Keeping Garden Snails as Pets

A great pet for kids - snailsMany of us automatically view snails as annoying little pests who eat holes in our veggie gardens. Next time you see one though, don’t get out the spray (or organic defences) just yet, snails make great pets for kids!

Why keep snails?

  • They’re quiet
  • They don’t take much work
  • A simple set up is quite inexpensive
  • Children can handle snails (see important information below)
  • They may be slow but they can be interesting to watch
  • They are a very different type of pet
  • Their food can be scraps from your fridge

Where can you find snails? 

You can find snails in the garden most of the time. In our previous house, we didn’t find a snail once (and we actively  look for creepy crawlies) but as soon as we added a veggie garden it was almost like it was an open invitation for snails to visit us.  We usually find ours tucked up under a lettuce leaf.

What you need to keep snails

What you need to keep snails

Enclosure

The enclosure can be as simple or as extravagant as you’d like.  It is can be a plastic takeaway container if you’re only intending to keep and observe them for a couple of days. But if you’re going to keep them for longer, a larger enclosure would be better for the snails.

It’s important the enclosure provides good amount of ventilation. Snails don’t mind a bit of humidity but they do still need fresh air too. This is the enclosure I use with most of my children’s pet critters.

Soil/Substrate

We used regular soil from the garden and, because we had it on hand from making a wildlife themed terrarium a while a go, I also added some sphagnum moss. Both are great substrates for snails and should be  added 7 -10 cm deep in the enclosure.  Keep the substrate clean and moist at all times. A spray bottle is perfect to moisten substrates and furnishings in the enclosure without making it too wet.

Keeping snails

Home and other furnishings

Snails like to hide in dark places, although some like to sit near the lid and others even under the dirt. Providing plenty of places that allow the snail to be where it makes them happy can only be good for your snails.We added a terracotta pot and a stick for climbing  but you can add real plants, rocks and twigs too.

Food

Snails eat fruit and veggies (avoid citrus foods) but these foods soil quickly. I’d suggest adding a food bowl. It makes the clean up and addition of  fresh food much easier than if you added it straight to the bottom of the tank. Remember to wash the food before you give it to them. Many fruits and veggies come home with pesticides on their skins and  if you feed it to them it will kill your snails.

Food for snails

Also, snails need calcium to keep their shells healthy, so adding a bit of cuttlefish or dried crushed egg shells to the side of the dish is important too. For a good list of food that snails love and  for more information on why snails need calcium in their diet, visit this great website all about pet snails. 

Handling

Handling snails is fine but ensure you use proper health practices and wash you and your child’s hands straight after holding a snail. Also, I’d suggest that children be fully supervised as people can get sick if they eat snails.

Maintenance and care

There are plenty of positives for keeping snails but I love that they don’t take a lot of work. The side of the snail enclosure should be wiped down once a week and the substrate changed once a month. Also, ensure you take out any rotten food and replace with fresh food every couple of days. Easy!

Pets for Kids

I find watching snails quite relaxing. They just slither around at their own pace and enjoy their surroundings. The girls really seem to enjoy watching them too.

We had these snails in a takeaway container for two weeks during the move and I could tell they were very happy when put in their new enclosure. They became active right away.

We won’t keep them forever. We’ll have to decide if we are going to let them go in our veggie garden or if I should take them to work and feed them to our blue tongued lizards. I have a feeling the girls won’t let me do the latter.

Have you ever kept snails?

Follow on activities

  • Learn about snails, their breeding, predators and where they fit into the a food chain
  • Find out more about animals that carry homes on their backs
  • Make a shell using recycled materials and put it on your back, now you can pretend to be a snail!
  • Race your snails. Mark their shell with a little bit of nail polish (if you can’t tell them apart) and race them!
  • Conduct snail investigations
  • Make this fun snail craft

 

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Comments

  1. Renèe says

    Isn’t there a dangerous germ snails carry that paralysed & killed some kids last year ?
    My mum told me this and absolutely freaked when she seen dimples giving his blue tongue snails with his bare skin!

    • Penny says

      Hi Renee, I think it’s important to be aware that snails (and all animals) have diseases. In Australia there’s been a case of a child contracting Rat Lungworm by (they think) eating a snail. She sadly passed away because of it. It is apparently quite rare and most people recover if they contract it. This website has some great information on it http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/factsheets/infectious/rat_lung_worm.html

      In my post I did stress that children holding snails should be fully supervised and that washing hands is important after holding snails. Many animals have Zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be passed from animal to humans) so I think it’s important to be health conscious when ever you’re touching animals but I wouldn’t take the experience of touching a snail away from them because of it. Just make sure you’re fully supervising the activity. :)

      • Renèe says

        Thanks so much for providing that information. That is a big help & eases my mind.
        I do let my son still handle snails and go snail hunting in our garden with supervision of course and hand washing after. :-) thanks for replying

          • Samantha says

            Hi, my name is Samantha and Yesturday I let my daughter have a pet snail that I saw crawling on the house… I told her that after EVERY TIME she holds it to wash her hands.. Well, she had just played with her snail, I told her to wash her hands and I got her something to eat.. Gave her, her food and she started eating.. I looked at her after she started eating and said, “You washed your hands right?” and she said, “Opp’s I forgot!” Should I be worried… Please reply soon. I’m very worried.

          • Penny Whitehouse says

            Hi Sammy, I’m sorry this has happened and that you’re feeling really concerned for your daughter. I’m not an expert on snails but I would read this website to either set your mind at ease or determine whether you should take your daughter for a check up http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Rat-Lung-Worm.aspx . It mainly says, if you EAT a snail so I’d be surprised if someone got rat lung worm just from a bit of its slime from their hands. I hope that helps.

    • Penny says

      Most of us do see them as pests, and they kind of are when we are trying to grow food to eat but sometimes pests can come in handy ;)

      • says

        I am a siencetist and I will love to keep snails as pets. At school people shouted and screamed at me and my brother from looking at snails. I still hate that memory so I frogot about it then went back a year later to looking after them. Most of the snails liked me!

  2. says

    Aiyiyi, I’d never heard of them being possibly dangerous. Apparently I was caught eating snails in the backyard as a kid. haha. Oh well, we will just be more diligent washing hands in future! Thanks for all the info. It’d be fun to keep for a while :)

    • Penny says

      I could just imagine you as a toddler putting a snail in your mouth! What a giggle.

      Luckily that snail didn’t have the disease. I wonder if eating them raw provides a different type of nutrition for growth? he he he, maybe it makes you great at math play ideas :p

  3. says

    Geez…you will have me interested in keeping snakes soon hehe You always have such good tips and advice and reasons WHY!! i bet kids would love watching them, never thought about keeping them as pets. I’m not loving them in my vegie patch at the moment i have to say! Such an informative post Penny…as usual i learnt a lot!

    • Penny says

      Will I Jode? Will I? I’d just love for you to hold one. :p

      I’m about to start a veggie path in our new home and I’m hoping we won’t get too many but I am looking forward to doing a post on it (and perhaps on organic ways to deter them from entering your garden patch).

      • Michelle says

        Penny…
        I’ve heard that of you line the square foot of your garden area with pennies they won’t cross that barrier. Something to do with the alkaline in the copper?!?!?!

        • Penny Whitehouse says

          I’m not sure Michelle. I’ve never heard of that one. My suggestion would be to get a blue tongued lizard!

  4. says

    When I was in graduate school for education, my science for kids teacher had us use snails as a project to teach us how to teach science. We had to observe many things about them and then record our findings. So whenever I see snails (now slugs are another thing)I feel a bit of a fondness for them

    • Penny says

      What a lovely ideas and it’s wonderful that that experience has stuck with you, especially being a fond memory. I love to hear stories like this, that’s the reason I want my children to get into nature, for those little important memories that helped you connect with nature and wildlife. Thanks for sharing your story Faigie!

    • Penny says

      Glad you like it Kelly! There will be more pet options coming along. I have a few more animals to play with yet!

  5. says

    I feel like this post was written for me! We get some pretty awesome Giant African Snails here and I’ve been meaning to keep some for the girls to watch more regularly but I didn’t know to care for them. Thank you! I’m pinning this!

    • Penny says

      *sigh*I’ve missed visiting you. Tonight I’m going to visit and scroll for a while. I’m so sorry I haven’t popped over for a bit. I never feel like I have enough time. On another note, Happy Mother’s Day beautiful!

      Oh and I look forwards to seeing some Giant African Snails, hey sounds spectacular!

  6. says

    We have been talking about this very thing. I thought it would be fun to have a snail “garden” for a while, but my eldest is adement that we do not do it because “snails need to be free.” So, we won’t be having a snail garden…yet! :)

  7. says

    My son loves snails and will pick them up and put them all into one container… then we watch them all escape! Then we all wash our hands :-)

    • Penny says

      That is such a cute idea. I’d love to see photos of that. I’ll do that one day when I can find enough snails to do it. :p

  8. Kim @ Bachelormum Style says

    What an incredible and unusual idea yet so simple. I love the fact they are quiet -mthey sound like the perfect housemate. I am going to ask my daughter if she’d like some as pets, I know,she wants a dog, but this might be a good fill in till we get one :-)

    • Penny says

      They are a good house mate, that’s for sure. They are also so much more active than they were in the little container. It’s quite interesting. Also, if they don’t want you to see them, they just bury themselves in the dirt ( I think we can all relate to having those moments). :p

  9. says

    The twinlets are loving animals more and more. And you’ve listed some great reasons why a snail would make a great low-maintenance pet! I’m particularly not fond of them myself but I bet the boys would love them.

    • Penny says

      Oh Gracie, I could imagine your boys holding them on their fingers, fascinated. That picture in my head just made me long for a boy on this blog. :( Gosh getting clucky over twin boys is not good idea though! lol

  10. pat barron says

    dear penny, 50 or so years ago when i was a kid, i had a snail. “she” was the size of a fifty cent piece. i had found her in the woods. i fed her veggies and canned dog food. i would let her out of her tank and give her dog food on a tooth pick. mom never said i couldnt hold her,but she said my skin salt could burn her. i had her more than a year and one day there was hundreds of clear snails in her tank. sadly my mom dropped her and we buried her in the iris bed. i am 59 and still think of her.

    • Penny says

      Oh Pat, You don’t know how your comment warmed my heart. That was so lovely to read and exactly the type of wildlife experience I want to bring to children through WF4K. I really appreciate you sharing your story.

  11. Brenda says

    I now have the happiest 3year old in the world. He’s been after a pet for ages even though he already has a pony, dog,4 cats and a bearded dragon. He’s already fallen in love with Brian and Melody. I’m just curious as how to tell if there male or female?

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      I think it’s quite complicated Brenda. These also plenty of snails that are hermaphrodite, meaning they can have both male and female reproductive organs.

  12. Deakin Vet says

    A good idea for a pet. In addition, it is very easy to maintain and the kids would love checking on their little pet all the time.

  13. becky says

    My two girls found snail each the other day, we put them in a bug catcher and i was going to let them go after a few days, but you have convinced my to keep them, will improve their home today…also when my daughter got them out yesterday to have a play she wanted to know why they were joined together….”are they holding hands mummy”….might have more than two snails soon I think! ;) any ideas about baby snails?

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      I don’t know a lot about baby snails. I’ve never bred them, but I’m sure it would be a fun adventure to find out how they reproduce together and have babies.

  14. Jennifer says

    After a really big storm I found hundreds of tiny snails. I collected a few of them, then a few of days later I was emptying my pool skimmers and on the top lot the lid was this really big snail, I picked it up (carefully) and put it with the others. (I named him Gary after Gary the snail in Spongebob Squarepants). Then about a week later I find this HUGE snail on my house, I was so exited, I had found not one but two big snails.
    When I ask my mom to buy a bigger case for my snails to have them more room (and something easier to clean) she doesn’t understand why I want to keep them, she even offered to get me a hermit crab. I told her why get a hermit crab when I already have snails, yet she still won’t buy a bigger case.
    I was wondering if I should let the little ones go because I heard that if you get a snail you should get two so they have company, so thought I have two big ones why not let the little ones go. Also the little ones like to climb on each other, is that their way of mating?

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Jennifer, I love that you love snails. I think they really cute too. You can probably keep them together. I wouldn’t see any reason to why you couldn’t. As for mating, I haven’t bred them before, so I’d suggest you google it. It would be very interesting to hear if yours reproduced. Let me know. ;)

    • Hailey says

      Well, If they climb on eachother it’s just them playing. They have to be fully grown adults to mate.

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Hi Catherine, i’m sorry I’m not sure what you could use. Perhaps anything that has non toxic written on it should be okay but I have never coloured our snail’s shell.

  15. Ashli says

    So you CAN keep them for longer term, right? And also, do you have to provide them with larger shells for growing at all? So glad to have found this, as my 5y twins have been loving finding snails in our garden, and keeping them in a box for a day. I’m sure they’d love a more permanent home for them, so will have to make them one!

  16. jose says

    im glad i found this post and comments , for the last week i been really worried cuz few years ago i saw this tv show where people die cuz they ate live snails , so last week i was at my job and was doing something outside in the grass at night but there were a lot of snails in the grass i tried not to step on them but i think i step on 2 , wasnt on purpose but then i got to my knees and had to put my hand in the grass and it landed in one of the snails that i step on , so because of that and cuz i suffer from anxiety i remember the tv show and was thinking what if i got the parasite ? anyways i did washed my hand right away like 3 times but since last week i been having like tension headaches , i was thinking the worst and still am but thats my anxiety cuz i have feel this way before sometimes when i over worry or when i dont get enough sleep , and thats me right now , but reading this blog and the comments it helps me a bit ,

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Hi Jose,

      I’m sorry you’re feeling anxious after touching a snail (or snail slime). As long as you washed your hands, you should be fine hon. All three of my girls have touched snails. They love them but I am very mindful to remind them that when ever they touch one they must wash their hands. I’ve even gone as far as saying to let me know they are going to pick up a snail before they do. I’d prefer to supervise them just to be on the safe side. In Australia, there are far more higher risks around than a snail that MAY have rat lung worm though.

  17. Claudia Kruppel says

    Hi Penny,

    I really like the idea of the snails to show and teach the kids. But I live in Gympie, Qld and I don’t seem to have any in my yard (but everything else that eats veggies ;) ).
    Do you know someone who could sell and send me a few brown garden snails with a cream coloured foot?

    That would be awsome!

    Thanks a lot

    Claudia

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Hi Claudia,
      Some pet shops can sell snails but I’m not certain they are the garden variety that you are looking for. Perhaps ring around the pet shops and see if they can point you in the right direction.

      I’d suggest not to get someone to send them to you just in case your spreading disease in some way. I’m sure you wouldn’t let your snails go into the wild but sometimes disease can even spread just from the substrates thrown out from the enclosure. I’m not a expert on snails but I’d be cautious of this before getting someone to send them to you.

      I hope you found the information helpful and I wish you luck in finding garden snails. I’ve heard they LOVE beer. You could try soaking a cotton ball in beer and putting in your garden. You just never know!

  18. Sara says

    We just found a little snail in our garden, and we’re trying to keep it as a pet, but I see that the shell it’s very small, almost like a finger nail, it’s that normal? maybe it’s a baby? And thanks Penny for all the information that you post here, very helpful.

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Hi Sara,

      I’ve seen snails like that too. I’m not certain but I’d say they might be a different species of snail. There’s a few out there. Perhaps google images of snails and see if you can see one that’s exactly like the ones you have. Let me know if you’d like me to have a look. You can share it on my facebook page if you like.

  19. mindi says

    Hi Penny,
    I’ve been keeping 7 snails as pets now for half a year or so, started collecting for my small children but it seems I am the one who loves watching and playing with them the most. not to mention taking care of them.
    Last night I found hundreds of eggs buried in the soil and I am thinking of dumping them out since I do not want any baby snails, at least not in that number.
    I would like to know if they will notice it’s gone will they? or miss them?
    I know it sounds silly but I just want to make sure it doesn’t make them sad.
    Thanks in advance for any information.
    Best.

    • Penny Whitehouse says

      Hi Mindi,

      I’m not a snail expert so I am unsure if snails fret. I would think they wouldn’t though. I think it’s lovely that you were worried about them. It’s so thoughtful of you.

      Your snails laying eggs means that you have very happy snails, so well done!

      • Mindi says

        Thank you for the reply. I did swap the soil and put lots of greens for them to play and to eat.
        So far, they don’t seem too unhappy or act differently so sigh of relief for me.
        Many links and posting on your site help me improve the conditions for them already so you are doing a wonderful job keeping us informed.
        Who knew so many of grown-ups like to keep snails and enjoy them with so much interested in learning more. did you think this will grow like this when you started the site?
        Best, Mindi

        • Penny Whitehouse says

          You’re welcome Mindi and thank you for your lovely feedback. I had no idea so many people were interested in garden snails as pets but I am so glad they are!

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