Hi Christie. I am hoping you can help me with my male Siamese fighting fish. Lately he has been laying on the bottom a lot not being very active. His gill covers are sticking out a little bit and look sort of red and irritated and he hasn’t been blowing bubble nests like he was when I first got him. I don’t see any spots or fuzzy white patches on him so I don’t think it is Ich or columnaris. I will tell you a little about his set up too. He lives in a 1/2 gal bowl without filtration but has two java ferns to help keep the water clean. I do 50% water changes every other week using conditioned tap water. I try to match the new water to the bowl water as closely as possible. I don’t test the water so I can’t give you any information on that. What do you think is making him so sluggish? What causes irritated gills? Thanks for you help.
A: Thanks for including information on your water changes and bowl-set up. The more information you can provide the more we have to go on. I can’t say for sure but my feeling is your Betta may have ammonia or nitrite poisoning. Ammonia is the main byproduct of fish waste. In a tank with a filtration system, beneficial bacteria will grow over time and begin to consume the ammonia. These bacteria then give off nitrite which is also toxic to fish. If given the chance, a second type of bacteria will grow to consume the nitrite. This is called the Nitrogen Cycle. In a bowl that is not cycled, the helpful bacteria don’t have a chance to fully develop in order to consume all the ammonia and nitrite as quickly as it is produced. In this case, the only way to keep these toxins at bay is to do frequent full 100% water changes before they have a chance to become detectable at all. I suspect your half gallon bowl water needs to be changed much more frequently then the every two weeks you have been doing it previously. The symptoms of ammonia or nitrite poisoning are often lethargy, red or inflamed gills (gill covers sticking out when the Betta is resting and not flaring) and gasping for air. This occurs because the ammonia or the nitrite burn the gills of the fish making it very difficult or impossible for them to get dissolved oxygen out of the water. The fish begin to suffocate. This immense stress can lead to a weakened immune system and other illnesses can pop up.
It can be difficult to treat the gills once they have been burned by these toxins but there are steps you can take to help your Betta out. First, do a complete 100% water change being sure to match the new water temperature with the old. Add a good water conditioner, preferably one like Kordon’s AmQuel+ and NovAqua combined, which eliminates chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals AND neutralizes ammonia. While adding aquarium salt to the water isn’t usually necessary for Bettas it can improve gill function for fish exposed to nitrite. Plants, however, often suffer when salt is added. You may not have an issue since Java Ferns are pretty tough plants.
To avoid problems with toxins in the future, monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels regularly and invest a few dollars in a pH test kit. The toxicity of ammonia is directly affected by the water’s pH levels. Ammonia is less toxic in acidic water (pH below 7.0) and becomes extremely toxic in basic water (pH above 7.0). Keep the water clean by changing it before toxins present register on the test kit. This could mean up to twice per week in a small half gallon bowl. Also, slow the rate in which ammonia is produced by feeding small quantities of food, removing uneaten food and fish poo and by snipping any dead or dying plant leaves. Basically, remove anything that can decompose as soon as you’re able. Healthy plants work to counter toxins and are helpful.
Your fish may never fully recover if the damage was severe but keeping your water clean will help to keep him healthy and live a longer life.