As most of you know, I recently got hit VERY hard by an outbreak of columnaris in my betta sorority. I have lost 8 fish due to it, and I am about to lose another. It hurts. Especially since I was very attached to every last one of them. Columnaris is a horrible disease, but in the early stages it is treatable, and very preventable. I don't want any of you to ever go through what I did, so I figured I'd put together a columnaris-themed thread based on my experience with the disease.
What is Columnaris?
Columnaris is a serious bacterial infection that is commonly found in freshwater aquariums. The bacteria itself is usually found in the water of almost any established tank. Often mistaken for fungus, it begins its attack as a white, fuzzy spot that clings to a fish's body, fins, or mouth. If not treated, it will progress into a growing lesion. Necrotizing tissue (dead and dying scales, skin and muscle) may begin to hang off of the affected area. If not treated at this point, the infection will quickly become internal, the fish will most likely show signs of dropsy (kidney/liver failure) and eventually pass away.
How does a fish contract Columnaris?
As an opportunistic disease, it generally presents itself on fish that are overly stressed. This may be due to poor water quality, injury, overcrowding, or a combination. Overcrowding can be a major factor, especially when it comes to territorial fish like bettas. In a female betta sorority, the constant battle for power can stress fish out to the point where they can contract the disease. This is why you should only begin a betta sorority if you have already had experience with their behavior.
How can I tell something is wrong?
There are several things to look for in a fish in order to tell that something isn't quite right. It may not necessarily mean that the fish has columnaris, but, it is very important that you quarantine any fish that shows these signs.
The fish has a rip or bite in his/her fins, but there is no sign of new growth.
The fish is not eating, or is eating very little
The fish has become inactive, hiding from others
The fish has a small, white, cottony patch on the body, mouth, or the edge of a fin
The fish has what appears to be a white/red lesion on his/her body that is growing.
The fish has rapidly progressing fin rot, but with a white periphery, not black.
The scales of the fish are protruding from the body.
Another odd symptom I've observed is the appearance of a gray patch on the face.
Here's a photo. She has that weird patch on her forehead. That is something that I totally missed until it was too late.
It's very important to know that they could be acting totally normal, and still have the fuzzies hanging off of them anywhere. That's why it is important to constantly monitor any at-risk fish (especially sororities) for any marks or injuries on their bodies, and quarantine those fish immediately.
This is absolutely going to kill me to show you. Here's Mew before she died. This is just before I realized what was up with her tail and quarantined her. I didn't even notice the infection eating away at her between her anal and tail fin.
I've deleted most of my sick fish pictures because they're too painful to look at. But for educational purposes I'll post them.
Here's Daiquiri while she was under treatment. She had a spot on her side, and that was very easy to deal with due to a thicker set of scales. She was ALMOST fully recovered, when a strip of her anal fin died, turned brown, and was eaten down to the skin within 48 hours. I also was able to cure that, but it attacked one more time, and destroyed one of her ventral fins. It was able to become internal and she passed away.
It must be Columnaris. Where do I go from here?
Something very important that you must know about this disease when it comes to treatment is that it is a gram NEGATIVE bacteria, and can only be treated with gram NEGATIVE antibiotics. Meds like Maracyn (Erythromycin) or any other gram positive antibiotics will NOT treat or cure this disease, it will only cause more pain and discomfort.
It is recommended to begin the quarantine period with a small bare bottomed tank. Be sure to have the tank in a dark, quiet room. Putting a t-shirt or towel over the top of the tank will work just as well. Adding aquarium salt at about 3 tsp per gallon will help keep the bacteria from growing quickly. In my experience, any less and it will continue to spread at the same speed. Another big thing to pay attention to is TEMPERATURE. The temperature needs to stay as stable as possible in order for the fish to not become stressed. If you can get your hands on a mini heater, that would work best. If this does not yield any results:
Keep in mind that due to improper antibiotic use over the years, some strains have become resistant to many meds. It is very important that you research any medication you plan to buy, and measure and medicate properly! If you don't follow the instructions exactly, you could end up dealing with a super-bug.
The only medications that have worked for me in the past are Maracyn-Two (Gram-negative treatment, The original Maracyn is a gram-positive treatment.) and Triple Sulfa. Other members have had success with other medications, and I hope that they will contribute to this thread as they find it. *hint*
Other treatments that have been used in combination with meds successfully include the methylene blue bath, antibacterial foods, hydrogen peroxide applied directly to the wound, and the potassium permenganate dip. The last method should only be attempted by experienced keepers as a LAST DITCH EFFORT FOR EXTERNAL INFECTIONS ONLY. This treatment can kill your fish. There are great resources on google on how to use it if you feel you have to.
If your fish develops mild dropsy, it can be treatable by switching over to epsom salt. It can be found in the first-aid section of most drug stores. Epsom salts help to take excess fluids out of the body.
In the case of severe dropsy, it may be best to put the fish out of its misery. Euthanization is a very difficult decision, but if that fish is in pain, and no treatments are working, it would be better to let the fish go peacefully, rather than letting it die of organ failure. Some methods of fish euthanasia can be found on this forum, but the most humane way is the clove oil + vodka method. If you need details, your fellow forum members will be glad to help you. If you don't have the resources for humane euthanasia, the best you can do is to make it comfortable. A dark, quiet, warm area would be the best way to let your fish go naturally.
How do I prevent Columnaris?
I will make this simple. CLEANLINESS.
Columnaris is a very contagious pathogen that can live out of the water and on your hands. Even when you're not dealing with diseases, make sure you WASH YOUR HANDS before and after handling fish and fish supplies. The last thing you want is for it to spread tank to tank. This is very important for those of us who have a large number of fish in our homes. Large numbers of animals breed diseases.
Very basic fish care can help keep this disease at bay. Keep up with water changes. Replace filter cartridges ON TIME. Keep your dirty hands out of the fish tank and DO NOT TOUCH THE FISH unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. I say this because some people like to "pet" their fish, where the only thing that will do is remove the protective slime coat that they have around their bodies, making them susceptible to disease.
If a fish of yours dies of anything other than natural causes, sterilize the tank, the plants, and toss the gravel out. Do not flush the fish. This is how the diseases spread. By ending up in our water. To sum it up, beginning or continuing a habit of keeping clean when dealing with animals is imperative to keep diseases out of your tanks.
In the end, Columnaris is a nasty, deadly, and often heartbreaking disease. I posted this thread so that at least some of you will read through it, and never have to go through all the pain that I did. If there is anyone that would like to contribute, feel free to post your experiences in the responses.
Sora, Nina, Mew, Daiquiri, Delilah, Azrael, Faye, April, and Jayde, this is for you. I love you, and I miss each and every one of you every single day. Rest In Peace.
Last edited by metalbetta; 08-20-2011 at 02:14 AM.
OMG I think Flyod ha columnaris!! I thought at first it was costias and treated with aquarisol and high temperature but he still has very subtle opaque areas on his body. He also is losing his fins which I had attributed to tail biting since there are no signs of rot.
I didn't think it was columnaris because there are no wooly or cottony areas around the mouth. And he is eating like a pig and very active. My water parameters have been near perfect too, but I have played around with trying to adjust the ph - a grave error I now know. He also had some body wounds shortly after travel that healed - or so I thought.
I don't think I can catch it on film, but pretty sure it is it. I understand wha tto do with the fish. Put him and QT and treat with Maracyn 2. But what do I do with his home tank? Is there a way to disinfect it without restarting the cycle? It is fully cycled and I would hate to start from zero by treating it with antibiotics. There is also some plants - but anubias and java fern so they are removable.
And do I have to toss my turkey baster (it is soley for his tank) and siphon now?
Sorry I am just concerned about the contagious aspect of the disease and re-infecting him.
Sorry to hear about your fish!
I don't keep live plants, so I don't know what to do there...
But I usually sterilize all of my equipment in a bleach solution for an hour, or let them sit in extremely hot water. After the sorority mishap I threw out my airline tubing, which is what I used for a siphon. If you have one of those neat $30 gravel vacs, then there has to be some way to disinfect it.
As for your cycle though, I couldn't tell ya. With my cycled tank I was so angry about the situation I dumped the gravel out and bleached the heck out of that sucker. (If we weren't on a family forum I would share the language I DID use while bleaching it. lol)... Someone on this forum might know a method, but I can't promise anything. :/
Believe it or not, only one of my cases began on the mouth! Most of mine started on the body or fins. And that's why it's so hard to spot. Good thing you caught it early! Definitely start with aquarium salt, and if you're absolutely sure he has it, start him on Maracyn 2. That stuff rocks.
I am pretty sure he has it... It would definitely be the "slow growing" kind. Because he has had it for weeks now. I just could not identify it and began to think he was just changing coloring. But the I am starting to see what are probably the beginnings of a "saddle". I cranked up the heat too when I thought it was costias and it seem to just keep growing, now I know why. I am so upset...
I just did a bit of homework to find out how serious it is. Guess I get that I need to break down the tank now. But I am leaving to Burning Man for a week on the 28th and I have to trust that my house sitter will know how to change the water properly? And medicate? My QT filter is not cycled so they will have to do it every couple days on a 5 gallon.
And by disinfect do you mean with bleach yes? And toss everything that is not salavageable yes? Sand, filter media, siphons etc... I have a rather expensive large hand carved lace agate crystal skull in there. Guess its not going back in huh? Or will bleach do it?
My last betta died with TB and I had to toss the entire fluval edge, all accessories and all plants and decor. I can't believe this is happening again. I am neurotic about cleanliness and good care too. Ugh... I know one thing I will never again order an expensive betta of aquabid. He has had more diseases than any betta I have ever had in a short period of time.
Last edited by lessandler; 08-20-2011 at 02:49 AM.
Ouch. It would probably kill me to throw out a fluval-anything. Then again TB is just awful. And transmittable to humans. I'm sure I would have burned it. lol
It's nasty. And the sad thing is that you could take near-perfect care of your fish, and it could still rear its ugly head. I think columnaris is something every fishkeeper needs to be wary of. Then again after all of my losses I'm a tad paranoid lol...
You'd be surprised at how powerful bleach is. I usually fill a plastic container (usually a spare qt tank... Kill 2 birds with 1 stone) with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, rinse off my equipment/decor, and dump 'em in for an hour or so. Then I'll dump and refill the container, adding 2x - 3x water conditioner, and then let that sit for an hour. I managed to save most of my plants (plastic ones mainly), any marbles that were crack-free, and a good chunk of my decor. I'm pretty sure it's recommended that gravel and sand not be bleached though. If you do bleach everything out, and still don't feel safe, don't feel like you have to take any chances by adding the decor back into the tank. Some of my really neat items I had to toss simply because I felt like I might have missed something.
Yeah throwing it out was very hard to do... heaters, magnets, siphons, led upgrade lights, thermometers, plants... everything went. Felt very wasteful.
The current tank is a Fluval chi 6.6 with the filter fountain thing. The truly unfortunate thing is that I painted the back out black to hide all the cords and heater. And when I did it somehow it dried and made it so I cannot remove the filter from the tank. So it's going to be difficult to say the least to disinfect it. I will need to remove the paint from the back and re-paint.
I wish there was another way. I never can understand when I read that it is a bacteria that is everywhere, only affects fish when they are stressed and yet you should break the whole tank down. I am always confused about that because it seems to contradict each other.
But by far my biggest paranoia is that my daily practice of bastering all of my bettas poop daily may have spread it to every tank. I use separate turkey basters for each tank and had separate siphons too. But recently I gave away one siphon to a friend when he revealed he had not changed his water in 2 months and I sent him away with it that night. And I had to do a PWC shortly after. Thank god I did not use Flyod's siphon because of this patches, but what ever Dillinger has, so does Nelson.
I'm sure some day in the last month I am sure I did not fully wash my hands between poop siphons. Tanks are replaceable but if I lose my other 2 Aquabid beauties I think I might lose it.
Thank you so much for posting this though seriously... You put in really valuable info that is not in the main disease area. I am so grateful it was so detailed. If it weren't for you, I am sure Floyd's fate would be sealed.
I am really hoping someone can answer these questions for me -
I bought a new fish who I believe had columnaris when I got him. He died within two days. He was in clean water but had just been shipped into petsmart so I'm assuming he got ill from the shipping - When I went back the next day, several bettas that had been alive had also died of columnaris. He was in a tank with lots of live plants. I would feel bad returning these to the store, and would not like to throw them out unless it is necessary. If I need to, I will absolutely. I don't want to lose anyone else. Right now these plants are in a jar with prime. I will leave them there until I get an awswer. I have looked online and not found any solid information on what to do with these plants, so information is very much appreciated!
My questions are -
Do I need to get rid of the plants? My betta had been removed from the planted tank and had begun treatment in quarantine, and died there. Does that make any difference? I rinsed all of the plants that were in the dead bettas tank in tap water and now they are sitting in prime.
I am terrified of losing my other boys, I would really like to know what to do here!