Are Painted Shells Bad for Hermit Crabs?

Are painted shells bad for hermit crabs? As a hermit crab owner, you might have come across colorfully painted shells at pet stores or online shops. While they might be aesthetically pleasing, you might wonder if they are safe for your pets.

In this article, we will explore the topic of painted shells and their impact on hermit crabs. Through personal experiences and research, we aim to provide you with valuable insights that will help you make informed decisions for your pet’s well-being.

Risks of Using Painted Shells for Hermit Crabs

As we enjoy the beauty and colors of painted shells for hermit crabs, it’s critical to think about how safe and suitable they are for hermit crabs. Unfortunately, many painted shells can have significant health risks for hermit crabs.

Here are some of the risks associated with using painted shells for hermit crabs:

  • Ingesting the paint – Hermit crabs are known to consume anything that’s in their environment or near them, including their shells. When painted shells chip or fade, the paint chips produced can be ingested by your pet, which can lead to digestive problems, toxicity, or other severe health issues.
  • Chemical toxicity – The paints and dyes used on shells are often toxic and may interact negatively with your hermit crab. These chemicals can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, or even death in some cases.
  • Difficulty in molting – When it’s time for your hermit crab to molt, a painted shell can restrict the crab’s ability to shed its old exoskeleton properly. If the shell is too tight, the hermit crab may experience suffocation or entrapment during molting, leading to death or injury.
  • Disrupting natural behavior – Hermit crabs often search the beach for new shells to call home. By providing them with painted or decorated shells, you may disrupt their natural behaviors by offering shells that are not typically found in their natural environments.

What Paint Is Safe for Hermit Crabs

While painted shells can be hazardous, it’s understandable why some pet owners would want to add a personal touch to their hermit crab’s living space. If you wish to paint shells for your pets, it’s crucial to use paints that are safe for them.

Here are some considerations when choosing safe paint for hermit crabs:

  • Non-toxic and water-based – Look for paint that is non-toxic and labeled safe to use on surfaces that come into contact with food or pets. Water-based paints are safer than oil-based ones because they don’t contain harsh chemicals.
  • Natural pigments – Consider using natural pigments like beet juice, turmeric, or spirulina powder to add color to shells. These pigments are non-toxic and safe for hermit crabs.
  • Eco-friendly and organic – Choose paints that are eco-friendly and organic. These paints won’t harm the environment or your hermit crabs, reducing the risk of environmental health issues.
  • Minimalistic – Instead of painting the entire shell, consider minimalistic designs such as dots or stripes. They allow the hermit crab to identify the shell as their home and also look aesthetically pleasing.

Signs of Toxicity in Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are sensitive animals, and they can exhibit signs of illness or toxicity if exposed to harmful substances. If you suspect that your hermit crab has ingested or come into contact with something toxic, it’s crucial to monitor their behavior closely and seek veterinary attention immediately.

Here are some signs that your hermit crab could be experiencing toxicity:

  • Lethargy – If your hermit crab appears inactive, lethargic, or weak, it could be a sign that they are experiencing toxicity.
  • Discoloration – Changes in your hermit crab’s color could indicate toxicity. For instance, if your hermit crab becomes pale or takes on a different shade, it could be a sign of illness.
  • Abnormal Behavior – If you notice your hermit crab acting unusually or displaying strange behavior, it’s essential to act immediately. Examples include excessive digging, aggression towards other crabs, or lack of interest in food.
  • Difficulty Breathing – Hermit crabs that exhibit breathing difficulties, such as wheezing, gasping, or labored breathing, could be exposed to harmful substances.
  • Excessive molting – If your hermit crab is consistently molting or appears to be struggling during molting, it could be a sign of illness or toxicity.

Alternatives to Painted Shells

If you want to add some visual appeal to your hermit crab’s habitat, painted shells are not the only option you have. Several natural and safe alternatives will make your pet’s living space more interesting.

Here are some alternatives to painted shells:

  • Unpainted Shells – Unpainted shells are a great alternative to painted ones as they are natural and safe for hermit crabs.
  • Natural Accessories – Add natural accessories to your pet’s habitat, such as driftwood, rocks, and plants, to create a more natural environment.
  • Seaweed – Hermit crabs love seaweed, and it’s an excellent addition to their diet. Adding seaweed to their habitat can not only be visually pleasing, but it’s also a tasty treat for your pets.
  • Sand and Substrate – Hermit crabs need sand and substrate to burrow and dig, and it’s an excellent way to enhance the visual appearance of their habitat. Choose sands and substrates that are natural and free from harmful substances.
  • DIY Accessories – Create DIY accessories for your hermit crab’s habitat, such as coconut huts or hideouts made from natural materials. These accessories will add a personal touch to your pet’s habitat without compromising their safety.

How to Test if a Painted Shell is Safe

If you’ve already purchased painted shells for your hermit crabs and are unsure if they are toxic or not, you can perform a simple test to determine their safety.

Here’s how to test if a painted shell is safe:

  • Rub the Shell with White Distilled Vinegar – Dip a cotton ball or a cloth into white distilled vinegar and rub the painted surface of the shell. If the paint bubbles or rubs off quickly, it’s a sign that the paint is unsafe and may contain toxic substances.
  • Perform a pH Test – Use a pH testing kit, which can usually be found at pet stores or online. Apply the solution to the painted area of the shell, following the instructions provided with the kit. If the pH value is acidic or basic, it’s a sign that the paint is unsafe.
  • Look for a Child Safety Label – Check if the paint used on the shell has a child safety label, which is an indication that it’s safe to use around children and can be considered safe to use for your hermit crabs.
  • Research the Manufacturer – Do some research on the manufacturer of the painted shells. Check if they have a good reputation for producing safe and non-toxic products.


In conclusion, painted shells for hermit crabs are not a safe option, and it’s best to avoid them altogether. The risks associated with painted shells are severe, and they can cause harm to your pets. Instead, opt for natural and unaltered shells, which are safer and more appropriate for your hermit crabs.

If you do choose to paint shells, make sure to use non-toxic, water-based, and natural pigments. By following these guidelines, we can ensure that our hermit crabs are happy, healthy, and safe in their homes.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *