What Happens If A Cat Eats A Garter Snake?

This article explores what happens when a cat eats a garter snake. Garter snakes are one of the most common snakes that domestic cats may encounter and potentially prey upon. We’ll cover whether it’s normal for cats to eat snakes, if cats can safely digest snakes, the dangers of cats eating snakes, signs to look out for, what to do if your cat eats a snake, how to prevent cats from eating snakes, and safe snake alternatives for cats.

Cats are natural hunters and predators. Their instinct is to hunt and kill small animals, including rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, and snakes. While cats don’t usually hunt snakes as a primary food source, they may opportunistically kill and eat snakes they encounter while roaming outdoors. Garter snakes are fairly small snakes that often end up as prey for cats. The specific outcomes of a cat eating a garter snake depend on the cat and situation. This article will provide cat owners with a comprehensive guide to cats eating garter snakes.

Why Do Cats Eat Snakes?

Cats are natural hunters with strong predatory instincts. They are driven to hunt small prey like mice, birds, lizards, and even snakes. According to Catster, cats are opportunistic hunters that will go after snakes if given the chance (https://www.catster.com/guides/do-cats-eat-snakes/). Snakes can seem like appealing prey to cats because of their size and movements. A snake slithering on the ground triggers a cat’s prey drive and tapping into their natural hunting behaviors. Even well-fed cats will hunt snakes just for sport and entertainment without the intention of eating them.

Is it Normal for Cats to Eat Snakes?

In the wild, it is natural and normal for cats to occasionally eat snakes as part of their diet. Cats are opportunistic hunters and will eat small animals like rodents, birds, lizards, and snakes to survive. According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, wild cats like lions, tigers, and leopards will hunt and kill various snake species for food.

However, most domestic cats that live indoors rarely encounter snakes to eat. While an outdoor cat may occasionally kill and eat a small snake, it is much less common than their wild relatives. An indoor house cat would likely only encounter a snake if one got into the home. Whether or not a house cat tries to attack, kill, and eat a snake depends a lot on the individual cat’s personality, experiences, environment, and hunger level at the time.

So while cats eating snakes can be normal innate predatory behavior, especially for wild cats, it is less common for domestic cats and not necessarily considered a normal routine part of their diet (https://www.catster.com/guides/do-cats-eat-snakes/). Much depends on the individual cat and the specific circumstances around encountering a snake.

Can Cats Digest Snakes?

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their bodies are adapted to digesting a meat-based diet. This means that cats are generally able to digest snakes just as they would any other prey animal such as mice or birds 1. When cats catch and eat snakes in the wild, it provides them with important nutrients like protein and fat to fuel their bodies.

That said, there can be some issues that arise if the snake is either too large for the cat to properly digest, or if the snake is venomous. Snakes tend to be swallowed whole by cats, so very large snakes may cause gastrointestinal obstructions or discomfort if the cat has trouble passing the large meal through its digestive tract. Additionally, if a cat eats a venomous snake, it can potentially be exposed to toxins that make it sick 2. So while cats are equipped to digest snake meat, the size and toxicity of the snake can complicate the process.

Dangers of Cats Eating Snakes

Eating snakes can be extremely dangerous for cats. One of the biggest risks is if the snake is venomous. Venomous snake bites can be fatal to cats. According to Catster, venom from snakes like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and coral snakes can cause swelling, profuse drooling, difficulty breathing, paralysis, and even sudden death in cats

Even if the snake is nonvenomous, there are still risks. Snakes have sharp teeth that can cause injuries in a cat’s mouth or throat. Additionally, if a cat swallows a snake whole or partially whole, this can cause choking, blockages, or internal lacerations. Hard snake bones and scales can damage a cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Catster notes that swallowing large snakes can lead to regurgitation, vomiting, loss of appetite, and severe abdominal pain.

To stay safe, it’s best to prevent cats from eating snakes, monitor any potential snake hunting, and seek prompt veterinary care if you suspect your cat ate any amount of snake.

Signs Your Cat Ate a Snake

If your cat has eaten a snake, even just partially, there may be some telltale signs to look out for. Some of the most common symptoms that indicate a cat has consumed a snake include:

Vomiting – One of the first signs is if your cat starts throwing up or retching after potentially eating a snake. The snake flesh and bones may irritate your cat’s digestive tract causing it to vomit.

Drooling – Excessive drooling or salivating is also common if your cat ate a snake, especially if the snake bit the inside of your cat’s mouth injecting venom.

Lethargy – You may notice your cat acting very weak and lethargic if they’ve consumed venom from a snake bite. The toxins can cause fatigue and neurological issues.

Visible snake parts – You may even see parts of the snake sticking out of your cat’s mouth or throat if they were unable to swallow the entire snake.

According to https://www.catster.com/guides/do-cats-eat-snakes/, these are some of the most obvious signs your cat has eaten a snake recently. If you observe any of these symptoms, take your cat to the vet immediately.

What to Do if Your Cat Eats a Snake

If you witness your cat eating a snake or suspect they may have, it’s important to take action right away. The first thing you should do is try to identify the type of snake, if possible. Look around the area your cat was in and see if you can find any remains of the snake to help identify it. Knowing whether it was venomous or not is crucial.

If you have any reason to believe the snake may have been venomous, like a rattlesnake, copperhead, or water moccasin, contact your veterinarian immediately. Even if your cat seems fine, venom effects can sometimes be delayed so it’s better to be safe. Inform the vet your cat ate a potentially venomous snake so they can recommend the appropriate treatment.

For non-venomous snakes, like garter snakes or rat snakes, you’ll still want to monitor your cat closely for any signs of distress. Look for symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, swelling, or difficulty breathing. Call your vet promptly if you notice any of these issues.

Try to recall details about the snake’s size and thickness to help your vet assess potential obstruction or choking risks. Take note if your cat ate the snake whole or chewed it. Your vet may recommend bringing your cat in for an exam and x-rays to check for any remaining pieces.

Preventing Cats from Eating Snakes

There are a few things you can do to prevent your cats from hunting and eating snakes:

Keep cats indoors – Keeping your cat inside, especially at night and in the early morning when snakes are most active, will remove the opportunity for them to encounter snakes. Indoor cats live on average 10 years longer than outdoor cats.[1] If you want to allow your cat outside time, always supervise to monitor their interactions with any local wildlife.

Supervise outdoor time – If you allow your cat outside, try to be with them to supervise their activities. Watch for any interactions with snakes and intervene as soon as you see any hunting behaviors.

Remove snakes from yard – Making efforts to keep your yard and landscaping less attractive to snakes can decrease the chances of an encounter. Eliminate piles of debris they could hide in, trim ground covers, and keep the yard free of rodents that attract snakes.[2]

[1] https://www.catster.com/guides/do-cats-eat-snakes/

[2] https://www.marketplaceveterinary.com/blog/keeping-your-cats-safe-from-snakes/

Safe Snake Alternatives for Cats

If your cat has a strong desire to hunt snake-like prey, there are safer ways to satisfy this instinct without endangering your cat or local snake populations. Here are some recommended alternatives:

Offer store-bought frozen rodents – Many pet stores sell frozen mice, rats, and other rodents specifically for reptile or bird feeding. Thaw and offer these to your cat for a similar hunting experience. It satisfies their predatory needs without the venom risk. Ensure the rodents are pathogen free and come from a reputable source (Source).

Use toys that mimic snake movement – There are cat toys designed to mimic the motion of snakes, like floppy stuffed snakes or feather teasers. Play with your cat using these interactive toys so they can indulge their snake-hunting instincts in a harmless way.

With some creativity and redirection, you can meet your cat’s needs without exposing them to the dangers of actual snakes. Always supervise play and don’t leave cat alone with rodents. With safer alternatives, you can keep both your cat and local snake species happy and healthy.


To summarize, it is relatively rare for cats to hunt and eat snakes in the wild but does occasionally occur. The main reasons a cat might eat a snake are opportunistic hunting behavior and curiosity, especially with young cats. While it may appear unnatural, some cats have an instinct to chase, hunt and play with moving creatures. However, eating snakes can be very dangerous for cats due to the risks of venom, parasites, and potential gastrointestinal obstruction or trauma if they try to eat larger snakes. Signs a cat may have eaten a snake include vomiting, lethargy, swelling or hives, bleeding disorders, and neurological symptoms – which require immediate veterinary care. The best way to prevent cats from eating snakes is supervising outdoor activity, using deterrents around the home, and providing indoor enrichment with toys. Ultimately, with proper precautions, owners can keep cats safe from the potential dangers of eating snakes.

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