Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Betta Bouncing Back From Ammonia Burns

Lovely the Fish, originally uploaded by steve xavier.

DO wrote,

I received a 1 gal. wall bowl w/ bamboo plant, few rocks and red male Betta in March as an anniversary gift from my husband. Up until 1.5 weeks ago he was active, had a routine, seemed happy and healthy. We went out of town for the weekend, I left him a sinkable disc food. It was his 1st time alone. After our return I immediately changed the water as it was very cloudy. His gills were protruding and he seemed to be gasping? After clean water he seemed to perk up, but didn't completely return to his old self. 4 days ago he stopped eating. I thought maybe he was cold so I place a light above him a few hours a night. He swims to it and hangs out where it is warm. Yesterday he did his morning "dancing" asking for breakfast, which I took as a good sign, but still won't eat. He doesn't seem to have ick, or any physical damage (besides gills). I am getting very concerned about him. My children keep asking about him. I change his water 1-2 times a week, boil/cool rocks in between as well as rinse off bamboo. His head does look a little gray but not fuzzy the last 2 days or so. Any advise would be great, thanks.

A: This is a classic case of ammonia poisoning with all the signs. Fish waste and decaying food are the primary sources for toxic ammonia. In such a small bowl ammonia can build to toxic levels in a very short amount of time (a few days under normal conditions) and that problem can be compounded by adding extra food or missing a water change.

Swollen gills and gasping are typical symptoms of ammonia burns. Unfortunately, these burns are slow to heal and often never fully return to normal function. When Bettas struggle to get oxygen they often experience secondary problems including loss of appetite, faded color or secondary infections. This is due to the added stress on the immune system.

Some steps you can take to increase your Betta's chance of recovery are keep up with frequent water changes, test for ammonia regularly using a simple ammonia test kit from your local fish store and supply your fish with an appropriately sized aquarium (3 - 5 gallons minimum). Aquarium salt can also be beneficial to
help relieve stress and increase gill function for fish who have experienced ammonia burns. The dosage is 1 tablespoon for every 5 gallons of water and remember that salt does not evaporate so don't continue to add salt to the bowl or it will reach unsafe concentrations.

The single best thing you can do to improve water quality and provide a stable home for your fish is to cycle an aquarium. The "nitrogen cycle" is a naturally occurring process that happens in an aquarium (and all bodies of water) where beneficial bacteria reproduce and grow and consume dangerous ammonia as it is being produced. Tank cycling is something that few fish keepers know about when the first buy their fish (unfortunately most fish stores don't educate their patrons) but eventually learn about the process once their fish begin to get sick. I put together a web page for new Betta keepers describing the process so they can easily cycle their first aquarium. Cycling a fish tank will help you combat future ammonia problems, will create a safer healthier environment for your fish and will save you time and money by reducing the frequency of water changes. To learn about the nitrogen cycle visit

This is a very common problem with new Betta keepers and I know your question will help many others experiencing the same problem. Good luck to you and I hope your fish will experience a full recover as soon as possible.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Betta Showing Stress After Aquarium Upgrade

abyss, originally uploaded by sanoi.

MD wrote,

First, I want to tell you how impressed I am with your website! Thank you so much for providing such a rich resource to betta enthusiasts! I am concerned about my betta fish, Nino. I have had him for three months and he has been a great companion in my study, where I spend most of my time. He was in a 5 gallon aquarium, with no filter and no heater, and was really thriving. As winter is approaching, I wanted to provide him with a heater and a filter to circulate water. Considering how active he was -- swimming back and forth through his tank most of the day -- I decided to switch him to a 10 gallon tank. I was as careful as possible in the transition -- I "seeded" the gravel from his old tank to his new environment + I mixed the new water with the water from his old tank and made sure it was the same temperature.

Since Nino moved to his new aquarium, he has been increasingly less active, and this morning, he remains still at the surface of the water most of the time. He still eats. I should specify that the temperature in his aquarium has been pretty steady at 74-76 F since I got him. I have put the heater and filter in place, but I have not started them yet (I thought I should first give Nino a chance to get used to his new tank for a few days). The filter (duetto mini) does contain a very small charcoal cartridge (could that contaminate the water if not in use?). I have been using spring water from the time I got Nino and have been doing weekly water change. I have tested his water yesterday and today (with API Master test kit) and the reading are good : ammonia between 0 and .25, nitrite: 0; nitrate: 5.0. The pH is high -- 8.0 -- but I have been using the same spring water, and noticed high readings in the past as well.

Nino looked perfectly healthy and happy before the transition and I feel pretty bad seeing him still, with very little reaction to stimuli and noticing his condition getting progressively worse since yesterday. I wonder if I should try to put him back in his smaller tank or if I should I make a water change?... I'm very confused and worried!

I would really appreciate your suggestions!

Moving into a new aquarium can be stressful at first even though it'll be better in the long run. It is not at all unusual for Bettas show signs of stress including sluggishness, loss of appetite or dull coloration for example. Fish are incredibly in-tuned with their environment and can detect even minor changes in water chemistry, especially pH.

You will want to be sure that the new tank doesn't have any soap or detergent residue, that the new water has the same parameters as the old (which you have done) and that any necessary water additives have been added. (Dechlorinator if necessary). If these precautions have been taken then it's likely your fish just needs some time to adjust.

Adding plants (real or silk) and hiding places will help your fish to feel more secure while he gets used to his new territory. Also many aquarists recommend keeping the lights off or surrounding the aquarium with a towel for a day or two to help your Betta feel safe and protected.

I agree that keeping the filter off while your Betta is showing signs of stress is a good idea. Just be careful not to overfeed him during this time and if you detect any ammonia or nitrite you will want to turn on that filter to keep these toxins at bay. Regarding your question about charcoal, I don't believe it is causing additional stress. Charcoal is generally safe for Bettas but if you are worried you could always remove the cartridge until you are ready to run the filter.

A ten gallon aquarium makes a great home for a Betta. Give it a few days at least to allow your fish to adjust. In most cases they will be back to normal within a week.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Common Diseases Bettas Bring Home from the Fish Store - Velvet Disease

betta femmina, originally uploaded by altiebassi.

Q: CSM wrote,

Hey there, I was wondering if I could trouble you with a quick question. Three days ago I purchased a betta. At the time, he appeared to be in good health, and when i brought him home, he swam in his new tank and ate all of his food. On the third day, he stopped eating and is hanging out at the top of his tank. His front fins appear "clamped" - they look like two little sticks. He is unreceptive to me - I gently tapped the side of his bowl and he did not move. Evey once in awhile he takes a big gulp of air. Other than that, he does not move. He is in a 1.5 gallon tank, the water was treated and left to stand 48 hours before his arrival. All the rocks and the fake plant are brand new and were cleaned before putting them in the tank.

It's not dropsy - yet anyway - no scales are sticking out. I fear he may have velvet - his stomach appears to be goldish. Unfortunately, because he is a new fish, I do not know if this is indeed velvet, or if the goldish stomach was there to begin with.

Perhaps parasites?


Any help would be much appreciated.

A: To answer your question, adjusting to a new aquarium can be very stressful for any fish. Very often the new water can be quite different from the water they were kept in previously and the adjustment can really take it's toll on the Betta's immune system. It's not unusual for fish to become ill within the first few weeks in their new home. To add to the problem, Bettas are often kept in less than ideal conditions while at the fish store and can leave with any number of illnesses of which Velvet is one of the more common ones. Here's more information about Velvet from Nippyfish.net.

Velvet or Piscinoödinium or Oödinium pilularis is a parasitic infestation that is very common among both salt and freshwater fish. This parasite is opportunistic and is present in most commercial aquariums. When a fish is stressed due to temperature fluctuations, poor water quality or other stressors they become susceptible to the parasites. Velvet or Piscinoödinium or Oödinium pilularis is a parasitic infestation that is very common among both salt and freshwater fish. This parasite is opportunistic and is present in most commercial aquariums. When a fish is stressed due to temperature fluctuations, poor water quality or other stressors they become susceptible to the parasites.

Velvet is classified as a dinoflagellate. It is both a protozoan like the Ich parasites but contains Chlorophyll so it is also considered a type of algae. It survives by finding a stressed host and attaching itself mostly to the gill or fin tissue where it kills the cells and consumes the nutrients directly from the fish. If left untreated it often leads to death. Physically, Velvet looks like a gold, rust or yellow dust, finely sprinkled over the fish. In fact, it can be so difficult to see that often a flashlight is needed to reveal it. This shiny powder appearance has lead to many other names besides Velvet including Rust and Gold Dust Disease.

Besides seeing the parasites directly on your fish you may notice other symptoms including the telltale rubbing against rocks, gravel or other décor. This is common with external parasites and is an attempt by your fish to dislodge the pests from its body. As the disease develops, symptoms may worsen and include lethargy, loss of appetite, labored breathing and clamped fins.

Over a short time, the protozoa detach from their host and enter their free-swimming stage where they divide and multiply many times. This is when they are most vulnerable to medications but may not be obviously present in the tank. It is very important when medicating that you finish the entire course of treatment regardless of weather or not you still see the parasites present. Follow the directions on the medication package closely. Once the parasites multiply they must find a new host (or the same old one) within 24 hours to survive. Because of this life cycle it may appear that your fish has gotten better but really once the Piscinoödinium completes reproduction the worst is yet to come. Now many more protozoa are present in the water and waiting to attack your fish.

If diagnosed early, Velvet is fairly easy to treat. First, you should remove your betta and place him into a hospital tank away from any other fish. Oödinium is highly contagious and keeping the infected fish in a community tank can put others at risk. Make note, the medications for Velvet may be toxic to other species like some fish, snails, invertebrates and aquarium plants as well. Also, any filter media should be removed so as not to eliminate the medication from the water. Next, slowly raise the water temperature to 80˚F – 82˚F [26.6˚C – 27.7˚C]. Because you don’t want to further stress you fish, be sure to only increase the temperature by no more then 2˚F or 1˚C in a 24 hour period. A more rapid temperature fluctuation could cause additional harm. It’s recommended you use a commercial Velvet medication like Mardel’s CopperSafe® or Jungle’s Velvet Guard®. Reducing the amount of light getting into the tanks by keeping the hood lamp off and covering the tank may help to combat the parasites as well.

To prevent the Piscinoödinium parasites from infesting your tank there are some simple precautions all aquarists can tank. First, always quarantine new fish for 3 – 4 weeks before adding them to a community tank. Be sure to always test your water parameters regularly and keep tank water clean by performing frequent and regular water changes. Avoid stressors like temperature and pH fluctuations and provide a nutritionally balanced diet by offering a variety of live and frozen foods.