Note: Pet Educate is reader supported. If you make a purchase through a link on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission - at no extra cost to you. This includes links to Amazon.

Are Garter Snakes Poisonous? [What You Need To Know]

If you’ve ever been cautious around garter snakes, not knowing whether or not they are poisonous, then today we can put this question to bed. I have conducted some thorough research into this species of snake regarding any potential safety concerns and toxicity. I’d like to share that here with you today.

So, are garter snakes poisonous? Garter snakes are not poisonous. This is true of the various species of garter snake. While some of them possess a venomous neurotoxin, this is not considered dangerous to humans. In the unfortunate event of a garter snake bite, localized minor swelling and itching may occur. An antiseptic should be used to disinfect and clean out any wound.

Garter Snakes, also known as Garden Snakes, are one of the most habitual species of snakes; both in the wild and kept as pets.

While there are many different types of garter snakes, it is only in very few that carry the neurotoxin venom. Thankfully, this cannot be administered.

Let us now take a closer look at the subject in the following sections, starting with whether this species can harm you before moving on to some actionable preventative strategies if you were to keep this species as a pet.

Can a Garter Snake Hurt You?

Garter snakes are very unlikely to hurt you. Not only out of a lack of an ability to do so but equally due to their temperament – they are unlikely to attack.

Domesticated garter snakes are commonly kept as pets due to their easy-going temperaments.

When born in captivity, garter snakes are generally calm and small in size; making them ideal to handle.

They are also easy to feed and look after, making them ideal for first-time snake owners.

With this being said, just like any species of snake, a garter can strike at its owner – if they feel under threat or are the subject of neglect (especially if they are hungry).

In such situations, they can coil and attempt to strike.

Moreover, wild-caught garters are known to be defensive.

While this can be reduced over time in some contexts, in others they remain defensive and never seem to calm down even with the best care.

Garter snakes are known for having large gums.

Some particular species are in possession of a toxin, which is not overtly harmful to humans.

Without fangs, these garter snakes will use their teeth to deliver this toxin to their prey, on other occasions they can deliver it via their saliva. Either way, it is administered via the mouth.

In such a situation whereby a garter snake bites you; you’ll likely experience a small reaction.

This will be evident with some minor swelling and sometimes a tingly itchy sensation.

Unless you are unfortunate, it is unlikely that you would have an allergic reaction.

With a bite from a garter snake, your main concern can be an infection. This happens when the biting snake is carrying harmful bacteria in its mouths.

If a garter snake was to bite you, first and foremost you need to clean and disinfect the area.

If you notice any signs of infection, be sure to contact a doctor at the earliest opportunity.

If a garter snake was to strike and manage to bite you; they are unlikely to penetrate your skin deeply.

As such, they will not cling on and seek their teeth into you. Instead, they may spray you with a musk.

In the situation where a garter snake was to bite deep enough to attach, you should follow the steps below to safely remove them from you:

  • #1. Remove The Teeth; Gently push the snakes head forward. This will remove some of the teeth from your skin.
  • #2. Remove The Head; Ensure all teeth have been removed. Then gently remove the snakes mouth from you. Be careful not to harm yourself or your snake during this process. Otherwise you risk the chance for infection to take hold in yourself or the mouth of your snake.
  • #3. Put your snake back into their enclosure; giving them plenty of space and time to relax.
  • #4. Clean and disinfect your wound; using an antiseptic like Solimo from Amazon. If you own a garter snake, or have many wild in your local area, stocking up on some of this is a sensible idea.

It is important that you give your snake sufficient time to calm back down in its enclosure.

Be sure to provide plenty of food during this time as this may have been the cause for the strike.

Once you are confident again, and your snake is showing signs of calmness, you can try picking them up again.

How To Prevent Bites From Garter Snakes

As previously mentioned, a garter snake is unlikely to bite without reason. They do not generally do so unless they are provoked.

The two most common causes for biting are that they feel threatened or if they are suffering from excess hunger.

Of course, there are other reasons but these are not common.

If a garter snake was to lash out; it will likely spray you in a liquid known as musk.

Musk is produced by snakes and has a distinctive and unpleasant smell. This is partly due to the fact that it contains feces that a snake has been holding onto!

Perhaps the most effective way of preventing biting/musk spraying is through proper care.

First and foremost, it is advised to purchase your snake from a proper snake breeder. Catching a wild garter snake is generally not a good idea.

Wild garter snakes are more likely to remain stressed in human company; even after time.

They’ll mostly remain defensive – opting to strike at any opportune moment. Some wild snakes may calm down, but most of them do not.

Secondly, it is important to always handle your snake gently and carefully.

Be sure to support their body at all times and do not let them fall or feel like you could drop them.

This will only stress them out and this is where you run the risk of biting/musk spraying.

It’s also a good idea never to attempt to pick them up when basking, eating, or while they are sleeping.

You do not want to provoke them during times when they are satisfying their needs.

It’s important to remember that while most garter snakes are calm, some are not. Some will always be a little more sensitive and on alert.

You should become familiar with your own pet snake and its individual temperament. Handle and take care of them accordingly.

How To Disinfect A Garter Snake Bite

In the rare yet possible moment in where a garter snake has bitten you, you’ll need to undertake specific actions to reduce the risk of infection.

While garter snakes are not poisonous, this does not mean that they cannot cause harm.

Therefore it is imperative that you take good care of them, remain vigilant, and handle your snake with good practices at all times.

Even then, the chances of biting and musking are still possible. As an owner or someone with a lot of garter snakes in their area, it is likely to happen at some point.

Here is some advice and things to do in the unlikely and unfortunate circumstance that it was to happen.


If you were holding your snake, only to come to the realization that you are covered in musk, you needn’t worry.

This is usually the result that your snake has become scared and their natural response is to deploy their musk.

While it may smell and may land on your body or clothes, it can easily be washed off with soap and a good laundry detergent.

If you notice that the smell still remains even after multiple washes of your hands and/or clothes, opt for a soap that contains citric acid.

This is known for being able to break down the most pungent and persistent of smells.


Biting often comes after musking, and a little bit more is involved here.

To begin with, you need to clean the wound and ensure no bacteria gets inside. Start with cold running water, and refrain from using any soap.

Next, you’ll want to use an antiseptic soap that is antibacterial. This will help remove any bacteria that may have gotten into the wound.

Gently dab the wound with a tissue dipped in the anti-septic solution.

Be careful not to rub as this can cause a worsening of the wound and cause it to enlarge and become more inflamed and painful.

Counter-intuitively, you are not going to want to cover your wound in any plasters or bandages.

If you do so you can risk bacteria taking hold in the wound and developing. This will result in an infection that you want to avoid at all costs.

Letting the wound have access to the air will help it to close, seal and develop. Monitor the wound over the course of a few days to a week and look out for any discoloration or changes.

If you suspect you are developing an infection, consult a doctor as soon as you can. An infection will not go away on its own and will need treatment with specific antibiotics.

While uncommon, it is possible that you are allergic to a garter snake’s bite.

Again if you find out that you are, visiting a medical professional at the earliest opportunity is a must.

In Summary

Thankfully, garter snakes are not poisonous. This is good to learn considering that they are one of the most popular pets and they are so common in the wild.

That being said, garter snakes are not immune from biting and releasing their musk.

Musking is smelly but can easily be cleaned whereas bites can be painful and can even lead to infections which can be very serious.

While most domesticated garter snakes will not bite, they may do so out of fear or if provoked.

It’s important that you handle your snake with care and be aware of their needs and requirements at all times.

In the rare case that you are bitten, ensure that you clean out the wound with a reputable anti-septic. Monitor the wound and ensure the infection does not develop.

And if you are wondering about whether other species of snakes are poisonous, check out my other guides:

Related FAQs

Are Garden Snakes Poisonous? Garden snakes are not poisonous. As garden snakes are garter snakes (just another term), you’ll find that they equally may musk or bite when provoked. Yet their venom cannot be penetrated as they do not have fangs. Equally any venom that is given, is most harmless to humans.

Are garter snakes poisonous to dogs? Small dogs will be more at risk to the venom than larger dogs, if bitten. However, just like us humans dogs are likely to suffer from mild discomfort, itching and swelling. Again, they can suffer from infection if the bite was to create an open wound and bacteria was to fester. In this instance, they should be taken to a vet if the area shows signs of infection.

Are garter snakes poisonous to cats? Cats, just like dogs will suffer from mild discomfort, itching and swelling at the site of the bite. Open wounds need to be cleaned or otherwise they risk infection. A vet should be sought out if a wound becomes infected.