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Old 12-18-2012, 08:29 AM   #1 
KellyK
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Ammonia and High pH - Root Cause and Tips?

So, as I posted in the RIP forum, I just lost my first betta, Spike. I want to make sure I'm taking good care of the next one, so I wanted to get some feedback regarding water conditions.

When we used the test kit, the pH was high and there was some ammonia. (It was "safe" according to the test kit, but what I'm reading here suggests no ammonia. Does any amount of ammonia require an immediate water change?)

What causes ammonia buildup? Bad tapwater? Dying plants? Overfeeding or wrong food? (I was using dry food from Petco.) Similarly, what screws up the pH balance?

It looks from the sticky post on water changes that I wasn't changing water frequently enough. I have a 2.5 gallon tank with a filter and plants, so it looks like two weekly water changes would've been better. I was doing "once a week-ish" so going a week to 10 days between water changes. It also recommends vacuuming the bottom, which I hadn't done at all.

How often do you generally test water?

Edit: Based on the water chemistry thread, I'm pretty sure my fish died of ammonia poisoning. Other than removing uneaten food and doing regular water changes and tests, is there anything I should be watching as far as ammonia? I've had a lot of algae, and my plants haven't done well, but I'm not sure if that's relevant to the bacteria & nitrogen cycle, or a completely separate issue.

Last edited by KellyK; 12-18-2012 at 08:34 AM. Reason: Added some info after having read the water chem sticky
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Old 12-18-2012, 08:45 AM   #2 
Geomancer
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KellyK View Post
So, as I posted in the RIP forum, I just lost my first betta, Spike. I want to make sure I'm taking good care of the next one, so I wanted to get some feedback regarding water conditions.

When we used the test kit, the pH was high and there was some ammonia. (It was "safe" according to the test kit, but what I'm reading here suggests no ammonia. Does any amount of ammonia require an immediate water change?)

What causes ammonia buildup? Bad tapwater? Dying plants? Overfeeding or wrong food? (I was using dry food from Petco.) Similarly, what screws up the pH balance?

It looks from the sticky post on water changes that I wasn't changing water frequently enough. I have a 2.5 gallon tank with a filter and plants, so it looks like two weekly water changes would've been better. I was doing "once a week-ish" so going a week to 10 days between water changes. It also recommends vacuuming the bottom, which I hadn't done at all.

How often do you generally test water?

Edit: Based on the
water chemistry thread, I'm pretty sure my fish died of ammonia poisoning. Other than removing uneaten food and doing regular water changes and tests, is there anything I should be watching as far as ammonia? I've had a lot of algae, and my plants haven't done well, but I'm not sure if that's relevant to the bacteria & nitrogen cycle, or a completely separate issue.
You read correctly that there is no safe level of Ammonia, however a 2.5 gallon is too small to hold an effective cycle. Which is why you have to do more than one water change a week, you need to keep the Ammonia as low as possible.

Ammonia comes from fish waste and the breakdown of organic material (poop, uneaten food, dead/dying plants, etc). It can come from your tap, usually if you are on a well, but you can test for that and there are ways to deal with that if needed.

Your pH is what it is, there is nothing changing it. Sometimes the value can vary between tank and tap, but only because water straight from the tap will still have dissolved CO2 in it. You can leave it out for day to let it outgas, or you can shake it vigorusly to get it all out. You didn't say what the number is though, 'high' means different things to different people.

People with soft water have the benefit of a low GH and KH, and a low KH allows a tanks pH to drop naturally over time giving a perfect acidic water that these fish prefer. Never attempt to use chemicals to adjust the pH, all you'll do is cause an early death of your fish.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:22 AM   #3 
Kim
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Hi KellyK,

First, I'd like to say that I'm very sorry for the loss of your first fish :(

As for your questions, I noticed you mentioned the nitrogen cycle, so my first question is: did you cycle the tank? If so, how? I will say that a 2.5 gallon is difficult to keep cycled due to its small footprint and limited area for beneficial bacteria (or archaea if you read the article Byron posted) to colonize.

Because of the buildup of ammonia, I will assume that the tank was not cycled, in which case you would have to do frequent 100% water changes to prevent ammonia buildup. Also, you are correct that ammonia levels should stay so low as to be undetectable. As for your plants, if they were dying it is very possible that the decaying organic matter contributed to ammonia buildup, and uneaten food can decay into ammonia as well.

Basically, I have 2 suggestions for how you could proceed:

1) Set up a larger tank for your new betta (5 gallons is a good size) and cycle it. This can be accomplished in a few different ways, but I find the fishless method using pure ammonia to be easiest and most humane method. To cycle, you will need a good liquid test kit (the strips are notoriously inaccurate) that can test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Benefits of a cycled tank include only weekly partial water changes (partial water changes are less stressful for most fish), a much more stable environment, and the ability to leave on vacation without worrying about the need for water changes ;) This is a great article on cycling:

http://www.tropicalfishkeeping.com/f...m-cycle-38617/

2) Keep your current aquarium and leave it uncycled. Use decorations that are easy to clean and change 100% of the water several times weekly (I've never kept uncycled aquariums so I can't give you specifics on how often to change the water). I do, however, still recommend getting an ammonia test kit and testing the water right before each water change for a couple weeks to make sure your schedule is working properly and keeping ammonia undetectable. If you are concerned about your tap water, you can test this as well. Also, daily removal of uneaten food and any visible feces will help keep the water cleaner between changes.

Concerning your question about pH, having a high pH is quite normal and it is very rare to have a pH that is perfectly neutral. Most fish adapt fairly well to a pH that is a bit higher than they would naturally be exposed to, so long as it is stable- stability is key. That being said, how high is your pH? Attempts to lower pH with chemicals are unsucessful and can just lead to more problems; if your pH really is too high (which we can't determine without an actual number), mixing some reverse osmosis water with your tap water is the only manner that I would recommend to bring it down.

Finally, plants will only help your water parameters if they are living and growing. Live plants can be a great addition to an aquarium when growing or just a huge mess if they die. Personally, I would decide if you want to keep live plants first, and add these to the aquarium before adding the fish - that way, you can be sure they won't die and fowl the water while your fish is in the tank. Also, remember that plants can carry disease just as fish can, so proper quarantine is necessary unless you are absolutely sure that you are buying them from a completely disease-free tank.

I hope this helps!
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:29 AM   #4 
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Yep, I'm on well water. And had a bunch of plants die. I think I'll do another test on water straight from the tap to see if it's starting out with ammonia.

How big a tank do you need for an effective cycle? I could probably go up to 3.5 or 5 gallons in the space I currently have, and it doesn't look like a 5-gallon tank is terribly expensive.

And thank you very much for the info about not messing with the pH. I don't remember the specific numbers we got, because my husband did the test, but we did try to adjust it with chemicals. I guess that was the wrong call, and if the fish already had ammonia poisoning, may have been just more than he could take.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:35 AM   #5 
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I would go with the 5 gallon - more space is always better, and I believe a simple rectangular 5 gallon tank is actually less expensive than some of the smaller tanks of non-standard sizes. Plus, it's easier to position a filter so that it won't cause too much current, and you have more options for decorations and the like ;)

Do you use water conditioner? Ammonia in the tap water wouldn't actually kill plants (they actually use it as a nutrient), but perhaps there are heavy metals or chlorine in your water??
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:36 AM   #6 
KellyK
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Hi KellyK,

First, I'd like to say that I'm very sorry for the loss of your first fish :(

As for your questions, I noticed you mentioned the nitrogen cycle, so my first question is: did you cycle the tank? If so, how? I will say that a 2.5 gallon is difficult to keep cycled due to its small footprint and limited area for beneficial bacteria (or archaea if you read the article Byron posted) to colonize.
I added StressZyme with every water change, but it sounds like that's not enough with a 2-gallon tank.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:38 AM   #7 
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one good tip people often miss for keeping their tanks heathy, is testing the water from your faucet before adding it to your tank. water treatment plants "flush the system " a couple of times a year. and add a bunch of chemicals changing the water. people have lost entire tanks to this. also taking the proper time to acclimate your betta is very important. i have taken 10+ hours to acclimate before, especially if the ph levels are different.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:38 AM   #8 
KellyK
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Do you use water conditioner? Ammonia in the tap water wouldn't actually kill plants (they actually use it as a nutrient), but perhaps there are heavy metals or chlorine in your water??
Yep, I've been using BettaBowl water conditioner.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:39 AM   #9 
KellyK
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one good tip people often miss for keeping their tanks heathy, is testing the water from your faucet before adding it to your tank. water treatment plants "flush the system " a couple of times a year. and add a bunch of chemicals changing the water. people have lost entire tanks to this. also taking the proper time to acclimate your betta is very important. i have taken 10+ hours to acclimate before, especially if the ph levels are different.
I'm on well water, so there wouldn't be a treatment plant flushing the system, but it's possible that there's chlorine or other nastiness in the tap water. I'm definitely going to test some tap water to see what's up with it.
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Old 12-18-2012, 09:40 AM   #10 
KellyK
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Ammonia in the tap water wouldn't actually kill plants (they actually use it as a nutrient), but perhaps there are heavy metals or chlorine in your water??
Oh, I wasn't thinking the ammonia killed the plants, but that the dead plants added to the ammonia.
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