Do Cats Kill Garter Snakes

It is well-established that domestic cats, large or small, can and do kill snakes, including the common garter snake. Cats are quick, nimble hunters built to kill snakes and other small prey. Their quick reflexes, sharp claws, and vice-like jaws give them an advantage over serpents. There are many documented cases of pet cats attacking and killing snakes, even venomous ones.

Garter snakes are a frequent victim, as they live in areas where cats roam and do not pose as much danger as larger snakes. Felines have learned to avoid venomous bites through their unique hunting style. With speed and agility on their side, cats can dispatch snakes before they have a chance to strike back.

Why Cats Hunt Snakes

Cats are natural hunters with strong predatory instincts that drive them to hunt and kill smaller animals, including snakes. This hunting behavior is innate in cats and serves an evolutionary purpose – in the wild, catching and killing prey provides sustenance and allows cats to hone their skills as predators (Source). Domestic cats retain these natural instincts, even when well-fed. They will stalk, pounce and kill smaller animals simply due to their hardwired urge to hunt (Source).

For cats, snakes fall into the prey category – they are small, slithering creatures that trigger cats’ hunting drives. Even if the snake poses no threat, a cat may attack and kill it out of pure instinct. Cats are solitary hunters and do not always eat what they kill, rather they derive satisfaction from the act of catching prey itself. So they may kill a snake just for sport, even if they have no intention of eating it afterwards.

Garter Snakes as Prey

Garter snakes are small and slow moving, making them vulnerable to predation. Their average size is around 18-30 inches long, and they do not really flee when scared but freeze instead [1]. This slow speed and lack of quick escape maneuvers means they are easily caught and overpowered by predators. Garter snakes attempt to rely on camouflage in vegetation and grasses to avoid detection, but their small size gives them away to keen predators like cats and birds. Their small cross-section also means they cannot effectively strike back at or intimidate predators that do find them. Compared to larger or venomous snake species, garter snakes are much easier prey for a cat or other predator to successfully hunt and kill.

Cat Hunting Abilities

Cats are equipped with a powerful set of hunting skills that enable them to kill snakes. Their sharp claws allow cats to inflict deep wounds on snakes and grip them tightly to prevent escape. Cats are also stealthy hunters, capable of approaching snakes quietly before attacking with lightning speed and agility. According to one source, “Cats are natural hunters and are equipped with sharp claws and teeth, making them capable of defending themselves against snakes” (Source). A cat’s quick reflexes and nimble movements make it challenging for snakes to land a defensive bite. Overall, the cat’s sharp claws combined with its speed, stealth, and agility enable it to overpower snakes as prey.

Snake Defenses

Snakes have a few key defenses they rely on to avoid predators like cats [1]:

  • Venom – Some snakes like rattlesnakes have potent venom they can inject into predators through fangs. The venom can cause severe illness or even death depending on the amount injected. However, nonvenomous snakes like garter snakes lack this defense.
  • Camouflage – Many snakes rely on camouflage to hide from potential predators. Their scaled skin allows them to blend into surroundings like rocks, sand, leaves, etc. Garter snakes in particular are very difficult for cats to spot due to their brown or green coloration mimicking vegetation.
  • Playing Dead – When threatened, some snakes will play dead and lay motionless and limp. This instinct aims to convince the predator that the snake is already dead and not worth eating. Garter snakes are known to employ this technique, stiffening their bodies and emitting a foul-smelling musk from their cloaca.

While these defenses help snakes avoid some attacks, a determined predator like a cat can often overcome them with their sharp senses and agility. Still, snakes do not go down without a fight.


When and Where Cats Attack Snakes

Cats most often encounter and attack snakes in yards, gardens, and other outdoor areas around the home. Snakes are naturally drawn to yards and gardens due to ample hiding spots, shade, and prey like rodents, lizards, and frogs 1. Cats spend a lot of time patrolling their territory outdoors, so it’s no surprise they cross paths with snakes in these locations.

Cats tend to hunt more in the morning and evening when snakes are active and easier to find basking in the sun or moving about 2. Snakes also emerge from hibernation in the spring, leading to more encounters with cats during this time of year. Overall, any outdoor area near bushes, rocks, wood piles, compost heaps, or rodent burrows may become a snake hunting ground for an outdoor cat.

Preventing Cat Attacks

One of the best ways to prevent cats from attacking snakes is to supervise them when they are outdoors. Cats are natural hunters and often can’t resist going after a snake if they see one in the yard or garden. Keeping a watchful eye on kitties when they are outside can allow you to intervene and redirect their attention if they start stalking a snake.

Providing enrichment activities for cats is another way to curb their snake hunting instincts. Giving cats plenty of toys, scratching posts, cat trees, and playtime with their owners means they will be less likely to go looking for snakes when they are bored. Interactive toys that make cats “hunt,” like balls with bells inside, can satisfy their predator drive. Rotate toys to keep cats interested and entertained.

Cats with access to the outdoors should also wear bells on their collars to warn snakes of their presence. This gives snakes a chance to slither away and not be caught by surprise. The jingling sound also deters cats from full-on stealth hunting mode.

Snake Bites on Cats

Snake bites on cats are usually not serious, but can potentially be dangerous (Venomous Snakebites in Cats, 2022). Cats are fairly resistant to snake venom and their reactions are generally milder compared to dogs. However, venom effects can vary based on the snake species, bite location, amount of venom injected, and the cat’s sensitivity. While many cat snake bites may result in minimal effects, bites from venomous snakes can become medically significant if not treated promptly.

Common symptoms of a snake bite in cats include sudden crying or shrieking after being bitten, local swelling and pain around the bite wound, puncture marks from the snake’s fangs, bleeding from the wound, lameness if bitten on a leg, dilated pupils, hyperventilating, drooling, vomiting, shock, collapse, and seizures in severe cases (Venomous Snakebites in Cats, 2022). The symptoms often appear within 30-90 minutes after the bite.

While most cat snake bites do not require antivenom treatment, prompt veterinary care is still recommended for any snake bite. Cats may need medications for pain control, antibiotics, intravenous fluids, antivenom if warranted, and other supportive care. With proper treatment, most cats fully recover from snake bites.

Protecting Both Species

Cats and snakes can potentially coexist, but cat owners need to take precautions. Here are some tips for protecting both cats and snakes:

Keep cats indoors or supervise time outdoors. This prevents unwanted hunting. Use motion-activated sprinklers or ultrasonic repellers to deter snakes from yards where cats go.

Make yards less attractive to snakes by keeping grass mowed, removing brush piles, and sealing gaps in foundations. This reduces likelihood of encounters.

Use deterrents like mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags around foundations to make access points less enticing for snakes.

Vaccinate outdoor cats against common snake-borne diseases like rabies. And know first aid for snake bites so you can act fast.

If you see a snake, gently encourage it to move on using a hose or broom. Don’t allow cats access until snake is safely away.

Consider installing sheltered nest boxes or hibernation sites for snakes. This gives them refuge while keeping them hidden from cats.

With some awareness and planning, it’s possible to have both cats and snakes on a property safely. Focus on management strategies like exclusion and habitat modification.


Cats do sometimes hunt and kill garter snakes, which is an unfortunate reality of nature. As domesticated predators, cats retain their hunting instincts, and snakes can become easy targets. However, garter snakes have evolved impressive defenses to fend off attacks when necessary. While interactions between cats and garter snakes in backyards and gardens can occasionally turn deadly, there are ways we can prevent these incidents through environmental precautions. Protecting both cats and snakes comes down to understanding their abilities and behaviors, and intervening carefully when they cross paths.

In summary, felines and garter snakes inhabit overlapping ecosystems, leading to potentially dangerous encounters. But with attentive prevention methods, along with securing safe habitats for snakes, we can limit unnecessary conflicts. Through education and vigilance, humans can promote peaceful coexistence between the species in shared spaces.

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