Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix main

All snails have a hard external skeleton (commonly called a shell) that protects the snail’s inner organs while also protecting a snail.

Even though the shell is very rigid and protects the snail like a suit of armor, it can still be damaged.

In this article, I have gathered all information about the snail’s shell problems and how to fix them based on existing experiments, and the experience of hobbyists. 

Preventive Measures

It is hard to underestimate the importance of calcium in a snail’s life. According to the studies, 95-98% of the shell is made up of calcium carbonate. The remaining 2% mass is compounds of Fe, Mg, Mn, Al, Na, K).

As we can see calcium is the main component of their shell.

Snails’ shells can have several calcified layers (generally two to five). It makes them more firm and resistant to any external influences.

Therefore, if you do not want your snails to have eroded shells, cracks, holes, or lose their color (turn whitish) – provide them with a lot of calcium! I cannot stress it enough, the most likely cause is not enough calcium in the food (for land snails) and water/food for freshwater snails.

So, I highly recommend reading my articles:

–      How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium
–      Feeding Guide for African Giant Land Snails

It will help to keep their shell beautiful, healthy, and strong.

Do Snails Survive with Broken Shell?

Snails and Shell Problems. Broken shell and inner organsYes, snails can survive if the damage is not too bad. That is because of their amazing regeneration abilities. The ability to regenerate a shell in order to replace the damaged shell is a recognized characteristic of the snails.

Note: By the way, these abilities are so powerful that can even regenerate their eyes if they lose them.

If the snails have easy access to the calcium, they are 3 – 5 times higher in calcium content (than snails from the wild), which they can use at the time of repairing.

Related articles:

How Snails Repair the Shell

Technically, mobile cells (amebocyte) are formed around the cracked part of the shell and become a ‘temporary’ layer.

In simple words, the snail uses glands located in its mantle and repair the damage by excreting ‘shell substances’ necessary to repair the old shell around the broken place. 

Within a few weeks (usually about 1 or 2 weeks) these cells become fused with calcium and harden the outer coat of the shell.

In an urgent situation, when snails do not have enough calcium in their tissue, they may absorb calcium from the rest of the shell. Unfortunately, by thinning the walls from inside, snails shell become more fragile in general.

Interesting fact: Newly regenerated shell contains lower percent calcium compared to the original shell. However, once the broken part had time to form new layers and harden, it contains higher percent calcium than the original shell.

Although a repaired shell will never look the same again. Basically, like a scar, it is thicker than normal skin; nonetheless, it will not cause snail any inconveniences.

Main Dangerous Factors for the Snail with Broken Shell

  1. Exposed to the infections.
  2. More vulnerable to predators.
  3. Runs the risk of drying out.
  4. Stress (so it will stop eating and hide away).

As we can see, their survival depends on whether it can repair the damage before it gets eaten, dies of desiccation, hunger, or infection.

Main Dangerous Factors for the Snail in the Enclosure

We all want to create the best possible tank (enclosure) for our pets. However, no matter how hard we try to make it nice and safe they can still get hurt.

  1. In most cases, from falling and hitting hard surfaces (like decoration, feeding dishes, etc.).
  2. Eating its own or another snail shell (when there is not enough calcium in the tank).

The Newest Growth Damage

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix The Newest Growth DamageAs the snail grows, so does its calcium carbonate shell by increasing its number of coils, and layers.

The newest growth along the shell edge is very fragile. Therefore, these are the most frequent problems the snail can have.

Solution: Luckily, this is also one of the easiest to repair for the snail. So, there is no need to worry about it at all.

Rasping or Eating Shell Damage

In some cases, when the shell does not grow the way the snail needs (particularly near the aperture), it may start rasping at its own shell to make it smooth, so it is more comfortable for the snail.

The only problem is that the shell can become significantly damaged before the process is done.

In other cases, the snails can start eating each other shells. This is a clear sign that they do not have enough calcium in the enclosure.

Solution: Provide more calcium and/or quarantine the snail for some time.

For freshwater snails, you can read my article “How To Setup an Easy Quarantine Tank”.

Some people believe that different snail species do not recognize other snails as … snails. Well, do not blame them, after all, their brain is very primitive and consists of several types of cerebral ganglia (nerve cell clusters).

Because of that, different snail species may consider other snails’ shells as just another source of calcium.

Snails and Some Superficial Shell Damage

The superficial shell damage means that internal organs were not harmed, even though they can be seen sometimes.

What to do in the first place?

  1. Take it out of the tank.
  2. Keep the snail in a humid environment to stop it from drying out.
  3. Prepare all necessary tools and materials to fix the shell.

Tool and materials you may need, for example:

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix glue

  1. Scissors.
  2. Boiled egg or clean plastic bag.
  3. Gauze.
  4. Clean tissue/wipes.
  5. Cotton buds.
  6. Super Glue (Aquarium Safe) (check the price on Amazon).
  7. Fish tank silicon (check the price on Amazon)

Depending on the damage and your skill, you may not need all these tools.

The Procedure:

Before you even start, think again, sometimes interfering in trying to help them repair it can actually make it a lot worse!

  1. Boil the egg.
  2. Break the egg and take out a thin membrane that is right against an eggshell.
  3. The membrane should be big enough to cover the damaged area of the shell.
  4. Use scissors to create the necessary size and/or shape.
  5. Use cotton buds and clean the shell of the snail around the damaged area. Be very careful, do not let anything to get into the broken shell.
  6. Place the membrane against the broken shell and use the super glue.
    Note: Do not use super glue on the snail’s shell and then place the membrane other the glue unless you are sure that you can do that without squeezing the glue all other the snail. We do not want to press the glue outward! I repeat – make sure the glue stays outside the shell and does not penetrate the inner patch.
  7. Let the glue dry.
  8. If the damaged area is not big, gently use super glue other the membrane. Let it dry for a few minutes. Repeat this step until the membrane is completely covered with hardened glue.
  9. If the damaged area is too big and/or you are worried that you can damage the membrane, take a clean plastic bag and make another patch.
    • Glue it over the membrane.
    • Let it dry for a few minutes. Use super glue or silicon other the membrane.
    • Repeat this step until the membrane is completely covered with hardened glue or silicon.

Some honorable mentions:

When I was researching this topic, I found out that some people

  • used plaster or plaster of paris to fix the shell. After that, they applied a clear quick-dry nail varnish.
  • marine epoxy.

If the Break is More Serious?

Use your common sense.

If the shell is completely destroyed or severely damaged with exposed internal organs when you have to decide the snail’s fate.

Although snails have very little awareness about what is happening to them, a lot of people still ask this question because they feel responsible for their snail lives after all. I will try to name the most popular, quick, and painless way.

  1. It is an interesting fact but snails are apparently attracted to beer. So, give it to the snail.
  2. Once the snail succumbs to alcohol (usually after 15-20 minutes) put it in a freezer.

Do snails feel pain?

Like other invertebrates, they do react to harmful stimuli. However, harmful stimuli are not equal to pain, they are an automatic response to external stimulus.

In any case, we should try to cause as little pain as possible, even when we find it necessary to kill.

Related articles:

White tips on the shells?

In freshwater snails, white tips are often sighs of:

  • Old age.
  • Erosion from no calcium.
  • Erosion from low PH.

In land snails, white tips are often sighs of:

  • Old age. The shell peels off slightly from friction against the hard surfaces.
  • Lack of calcium.

How long Does It Take to Recover?

Depending on the injury, it may be a few weeks, or even months, until the snail is fully recovered.

For the land snails, the recovering snail should be kept in a closed, but well-ventilated enclosure with a cover.

In most cases, freshwater snails can be returned to the main tank once the glue/silicon is hardened.

The Snail’s Shell has a Crack!

If your snail has just the cracks, it doesn’t need any repair.

The snail should be able to heal them all on its own.

Peeling and Flaking Shell

Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix Peeling and Flaking ShellSnails with elongated and conical shells may have problems with flaking. When one coil of the shell becomes detached from the others. Even more, sometimes it looks like the coils of the shell are barely connected.

Although it looks really bad, in reality, your snail can still fix the problem on its own. Unfortunately, it can happen even in healthy snails and we cannot do anything about that but hope for the best.

Sometimes the shell does not look cracked, more like a layer of it is peeling.

It simply a lack of calcium in their diet.

In Conclusion

The survival of the snails depends on their shell. So, when it becomes broken, it is our job to help our pets. Luckily, we do not have special skills for that.

In any case, it is very important to be informed and understand how we can fix their shell. 

Related articles:

34 thoughts on “Snails and Shell Problems. Causes and How to Fix

  1. Really interesting article – thankyou 🙂
    Some of my snails always ahowing some shell deterioration, which I’m concerned about as my PH is a bit low – I’ve added crushed coral both to the substrate and my external canister filter, but any more tips on raising the PH naturally would be really appreciated?
    Thanks again xx

  2. Hi…my boys and their dad found a small garden snail between our river rocks while pulling weeds. The shell is leaning to the side. The snail is gliding along fine but seems like it is a little hindered by dragging this sideways shell. How can we help it? Can it be helped? Thanks

    1. Hi Shawntel,
      It can be really hard to say anything without photos. Can you send them to me? Do you have any?
      Best regards,

    2. My snail has recently developed this problem. It’s like the shell will no longer stay tight to his body, perhaps. When he is upside down, the shell dangles downward. It looks still attached to his body, but it flops to the side when he’s crawling on the floor. 😥

      1. Hi Frances Acheson,
        I do not want to be a pessimist but this is a very bad sign.
        I am afraid, it is not about fixing damaged shells, it is more about health issues.
        We can only hope for the best. Please, keep me posted.
        Best regards,

        1. My one inch garden snail has a three millimetre hole in his shell. I can’t tell but I think there’s still pieces of his shell on him interrupting the healing process, so I was wondering if I should leave it or fix it. By the way, very nice info, thanks!

          1. Hi Owen,
            Thank you for your kind words.
            When I say “I think there’s still pieces of his shell on him interrupting the healing process,” do you mean that small fragments of the snail’s shell might be embedded in the wound (inside the shell)? If so, I probably wouldn’t risk trying to remove them, considering the size of the hole. It would require surgical precision. I would just hope for the best.
            Best regards,

      2. This seems like mantle collapse to me, which is usually fatal.

  3. Hi Michael,
    Thank you for the precious information and very interesting article.
    After using the egg membrane method on a snail, will it stay on forever? Will it fall off on ita own? Should I remove it at some point?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Clemence,
      You are welcome!
      You do not have to remove it. At some point it will be overgrown be the natural shell.
      Best regards,

  4. Hi,

    Just looking for advice really. The babies have eaten the brown layer of the two adults. I realise this was due to lack of calcium which has been rectified. (The babies were accidental).
    Can the brown layer grow back now there is enough calcium in the tank? Or are they destined for the freezer?

    1. Hi Alice,
      It will restore but it will also require some time. This is not a fast process.
      By the way, what species are you talking about?
      Best regards,

  5. I actually have a snail in my saltwater tank that has lost it’s shell completely. It has been over a week and it is still alive and moving. Anything I should do for it or will it just die anyway?

    If it’s just going to die anyway I will probably freeze it and then feed it to an anemone

    1. Hi Chad Jennings,
      One week! I am genuinely surprised.
      Unfortunately, there is no exception. All snails (freshwater, saltwater, or terrestrial) require shells to live.
      There is no exception.
      Best regards,

  6. I have a small snail. Shell is very brittle. Some of the shell actually came off. She is a garden snail. I followed some of your directions as far as the lining of the eggshell. Her name is Pricilla😊 and I love her. She’s active meaning moving around when I have her out of her home. She has lots of toys to climb on and underneath to hide. Shallow bowls to drink and clean herself. Lots of calcium foods kettle bone and powder calcium and fruits and veggies. Her shell is weak still. I took a pic to show. Please help us. Any and all information is very welcomed!

    1. Hi Gwendolyn Jones,
      I have sent you the message.
      Check your email, please.
      Best regards,

  7. Hello I have a small nerite snail that crawled on the heater and got burned. It is very strange on the underbody of the snail 3 weeks later it is hard on the underneath as if the shell wraps around her body and she can barely get her body out of the shell. She is not moving much last couple of days. Help!

    1. Hi Pqm,
      I regret to hear about this incident, but to be honest, I’m not sure how to help you in this situation.
      Repairing a damaged shell is one thing, but dealing with soft tissue injuries is another.
      I wouldn’t disturb the snail. Instead, you could leave some food nearby and hope for the best.
      Best regards,

  8. Hi I found snail on my way home, he has a big hole in shell and I took home I have somethink about 28x14x19aqurium he is common garden snail, I think he is healing its the third day when I took him, most of the time he chill on glass, on the broken part there is a buble of air organs or something which just sits there, yesterday was eating 2 cucumber hopefully today at night he will be eating another, In tank I have coconut fiber, clover, stone and thing where he can drink I want to ask about the bubble or whatever it is, and about behaviour he mostly sleeps

    1. Hi Dany,
      It seems like this snail got lucky with you 🙂
      Anyway I would like to say that 3 days is not enough. Depending on the injury it may take months to completely recover their shell. This is a very long process.
      Best regards,

    My snail is certainly different from before and the food response also got better. Overall I think my snail is generally looking healthier and also moves more smoothly. 🤩🤩🤩

    1. Hi Yoo-hoo,
      I am glad to help 🙂
      Best regards,

  10. Hi, thank you for your interesting article. My issue is unfortunately not mentioned. I have a ‘red onion’ nerite snail. He’s 4 years old. I also have rabbit, spixi, chestnut japanese trapdoors, one apple snail and a thousand pest bladder and pond snails. Fish wise, I have 4 scissortail rasboras, 4 neon’s, one honey gourami and one territorial , snails destroying, bristlenose plec. He has had such issues with snails, I had to set up a snail retirement tank at one point.
    To the point… My lil nerite has had a hole drilled in him. I had a white wizard once and the same happened to him and he didn’t survive. The nerites shell Is so thick though, it hasn’t fully penetrated, so he seems fine, but who’s the culprit? The obvious answer seems my bn plec but I’m not so sure.

    I had some giant columbian ramshorns and put the blame down to them with the white wizard incident, but they have all passed now, so?…

    These guys are all 3/4 years old. The ‘wound’ litterly looked like someone has taken a tiny drill, and used it on his shell. He had a big crack on his shell after an unfortunate dropping accident, but as explained it your article, it regenerated.

    Can you solve this mystery?
    I would be most grateful. I’m scratching my head. The apple snail? He’s pretty lively!

    I would be most grateful for any advice and insight on this matter

    Kind Regards,


    1. Hi Lynn C Sands,
      Шt’s hard to say.
      I’m intrigued by the mention of the spixi snails you talked about. Are you aware that they can exhibit aggression towards other snails? Could you send a photo of the damaged shell?
      Best regards,

  11. Sorry if this is a duplicate. It said my comment was spam the first time.
    Thank you for all of the information. My mystery snail has shell issues because the ph was low and I probably wasn’t giving enough calcium. She has part of the outside of the operculum coming off. It’s shaped like a hook and it gets caught on stuff when she’s moving around. I’ve moved her to a quarantine tank with nothing to get caught on and am giving more calcium. Should I try to cut the “hook” off? I’m afraid of hurting her. Thanks.

    1. Hi Susanna,
      I’m not a veterinarian, but cutting the “hook” of your mystery snail (be the way, can you describe it better?) is a bad idea, as it could potentially harm the snail.
      The best course of action would be to focus on maintaining proper water conditions with adequate calcium levels, which you’ve already started by moving her to a quarantine tank and providing more calcium.
      Best regards,

      1. The “hook” – imagine the operculum has rings like a tree. The outer ring has partially come off and is away from the body. It’s curved toward the front, so when she crawls it gets stuck on rocks & plants. Since I’m giving more calcium, I don’t think it will fall all the way off and I doubt it will re-attach because it’s too far separated. I hope that makes sense.

  12. Hi, this is a very interesting article, and it provides a lot of information. I need advice for my albino giant African land snail, he’s about 6 months old, his shell has sort of split in half where the newer shell has grown and I don’t know what to do, he seems to be unresponsive I am goimg to put him on calcium powder because I realised I should have been giving it when he was still a baby. Anyways, please help, how do I attach his shell back on, I don’t want to harm him, so super glue is not an option. Help.

    1. Hi Ezra,
      I’m sorry to hear that. Could you please send photos of the damage to the shell of your snail? It’s just difficult to understand the issues without seeing them. Please check your email.
      Best regards,

  13. Thanks so much for all the invaluable information, Michael!
    I have nerite and mystery snails in an aquarium shared with two huge “feeder” goldfish (rescued from a bio. class over 12 years ago!!), and 4 zebra danios (lil fish). They were sort of an accidental addition to the tank. Here in Seattle the water is notorious for being low calcium so I have consistently kept a bunch of shells in the tank which break down over time, hopefully adding calcium to the water. I used to use Weco Wonder shells, but quit due to the expense & not knowing how much they could help with calcium! I’m ordering some, but thought I’d also try the hermit crab mineral blocks you recommend. However, the ingredient info. on Amazon says they are made of calcium sulfate which you say is not the sort of calcium we want in cuttlefish bones, so I assume that applies to the mineral blocks, too. Right? Please advise. I’d also love to hear any suggestions you may have for keeping my tank’s overall health within good parameters for all of my aquatic chums. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Donna Hargus,

      Yes, you’re partially right.

      Ideally, of course, we should provide snails with calcium carbonate not calcium sulfate. However, it’s not always possible, and in such cases, calcium sulfate would be better than nothing. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to this when writing the article.

      Best regards,

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