Weird gills... is he old or is something wrong? (Update: Morphing?)

KOsika

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A couple years ago the filter I was using for my fish tanks failed and Steve got a pretty big dose of ammonia... his gills shrank away and he never really recovered. The last couple years have been me just trying really hard to keep is water clean but his gills never came back.

As I was changing his water today I noticed the gills are very stubby now. The area around them almost looks bigger than normal but honestly I can’t tell. This summer has been really rough and the days kinda blended together.

His tail also has a weird little kink in it that I’ve never seen before... I assume he hurt himself on something in the tank.

Steve is at least 9yo. is this just his age showing or should I be worried? I don’t have a test kit to take parameters right now (just moved, kit is in storage), but I can dig it out if there isn’t one specific thing that just jumps out at you as a problem. I’m just so tired.

editing to add: his energy level and appetite have not changed at all. He gets excited for food and gets earthworms every 2-3 days (if I feed him every day he spits them back up). He just visually looks not ok but everything else seems normal.

thanks~
 

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Murk

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Hi! Since no one has replied yet I'll give it a go (though the help I can offer is limited).

This is definitely not just age.
I must also say the axolotl looks generally not OK. The taut face and the bulging eyes, in addition to the gills and the tail.

I can think of a few causes, some more serious than others. All of them would be caused by water quality issues, though.
The best thing to do is to go digging for the test kit and let us know your water parameters. Any information about general tank set-up would be helpful, as well as a full-body picture of the axolotl.

I can imagine you're tired if you've been struggling with water quality for years. Once it's all good and fixed it takes a lot less work (and prevents most issues you could have with an axolotl), so we'll help you get there.
 

Calgarycoppers

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I agree with the others.

He generally does not look well.

I would almost say he looks likes hes starting to morph with bulging eyes like that.

I second a vet trip and do some reading on morphing just in case that is the route.
 

KOsika

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Wow. I wasn't getting notifications about this so I just assumed I'd been buried and stopped checking. Sorry!

I really appreciate everyone replying. No I can't get him to a vet but I did get out my test kit. Here's the water parameters:

ph: 7.6
high ph: 8
ammonia: 0ppm
nitrite: 0ppm
nitrate 80ppm

I haven't changed his water this week due to being sick so I'm doing a water change right now to deal with the nitrate being so high. Does this give anyone insight onto what's going on?

I want to cry. I feel like I've failed as a pet owner. This poor boy is suffering and it's all my fault.
 

KOsika

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The entire time I was changing his water, he kept getting his left front leg stuck under his gills/jaw area. God I fucked up so bad. Please, if anyone can help me figure out what's going on with him. I don't want him to suffer anymore.
 

KOsika

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Somebody asked for a full body picture. I think you guys are right... I think he morphed... I can’t get a good pic cuz he won’t hold still but behind what’s left of his Axolotl gills, He’s got this big open space with more traditional fishy looking gills? I’m trying to get a better picture....

edit: added a pic of the gills behind his neck. Are these always here? I’ve never seen them before.

edit2: I just looked back over the messages and saw @Murk asked for tank setup too. It’s a 20 gallon long, slate bottom. Tetra whisper filter for a 20 gallon tank. He has a large plastic log to hide in and a couple decorative plants to disperse the flow of water from the filter. I added a mossball and a few small live plants about 6 months ago to try and help with the water quality but only one survived my emergency move. I didn’t have them in there long enough to see if they made a difference.
 

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Binditheaxolotl

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Somebody asked for a full body picture. I think you guys are right... I think he morphed... I can’t get a good pic cuz he won’t hold still but behind what’s left of his Axolotl gills, He’s got this big open space with more traditional fishy looking gills? I’m trying to get a better picture....

edit: added a pic of the gills behind his neck. Are these always here? I’ve never seen them before.

edit2: I just looked back over the messages and saw @Murk asked for tank setup too. It’s a 20 gallon long, slate bottom. Tetra whisper filter for a 20 gallon tank. He has a large plastic log to hide in and a couple decorative plants to disperse the flow of water from the filter. I added a mossball and a few small live plants about 6 months ago to try and help with the water quality but only one survived my emergency move. I didn’t have them in there long enough to see if they made a difference.
I agree he’s morphing. Provide a land area in his tank, because as his gills get shorter and shorter he won’t be able to get oxygen from the water. Their care is similar to tiger sals once they morph😊
 

KOsika

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I agree he’s morphing. Provide a land area in his tank, because as his gills get shorter and shorter he won’t be able to get oxygen from the water. Their care is similar to tiger sals once they morph😊
oh god I don’t know anything about tiger salamanders. Do you have any suggestions for resources I should be looking at for care now? Is he going to be ok once he finishes morphing? I’m so scared for him.
 

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Update again: Ok so I'm really stressed out about this and not sure what's the right thing to do so I sorta made a temporary land area. I took a little more than half the water out of the tank, so the water level is high enough that he's totally submerged but low enough that if he sits up, he can stick his face out of the water if he needs. Then I took some pieces of rock and built up a little flat area in the corner that's just on the waterline. It's definitely too small but it's all I had at this moment. I'm going to my dad's house later so I can get a bigger piece there. I kept all the clean water though so if this turns out to be an over reaction I can just put the tank back the way it was. I'm just really anxious not knowing what to do so I tried to do what I could based on binditheaxolotl's information. If anyone has any further suggestions or opinions on what's going on I'd really appreciate it. I never thought this would happen and I'm scared.
 

Binditheaxolotl

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Update again: Ok so I'm really stressed out about this and not sure what's the right thing to do so I sorta made a temporary land area. I took a little more than half the water out of the tank, so the water level is high enough that he's totally submerged but low enough that if he sits up, he can stick his face out of the water if he needs. Then I took some pieces of rock and built up a little flat area in the corner that's just on the waterline. It's definitely too small but it's all I had at this moment. I'm going to my dad's house later so I can get a bigger piece there. I kept all the clean water though so if this turns out to be an over reaction I can just put the tank back the way it was. I'm just really anxious not knowing what to do so I tried to do what I could based on binditheaxolotl's information. If anyone has any further suggestions or opinions on what's going on I'd really appreciate it. I never thought this would happen and I'm scared.
There’s a bunch of tiger sale guides online and on YouTube.I don’t have one, or else I would refer you to one. Perhaps Caudata has one? That’s okay, as long as you can make it bigger later it’s fine. Make sure the rocks aren’t sharp though. Also make sure u boil the rock prior and some sand or substrate on it so it’s not so hard and sharp. I would also add more of that clean water in.
 

KOsika

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There’s a bunch of tiger sale guides online and on YouTube.I don’t have one, or else I would refer you to one. Perhaps Caudata has one? That’s okay, as long as you can make it bigger later it’s fine. Make sure the rocks aren’t sharp though. Also make sure u boil the rock prior and some sand or substrate on it so it’s not so hard and sharp. I would also add more of that clean water in.
That's ok! I've been looking up guides. I just wondered if you had any specific ones you liked.

The rock that's in there now is very smooth all over, no sharp edges. I'll make sure the bigger piece doesn't have any sharp edges also. How much more clean water should I put back in? The rock is right on the waterline. Should it be fully under the water? Thank you so much for your help

edit: I just checked on him.... he’s..... shedding? That’s the only way I can describe it. Is that normal for morphing? Everything I’m reading says it’s stress... :(
 
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pinksmog

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just read this and i def think it’s morphing. if it was due to unhealthy water he’d still have long gills but the filaments (the hair type stuff on the gills) would be gone. bro basically has no gills. i have read a hard ‘J’ tail is sign of stress, but i imagine morphing is stressful, especially if he does not have a terrestrial area to access. and yes, amphibians do shed (and usually eat) their skin! i’ve never dealt with morphing but it definitely seems the time to shed right? congrats! it’s not common for them to morph :D
 

pinksmog

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ps-keep in mind to only put aquarium safe rocks in there. if it’s a random rock that’s not hard enough it could change the ph. i found this out the hard way lol. but if it’s temporary i think you’ll be fine, and if you’re worried just do a water change.
 

KOsika

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just read this and i def think it’s morphing. if it was due to unhealthy water he’d still have long gills but the filaments (the hair type stuff on the gills) would be gone. bro basically has no gills. i have read a hard ‘J’ tail is sign of stress, but i imagine morphing is stressful, especially if he does not have a terrestrial area to access. and yes, amphibians do shed (and usually eat) their skin! i’ve never dealt with morphing but it definitely seems the time to shed right? congrats! it’s not common for them to morph :D
Having my axolotl morph was like... my biggest nightmare but since this is happening I might as well do my best to take care of him. Glad to know the shedding might be normal for morphing. I was worried something else might be happening. I'm going to try to get him a better terrestrial area asap.

The rocks I wanna get from my dad's house for a temporary terrestrial area are the pieces we cut off the slabs that are on the bottom of the tank, so they're already soaked and boiled and such. I've never had a problem with them changing the Ph but considering the situation I'll make sure I keep an eye on it.
 

pinksmog

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Having my axolotl morph was like... my biggest nightmare but since this is happening I might as well do my best to take care of him. Glad to know the shedding might be normal for morphing. I was worried something else might be happening. I'm going to try to get him a better terrestrial area asap.

The rocks I wanna get from my dad's house for a temporary terrestrial area are the pieces we cut off the slabs that are on the bottom of the tank, so they're already soaked and boiled and such. I've never had a problem with them changing the Ph but considering the situation I'll make sure I keep an eye on it.
i hope all goes well man! i doubt the rocks are too serious, i just seached FOREVER for the perfect rocks to aquascape with that they couldn’t eat or get hurt on, spent a fair amount then found out they were too soft😑 i’ll post a link just so you can get an idea. sending you and your little guy good vibes!

 

KOsika

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Thank you for commenting. this whole thing is really stressful a
i hope all goes well man! i doubt the rocks are too serious, i just seached FOREVER for the perfect rocks to aquascape with that they couldn’t eat or get hurt on, spent a fair amount then found out they were too soft😑 i’ll post a link just so you can get an idea. sending you and your little guy good vibes!

Thank you so much 😭 this has been a really stressful day but I gotta do the best I can for my little guy. Doing my reading on tiger salamanders now so I know what i gotta do.
 

pinksmog

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of course! i’d be stressed out too!! he is pretty old but the eyes, the gills, and his paddle all look like morphing. i’d recommend coconut fiber-they have it at generic pet stores for substrate. i think worms will still be fine for diet but def don’t quote me. post after pics! also i googled morphing axolotls and yeahhhhhh he looks like he’s morphing so check it out!
 

KOsika

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Clean water and 3 levels of rocks to sit on at different water levels so he can pick ones that suit him. Some of the rocks look sharp in the photo but I promise I checked them thoroughly and I’m confident they’re safe. He’s shedding like crazy tho... but he’s very alert. He kept following me while I was setting up his new filter. I feel like I’ve done everything I can for now. Fingers crossed :(
 

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