How to Get Baby Garter Snakes to Eat

Baby garter snakes are tiny. When they’re newly born, they may be only 6 inches long, and no thicker than a pencil. They are notoriously fussy eaters, so getting them to eat food can be quite a challenge for new owners.

Baby garter snakes can be fed a varied diet of sliced earthworms, pinky parts, and cut pieces of fish. However, you may have to wiggle the prey in front of the snake’s nose to encourage it to eat. Some juveniles are shy and prefer to be left alone while they consume their meal.

Feeding baby garter snakes can be difficult because they’re too small at this stage for regular snake foods. If this is the first time you’re feeding your baby garters, the chances are they’ll be even fussier. Some juveniles may also have trouble recognizing what they’re being fed.

How to Feed Baby Garter Snakes

Baby garters don’t have the same meal size requirements as adults. Some juveniles are particular about their food, and how their meal is presented.

Your garter may be disinterested in freshly-sliced worm just because it doesn’t move. Many animals avoid eating dead prey, which is actually why garter snakes play dead when threatened. Some snakes prefer fish over worms, or vice versa. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Refuses cut-up fish and wormsFeed it live earthworms
Refuses cut up pinky miceRub fish juice over mouse pieces
Food fights Individual feeding
One snake eating the foodFeed snakes separately
Lack of appetiteIncrease the temperature of the tank
Snake is shy about eatingLeave the meal overnight

What Do Baby Garter Snakes Eat in Captivity?

Baby garters can be particular about what they eat, especially when you first bring them home. You may have to feed it small pieces of fish, earthworms, platies, and feeder guppies.

Fish

Most garters will eat any type of fish, but owners need to be careful with fish because many contain high amounts of thiaminase. Thiaminase is an enzyme that breaks down vitamin B1 (thiamine).

Note: According to the Journal of Great Lakes Research, the consumption of thiaminase can cause vitamin B1 deficiency, resulting in illness and death. Examples include goldish, anchovy, chubby mackerel, and tuna.

Worms

Whole worms, such as bait-store nightcrawlers, are too big for baby garters, unless you cut them up into smaller pieces.

Smaller worms, such as the ones in your garden, could be the right size and many babies love them, especially if they’re still moving.

Mice

A diet of mice provides all of the nutrition that a baby garter snake needs. Try feeding your baby garters very small pinky parts. You may have to slowly transition your snakes to a rodent-based diet by continuing to feed it fish and worms every now and then.

If your baby garter snake has a preference for fish and refuses to eat pinky parts, you can entice it by scenting the pinky parts with fish. Rub some fish juice or a piece of fish against the pinky after cutting it up.

If a fish-scented mouse meal still doesn’t work, try offering your snake a dish with pieces of fish and pinky mice to spark its appetite.

What To Do if a Baby Garter Snake Won’t Eat

Just because you have the right types of food for a baby garter snake, this still doesn’t mean that it’ll eat its meal.

A large part of the problem is connected to the way that the food is prepared or presented to your snake. The following can help:

Defrost Food Thoroughly

If you’re using frozen pinkies or fish, always thaw the food out before offering it to your snake.

You can do this by placing the food item into a cup of warm (not hot) water. Leave it there until it’s soft and slightly warm.

Size the Food Appropriately

Regardless of the food, you must make sure it’s small enough for your baby garters to eat. It should not be much wider than the thickest part of the snake’s middle.

If the food is too large, your snake won’t recognize it as prey. Newborn garter snakes won’t be large enough to eat whole pinkie or large worms straight away. Chop up their food into smaller pieces.

Always Feed Snakes Separately

Even if your baby garter snakes are housed together, you will have to feed them separately to avoid accidental cannibalism and fights. Some greedy snakes may take all the food, causing others to starve.

Individual feeding can be tricky if you have a large number of babies. However, you can use deli-cup containers to make the feeding process easy. Insert one portion of food per cup and place the cups outside the cage. Take the snakes out of their home and place one in each container.

Individual feeding is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than just dropping a dishful of food into a cage. However, feeding snakes separately is healthier, safer, and ensures that each snake is fed.

Baby Garter Snake Won't Eat

Mimic the Movement of Live Prey

Most captive snakes don’t mind being fed a diet of pre-killed prey. However, some garter snakes expect their food to move. Garter snakes are much more visually oriented. This means that a garter snake that prefers live prey may not eat anything that doesn’t move.

If you’ve been offering your snake cut up nightcrawlers or fish fillet, try feeding your juvenile garter snakes small earthworms from your yard. Make sure they’re alive and still wriggling.

You can tempt your snake to eat by wriggling its food with a pair of tongs. Continue moving the food close to your snake’s mouth until it strikes and grabs its meal. Snake owners call this technique “tease-feeding.” 

Tease-feeding works well with small mice but it can be an issue if you’re using small, fragile pieces of fish. Cut up pieces of pinky mice work much better when you’re handling them with tongs, forceps, or tweezers.

Overnight Feeding

Some baby garter snakes may not eat when you’re around. Furthermore, some don’t require tease-feeding and may even eat pieces of mice without needing to be coaxed. However, they prefer to eat overnight and privately.

You may come across a garter that poses multiple challenges. The snake may want its meal to move but will not eat when you’re present. In such cases, you can’t use fish-scented pinkies or frozen-thawed fish.

Earthworms or live fish may be your only option. Oftentimes, snakes solely on worm and live fish diets end up getting parasitic infections, which can lead to an early death.

Temperature of The Tank

A snake’s metabolism changes based on the temperature of its living environment. If the snake’s tank is too cold, it cannot digest its food, so it will likely avoid eating its meal.

If your snake’s home is too cold, you need to optimize it based on your species of snake. Garter snakes require a basking area that’s 90-95 degrees. This can be achieved with a heat lamp or heat mat.

How Long Can a Baby Garter Snake Go Without Eating?

Snakes are resilient when it comes to going without food. According to Zoology, snakes can adjust their metabolic rate when food is lacking, allowing some species to live up to 2 years without any food.

However, the younger the snake, the less time they can go without eating food. Baby garter snakes will start to lose weight and deteriorate in health after just two weeks, so you need to get your baby garter snakes to eat.

Force-Feeding Baby Garter Snakes

Force-feeding should always be a final resort. If you have experience in force-feeding snakes, you may be able to get your baby garter snake to eat by opening its mouth and placing the food inside.

For most beginner snake owners, a common problem with feeding snakes is expecting it to eat when it doesn’t want to. If a snake is brumating, is about to shed its skin, or is kept in a cage where the temperature is too low, it may not have much interest in food.

If your snake still refuses to eat, consult a vet for expert advice. They will be able to show you how to force-feed baby garter snakes, if considered necessary. Use this complete guide on how to raise baby garter snakes.

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