Sandshrew is a bipedal pholidotePokémon, but runs on all fours in the anime. Its brick-patterned yellow hide is dry, tough, blends in with desert sand, and protects its soft white underbelly and muzzle. Sandshrew has blue, almond-shaped eyes, a pointed snout, and triangular ears with white insides. Its tail is thick and conical. It has two long claws on each foot and three sharp claws on its forepaws, which are used to burrow.
Sandshrew spends much of its time hidden underground in deep burrows. It only emerges to lunge and drag in passing Bug-type Pokémon. Sandshrew can quickly curl into a tight ball to protect itself from great falls and opponents, but may also throw sand at attackers. While its body can efficiently absorb water to facilitate life in the desert, Sandshrew has been found in caves as well. It also lives deep underground in nests it has created from digging tunnels. Should hard rocks get in the way of digging, Sandshrew will use its sharp claws to remove them before continuing to dig. If it is too wet, its skin becomes wrinkly. It dries itself out by using the geothermal heat near a volcano. It is also known to bathe in sand, which helps remove dirt and moisture from its body.
In the Alola region, Sandshrew migrated to snowy mountains due to the volcanic activity near the desert areas. Its body is a light, icy blue, with a cream-colored belly and muzzle. Thicker plates form a dome around its head and its ears resemble an igloo's entrances. In adapting to this cold climate, its body became larger and heavier with a shell of hard ice covering its hide. This steel-like covering grants it extra defense from predators like Sneasel, but it is unable to curl into a ball like its desert counterpart; smarter predators such as Weavile exploit of its soft underbelly. Alolan Sandshrew can burrow itself in the snow to avoid being blown away by blizzards. Its claws allow it to move without slipping on icy surfaces, but it slides on its stomach when it needs to move quickly. A traditional Alolan custom during festivals is a competition to see who can slide Alolan Sandshrew across ice the farthest.
A Sandshrew appeared in The Path to the Pokémon League, under the ownership of A.J. Despite A.J.'s seemingly harsh and barbaric training methods, like using a whip on it and training in a pool, it was very loyal to him.
In Pikachu's PikaBoo, a Sandshrew was one of the Pokémon that played hide-and-seek. Sandshrew hid by camouflaging itself in front of a brick wall.
Sandshrew has the lowest base Special Attack stat of all Ground-type Pokémon.
Both Sandshrew and Alolan Sandshrew have Abilities that boost evasion in certain weather (Sandstorm for Sandshrew and Hail for Alolan Sandshrew) and Hidden Abilities that boost Speed in those same weather conditions.
Alolan Sandshrew can be seen as a parallel to Alolan Vulpix. Both were initially introduced in Generation I and got Alolan Forms in Sun and Moon. Both Pokémon are Ice-types, with Vulpix being exclusive to Sun and Sandshrew being exclusive to Moon. Furthermore, both Pokémon evolve when exposed to an Ice Stone.
Sandshrew may be based on the armadillo or pangolin, mammals with hard scales and sharp claws, can curl up into a ball, and live in desert regions. Both Sandshrew and Sandslash are mentioned to have poisonous claws, similar to how some species of the shrew are venomous.