Do Garter Snakes Bite? Is It Poisonous? What to Do If Bitten?

Garter snakes do not have a reputation for being aggressive, but this doesn’t mean they’re harmless. While they are not as dangerous as other snakes, you still should be aware of what the dangers of garter snakes are and how you should handle them to avoid these dangers.

Let’s start with the main question; do Garter Snakes bite? Garter snakes do bite when they feel threatened, and their snakes can cause minor swelling and itching in humans and dogs, most garter snakes’ teeth are weak and can’t pierce your skin but some can, and most garter snakes are nonvenomous and the ones that are venomous have mild venom that can’t kill a human.

To understand why would a garter snake bite you, whether their bites can cause serious harm, and what should you do in case you or your pet gets bitten, keep reading.

Why do Garter Snakes bite?

garter snake looking to answer why do garter snakes bite

Garter snakes are usually not aggressive, but they will bite, just like any other snake, if they feel threatened or cornered.

Garter snakes are not poisonous, non-venomous, and have little harmful force behind their bites. This is also true of most garter snake types.

Some of them, on the other hand, contain a hazardous neurotoxin that is not harmful to humans. In the case of a garter snake bite, localized moderate swelling and irritation are possible. Any wounds should be treated with an antiseptic.

Garter snakes are not harmful to humans. Although they are generally shy and will flee should the opportunity arise, they may act defensively by delivering a warning nip in self-defense.

Do Garter Snakes bites hurt?

In most cases, garter snakes’ stings are not painful but can be irritating and uncomfortable: their teeth are too tiny and feeble to do any significant damage (but this varies by species). A garter snake’s fangs might be long enough to break the skin, but they’re not likely to create major problems.

The same is true for dogs and other pets; garter snakes bites’ are unlikely to cause any serious pain or harm.

The real threat with pets is that most of them are intrigued by snakes and do not always fear them. For example, dogs have no fear of snakes, and the combination of a dog’s curiosity and hunting instincts will often lead the dogs to try and hunt or kill the snake.

Are garter snakes aggressive?

No, contrary to what some people believe, Garter snakes are not aggressive, and are actually quite timid and peaceful which is why they make such good pets. Garter snakes have a mild temperament, but they are fearful and will try to flee when encountering humans.

However, since they are quite small, ground-dwelling, and like grassy areas, they are often difficult to detect by us.

This means that you may be bitten when walking barefoot in your garden by a garter snake, but that’s not because the snake is aggressive, but rather because you stepped on it or gotten too close that it felt threatened.

Will a garter snake attack you?

Garter snakes do not attack humans by design, but they will do so if cornered or threatened. They do this as a defense mechanism to scare away predators and protect themselves; because of their timid nature, garter snake bites tend to be defensive ones.

The real danger of a garter snake bite

While garter snakes’ bites are unlikely to cause any serious harm or pain, they are still dangerous as with any other animal bites. That’s because they can infect you with harmful bacteria, and this infection is the real threat of a garter snake’s bite.

What to do if a garter snake bites you

When removing a garter snake from your body, follow the procedures below if one was to sink its teeth deep enough to connect:

  1. Remove the teeth by gently pushing the snake’s head forward. This should remove some of the teeth from the skin.
  2. Remove the head. After ensuring all the teeth have been removed, go ahead and gentle remove the snake’s head. Be careful to not harm either of you or you risk the chance for infection.
  3. Put the snake back in the tank: After removing the snake, put it back in its enclosure.
  4. Clean and disinfect the wound. Use an antiseptic to clean and disinfect your wound. It’s a good idea to keep a couple of bottles of Antiseptic in the house anyway, I keep a stock of Bactine Max (Amazon link) in the house all the time, and you should do the same.
  5. Give your snake time to calm back down. Leave your snake in its enclosure and don’t do anything for a few days. Give them plenty of food and let them just take the time to calm back down. Once you’re sure they’re back to their quiet normal self and you are too, you can pick it up again.

Do Garter Snakes chase you?

Garter snakes will not chase after you. They are really quite timid and do not want to fight! Garter snakes have a very mild venom that is unlikely to have any impact on humans (it can cause minor swelling in those who are allergic).

What do garter snakes eat?

Garter snakes do not have “sharp teeth” to bite prey. Instead, they swallow their food whole. Garter snake diet consists of insects or worms that are easily swallowed by the small throat size of these creatures. They also enjoy mice and frogs when available!

Do garter snakes like to be held?

Garter snakes do not like to be held. They feel threatened and will try to escape when being handled by a human. Garter snakes do not have sharp teeth, but they can still bite if they feel scared or threatened.

I have a complete guide on how snakes feel about being held, touched, or pet here that you should definitely check out to learn how to build up to holding your snake safely and how to know your snake is ready for your touch.


Garter snakes make great pets for those who are willing to put in the time to learn about them. They have a mild temperament, but they are fearful and will try to flee when encountering humans.

If you do come across a garter snake, do not attempt to touch or handle it without first researching how to do so safely! They are timid creatures that will bite if they feel threatened, and this can lead to infection depending on your health conditions. If bitten by one of these snakes, disinfect the wounds or seek medical attention if you see swelling or other alarming signs as the threat of infection is there.

Do not fear snakes, but do respect their boundaries and do not touch or handle them without first learning more about how to do so safely!

Helpful Resources

Common Garter Snakes

Eastern Garter Snakes

Animal Facts: Common garter snake

Thamnophis sirtalis – Common Garter Snake

If you like this article, please share it!

Recent Posts