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Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

This is a discussion on Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca? within the Sick Axolotl? forums, part of the Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) category; I moved house a month or so ago and Steve did really well during his ride. He ate right away ...

Sick Axolotl? Axolotl looking down in the gills? The doctors are in.


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Old 17th July 2017   #1 (permalink)
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Default Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I moved house a month or so ago and Steve did really well during his ride. He ate right away after being put in his new tank and had no trouble. Just his normal silly self.

Last week though, he started acting differently. I wouldn't take the food I dropped in for him (salmon pellets made by his breeder just for axxies), and even more strangely, the food was still there when I came back a few minutes later. Normally if he misses the piece I drop in, he'll swim around looking for it and clean up all the food.

I also noticed he was swimming up for gulps of air more often. I chalked all that behavior up to me not paying enough attention though, as these last few weeks had been busy. Maybe it just seemed like he was going for air a lot and maybe I over fed him so thats why he wasn't eating?

But then today I noticed his cloaca was weirdly swollen.

I've never seen it like this before. He's around 5 or 6 now so I'm not sure its a sexual maturity thing.. its sorta red so it really doesn't seem healthy to me.

Anything I can do for him or any idea what's wrong? I'm new to the area so I don't know too many of the vets and whether or not they can see axolotls so it'll take me a bit to find one.


His tank has a slate bottom and I do small water changes every week. He eats salmon pellets every other day and has been since I brought him home years ago with no ill effects. I use Tetra Aquasafe Plus to get the chlorine out of the water because the water at my apartment is awful. Again, same stuff I've been using since I got him.

((sorry about the pic not being the best quality. He's a squirmy little guy and didn't really want to be held)).
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Old 17th July 2017   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I'm just about to get off work so my first plan when I get home is to at least do a water change. Is this something that fridging would be a good idea? I really don't know what to do here..



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Old 18th July 2017   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Ok well, I did a water change and double checked all the parameters just to make sure it wasn't my new tap water, but everything seems fine. I'm gonna see how he is tomorrow and maybe think about fridging if he doesn't improve. I just don't want to do that unnecessarily.

If anyone has any thought's I'd love to hear them. I'm sure you get hundreds of "my axie has this thing help!" type posts, so sorry for that. I'm having trouble finding photos of black axolotls with this issue so I'm having trouble identifying the cause. It looks so different on light colored axolotls.



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Old 18th July 2017   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Just out of curiosity, what are your water levels and tank temperature like right now?

When Claptrap lays spermatophores his cloaca seems to swell up and go a bit red. It always goes away, but could it be that Steve is doing the same?

Otherwise, the only simple other thing I can think of is what you said; constipation. Claptrap's been constipated once in the past before. I did fridge him, it's debatable whether the fridging helped him expel his waste or not but it did calm him down significantly. Eventually after a couple days he had a massive poop (my other-half jokingly called him ****trap for quite a while) and over the next day he started taking food again and he went back in his tank.

I hope that you manage to figure it out and that it does just turn out to be something simple.



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Old 19th July 2017   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

the temp is 72 at the moment. its pretty consistently in the low 70s. It's hot where I live so I have a little fan that evaporates the water to keep him cool.

I suppose I've never really seen him physically lay spermatophores now that I'm thinking about it. Im not even sure I could tell you what one looks like. So it could certainly be that. A lot of the previous posts about swollen cloaca I was reading through were ether axolotls with serious medical issues or young ones just about to reach sexual maturity so I wasn't having trouble pinpointing an issue with Steve (who I'm pretty sure is still middle age, correct?)

I tried to feed him a small piece of food just now and he wouldnt take it. I noticed a white gunk under his tail, coming out of him. It's dark now though so I couldn't get a good enough picture... that sound like spermatophores to you?

I'm gonna keep an eye on him before I resort to fridging. I lost a cleaner shrimp in my sw tank because I reacted rashly and quarantined him without needing to. It could just be that spermatophores thing and it's no big deal.

I appreciate the reply by the way. At least it didn't stand out to you as something immediately wrong. (And also I love the name claptrap xD and your other half's nickname for him!)



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Old 19th July 2017   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I have a board with 4 fans on it that angles down toward the tank, it's really good at knocking off some extra degrees it takes it down by about 3 C for me, which is 37.4 F according to google. You can always look into getting a more beefy fan to see if it helps a little more. I got mine from Ebay, it's a Boyu one and it works a treat!

Spermatophores look a little like a jelly volcano with a white "eruption" blob coming out of the top once they're laid. I can't really explain it any better than that I'm afraid. Look around the tank for some. What kind of substrate is he on?

I always try and explain more likely problems first as I've got a tendency to overreact and think that everything is dying... I'm a worrier.

Claptrap's name comes from a game we like; Borderlands and Lonestar is from Spaceballs (different spelling in the movie though). My other half is not keen on my habit of bringing home new friends, so I let him name them. We have a fish called Poofish, a bristlenose called Mrs Crusoe and a shrimp called Big Daddy Shrimp. We also had a goldfish for many, many years called Kitty Pony Pony... Yeah, the Axi's names are the best and most nice ones yet. Especially as Claptrap is quite a dark golden albino, so he's very yellow like his namesake



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Old 21st July 2017   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Uhhhhh this took a really dramatic turn. There's bloody stuff in his tank. It's chunky and filmy with red tint around it. his water is all red. I just fridged him and attached pics. I don't see any external damage so he didn't hit himself on anything.

What's happening to my little man?

(I'm gonna post a follow up of everything that happened up to this point, I just want a post up now so someone can start giving me answers).
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Old 21st July 2017   #8 (permalink)
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Unhappy Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Ok the follow up. Yesterday he seemed better. Still not interested in eating but he moved to look at me when I approached which is an improvement. I saw a big chunky white clump that I didn't recognize (not sure if it was a big poop or a spermatophore of some kind but I siphoned it out). The redness on his cloaca was gone and the swelling seemed to have gone down dramatically.

I tried to feed him but he wasn't interested. I went to bed.

I got home from work an hour or so ago and checked on him again. And again, all seemed on the up and up. Still not interested in food but much more aware of my presence. While I was eating dinner, he swam up to the surface for air twice. That's been typical of him since he got sick. So again, nothing out of the ordinary.

And then I looked up and thought "that water seems darker than normal." And then Steve started swimming around a lot. And then I noticed the dark patch on the stone near his cave wasn't discoloration on the slate. It was blood.

And then the rest happened. I quickly moved him to a fridging container (I have one of those temperature laser thingies that my dad gave me so I know 100% the new water that container is the same temp) and put him in the fridge with a towel around his box (along with a jug of new water). I'm going to check on him frequently to make sure the blood or whatever it is isn't a continual thing and he doesn't foul up his water.

I didn't see any blood when I first got home so it happened sometime when I wasn't watching after I got back. I don't know where it came from. Like I said in the original post, he doesn't have any open wounds externally.

What's going on? What happened?! I don't know what I did



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Old 21st July 2017   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

It's been nearly an hour and there's no blood in his fridge container, so it's not ongoing bleeding, at least externally.

I'm going to test the water quality now. I think my freshwater test kit is expired so I just ran out to get a new one.



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Old 21st July 2017   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

ok well. my water is ****tier than anticipated. I thought it was just ok city water. but...

These numbers are directly from my tap, since the tank water is tinted with blood:

ph - 7.6+ (the test kit is darker than 7.6)
high range ph (8.4)
ammonia (1ppm)
nitrite (0-.25ppm, it's hard to tell)
nitrate (either 10 or 20, again, hard to tell)

I'm gonna guess any combination of that water is what caused him to get sick in the first place... I don't know what to do now



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Old 21st July 2017   #11 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I'd recommend taking him to a vet ASAP leave him in the fridge for now, but it doesn't sound great. Keep an eye on him regularly to see if you can tell where the bleeding is coming from but try and contact all the vets around you to get one who deals with exotics.



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Old 21st July 2017   #12 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I spent 2 hours last night calling as many emergency vets as I could find (including ones out of state, simply looking for advice) and no one I found did exotics and most didn't even know what an axolotl was. I'm going to call some non-emergency vets this morning and see if I can find someone who will look at him during normal business hours.

As of this morning, no blood in the container (the water looked perfectly clean but I changed all of it anyway. If I do take him to a vet, is there any concern about the water temperature changing too dramatically? The water he's in is about 50 degrees atm, but where I live we're having a heatwave of up to 102 degrees. Is the heatwave going to be a problem if I have to drive a considerable distance to a vet?



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Old 21st July 2017   #13 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I'm really hoping you're able to find someone who will deal with exotics, blood is always something to get seen unless it's from very minor injury.

If you wrap the container you take him in, in a thick towel or blanket and then put it inside a cooler bag, it will help slow the temperature change. Allowing the water in his container to adjust temperature as slow as you can is your best bet. I've made ice cream get home barely melted in a two hour car journey with massive insulation, wrapping it tightly in everything I could find in the trunk.

Have you tried looking explicitly for exotic vets in your state? Also, what kind of substrate is he on? Is there any way he's impacted with inorganic matter? I only ask as that would show up on an x-ray usually, so it's something they can check for. I'd say keep doing what you're doing and keep your fingers and toes crossed. I know I am!!

Edit: If we're talking a couple hours to a vet in a car, perhaps think about wrapping some cold blocks in towels and placing them near the container. Not too close though, or he'll get too cold. It's best if it's inbetween the towels/blankets you use to wrap the container perhaps on the sides of the container rather than underneath. It's a thought, but I'm not sure if it'd help the situation.



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Old 22nd July 2017   #14 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Steve actually has his own travel container. It's a small cooler (I want to say 3 gallons but I can't remember, I never fill it up all the way) with two small holes drilled in the top. One hole gets an airstone and pump and the other stays open and unobstructed. That way his water stays cool and oxygenated. That's how I drove him 14 hours when I moved for my new job. I used the exact same setup for my saltwater critters too.

As for substrate, he's on a slate bottom. My dad glued slate tiles in for me. So no chance of impaction from eating sand or something like that.

I found him a vet 45 minutes away. Steve did great during the trip and his water stayed nice and chilly from being in the fridge. The vet was super nice and very knowledgable about axolotls. He didn't feel any kind of impaction or obstructions or abnormal lumps in Steve's belly and checked for anemia with a blood sample from the gunk I siphoned up (he's not anemic). He did note that Steve's cloaca was still swollen as well.

An xray and ultrasound would have cost me $100 a piece and I don't have that kind of money right now. So the vet gave Steve an injection of a medication that is an anti inflammatory and an anti bacterial, just in case it's a stomach issue, and then gave him an oral medicine that I don't remember what it does off the top of my head. I have more of that medicine to give him throughout the week. The vet told me to call him back if Steve doesn't start eating soon, but to otherwise keep an eye on him.

I got his tank set back up with frozen water bottles, his fans on high, and all bottled water (no more tap for this little guy, not with all the ammonia in it). I'm going to try to find a pet store that has Kent RO Right so I can start making Steve his own water. He went back in this morning after I let the filter run and the water cool down. He's sitting at 68 degrees now, trying to get that down maybe just a tad more if I can. It's hard with the weather being in the 100s here. I can barely cool my apartment to 75 degrees, let alone lower the water temp in a tank of water to sub 70.

It's all a waiting game now, just keeping an eye on him and hoping he doesn't bleed anymore. I guess we'll see. I'll keep you updated!



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Old 23rd July 2017   #15 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I'm glad you managed to find a vet that deals with them close enough. Did he have any other reason for the blood? I'm really hoping you manage to get him back up on his feet with the oral medicine!



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Old 23rd July 2017   #16 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

The vet really wasn't sure without an ultrasound. He said it could be something as minor as irritated bowels from a blockage to something a little more serious like an ulcer. Considering that the water parameters weren't exactly the best (too high ammonia and too high temps), the vet was leaning more towards irritated bowels and prescribed the meds he did as a sort've "it can't hurt" measure.

I'm currently trying to work out this ammonia problem. I got some quickstart by API and it's helping (there's definitely more nitrite than in the tap alone so I know the quickstart is starting to cycle), but not as quickly as I'd like. His tank is roughly 50% bottled spring water and 50% tap atm and that brought it down to .5ppm of ammonia. He's a little more alert now, he actually resisted me picking him up to give him his medicine which is more than he did when I first fridged him.

I'm going to change another 50% of the water tonight to try to bring that ammonia down to .25ppm. I was sorta wondering if straight ro water would be safe if it's cut with the tap/spring mix but I need to do more research before I do that. Otherwise I'll have to go out and shell out more money for spring water.


Thanks for keeping in touch with me btw. I really appreciate you trying to help and advising me :)



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Old 24th July 2017   #17 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

I see. I hope it's not an ulcer, though the meds should help a bit with that if it were. Is he taking to the meds all right? Do you have live plants in your tank? Perhaps try a filter medium rinse too (in a bucket with tank water) to get rid of any perished food, poop or plant matter in the medium. That might help with the ammonia levels. Also seek and destroy any decaying matter you can find in the tank. I'd recommend a small water change and perhaps get a hold of some Prime if the Quickstart doesn't help enough. Either way, if your tank has been going for some time, you're going to have tonnes of good nitrifying bacteria in there to help level out your ammonia. Just don't keep replacing too much water or you'll get rid of it all!

To be quite honest, we have absolutely brilliant water here in East Sussex so I've not got the foggiest about using RO water. It's perfect PH (7 to 7.3) and it's fairly hardy, the only thing that's annoying is the chlorine, but I drink buckets of tap water every day and I love it, especially as all the chlorine has killed off all the bad bacteria and viruses! Britain's got pretty strict regulations on what water should be like though, so I guess I'm just lucky. If you're truly worried though, I cant see why some good old research would hurt!

You're more than welcome. I'm freaking out a little on yours and Steve's behalf though!



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Old 26th July 2017   #18 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

To be perfectly honest.. no. He isn’t. He won’t hold still long enough for the injection of the first med and won’t open his mouth for the oral one. The problem with the ammonia levels is that I get 1ppm of ammonia straight out of the tap. The tank was cycled and happy before I moved but I don’t know that it’s the same now that I’ve moved.

The thing that has me most worried at the moment is that he still isn’t eating. It’s been a week and he still won’t take any pellets. I try twice a day now, cleaning up the pellet if he doesn’t go after it. So far so good on the blood front; he hasn’t puked up or pooped out any more blood. He’s just very slow and hasn’t been moving much.


Gotcha, you’re lucky you have good water! I posted about it in another part of the axolotl forum so I hope I can get some good info!

I really appreciate your concern. I hope I can get this all figured out <3



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Old 27th July 2017   #19 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

So, little update from today. I tested his water this morning and the ammonia was down but the nitrates were WAY up. I guess the QuickStart is doing it's job. I drained his tank down as low as I could go without going below the filter's intake, and then put in my last gallon of springwater. So he spent most of today with a small amount of water that was 50% gross and 50% fine.

After I got home from work I went ahead and made him all new water with my RO/DI machine. I used Kent RO Right and API Proper PH 7.0 and mixed up 10 gallons of water (and a tad more QuickStart). I've been adding it slowly over the course of the evening and he's already reacting well. He's a bit more alert to me coming near the tank and he's flapping his gills at his normal rate (since he got sick, he hardly moves at all). He still won't eat but that's ok. I think the clean water will help, at least for the night. We'll see how his appetite is in the morning.

As of right now, his tank parameters are:

High Range PH - 7.4
pH - 7.0
Ammonia - .25ppm
Nitrite - 0ppm
Nitrate - 0ppm

Much better than the earlier out-of-tap results! I'm going to cool it with the water changes now that the water levels are safe, and just test throughout the week to make sure everything is still good. And hopefully he'll eat.



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Old 27th July 2017   #20 (permalink)
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Default Re: Abnormal eating behavior, just noticed swollen cloaca?

Have you tried a treat like some bloodworm or something? Mine go nuts for the stuff.

Your parameters sound much better, hopefully they stay that way. Fingers crossed you can get him to take his medicine and eat!



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