I had trouble cycling my 5gl Marineland Hex5, but I thought it worked (or was it peer pressure from all who made fun of my testing the water for 3 months) so I put a betta in. Of course my entire family got very attached to the little guy and I started monitoring the water and making changes religiously, aware that the tank might not be cycled.
This morning I noticed one of his gills is inflamed (the gill cover is sticking out). I read the forums and it sounds very bad. What do I do?
My water history is this:
Water out of the tap comes at pH8.1. Tank doesn't look cycled so I get a bit of ammonia. Whenever I think see any kind of greenish in the test tube and/or test strip (yellow for 0 ammonia) I do a 50% water change. Nitrites and Nitrates are at 0.
I use both the API liquid test kit (all fresh reactants) and strips as backup.
I use Professor James E. Alleman's formulas to calculate "Free Ammonia" (I know it's all empirical, but it's the most science that makes sense) and make sure I'm always way beyond 0.02ppm.
I started using all sorts of pH lowering products (to make it safer, as my pH is way too high), but it always bounces back. I came up with this idea: Use Poland Spring bottled water to keep pH "naturally" down and this way make sure ammonia is less damaging. I started doing gradual water changes of 25% to not stress the fish and got it down to pH7.4 (yesterday).
I use Prime in my change water, let it sit overnight and heat it up to 80F with a heater prior to change. My tank's water is at 80F.
I feed my fish soaked pellets (2 feedings a day, 1 and 2pellets) plus freeze dried brine shrimp and daphnia as treats. His belly looks good.
My fish did not change color, his fins look great. He is dark red, not easy to say if his gills turned red, they are always red.
The other day I noticed a lot of brown growth on my fake plants so last night I took them out and washed them under water. Also vacuumed the gravel and did a 25% water change.
This morning we noticed that one of his gills is inflamed. Gill cover stays open. Not 100% certain of this statement, but I though I saw some fuzzy stuff coming out of the inflamed gill, right after he ate his pellet. Again, not 100%.
Forums say nitrate poisoning - but I have no nitrates. They also mention bacteria, but you kind of need to know which one.... Some say put aquarium salt, some say antibiotics, some say fish will definitely die.
What is the best/safest thing to do? Can I save my fish??
Any help/guidance will be greatly appreciated :(