a couple of different treatment options for vitamins, and you can either start gut loading your food or start giving them some B1 vitamin injections. Commonly, people like to go with gut loading because it’s far less expensive and it’s pretty effective, but you won’t notice any symptom changes right away, they’ll take time as the vitamins kick in and boost the immune system. Also, that’s another benefit to calcium vitamins as well; they’ll boost the immune system against infections as well.
Hibernation or otherwise known as “brumation” which is the word for when reptiles go into hibernation is different than other animals. You see for the garter snake and for all reptiles, when they go into hibernation, they’re not going to be living off of the fat reserves that they eat prior to hibernation, but instead they’re going to be living solely off their metabolism. The metabolism of the animal will be completely temperature dependent and during the course of hibernation, this slows down drastically because when it gets closer to winner, you’ll notice that your snake has less energy.
Basically, the snake doesn’t really do much and it’s very cold out. During hibernation, the snake will still be awake and it’ll still be moving but it’ll be moving at a very sluggish pace compared to how quick it usually moves around and how active it usually is. The metabolism slows down to a very low level and the snake won’t really lose any weight, which is why it’s able to hold that last meal inside of it for so long and to harness that energy immediately when hibernation starts.
Now, the main question for new garter snake care enthusiasts or owners all over is that they wonder if it’s absolutely necessary to hibernate their snakes. While a lot of reptiles will require this process, the garter snake will not. It’s not really a requirement and a lot of people have no problem keeping them warm throughout the winter without having to go through that entire process and there are usually no negative side effects as a result. However, during a couple of different situations you might find that it’s absolutely necessary to brumate your garter snake. While it may be true that most garter snakes stay warm and hungry throughout the winter so that you don’t have to worry about it, there’s a few things you have to look for.
For instance, if you plan on breeding your snakes, then during hibernation is the best time and most optimal time to do it, because it’s a necessary step and part of the process. This is ideal because it boosts the fertility and the success rate of breeding. Also, after hibernation, usually this is during the springtime, but when you bring them out of hibernation, they know that it’s around the time of the year to begin the mating process. However, this will depend on a snake by snake basis so you’ll have to keep an eye on it and sometimes they aren’t going to give you much of a choice.
Sometimes, garter snakes will go into hibernation on their own and you’ll notice that instead of jumping at food as usual, their enthusiasm and energy has decreased and they may come to a halt on eating. This will ideally happen before the fall and it’ll be very noticeable when it does happen. Why this happens is, the snake knows that it’s time to stop eating because of several things going on in the room. It knows that fall is around the corner because of the light changing and the temperature in the enclosure present during the day. One thing you need to know about garter snake care, is that they’re very perceptive.
Sometimes you’ll have some problem feeders in the fall but in some odd cases, they may start eating again after a month. If this is the case, then all you have to simply do is offer the snake something else it would rather have. In all the other cases, you will more than likely have to hibernate them in order to ensure their survival or get ready for the breeding process. Why exactly do snakes stop eating during or before hibernation? Being cold blooded requires the right temperature in order to digest your food and in order to remain healthy while eating in an environment.
If a snake is too cold and finds the conditions too cold, it won’t be able to digest it’s food which is why it goes into hibernation early usually with one last large meal in its stomach. However, before the snake even has a chance to digest it, it will more than likely putrefy. This is why you want to make sure that they don’t in fact have anything in their stomachs before they burrow or go into hibernation because you don’t want them to have any side effects from keeping good but sometimes you can’t help it.
Now it doesn’t really matter who starts the hibernation process, whether it’s you or the snake, the process is relatively easy and not something you really should be too concerned with. The first step is to stop feeding the snake if they haven’t stopped eating on their own and they’re continuing to eat the food you put in the enclosure. Then you want to wait a solid to three weeks so that all of the food gets out of the garter snake’s system and the process can begin shortly after.
Now, this part may not be the most sanitary or fun, but what you want to do to ensure that all of the system is cleared out before hibernation is to give the snake a bath in some mildly warm water and what this does essentially is encourages the snake to defecate into the water clearing out its system. Ideally all you have to do then is find a place that’s going to have a cold enough temperature. Perhaps right near a window with a nice draft will do the trick or you might even make use of a fan if you have one available. In most of North America, Winter alone will be cold enough to start hibernation unless your house is always at a crazy temperature like 85 degrees.
Some people report that the absolute highest end of hibernation can be at around 55 to 60 degrees and even that is debatable. You could even go to 40 degrees without injuring or hurting them, which is more than likely more ideal than the reported 60 degrees.
Now, a lot of people are afraid of snakes and refuse to touch them but you shouldn’t be too worried because a lot of them are actually quite docile and easy to work with. They’re easy to be around and while they may become uneasy at first, they’re generally easy to handle. Part of garter snake care is taking care of it well and if you do this, then they’ll be easy to handle, but if they’re stressed out or underfed, then they may present some issues when you try.
The garter snake in general is known as a very gentle creature when it’s kept in captivity or when it’s captive bred. They really don’t mind when their owners or people try to handle them and all it boils down to really is, picking them up and letting them slither about inside of your hands to get used to you. Now, while you may be frightened because of your experience with other snakes, it’s highly important to remember that garter snakes are not constrictors like a python or a boa is.
Their first line of defense isn’t going to be to squeeze you to death like some species of snakes can and will do when they’re frightened. So if you have any experience holding a python, a boa or a corn snake, then you might be a little concerned and anxious, but I assure you the snake is just as frightened or anxious too and more than likely isn’t going to try to attack anything. So with that in mind, this means two things when you’re handling a garter snake.
First, you have to make sure you’re giving it more support as it requires more. It’s not going to be able to hang on the same way as a breed that constricts will and will have trouble staying in your hands above the ground if you don’t support it. You need to pay more attention to the snake you’re holding and you need to ensure that it doesn’t take a fall to the ground because depending on where you’re standing may hurt a little bit. So for this reason, until you’re used to the snake, it’s best to sit down on the floor and handle it in your hands slightly above the ground.
Second, unlike other species of snakes that will like to curl around your hands or curl around your fingers, the garter snake will tend to slither through your fingers because of how agile they are. Sometimes, they’ll zig zag through your hands if you hold them out in that motion or they’ll even go through your fingers in a zig zag like motion, it’s really fun to watch and see. If you find some garter snakes out in the wild, you’ll notice that while they may be frightened, they’re super easy to pick up and the same two rules apply, make sure you’re holding them gently because they have trouble hanging onto surfaces like the palm of a human’s hand.
The majority of garter snakes are quite tame and it’s not going to take much time getting used to, you’ll be able to pick them up right away without any complications but there’s always that exception. For instance, there are some garter snakes that tend to not be tame and tend to be the anti-social kind of snake. You have to accept the fact that if your snake isn’t getting used to human exposure and isn’t handling being held very well even after weeks or months of practice, it more than likely never will get used to you.
However, it’s still necessary to learn how to handle these snakes because there will be times that it’s mandatory to remove them from their cages such as when you’re going to feed them or when you’re going to clean the cage, which will happen quite a few times. This kind of snake may present a bit of a challenge to you but this isn’t how all garter snakes are and this is actually quite rare to encounter a garter snake like this, it’s more commonly know that they enjoy being handled and are quite fond of it once they’re used to the person doing the handling.
Reacting To A Garter Snake That’s Scared
If you’re handling a scared garter snake, then there might be a few possible scenarios here and a few different ways that your snake may act if it becomes frightened or just plain doesn’t want to be picked up at all. Again, remember that if any of these reactions occur, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your snake hates you; it just means that it needs more time to get used to you and it’s becoming frightened, that’s all. However, sometimes it means that your snake is trying to send you a clear signal that it does not want to be handled.
First, they may thrash wildly in your hands due to the shock and the scared factor. Most owners who have experienced this type of thrashing sort of experience it as a crocodile’s death roll. This is where it will be more important than ever to provide support and to make sure that the snake isn’t going to fly out of your hands or drop to the ground. It may be scary at first as the snake starts rolling around, but that’s just it trying to escape because it doesn’t like what’s happening, keep a firm grip on it and keep it steady.
Now, the next one is a little bit more disgusting and it’ll do what’s known as musking on you. If your garter snake absolutely doesn’t want to be picked up, it may musk on you and you’ll know when this happens because you’ll smell this very foul and sour odor that comes out of the snake. Also, it’ll make sure to discharge any kind of feces that it’s been saving up for you, so it’s not a very pleasant experience. It may be disheartening to smell but this isn’t serious and shouldn’t cause any complications so all you really have to do is wash it off when you’re done handling it.
The next one which is the most serious is where it could potentially bite you depending on how scared it is and how much it’s been handled lately. A lot of factors go into the snake’s decision to bite but ideally, they don’t really bite that much or at all. This rarely happens and is rarely reported as happening so the odds or possibilities of this happening are very low. Bites commonly aren’t serious and it’ll more than likely thrash about and leave musk in your hands before it considers biting you, they’re not aggressive by nature.
Now, if the snake does happen to hang on or bite you, then what you want to do is follow these essential steps. First, identify where the head is and where the teeth are because what you’re going to want to do is push the head forward so that you let the teeth out. Garter snake care is important when getting them off of you after a bite because their heads are extremely fragile and you could injure their mouth if you tend to press too hard. Biting you is more deadly for the snake than it is for you, because it could cause a mouth infection which might be expensive to treat.
When a snake is biting self-defense though, it usually doesn’t even attempt to hang on; it usually just gives a quick strike then goes on about their business. It’s kind of like a kitten that doesn’t want to be held, it’ll claw at your hand not because it hates you because it doesn’t want to be held. Now, some people believe that biting may occur because they sometimes think your hand is food and they’re not being fed like they should which may be true if you handle your garter snake right before or right after a meal. Avoid those times and give it plenty of time to digest a meal before picking it up.
The most serious thing anyone has ever reported is that they’ve ended up having some skin reactions to the saliva from the garter snake. Really this boils down to certain allergies and some people in the past said they have had medical conditions where they required a trip to the ER because of a garter snake bite but most of these are due to bites inducing allergic reactions that they didn’t even know they had. There’s a particular gland on the garter snake that make scientists and zookeepers believe that the saliva from a garter snake is potentially toxic but only from an allergic reaction.