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Old 06-06-2012, 08:06 AM   #1 
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Australia!
Some observations about why bettas get sick..

... when you bring them home to way better conditions than they were in the store.

What I'm really looking for is some discussion on these points, because it's stuff I've observed/learned and hey - I'm not always right. And maybe I've missed something.

I see a lot of threads where people have brought a healthy-seeming fish home to a nice, heated tank full of perfect water, or rescued one from horrible conditions, and then the fish gets sick/sicker with one thing or another and sometimes stay sick. I've had this happen myself and it's hard to understand, and hard to deal with - because hey, we all love our fishies, and do the best we can..

The first thing I do when a new fish is sick is check water. Water's fine. Check it again. Still fine. Check I'm not stressing the fish out. Check for toxins. Check for.. well, everything I could be doing wrong. Because the sick fish has to be MY fault, right? He looked fine in the store, despite the tiny cupful of dirty water..

Okay, here's the observation part, please feel free to add to/debunk any of this, as I said it's just my observations:

1. Bettas don't like change.

They're really hardy, when given a chance to get used to conditions, good ones as well as stuff like super high ph, constant presence of ammonia, grungy pet store cups, etc. But they don't cope with sudden change very well. And that's maybe why a fish which has survived for ages in poor to appalling conditions, or even decent conditions, can get sick when placed in better surroundings.

The physical stress of adjusting to suddenly different conditions with maybe a whole new food source and so on, plus the mental stress of a new and strange environment can weaken its resistance to diseases that occur naturally in any water.. ich, columnaris, various bacteria. And this is worse, when added to the fact that:

2. Bad conditions make fish weak.

In this excellent article on tank cycling by Carl Strohmeyer, he says:

Please also note ... that if your fish are exposed to high ammonia and nitrites for any prolonged period (over 24 hours in my opinion), these fish can and will suffer permanent gill damage that will cause future problems with disease resistance and even overall aquarium health as these fish may become a starting point for opportunistic infections
And maybe that's why the fish who looks fine in the store suffers chronic (long term) fin rot, or suddenly can't breathe, or gets disease after disease, despite clean water and a heater and lots of good food.

Mr. Strohmeyer says 'over 24 hours' of exposure to those nasties can permanently damage a fish.. so what's a coupe of weeks of floating in its own pee in a Walmart cup going to do to it?

Elsewhere in the article, he offers emergency solutions to high levels of ammonia experienced just in shipping from overseas. So if a fish comes from a mass breeder in Thailand in a TINY bag with a few spoons of water in (as many do..) and sits in that for days.. gets jostled around a lot.. and then gets put in a TINY cup of COLD water that might not be changed daily.. it might still be looking healthy enough after only being in the store a few days, but it has already suffered some pretty traumatic ammonia exposure, not to mention lots and lots of stress. It could already have permanent gill damage, plus who-know-what parasites and bugs picked up in the store (many aren't real fussy about tank-cleaning equipment either, so that stuff gets around).

And then we, the buyers, fall for a happy little fish who's settled into his nasty cup as well as he can and seems healthy enough, and bring him home to a bigger, cleaner tank. And because he's already been exposed to however many problems, these kind of explode all at once, or just creep up and don't respond to medication, so become chronic. And it's probably nothing to do with how well we keep our fish, seeing as we're doing everything as right as we can..

I may be really wrong here, but I also have a feeling that some diseases really LIKE clean, filtered, oxygenated water. So if the fish has those in the store, maybe the problems were actually being held at bay by all the ammonia and crud, and less oxygen, etc?

So what can we do, aside from NOT buying fish from pet outlets? And am I wrong? Have I forgotten anything? Please say so!

One thing I've started doing for new fish, aside from slow acclimation to the new water and adding Stress Coat (which is wonderful) is to do a few days of AQ salt treatment to help the fish fend off any immediate bacterial issues. This has helped my last two new fish, who settled in a lot quicker than the previous ones did, and didn't explode with ich or fin rot.

Here's what Strohmeyer suggests for nitrite/ammonia poisoning:

*Add salt (NaCl); this is a popular method for "nitrite poisoning" and should be added at 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons to 1 teaspoon per gallon depending upon fish sensitivities. The addition of salt will prevent methemoglobin that forms in the blood due to nitrite exposure from building up.
Salt can be combined with Prime or Amquel Plus, however from my experience the salt method is not nearly as effective as Prime when used by itself and can cause stress to certain fish such as Clown Loaches.

*For high ammonia or nitrite exposure (common in fish shipped from long distances), the use of Methylene Blue in 30 minute baths is very effective and also counters the effects of methemoglobin in the blood by increasing the hemoglobin oxygen carrying abilities.
And that's all I have. Please do comment, as I'm still learning and am going primarily on what I'm observing in my tanks. The article above just confirmed a few things, but again I might be wrong on other things..
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:31 AM   #2 
Join Date: Jul 2010
I'm still a betta newb and all 3 of my bettas came from Petco. The first one, a baby betta, I am almost positive died from ammonia in my un-cycled tank. I have no beef with my local Petco, their bettas seem healthy for the most part but I do see the occasional dirty cup and sick dying fish

So I learned a little more and

1. cycled my tanks

2. bought the healthiest looking fish I could

3. I tested the store cup water and discovered it was the same PH as my tap water. So I put the fish right into the tank after matching temps. Otherwise I would have taken a much longer time to acclimate like they show here:

4. and I made sure no store water got into my tank if I could help it!

anyhoo, fish are doing great and it has only been about 6 months
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Old 06-06-2012, 01:32 PM   #3 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Oddly enough that dirty neglected water that these Betta are kept in at the pet shop often is what is keeping them alive....

With neglected water the organics breakdown- this decomp creates CO2-the CO2 drives the pH down-this low pH convert the ammonia to ammonium-then we bring the Betta home-acclimate by adding higher pH water-this increase of pH convert the safe ammonium to ammonia and the damage begins.....

Most likely the Betta already has a compromised immune response too from the stress of the lights on 24/day, with too cool water, poor water quality and poor nutrition......

Its important to acclimated them to both chemistry and temp-but by doing so without the proper steps can often cause problems.....

What to do.....add a drop of ammonia neutralizing product like Prime-then start the acclimation to the new water

Don't add the Betta to a large filtered tank right away...start small and move to larger systems in steps

Some Betta do just fine tossed straight into a large filtered tank...while other don't.....

Even though the Betta is going to be the only fish in that large filtered tank....QT for at least a week in a smaller container without any water movement, dim lit quiet location along with some type of cover to help make them feel secure, wait 24h before you feed or do anything with them.

If they appear really stressed-
Don't go too high with the water temp to start-if they had been kept in room temp water-don't go more than a couple of degrees higher-then gradually increase the temp everyday by a degree or two until you reach proper temp in the 76-80F range

Don't forget about the labyrinth organ and the importance of warm/humid air above the water. In the small temporary cups they are often sold in..... the lid helps to keep that air warm and humid-
When placed in a larger container you have more space above the water-especially in the cool/dry air of our home-cover with a tight hood or plastic veggie wrap to retain the heat/humidity.

Nutrition is so important and often where we try to cut corners-
By buying the cheapest and/or old food saved from that last Betta we kept years ago and improper storage...etc.........
Good quality varied diet in small frequent meals
Buy the smallest containers you can find or split it with friends, store it in a dark container in a dark, cool place with a tight fitting lid.

Look for food that its first couple of ingredients are-whole fish or seafood based with limited grains/grain byproducts, it will have binders and that is okay. It doesn't have to be Betta specific.....

Don't soak the food-that will cause the nutrients and water soluble vitamins to leach out.
Fish have enzymes and gastric acid in the gut/GI tract that break the food down-it doesn't swell in the gut like it will in water-it gets mushy, breaks down to be absorbed and digested.

Water quality-too clean can be as bad as too dirty....too sterile and clean and you can't support life.....You have both good and bad bacteria/pathogens and if you kill the good the bad can take over.
Its a balance......

To be a good keeper of fish you must first be a good keeper of water....

You don't want to base water change needs on water test alone-since you have many things in the water that we don't test for that can be bad for our fish.

Last edited by Oldfishlady; 06-06-2012 at 01:37 PM.
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Old 06-06-2012, 11:40 PM   #4 
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Australia!
With neglected water the organics breakdown- this decomp creates CO2-the CO2 drives the pH down-this low pH convert the ammonia to ammonium-then we bring the Betta home-acclimate by adding higher pH water-this increase of pH convert the safe ammonium to ammonia and the damage begins.....
Thanks so much, OFL.. your post confirmed quite a few things for me, and your advice on solutions is very much appreciated!

I've heard a few people say 'too clean isn't good either' - hard to reconcile with smaller tanks that need frequent changing. Would not sterilising fake plants/ornaments, etc, every 100% change help with the 'too clean' issue?
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Old 06-16-2012, 11:45 AM   #5 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Central Texas
I'm glad to hear ghat too clean is bad because there are just some days when I can't do water changes.
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