The milk snake is a popular pet snake to own, but if you’re looking into getting a pet snake, you want to know if it’s poisonous or not. I was interested, so I researched milk snakes, and this is what I found.
So, are milk snakes poisonous? Milk snakes are neither poisonous nor venomous. Instead, milk snakes will size up their prey and consume their prey whole. They are agile snakes who will strike quickly but are not considered dangerous to humans. Without fangs, they do possess small teeth and are only likely to bite when provoked or threatened.
Thankfully milk snakes are not poisonous. There are almost no poisonous snakes left in existence – aside from a few rare species of snakes in the wild.
Questions around poisonous snakes often arise from a fallacy and a misunderstanding of the term ‘poisonous’. Instead, some species of snake are venomous.
Let us now look at the differences between these terms before looking more closely at the milk snake species and whether they pose any risks to their owners.
What Is The Difference Between Venom and Poison?
There are poisonous snakes, and there are venomous snakes. Then some snakes are both poisonous and venomous.
The result is that these terms are often used incorrectly and interchangeably.
Although the two terms are related to one another and convey that there is risk involved, they do not refer to the same phenomena.
Knowing the difference between whether or not something is venomous or poisonous can make a massive difference in the level of threat a snake/reptile/animal poses and how it should be handled.
Poison enters the body through ingestion and sometimes by physical contact – such as touching.
Think about it this way – a Monarch butterfly is poisonous. Still, unless you eat it, it doesn’t pose any risk or danger.
A cobra, on the other hand, can be eaten pretty safely. However, if they bite you, it could prove lethal.
Venomous animals need to physically inject the toxin into the bloodstream of the prey to take effect.
So, they often have fangs that are used to do so. They will often attack and lunge to do so.
Venomous snakes often use their fangs to inject toxins into their prey to paralyze and kill them – this is usually a defensive mechanism but is also used to capture prey.
Are Milk Snakes Dangerous To Humans?
Luckily to potential owners – the milk snake is neither poisonous nor venomous.
The milk snake is a relatively harmless snake that doesn’t possess any toxins.
They are considered small snakes and do not tend to go after large prey.
As humans, we are 100% off of their radar in terms of potential food.
Now, this doesn’t mean that they won’t hurt you if they decide to bite. Like all species of snake, milk snakes do possess small teeth.
These are not used to chew their food but instead have developed to grip prey and prevent prey from escaping.
The teeth of a milk snake are small and unlikely to penetrate the skin. However, a nip can be painful.
If an owner was to experience a bite from a milk snake, the best course of action is to use an anti-septic.
Like this from Amazon; this will prevent any infection to the wound.
From there, it should heal quickly and naturally.
Thankfully, milk snakes will not actively look to bite their owners. They only will do so if they feel cornered, threatened, or provoked.
It is usually a last resort.
How Do Milk Snakes Kill Their Prey Without Venom?
Without venom, milk snakes have to take a different approach to acquire the food they need.
A milk snake lunges at its prey and hooks on (using its small teeth aforementioned).
Like other snakes, they will swallow their prey completely whole. For this reason, the food needs to be of an appropriate size.
Depending on the age and size of the milk snake, their prey can vary.
Earlier on in life, they can live off large crickets, slugs, worms, and other bugs.
As they get older, they will typically transition to a slightly bigger diet – including lizards, birds, and small rodents, like mice.
Milk snakes are not known for being picky, though, and they will eat eggs, fish, frogs, and even other snakes if they are small enough, and this is the only available food.
How exactly does this tiny little snake manage to pack quite a punch? Well, it all has to do with how their body has evolved to hold onto prey.
Do Milk Snakes Have Fangs?
As they don’t have any venom, a milk snake does not have the conventional fangs you might imagine a snake is to have.
Despite how they appear at first glance, though, they are not toothless. They have these very tiny teeth that line their jaw on all sides.
What do they use their teeth for if not for delivering venom or chewing up their dinner?
They use them to get a grip of prey.
These little teeth dig right into the flesh of an unsuspected snack and hold on while they attempt to suffocate it.
Then, they swallow the whole prey dead – most of the time.
Can I Feed My Milk Snake Live Animals?
Most experts recommend offering your snake insects and rodents which are already dead.
The reasoning behind offering previously killed animals is a lot more than what it may initially seem.
At first glance, feeding snakes frozen pinkies may be a matter of convenience.
Indeed, keeping food stored in a freezer is much easier than setting up a small enclosure for them in your home until they need to be fed.
Additionally, there is also an aspect of giving your snake frozen foods feel less dark and graphic.
Even if you have a strong stomach and don’t have any issue giving your snake a live mouse, there are health concerns involved that mean you shouldn’t be giving your snake live food.
For one thing, a mouse versus a snake dual would not have a clear-cut winner as one might think. There are good chances that your milk snake could be injured in a fight.
In the worst-case scenario, their intended meal could overcome them and kill them.
You have to remember that they are fighting for their lives in a close encounter and pressured environment.
Many animals that are commonly fed to snake snakes – especially mice and rats – are quick, nimble, and have sharp teeth.
They will not hesitate to bite and can do a lot of damage when they do so.
It is also possible that a snake does not swallow them when they are entirely dead.
They can fight from the inside out.
A little milk snake is not as strong and formidable as you would think.
A rat or mouse, even a small one, could turn and bite their neck and kill them.
How Does a Milk Snake Defend Itself?
Of course, I (for the sake of emphasizing the safety of your milk snake) have dulled down their ability to fight back.
Snakes are predators who are fully capable of holding their own in a fight. They can and will bite.
While they can be a little predictable, some telltale signs are about to lunge.
First, they will tense up and get into a “strike” position.
They are relatively fast, and you do not get much of a warning beyond the stance.
Once they get into that position and strike, they will attempt to bite; whatever is at the other end of it (you or prey).
Again, their teeth are pretty small, but this doesn’t mean that damage can not be dealt with (either to the recipient) or even to the milk snake’s mouth itself.
If a milk snake was to bite you, you need to be especially careful with how you remove it from your skin if they manage to penetrate and ‘attach’.
Failing to do it properly can break their jaws and cause severe issues in your snake.
Being small, a milk snake’s primary means of survival is flight rather than fight.
They are agile and fast – and it makes sense for them to make the most of these abilities.
They are more likely to flee (if they have the chance) to choose that or attack in a stressful situation.
This is why it is never a good idea to corner them. You are leaving them with little choice.
Equally, this is something to keep in mind as these snakes are natural escape artists.
You need to make sure that their enclosure is sealed – and be aware that you shouldn’t handle them excessively near areas where they feel trapped.
Remember that if they escape your hands or find a way out of their enclosure, they will not voluntarily return to you. There’s no loyalty with a pet snake.
So, be sure to handle them with care and appreciate that they do not have such a docile temperament as other snakes like ball pythons.
That being said, with regular and careful care, you can begin to handle them.
Milk snakes are small and pose little risk to their owners.
Without the possession of poison, venom, or fangs, the only real harm they can do to you is a small nip and bite.
Even then, they are unlikely to be able to pierce the skin.
Thankfully, if you are looking to own a milk snake, you’ll be pleased to learn that biting is an unlikely behavior and is only used by this species of snake as a last resort.
Like any pet, you need to respect their needs and requirements.
You need to gain their trust.
While it is not too difficult, it will take time.
At first, your snake may be afraid of you, but it will overcome this fear in a short amount of time. So long as you take care of them and give them a reason to trust in you.
And if you are wondering about whether other species of snakes are poisonous, check out my other guides:
A milk snake can hurt you via biting (particularly if they are able to pierce the skin). Although, milk snakes will only bite as a last resort. They are more likely to flee if there is an escape possible.
Milk snakes, in general, will not attack a human. Humans are not natural or even possible prey for this species of snake. An attack is only likely if the milk snake feels it needs to defend itself or if it is stressed or very hungry.
Milk Snakes are generally considered friendly – for a snake. They make for great pets because they are small, docile unlikely to bite, and easy for a beginner to hold and handle. They are also a more reserved and shy species of snake, especially as juveniles.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.