Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 1

Health Problems and Solutions
Because apple snails are a relatively new addition to the aquarium trade, there is not much readily available information on how to diagnose and treat their illnesses. Not much is known about what causes some of the most serious health problems among apple snails, and as a result treatments for various conditions either do not exist or are purely experimental with a high fatality rate. Currently there is no such thing as a “snail vet,” so many owners of these animals have been forced to come up with solutions to problems on their own.

Shell problems
Shell Deterioration This is by far the most common problem new owners encounter. How it is expressed varies among individual snails, but it always involves a flaking or “rotting” of old shell growth that exposes the white calcified interior. It can be caused by water conditions, excessive scratches on the shell, or even by other species of snails and fish eating away the outer shell layer. Shell deterioration is almost always caused by poor water quality: a ph below 7.0 and soft water. A low ph will not show immediate damage on all shells, but if a snail is raised in acidic water, the shell it grows will later deteriorate regardless of actions to change the water quality. It is often a symptom of snails kept for prolonged periods of time in pet stores, since they are rarely supplied with calcium and usually not kept in alkaline water. For most cases, no treatment except a watchful eye is necessary for a deteriorating shell. Snails are capable of reinforcing exposed calcified areas with more calcium, and it will usually not affect the well being of the animal. In rare cases the deterioration will continue right to the soft tissue, whereupon the tissue will calcify and form new shell. This is not a problem in itself, but it can sometimes lead to the formation of calcified tumors or calcified internal organs, both of which can severely compromise the snail’s health. If the
This large canaliculata shows shell deterioration in the old growth. After it was purchased from a pet store, it put down much better new growth that never showed any signs of wear. Because the old growth was of inferior quality, it was impossible to prevent its eventual deterioration, even with improved water quality.

deterioration will not stop and begins to risk going through to soft tissue, clear nail polish can be applied to the area (do not touch the snail’s skin with it, only the shell!) to prevent further damage. It will give a slight “glazed doughnut” appearance, but the snail’s risk of further damage to the area will be greatly decreased.

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 2 Shell breaks and Fractures In minor cases, this just involves chipping of the shell rim where new growth is occurring and does not require any intervention to heal. However, if the break occurs in old shell growth where the snail cannot fix it as easily, depending on where the specific break location and the severity it can ultimately be fatal. There are a few basic kinds of shell breaks: o New growth fractures/breaks. No treatment is necessary for minor cases of these unless they go into the old growth, in which case they can be considered an old growth fracture or break. If the new growth looks like a crushed hardboiled egg, liquid New growth – open New growth – crushed shell and/or edible calcium supplements fissure and chips at the will be necessary to help the snail rim repair itself, though it will most likely not eat. o Old growth fractures/breaks. A shell patch (see the following section on shell patching) may be required if it is over the heart or other internal organs, or if a piece breaks completely free. Large breaks are usually fatal, especially if a large piece comes completely away from the body. If the break looks like a crushed hardboiled egg and is not fatal within a few hours, liquid and/or edible calcium supplements will be necessary to help the snail repair itself, though it will most likely not eat.

Old growth – closed/healed fissure and breaks

o Spire fracture. If no part of the spire has come away, and the break resembles a hairline fracture that does not wrap around the spire completely, then a shell patch may be necessary (see the section on Shell Patching). o Broken spire. In this case the spire breaks completely free, or crushes. It is often the result of a bad fall taken or a longstanding calcium deficiency. Unless the underlying tissue is already calcified, chances of recovery are incredibly slim, and almost 100% of the time the condition is fatal within a day or two. Sometimes the tip of the spire will chip away or break off, usually following shell deterioration; Old growth – severe shell in these cases the underlying tissue is deterioration with a broken, almost always calcified so no patching calcified spire
Fractured spire

Broken/Crushed spire with no calcification

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 3 is necessary, though further erosion due to ph could lead to more serious problems exposing soft tissue. Shell Deformities Shell deformation is caused by an injury to the mantle in some way that prevents it from laying down new shell in a normal pattern. Marisa cornaurietis is particularly susceptible to this, and it is also most visible in this species. Because this condition involves damage to soft tissue, the best and only solution is to wait and watch. Most snails do not die, unless the mantle damage persists and a large “rift” forms in the shell that is never filled in. In those cases, the snail usually lives for a while but will die unless a shell patch is possible (see the following section on shell patching). Snails that survive and repair themselves completely can live long happy lives, though if the deformity constricts the snail’s growing body in any way it can lead to internal problems or difficulty retracting into the shell.

“Broken,” a male Marisa cornaurietis exhibiting a long history of shell deformities and deterioration. Despite the odd appearance, he reproduced successfully to have children with a female who also had a shell deformity

This female Marisa developed a shell constriction that prevented her from retracting all the way into her shell, but she still managed to lay fertile eggs and live a long life.

Thin Shell A thin shell is hard to spot for the new snail owner, especially since snails will sometimes put down thin new growth that later becomes normal thickness, but the condition becomes easy to spot with other snails available to compare. Thin shells are extremely fragile, and can have a washed-out or faded appearance. Thin shells are particularly prevalent among blue, purple, red-brown, and ivory snails. In those colors, the snails have naturally less-sturdy shells, but they are also susceptible to disorders where the shell cannot be properly laid down due to constant re-uptake of These two purple snails died from excessively thin shells that calcium deposited in the inner shell broke repeatedly. Note the lack of color intensity and the faded layer, regardless of the amount of yellow-white areas characteristic of this condition. calcium fed to them or dissolved in the water. Unfortunately the first sign that a snail is having trouble with a thin shell usually comes when the snail is picked up and/or dropped a small distance of less than three inches and the shell shatters either in-hand or when it lands. These cases are always fatal

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 4 in the end. If the first break doesn’t kill the poor thing, the second, third, fourth, etc. eventually will. These snails break very easily, and sometimes even a gentle push from another snail can crush them if they are against a hard surface. If the snail is a female, she will have difficulty breeding. The shell risks cracking under the strain a male puts on it while mounting. Operculum Separation This condition involves the part of the foot that produces the operculum pulling away from its normal attachment site. Depending on just how much the foot and operculum separate from each other, they may be able to reattach or the foot will be able to produce a new “ledge” of operculum. In the latter case the resulting appearance is of two operculums until the new one grows beyond the old one. The old one may or may not chip off. If the operculum separates completely and the foot is left 100% unattached, the snail will probably not survive long enough to grow a completely new one, though this is a very rare problem. Operculum separation on a live snail should not be confused for the natural loss of the operculum on a dead snail. On dead snails, the operculum usually loosens and falls off within a day or so if left in water—by which time the snail will smell absolutely terrible. Operculum Damage Operculum damage happens when a snail’s operculum gets dings and chinks taken out of the rim, without ever pulling free of the foot. This is a very minor problem, and will only lead to an unsightly and lumpy operculum, but will not adversely affect the snail in any way unless it leads to operculum separation.

Soft Tissue Problems
Lost Tentacles If snails are kept in with bitey fish, this is inevitable. Snail tentacles look like delicious large worms to most fish and they will act accordingly. Fortunately snails are equipped with remarkable regenerative capabilities and can replace lost tentacles repeatedly, though after enough nipping they will not grow as long as before. Of course, while snails can re-grow lost tentacles many times, fish should not be allowed to harass a snail past one or two incidents or it will add additional stress to the snail and compromise its activity and overall health.

Damaged Foot/Body Tissue Bites and snicks taken out of a snail’s foot are cause for much more worry than lost tentacles, though there is not much that can be done for the snail short of removing it from whatever caused the foot/body damage and adding liquid calcium to relieve any stress it might have from shell growth and repair. If enough body tissue is destroyed the result will be fatal.

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 5

Fungus Infections This is an easy condition to spot: the snail will start showing discoloration on the bottom or top of its foot that progresses to dark or light colored “spots.” Unfortunately there is no cure for fungus infections, since all available fungus treatments for aquariums contain chemicals toxic to snails. The infected snail should be isolated from other snails to prevent spread of the fungus. Cold water between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit appears to help snails recover from fungus infections, although the survival rate of bad infections is still low.

This snail suffered a bad bite to the back of its foot, probably from another hungry snail.

“Warts” and Cysts Mostly an occurrence among old P. canaliculata snails, some individuals develop bumps on the foot, face, and tentacles. The bumps may vary in size from almost imperceptible to the size of a pinhead, and the larger bumps on the labial or cephalic tentacles may cause “kinks” in the tentacles. Although the condition is unsightly, there is no evidence that it is transmittable to other snails in the same tank or that it is connected to any other health problems. Cysts can often look very much like warts, but in these cases there is an object imbedded inside the tissue for whatever reason. They are visible as darkened spheres in areas where the surrounding tissue is thin, such as tentacles and the edges of the foot. When This old male canaliculata developed occurring in tentacles of young snails, cysts may cause warts after reaching sexual maturity. bifurcations of the tentacles at the site of the cyst. The Despite the grizzly appearance, the warts did not negatively affect his health. cause of cysts is unknown, and most seem to disappear with time if other infections, such as fungal infections, do not occur in the same area. Cysts do not appear to be contagious to other snails in the same tank and do not appear to be related to any sever health conditions. Forked Tentacles / Forked Siphon Forked tentacles occur during periods of growth, usually caused by cysts (see above). They are nothing to worry about, and if nipped off by a fish they will grow back normally. Forked siphons are also not a major problem, but a snail with a branching siphon may require more space above the waterline to breath. The cause of forked siphons is unknown, but they appear to be inherited in some cases.

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 6 Foot Atrophy Shrinking of the foot, commonly called “wasting disease,” is a sign of severe stress due to starvation and frequently other internal problems. It particularly occurs in bridgesiis kept in conditions where they have nothing to eat for long periods of time. If the starvation persists, internal organ damage can occur that is eventually fatal. If the situation is caught soon enough most snails can recover given unlimited access to food for one to two weeks. If the snail continues to exhibit a shrinking foot or does not improve, it will not be able to overcome the condition and will die. Foot atrophy can also be a sign of internal growths, sometimes calcified tumors, although they are seldom obvious until after death. Mantle Collapse So far nobody really knows what causes this, but it is fairly prevalent among snails in the aquarium trade. When the mantle “collapses” it pulls away from the hard shell, thereby giving the body and internal organs no structural support where the separation has happened; usually it happens on one side or the other, but both are fatal. If the mantle collapses on the left side, the snail will most likely only live a few hours and you probably won’t find out about it until it’s already dead. The lung is located on the left side and when the collapse causes it to cave in, effectively suffocating the snail. If the mantle collapses on the snail’s right side the snail may survive for up to a week, but it will suffer in that time with difficulty moving and breathing. The snail cannot recover from this, and most people choose to euthanize the animal rather than let it suffer. Euthanasia can be accomplished by placing the animal in a freezer: since a snail’s metabolism is dependant on the ambient temperature, it’s nervous system will slow down and it will loose consciousness before death. Collapsed Lung / Water-Filled Lung Sometimes the lung itself can cause problems for apple snails, particularly for female snails that are going in and out of the water frequently to lay eggs. When the snail is out of the water, the lung is open to the air for breathing. If the snail falls unexpectedly back into the water and doesn’t close the opening fast enough the lung can become filled with water. This is a very rare problem since the lung is capable of closing extremely fast, but when it does happen it can be quite serious. Usually the only clue that something is wrong
The two ways in which a snail with a collapsed or water-filled lung must be rotated.

A snail with a normal lung. Note the sack-like appearance and the opening to the lung.

A snail with a collapsed lung. The opening to the lung is closed and the lung is flat against the shell.

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 7 comes from a change in activity: normally active or friendly snails will suddenly stay closed up at the bottom of the tank and not move for several days. Inactivity can be caused by numerous things, but it never hurts to check for a water-filled lung. The remedy for this situation is to take the snail out of the water and let it sit in a safe place on a damp cloth for several minutes. It should eventually open up and possibly start to move around. The water may come out once the snail opens up, but if there isn’t a noticeable amount that comes out then you will need to help the snail. Pick the snail up, spire pointing upwards, and rotate it counterclockwise (when viewed from above on a dextral apple snail) for several turns. Then, hold the snail with the spire pointing away from you, and rotate it clockwise for several turns. These rotations should allow the water to come out the opening of the shell if there is any remaining in the lung or mantle cavity. Another problem that can occur is the lung actually collapsing in on itself. Again, it is a very rare occurrence but afflicted snails normally require assistance to overcome it. The symptom of this problem is usually a snail lying on it’s back stretching as far as it can upwards and outwards. The reason for this posture is that the mantle cavity is filled with water and has made the shell extremely top-heavy, thereby preventing the snail from easily turning itself over. Snails with collapsed lungs should be treated in the same way as snails with water-filled lungs: they should be allowed to sit on a damp cloth for several minutes and then rotated in the ways described above. Following that they should be left in shallow water so that they can easily re-inflate their lung with their siphon. If you put the snail back in deep water before it’s lung is re-inflated it will have the same problem all over again!

Tumors and Internal Organ Damage These come in a variety of forms from benign bumps on the labial and cephalic tentacles to large organ-damaging calcified internal tumors. The cause of most tumors is unknown, though large bumps on the labial and cephalic tentacles tend to appear in individuals suffering from a fungus infection. Even after the infection is gone, however, the growths are permanent and do not get resorbed. Calcified tumors are prevalent among purple and red-brown snails suffering from thin shell syndrome; tumors are also frequently associated with damage of other internal organs, or the calcification of organs. Because all of the fatal types of tumors and damaged organs are internal, and no symptoms show until sudden death, there is no treatment. Tumors that are internal are impossible to detect except in a post-mortem dissection, which is both extremely smelly and offensive to many people. Calcified tumors are usually found in the process of shell cleaning after the animal has died. The tumor is revealed after the body is removed when a large chunk of hard bone-like substance gets shaken out of the shell. Soft-tissue tumors are only visible on recently deceased snails when taken out of the shell. The flesh decomposes in water and dries out otherwise so quickly that it becomes impossible to tell the tumor apart from the rest after more than 48 hours. Everyone who has dealt with a deceased snail knows that there is no smell comparable to that of dead snail, which is why it is the last test to see if a snail has left this world or not. If you plan to do a post-mortem on a recently deceased snail, please do it in a well-ventilated room, or preferably outside. If you find the smell offensive (which

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 8 most people do), use rubber gloves, preferably disposable ones. The smell of dead snails is nearly impossible to get off of skin within 24 hours and hard to remove from a sink within the same time frame. Keeping the snails submerged in water or occasionally held under slow running water greatly helps to reduce the odor problem.

Parasites Most parasites that apple snails can carry will never be seen inside the aquarium because the species that are carriers are not available in the pet trade. However, there is at least one type of parasite that can make its way into the aquarium through wild caught specimens of apple snails from the southern United States. This parasite is the grub worm, a type of fluke that can neither harm humans nor reproduce in the aquarium. Grub worms are encysting parasites that hatch in the water and seek a snail host first. Once found, they form a cyst on the snail, usually on the bottom of the foot. These small cysts will appear white and contain a puss-like substance. Numerous flukes are released from the cyst when it ruptures, and they will then move onto their next life stage in a fish. If fish are present in an aquarium with infected snails, they will likely show up with the grub worms as well (these worms are often listed in fish disease books, but the snail part of their life cycle is seldom mentioned). The grub worms will encyst in the fish’s flesh. Mechanical removal of the worm is then necessary, because the worms will not leave on their own unless the fish is consumed by the next host: a wading bird. If no wading birds come into contact with the fish, the fluke’s life cycle is broken and reproduction is impossible.

Torn Columellar Muscle Often associated with mantle collapse, this condition is 100% fatal. The columellar muscle is responsible for holding the snail into its shell and retracting the body to close the operculum. When the muscle is torn, the snail has no way to hold itself into its shell and so it eventually falls out. Sometimes this can result in a snail walking around “shellless,” but it will not survive that way. Death will come eventually from either edema or suffocation due to a collapsed lung. Because death is inevitable and can be drawn out for up to a week, some owners may prefer to euthanize a snail that has lost its shell from a torn columellar muscle.

A snail that has suffered a torn columellar muscle and lost its shell as a result. The lung is collapsed, making a saddleshaped mark on the back.

Toxic Substances & Poisoning
A variety of chemicals can have a poisoning effect on apple snails. The most common toxic substances to apple snails are chlorine, chloramines, fluorine, and heavy metals—all of which can be found in tap water. If you do not have well water, be sure to use a water treatment that takes removes chlorine, chloramines, and fluorine. If you have acidic water, be sure to have your water tested for copper (most pet stores will do this)

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 9 and other metals if possible. If your water tests positive for dissolved metals, you will need to get a water treatment that removes heavy metals. Not all water conditioners will remove everything, so you may need to buy two! Death is incredibly fast from exposure to these substances. Fish medications containing malachite green, salt, and metals will also poison and kill snails. Ammonia/Nitrite Poisoning Just like with fish, snails are susceptible to toxic substances building up naturally in the aquarium. These substances are ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. In a fully cycled and stable tank, ammonia and nitrite should never show up on a test kit and only nitrate levels should rise over time before a water change. However, in the event something goes wrong in a tank, snails can suffer from ammonia and nitrite poisoning. In either of these cases, the snails will usually not show symptoms until the ammonia or nitrite levels have gone high enough to kill most tropical fish. The symptoms of ammonia and nitrite poisoning are as follows: inactivity, sitting on the bottom of the tank, lying upside down, immobility, unresponsiveness (many snails will appear dead and not respond until severely harassed), severely rigid or completely limp foot, and sometimes swelling of the body where the mantle extends past the edge of the shell. Often snails with ammonia or nitrite poisoning will sit on their backs with the foot completely extended and flat, as though they are perpetually waiting to catch something. Treatment for ammonia and nitrite poisoning is fairly simple. The most important thing is to clear up the water condition or remove the snail from the bad water and place it in clean, treated water. Take the snail out of the water and let it sit on a cool, damp surface for about 15 minutes. Unless the snail has a collapsed lung or other internal problems, it will eventually become more mobile and start walking around. Any swelling will usually be gone by 20 minutes. After the snail shows marked improvement, put it in clean water or back in the tank if the water condition has been fixed. Keep an eye on the snail as it may repeat the behavior if the water is not to its liking. If the condition does not improve, repeat the treatment. If the snail refuses to open up and three treatments have passed, put it in clean, treated water and wait until the next day to try again.

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 10

Shell Patching
In the event that a snail breaks its shell to the extent that it cannot repair itself, a shell patch will be necessary. Patching is a permanent fix: once the patch is applied it should never be removed. You will need the following: o Marine epoxy putty – be sure it isn’t liquid epoxy! o Microwaved eggshell to cover the soft tissue or the piece of shell that has been broken off, or the microwaved inner lining of the eggshell (a leathery white tissue). The epoxy is toxic until cured, so don’t let it touch anything but the snail’s shell during the patching process or you will risk compromising the snail’s health, or even killing it! Patching is best done as a two-person operation since the epoxy can’t touch the snail’s soft tissue, and therefore your hands shouldn’t touch the snail’s soft tissue after handling the putty. Once the putty is mixed and ready, you are ready to start patching: Step 1: Make sure there is no debris or slime on the exposed tissue. Trapping any foreign substances that may have bacteria could lead to bad infection. If you are using eggshell or eggshell lining to cover the holes, make sure it is microwaved so that it is sterilized. Step 2: Cover the exposed area with either the missing piece of shell, a piece of eggshell, or a piece of the eggshell’s inner lining that mostly covers the area (more than one piece can be overlapped to cover an area for which the curvature of the shell is too great to be covered effectively by a single piece of eggshell). Step 3: Take just enough putty to cover the area and mold it with your hands to the vague shape of the part of the shell it will be covering. Place the putty patch over the piece(s) of shell/eggshell and gently press it into place. Smooth the edges down gently so as not to create any further shell damage. Step 4: If the damaged area does not wrap around the spire, a thin layer of epoxy putty over the spire may be necessary to hold the patch in place so that it doesn’t pop off at some point in the future while the snail is in the tank. After the patch is pressed into place such that it will stay on, leave the snail in a deep bowl that it can’t fall out of if it decides to walk around (even a small fall could be fatal as the weight of the patch would almost certainly cause the snail to fall spire-first). The cure time of most marine epoxy putties is approximately one hour. The snail will be fine out of water for that amount of time. If it decides to walk around, put a thin film of water in the bottom of the container to keep it moist. Do not get the patch wet though,

Health Problems & Solutions – Donya Quick 11 because it needs to be dry to set properly! After the cure time has passed, fill the bowl with water from the tank and let the snail sit in it for a few minutes—this will help eliminate possibility of releasing toxins into the tank. Dispose of the water in the bowl, and put the snail back in its tank. It’s ok if the patch smells faintly of plastic; as long as it cannot be dented with a nail it is no longer toxic.

A successfully patched female ivory apple snail. She returned to normal activity immediately after patching and began laying eggs again only a week later.

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