Unstable PH Looks Like Common Bettas Disease

Q: J wrote,

I have a Crowntail Splendid Betta; named Bartholomew, whom I’ve had for 1½ years now. I keep him in a 5½ gallon tank with a filter, heater set at 73 degrees, and an air pump with no added tank mates. The tank environment consists of two plastic plants, four fabric plants, a castle for a hideout, two small Java ferns and blue, white and black aquarium rocks at the bottom of the tank.

I premix my water one day before I do my 20% water change, which is every week. The pre-mixture consists of stress coat and ½ teaspoon of aquarium salt. Before cleaning Bartholomew’s tank, I take him out and put him into a cup that holds 1½ cups of conditioned water. After changing the water and cleaning his tank by light vacuuming; I check the temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. They are now reading: Temperature – 80 degrees, pH was 7.5, now reading 7.0, Ammonia – 0, Nitrites – 0, Nitrates – 10. Sometimes I have to add pH down, which consists of a total of six – ten drops during the course of two days. Recently, I read that adding pre-soaked peat moss to the filter cartridge helps keep the pH level from rising above 7.0; this is better than adding a chemical to lower it; please give advice?

I feed him twice everyday; a daily total of 3 – 4 live black worms, 3 – 4 dried blood worms and once a week presoaked pellets and occasional brine shrimp. Bartholomew was a very active Betta; swimming and flaring at everything – the filter, the heater and even his owners. Also, he would get excited by your presence and most of all getting his food. Although, Bartholomew is still swimming around and eating a well-balanced diet; approximately 3 – 4 weeks ago I noticed a change in the little guy’s personality; he seemed to be lying at the bottom of the tank most of the time and acting very lethargic. His colors are still vibrant; fins are free of any tears, no signs of any parasites, bacterial or fungal infection. I do notice a couple little white dots; but they do not appear raised. I started to wonder if he might have ick. To be on the safe side I started treating him with Melafix and Pimafix.

I spoke to Aquarium Adventure, a fish store and they stated that he is just getting old. Could this be true? Can he be acting this way so quickly – just lying at the bottom of the tank; being lethargic? Is there a possibility that he has contracted a parasite or some type of infection that could be making him act this way without visual signs? Also, could I have possibly fed him bad food?

After completing the seven day treatment of Melafix and Pimafix without the activated carbon; I did a 25% water change. Bartholomew only responded a little to the Melafix and Pimafix treatment. A few days later I decided to perform a Methylene Blue dip by setting up a 1 gallon hospital tank; I added one gallon of water from my display tank and than added less than 1½ teaspoons of Methylene Blue. I netted my Betta, Bartholomew from his display tank and dipped him into the Methylene Blue mixture for a total of 8 – 9 seconds. I then immediately removed him and placed him back into the display tank. The reason why I performed this treatment was because he still had a couple white dots near his gills; and both of his eyes had a couple of cloudy spots on them. He was also still acting very lethargic.

The day after his Methylene Blue treatment, I noticed a change in his behavior; he started to act a little himself again; swimming around a little more and flaring a little. His appetite is still excellent and his colors are more vibrant. I still feel that Bartholomew has not fully recovered from his illness. So my question is: should I perform another Methylene Blue dip or do you recommend another course of treatment due to his cloudy eye problem? If I do another Methylene Blue dip, how much should I use and how long should the dip be? Should I be doing the dip periodically until he gets better? Should I treat him in the hospital tank with a small dose of aquarium tetracycline instead of the Methylene Blue? Or, should I give him an aquarium salt treatment in the hospital tank? Please give advice. I really want to see my little guy be himself again. Thanks for your help.

A: Thanks for writing in and providing such detailed information. It really helps to understand better what is happening with your little Bartholomew.

As fish keepers it is very common for us to worry when our finned family members get sick and it is our natural instinct for us to want to treat them with anything and everything we have at our disposal. It’s easy to forget that medicine is a complicated dance between diagnosis and treatment. As with human treatment, medications have specific uses, can cause side effects and add additional stress to the body of those being treated. Before treating with any medication try to determine a reasonable diagnosis for your fish and choose the medication accordingly. Methylene Blue, the primary ingredient in external parasite medications like Rid-Ich+, work great to treat Ich but still exposes your fish to a chemical. MelaFix and PimaFix aren’t bad as a treatment for open wounds or minor exterior infections, but don’t contain any properties for parasite treatment, can contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria and in the case of Melafix is overly potent for sensitive bettas despite its marketing as a holistic remedy.

I mention this because you are utilizing a lot of medicine without strong evidence of a specific disease. One or two white specs on your fish may or may not be Ich parasites. Bettas do occasionally get white salt-like granules that can only be described as pimples. These look nearly identical to Ich but only appear a couple at a time, don’t spread and dissappear on their own in a couple of days. If your Betta has Ich, you’ll know it fast as the parasites reproduce until he is infested with white salt-like granules. Before treating with Ich medication, be sure to read up on the life cycle of the parasite. Understanding it’s three part life cycle is the only way to truly understand how to treat it successfully. For an easy guide to treating Ich, check out:

Ichthyophthirius multifiliis

If you determine your betta does have Ich, you may opt to treat him in the hospital tank with a lower concentration of Methylene Blue for 7 days or as a daily dip of 12mg/l for up to 10 minutes. This is a parasite treatment though, so if Bartholomew doesn’t have an infestation, Methylene Blue won’t help. Similarly with MelaFix and PimaFix. These medicines treat abrasions and surface infections and won’t be as effective on other ailments.

That said, I want to mention the cause I suspect for Bart’s lethargy, PH fluctuations. As you know, the optimal pH for a betta tank is slightly acidic. (A pH of about 6.8 is perfect) It is really easy to want to fix the pH until it falls exactly where you want it but in actuality, adjusting your pH is much more dangerous then leaving it stable right where it is, even if it’s a lot higher then you would think is safe. A stable pH of 8.0 is a lot better for your Betta then a pH that fluctuates between 7.5 and 7.0. PH that becomes rapidly more acidic is called a pH crash and can actually cause sudden shock and death. PH adjustment drops are inconsistent and depend entirely on your carbonate hardness levels (KH). Adding drops will cause your pH to fall fast and return right back where it was in a few hours/days. This fluctuation will be far more stressful to your fish then leaving it right where it is. Most tropical fish are resilient enough to adapt and many were bred in water out of their ideal pH level. If your pH is very high (above 8.0) you can add peat pellets to the tank but again, you will need to become familiar with your carbonate hardness, which determines how easily your pH can be altered. I suspect the lethargy your betta was experiencing was caused by the variation in PH.

Overly adjusting PH is a very common mistake fish keepers make and I have written quite a bit about it. To read more try these links:

Adjusting Aquarium PH Level

PH Crashes: The Roll of Carbonate Hardness

Hope you find this helpful. Thanks for writing in and I hope Bartholomew feels better soon.

Betta splendens with Ich parasites

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  • Cleo

    I like to go with the heat and salt method first before resorting to meds, at least in cases I catch early. Heavy infestations are almost always going to require heavy hitting with meds. Thankfully, the couple of new fish I’ve had that came down with it were already in quarantine and responded very well to salt and heat.

  • Cleo

    Oh, that’s in reference to ich treatment. I just realized that wasn’t clear from my comment.

  • Christie

    Great link Cleo. I completely support chemical free alternatives. 🙂


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