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Old 08-24-2013, 09:59 PM   #1 
Toezer
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Learn from my mistakes - A warning about driftwood

Hello fellow Betta lovers! I have only written a few times before, but have been more of a lurker than a contributor here. You've all taught me so much about how to properly and lovingly care for these special fish. Something happened recently and I wanted to pass it along as I hadn't found much else about the topic online. Beware driftwood, even the wood sold in pet stores deemed "safe" for freshwater aquariums.

We've had our veil-tail Betta "Buddy" for over a year now and he's always curious, lively and fun. He's in a 10 gallon, cycled and heated tank and always had pristine water test results. About 2 months ago we decided to go for the plunge and get him a friend who would also help with algae buildup. We got a little ottocinclus catfish, cutest thing ever.

We named the otto "Beaker" because he would zip around the tank locating algae. In a few days, he'd cleaned the entire tank. We switched out the lights to brighter leds to encourage more algae and it worked. Little Beaker was getting quite plump after 2 months and Buddy loved hanging out near him. All seemed well.

I read online that otto's love driftwood, so I stopped off at the pet store one night and bought a piece. I asked multiple times, "Is this safe for a freshwater tank?" "Yes," he said and pointed to the tank on the counter, "We use it in our tanks." I boiled the wood for 20 minutes and soaked it over night regardless. Then put it in the tank the next day. Beaker loved it. Wouldn't let it go. Then about a week later we couldn't find him.

Otto's are shy and sometimes hard to find, but when the algae was really building up, we knew he was gone. Cleaning the tank, we found him under the gravel. We blamed poor Buddy, thinking he must have attacked Beaker.

Recently, we left on a weekend trip and came back to find Buddy almost in a Zombie like state. He had no color, was struggling to breath and his eyes were glossed over. I tested the water. Amonia was through the roof! We quickly took out the wood and did a 60% water change. Buddy colored up almost in minutes, he was still sluggish but his breathing was much better and he was moving around. After another 30% water change a few hours later, he was doing much better, but there was still trace amonia the next day. Another 30% water change and the ammonia was gone.

The only thing that had changed in the tank was the driftwood, but I wanted to know for sure that's what did it. I soaked the driftwood for two days in a bucket of our tap water, and then tested the water. The amonia was off the charts. Again, this is wood the owner of the pet store (specializing in fish) told me could go right into a tank without any problems. Needless to say, we knew it wasn't Buddy that took Beaker. Ottos are not nearly as resilient as Bettas, it had to be the ammonia spike.

Anyway, I hope you'll forgive this post being so long, I just had to sort of get it out since I feel so guilty about the situation. I will never put anything into our tank again without testing it first. And I will not just take the pet store owner's "word" for it. (And please be careful with driftwood!!)

Thanks and happy bubble nest building to all!
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Old 08-24-2013, 10:08 PM   #2 
sprinkleddonuts
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:( Sorry for your loss. I had almost the exact same thing happen with a Top Fin ornament in one of my old guppy fry tanks. The paint wore off and the readings were good but all the fry mysteriously died off...
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Old 08-25-2013, 12:52 AM   #3 
RussellTheShihTzu
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First, I'm sorry you lost Beaker. They are so cute.

Did you put dechlorinator in with the driftwood when you soaked it for two days after Beaker died? Did you test your tap water for ammonia levels?

Did you change water right before you left for the weekend? What were the water parameters?

Did you clean everything after Beaker died? The filter, substrate, everything? Since you sound like you know what you're doing, I don't imagine you did. But, if you did, the ammonia spike is the tank cycling again.
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Old 08-25-2013, 01:39 AM   #4 
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Did you put dechlorinator in with the driftwood when you soaked it for two days after Beaker died?
- I did not. But I still have the wood and will do so.

Did you test your tap water for ammonia levels?
- Yes, the tap water has no ammonia on it's own.

Did you change water right before you left for the weekend? What were the water parameters?
- Yes, we did a 50% water change right before we left. But that was just normal cleaning and I didn't test the water.

Did you clean everything after Beaker died? The filter, substrate, everything? Since you sound like you know what you're doing, I don't imagine you did. But, if you did, the ammonia spike is the tank cycling again.
- We vacuumed the rocks, scrubbed the sides of the tank to loosen up the algae, replaced the cole filer and replaced about 50% of the water (normal cleaning routine). We left the "good" bacteria in the bio-filter and didn't scrub the rocks, decorations or plants beyond vacuuming. I didn't test the water before our trip because to be honest, I didn't think we had to. My mistake. I fully trusted the media in the tank since it's been so constant for over a year. Also, haven't seen any signs of the tank cycling again.

I will definitely test the wood with the dechlorinator, great idea! I really want to pin down what caused this ammonia spike.
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Old 08-25-2013, 02:08 AM   #5 
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I'm interested to know what happened, too. Thanks for sharing and look forward to the update.
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Old 08-25-2013, 08:23 PM   #6 
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Update:

I did a test with the driftwood soaked in treated water and the ammonia was 2.0 ppm.

So Buddy while not struggling to breath is very lethargic and either hanging out in the tall plants just near the surface or in his floating cave, angled up toward the feeding hole, with his nose just below the waterline. I tested the water again this afternoon after a 20% water change this morning and needless to say I'm at a loss.

PH: 7.8
Ammonia: .25
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: between 10 and 20 ppm
Tank size: 10 gallon
Cycled: we cycled it a year ago, but it appears to be cycling again.
Heated: yes (constant 79 degrees)

Russell, I think you're right, looking especially at the Nitrate levels, I think the tank is cycling again. And what's worse, is the PH is much higher then when we got back from our trip a few days ago (it was at 6.4). So from my best guess, what happened is the driftwood lowered the PH slowly so Buddy adjusted, but it also may have destroyed my biofilter. So now that we've removed the wood and made several partial water changes, Buddy is in a tank that's cycling AND dealing with fluctuating PH. I'm really at a loss as to what to do next. Although the recent frequent water changes brought Buddy back from the brink, I think he's stressed with the PH changes. But I don't want the Ammonia or Nitrates to get too much higher. He's still eating and will perk up when I get close to the tank, but otherwise he just finds a place and hangs out, all day.

I suppose I'll keep monitoring the water, and make changes only when the ammonia, nitrites or nitrates get too high. Unless anyone else has a better idea??
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Old 09-01-2013, 12:17 AM   #7 
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Update 2: So after watching Buddy hanging out at the top of the tank, unable to dive and not feeding him for a few days he had all the signs of SBD. I decided to try the blanched pea treatment. It seemed to have worked. It's been about a week with a few 20% water changes, the water test readings are much the same but with a slight decrease in Nitrate. He's definitely able to dive back down to the bottom and he's much more energetic. We're feeding him less at this point. Only a few pellets twice a day. So it appears we dodged a bullet.

Again just a warning to folks wanting to add driftwood to your tank, test test test before adding. This all started with new driftwood spiking the ammonia, knocking my down my tank's PH and subsequently messing up the cycle.
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