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


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Old 29th August 2018   #1
lilyoel
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Default Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

My 7 month old axolotl seems to be having trouble with its gills. I made the mistake of letting him eat fathead/rosy red minnows about 10 days ago and it lost interest in any other food source immediately. I gave in to his food preference and introduced even more minnows, and 2 ghost shrimp, to make sure he had plenty to eat, then I found out about the thiaminase issue. I immediately removed all minnows except the two largest minnows, hoping they could be tank companions along with the ghost shrimp. This morning I noticed the missing gill feathers on the top left gill appendage and removed the remaining minnows, assuming they were nipping at the axolotl's gills while it had its guard down. The attached pictures are from this morning.



After returning home this evening I noticed some of the remaining feathers are now gone, there are just a few on the end right now.



I left the shrimp in the tank (20gallon long) since they seem much too small to be the culprits. After doing a 50% water change today (dechlorinator and bacteria added) today, the axolotl's appetite seems to be returning to normal. Today he ate 5 or 6 wax worms, showed disinterest in earthworms, and ate some bloodworms. I will be picking up a liquid test kit tomorrow.



I made the mistake of not quarantining the minnows and shrimp before introducing them to the tank. I will be sure to quarantine in the future if I decide to introduce some white clouds.


Thank you in advance for any help or information you can provide.
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Old 29th August 2018   #2
Hayley
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Personally I prefer axolotls in a species only tank for their own safety, it's really not worth the axolotl's health. Any fish that go in there will likely become dinner too, so you will be regularly replacing them. That being said, some people have kept fish with axolotls and had no issues. If you do add more in future then yes quarantine, for at least a month.
Eating is a good sign, once you get your test kit post the results here so we get a better understanding of your tank.
What temperature is the water?
In good clean water the gills should grow back, just give it some time.



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Old 29th August 2018   #3
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

The axolotl seems to be pretty comfortable now that the fish are gone, no floating, no gills bent forward, no curled tail. Now that I say that I just noticed the gill deterioration has continued on the other side. Is the white coloration some sort of infection, or is it damaged tissue? I think I might remove him from the main tank and put him in a smaller tank with no plants/wood/decorations, and just a sponge filter, let me know if this is a bad idea.



I was not able to find a decent liquid based test kit at any of the local stores (pet stores are extinct in this area), but I did get a pack of test strips which I hear are pretty unreliable, and I have a well calibrated digital PH meter. The results are Nitrates: 20-40ppm Nitrites: 0.5ppm Hardness: 75-150ppm Chlorine: 0-0.5ppm Alkalinity: 80-120ppm pH: 7.5.


The temperature varies between 68F to 72F, most often at 70F and 68F currently.



Since I did a 50% water change yesterday I have a hard time believing the nitrates/nitrites are so high, but I am so new to this hobby that I don't have a very complete cognitive model of water quality variables, so I may just be lacking understanding.


The closest store that carries a decent text kit is an hour drive away, if these results are worrisome enough I could make the trip today.



Something I failed to not is that I have a few floating plants in the aquarium. Could these be effecting water quality? It would be no problem to remove them, if this is a possibility.


Thank you for the response, Hayley.
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Old 29th August 2018   #4
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

I set up a 2.5 gallon tank with nothing but a sponge filter and water treated with dechlorinator and bacteria. I will be moving the axolotl into the smaller tank when the temperature reaches 68F, unless I am advised against it.
Edit : i tested the water in the smaller tank and it is showing 0 Nitrate, 0 Nitrite, 75ppm hardness, 0 chlorine, 120 alkalinity, 6.8 pH. Using a test strip and a digital pH meter.



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Old 29th August 2018   #5
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

He is now in the smaller aquarium and seems to be resting more comfortably. After filling the 2.5 gallon tank and while waiting for it to reach the same temperature as the main tank, I noticed he was alternating between swimming a lot against the glass and tucking himself under a chunk of mopani wood. It is good to see him just relaxing at the bottom. I will offer him some food in an hour or so.



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Old 30th August 2018   #6
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Could a spike in nitrites and too high temps have caused this damage? I think I spiked the nitrites a few days before he became sick. The addition of the feeder fish probably increased ammonia production and I upgraded to a larger sponge filter while they were in the tank with the axolotl. I did attempt to seed the new filter by squeezing the old filter into a bucket of dechlorinated water and ran the new filter in there for a few minutes before adding the new filter to the tank, but I am guessing that was not an adequate transfer of the bacteria. So less bacteria in the filter plus more biomass in the tank led to an ammonia/nitrite spike. I ran another test strip and it seems the nitrite segment had very minimal response. Still working on getting a decent water test kit.



Is this a likely culprit?



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Old 31st August 2018   #7
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Good you have tubbed him, I would have suggested that :) You don't necessarily need the sponge filter, but if you take it out you will need to change the water 100% every day. Is this the new filter or old/cycled one? If it's the new one you will need big water changes daily, depending on test results. You might find it easier to just take out the filter and change the water every day.
See if you can order a liquid test kit online, I've found it cheaper and you can probably find one that ships within a couple of days. Strips can do until then, or you can ask your local fish store if they can test it for you. Do you have any tests for ammonia? That's probably the most important thing to test as they are pretty sensitive to it (nitrites too).
Spikes in these and temps absolutely do cause gill deterioration. It could be that and/or the fish. The floating plants shouldn't have done this, but probably the fish like you said. It is possible that your tank either was not cycled, or crashed. Too many animals in a tank, uneaten food, or poop can cause spikes/crashes.
Rinsing the new sponge filter in tank water is a great idea, it should transfer some bacteria but it still will take time to cycle. If you still have the old filter you can put the media in the tank so it brings in some bacteria (if it dried out, however, the bacteria may have died).
Keep the axie tubbed while healing and sorting the main tank out. How big is the tank? The size will determine how many animals it can handle, it will handle less than a normal fish tank as axolotls are super messy.



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Old 31st August 2018   #8
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

So I finally got a real test kit (API Freshwater Master Test Kit) Attached is a pic of the results.

Ammonia : 0-0.25ppm (its hard to tell for sure, but it looks closer to the 0 color)
Nitrite : 0ppm
Nitrate : >40ppm (its hard for me to feel confident telling which one fits the best in this red spectrum)
ph : 7.6
temp : 67 F



I am going to run the nitrite test again since it looks like there is still only 5ml of liquid when there should be more from the drops added.


After a night of being in the smaller 2.5 gallon tank, he seemed to never stop swimming at the surface the entire time, and I got the impression he was panicking from the smaller area. I did another test strip this morning and noticed the nitrite segment barely reacted at all so I thought it would be safe to put him back into the big tank since the levels seem to be equalizing. I also added 2.5 gallons of new dechlorinated water to the 20 gallon tank this morning. And have a fan blowing on the tank for evaporative cooling.



When I put him into the 20 gallon before leaving for class he swam to the bottom and just laid there, I saw him in a few different locations at the bottom so I could tell he was moving, now he is swimming a lot against the glass, but at least he is resting intermittently.

Should I tub him again in a 5 gallon bucket so he can just swim in circles? Or would transfering him to different locations 2 times in 2 days be too stressful? Is the nitrate level too high?
Edit : I ran the nitrite test again and got the same reaction.
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Old 31st August 2018   #9
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Interesting, so your tank appears to be cycled. I would read the ammonia as 0ppm. The nitrate is high, but a couple of small water changes should bring that down. I would say the initial reason for the gill issue has to be the fish then. I don't have any issue with him being in the main tank, after the nitrates come down to 10ppm. Then, weekly water changes (20% or so) should keep that in check. Change 20-30% of the water and test again, see if that brings the nitrates down.



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Old 31st August 2018   #10
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Nitrates in the 40ppm range are fine, that's usually a sign your cycle is mature. You want them around the 40ppm mark, lower won't hurt but don't let it get too high. Usually a weekly partial water change is all that is needed to remove excess nitrates.
To me it sounds like your axolotl just needs cool, clean, water to recover in.
Watch for fungus and make sure they keep eating.
It probably could have been the spike in temperature with an ammonia spike that caused the original issues, though I wouldn't rule out the fish nipping either.
The best thing for now is to make sure the water is good going forward and to let the gill stalks and feathering re-grow.
Keep trying to offer earth worms or night crawlers as they are the most nutritionally complete, however if they are only eating bloodworms or waxworms I wouldn't stop feeding. They'll need the energy to recover.
Not sure what to suggest for tubbing as I've never had to do that with mine yet. If the main tank can stay clean and cool I don't see why they can't recover in it. If you do tub perhaps put a hide in with them so they don't feel so exposed in the open tub, that could help.



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Old 31st August 2018   #11
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

With all the swimming he is doing I feel like taking him out of the 20 gal. again and tubbing him in a round bucket might be best for him, but I am quite unexperienced so I'm not sure if swimming around a lot is more stressful than being transfered for a 3rd time in 2 days.
I caught him scratching at his gills as well as gulping air a few times, but he seems to have no problem staying down or swimming in the middle of the water column when he wants to so I think he is using the air to alter buoyancy. I just want him to feel comfortable and its almost 2am here. I will complete the water change tonight and see where that gets us.
Edit: I just found what seems to be 2 partially digested wax worms with partially digested blood worms attached.



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Old 31st August 2018   #12
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

I left him in the 20gallon over night, he seemed to calm down after the 25% water change last night, now he is lazily floating at the surface. He has been rejecting food since the waxworms and blood worms he at (mentioned in my first post) but I will be offering him worms throughout the day and trying to get him to eat blood and wax worms at some point, but i really want him to get some good nutrition soon since he is starting to look thin. When i offer him a small piece of a worm he turns away.
Could his lack of appetite be due to the thiaminase in all the minnows he ate recently?
At which point should I tub him again? At which point should I consider fridging him?
Any information or insight is greatly appreciated.



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Old 31st August 2018   #13
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

It looks like there are some small white fuzzy patches on the gill appendages that are now void of feathers, so I am going to tub him in a round bucket with 10 liters of water and add one bag's worth of black tea. I will be doing daily 100% water changes of this bucket until he starts acting like his old self again. Should I replenish the tea every day too?



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Old 1st September 2018   #14
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

After observing him in the bucket for a while I noticed his lowest (smallest) gill appendage on the bad side is barely attached to his head now. He reaches forward on that side through his gills when he swims. Still seems calmer in the tea bath, which is really good to see, but he isn't eating yet.



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Old 2nd September 2018   #15
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

He will probably need time to get his appetite back, but do keep offering food. As Tye said nightcrawlers/earthworms are the best food (and axies usually love them) if you can get your hands on some.
If there's improvement with the fungus from using the tea baths keep them going (don't forget to dechlorinate also, and make sure the temperatures are the same when switching to new water). If you don't see a change in the fungus then look into salt baths, they're great on the fluffy ones. Don't use both methods at the same time, however, as the tea will lesson the effect of the salt.



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Old 2nd September 2018   #16
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

I have been offering baby night crawlers cut into half inch pieces, there are a few pieces in the bucket with him. He is behaving much more normally today, resting a lot and walking around the bottom. I put him in a small tub for the water change (dechlorinated) and didn't want to bother him too much since he seemed more comfortable, so I did the change as quick as possible, but let the tub sit in the water for 15min before putting him back in the bucket. I will take a good look at his gills and possibly get a pic during tomorrow's water change. I offered a chunk of worm held in forceps and he turned his head away. The bucket is covered (still allows plenty of air flow) and I have a clean pvc tube for him to hide in as well as an elevated resting spot (tall coffee mug) near the surface in case he feels like being up there, and I have been using ice bags to keep the temperature low.


Do the pics I posted previously look fungal or more likely to be bacterial?



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Old 2nd September 2018   #17
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Unhappy Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

This is really bumming me out, any feedback or encouragement would be helpful. Am I doing the right thing? Is there any signs the condition is getting better? I can see what looks like sloughed off skin hanging around his nostrils now. Is this healing, or damage from scratching or rubbing? There were a couple (what looked like) gill appendages in the bucket during this water change. This is the second water change/day 3 of being in the bucket with tea. The bloodworms you see are in the tub to acclimate him to the temperature of the fresh water.


Please advise me. I am really hoping that he is sloughing off the infected/dead tissue and is starting to recover, but that is just hollow optimism at this point. I am too inexperienced to know.
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Last edited by lilyoel; 2nd September 2018 at 20:48. Reason: added information/pictures/pleas for advice
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Old 3rd September 2018   #18
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

It's probably fungal, bacterial infections I believe show other symptoms too. I could be wrong though, I'm not super experienced with sicknesses. As long as you're providing clean cool water with no ammonia or nitrites, and offering food you're doing what you can. The fungus isn't super fluffy so stick with the tea. He may need to shed the bad bits of the gills I guess, before he regrows them. Behaviour is a good sign of how he's feeling so if he is acting more normal it's a positive sign.
What temperature are you keeping his tub?
I know you're probably feeling helpless, but keep doing all you can.



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Old 3rd September 2018   #19
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

Thank you so much for the encouragement, Hayleyy. I am keeping the temperature between 60f (15.5c) and 65f (18c) using the air conditioner in the room and bags of frozen tank water (in case they leak). He still hasn't eaten from the forceps, but he seems to investigate the food before turning away now, so I take that as progress toward eating again. I leave a few pieces of night crawler worm in the tub with him just in case, and night crawlers seem to survive quite well submerged.



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Old 7th September 2018   #20
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Default Re: Gill Feathers Seem to be Falling Off

I'd just like to give an update that he started eating again a few days ago and ate almost 2 entire worms yesterday. I haven't found any feces in the bucket yet. One of the sores around his nostrils looks entirely healed, and one still looks a bit raw but not infected. His gills no longer show any signs of infection, but the only feathers left are about 1/3rd the length of one of the gill tentacles, all the rest of the feathers are gone. How long should I continue the tea therapy? How long should I keep him 'tubbed' getting full water changes daily? My current plan is 2 more days of tea therapy followed by a few days of just dechlorinated water without tea before I reintroduce him to the tank.



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