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Old 06-08-2010, 04:53 PM   #1 
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Exclamation A Tale of Caution: How Comet Died

This meanders a lot and is extremely long, because it was painful to write, and I can't go back and edit for an hour like I usually do. The facts are all there, though.

I finally figured out why my betta died last month. Because of a problem with another tank, pieces have been falling into place, and I wanted to let people know.

Ok, I've been a little slow and out-of-it the last couple years, because of an anti-seizure medication I take. 3 years ago, I don't think this would have happened. But anyway, here's the beginning of the story:

I've kept fish for a very long time. I got complacent with letting my nitrates get high. After all, I had kuhli and java loaches living to their early teens, didn't I? My kuhlis bred in my most neglected tank, didn't they? Many other tetras and barbs bred and lived to almost ten!

I didn't get any experience with livebearers until I met my friend 3 years ago who had a tank of mollies. Never cleaned the tank or filter, etc. One by one, over time, they were breeding a little, but they were dropping off faster. I started cleaning the filter and Pythoning regularly for her, but it didn't stop, then they were all gone.

Last summer, my stock was way down in my planted 29, because the fish had been dropping off very slowly for years from old age. I hadn't been replacing them, because I wanted to start with different species. I decided to try some Platys. I got them from a great LFS. There were very happy in the hard, base water. They bred like CRAZY. I had to look for places for the fry. Oops.

So, I wasn't really, umm, too concerned when the occasional adult female seemed to get stressed to death by one very aggressive male. It was "only" one a month. And this went on, and for some reason, I just didn't DO anything. Don't ask me; I still can't figure out wtf it was with me. I was always right on top of these things before. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that my friend's mollies had done the same thing.

Obviously the nitrates were going to build in this tank quickly with all this huge load, but I didn't start changing water more often. Instead, I did bigger water changes. Overall, everything seemed ok at the time. Except the occasional deaths in the back of my mind; I was in denial.

Then one day my betta, in his own 10 gallon tank, got sick. I treated for quite a while with melaleuca (oops,) and then changed out all the water and used garlic and antibacterial food (erythromycin, which has one other unexpected property that I'll reveal later.) He recovered, and I went on with things as usual.

In hindsight, between then and the next time he got sick, I started noticing a much stronger chlorine smell from the sink. It just didn't hit me - it's spring, and obviously they had upped the water treatment. I did some big changes a couple weeks after that, and boy, it was a disaster in the platy tank. I'm sooo ashamed to say this, but it's got to be told - over half my fish were dead within 12 hours, some before the tank was all the way full.

I freaked! But in the end, I chalked it up to my lazy ways combined with water that was unusually highly-pressurized (fizzing with gas) and too warm. I'd added my dechlorinator to the tank before filling like usual, so...I never considered chlorine.

A month later, Comet got sick, and despite treatment, he died with the same symptoms he'd displayed before. He never got to eat the medicated food or garlic bits, because he lost his appetite completely. That's when I found this site.

Taking responsibility for my stupid, lazy mistakes and vowing to get back on track, I went on with changes like I should. After all, I had a tank I set up and cared for at my chiropractor's office (barter is good) that was heavily planted, had some beautiful and pseudo-rare tetras and plenty of my platys' second spawn. None of them had sickened or died. Then again, nitrates were zero, and the water was changed monthly like clockwork.

In the meantime, I still continued to have the occasional death of my platys, but things were speeding up! Sometimes 3 in a week! What the hell is going on! I did another water change on-schedule, and this time, I trickled the water in at (frankly) the speed of pee. It took over 1/2 hr for, hm, probably 10 gallons. The fish looked stressed, anyway! Except the "iron loaches," of course. Then I looked closely at them and noticed that one younger kuhli was absent. Deaths sped up so that in one day, I had two dead platys, and they hadn't shown any signs of illness. There is one wasting away. [Note: you can tell how many platys I had by the fact that with all the deaths, I haven't run out...yet. Give it a week. :( ]

Hm, others had wasted away, but they'd had no appetite. This one continues to eat like a pig. And suddenly, the same was happening to one in Dr. Mike's tank - oh, no! It then occurred to me...

I had put Dr. Mike's impending batch of fry into Comet's tank for a week or so until they were ready to move. Some parents were already dropping of occasionally. Then Comet got sick. I was sure they'd passed something on to him, but what? Well, he recovered, so in denial that I was not able to figure out what was going on, things went on like usual.

To sum up the timeline: I'd gotten sloppy with water changes. Playts were purchased and had been dropping off occasionally, though they bred heavily. Comet was exposed to platy fry. Comet later got sick but recovered, using erythromycin and garlic. Platy tank had a huge disaster, which I blamed on poor maintenance and something wrong with the water change. Comet got sick again and died. I just blamed it on bad maintenance in the end combined with a possible contagious illness he was harboring. Did another very careful water change, and platys still got stressed. Two died within a couple days without symptoms, one is wasting away as I speak.

Next timeline, of discoveries!

I took a shower and noticed when I went back into the bathroom that it smelled like someone had been cleaning the shower with bleach! OMG, I didn't put two and two together to realize that there were massive extra amounts of chlorine in the water, so filling it too fast, the conditioner couldn't keep up, and most of the platys had died! Along with an oldish kuhli and two oldish tetras. Even the extremely slow last change had stressed them so that 2-3 weakened platys got sick within the next three days. (Solution 1: I think I will have to keep up the better maintenance but use a bucket to pre-treat the tap water and fill the tank with a powerhead and hose.)

But why are the platys weak and dying in the first place? What did they pass on to Comet? And now, one was getting sick in Dr. Mike's tank! (Luckily he is recovered temporarily with ongoing melaleuca treatment.) I didn't know.

In preparation for hopefully getting another betta sometime soon, I researched online for some meds to have on hand. Just a couple things. While reading different sites, I noticed people discussing livebearer "wasting disease." I read up on it, and apparently, it's usually internal parasites, which they're particularly susceptible to. The death pattern and symptoms matched, except I hadn't seen stringy poop. The next morning, I looked carefully as I turned the light on, and...stringy poop on one! Also in the research I found out that Maracyn, made of erythromycin and sold as an antibacterial, also treats internal parasites. I had already learned on here that garlic is not only a mild antibacterial but also treats internal parasites.

It seems obvious now that Comet had accidentally gotten treated for internal parasites once and recovered. Then stressed by the huge chlorine-change, he was afflicted strongly again and died, because he could not eat the two anti-parasitic treatments.

However, now I'm 90% positive I know what is wrong! My platys were the source of internal parasites that got passed on to other fish. I'm going to be treating all my tanks with garlic and epsom salts (these are also internally anti-parasitic.) I've reasearched, and they're safe for all the kinds of fish I have. I'll also be treating Dr. Mike's tank. I'll let you all know how things go with this.

The biggest lesson I'd like anyone to walk away with is this:

If some little thing seems odd and out-of-place, don't go into denial but be pro-active. If I'd researched into the platy problem when I first noticed the occasional wasting death, I probably could have avoided many, many painful problems later. If I had just taken particular notice of the stronger chlorine smell from my sink, I could have avoided the huge chlorine-poisoning in my tank. If I had just kept up with proper tank maintenance, my fish would have been stronger to cope with the last two issues.

Basically, I created my own "cluster-spawn" of disasters, and I hope that by reading this, some other people will be able to avoid my mistakes and better deal with their own tank problems.

BTW, posting here has really helped get me back into my "fish mind." If I hadn't been dredging up old info, researching medications and diseases, reading about others' problems and getting intellectually challenged to solve them, I probably wouldn't have put the problems and the answers and the solutions all together for my own situation. Well, I hope it's the solution. But you can be assured that if it's not, I will continue to search until I fix this mess!

Last edited by mfskarphedin; 06-08-2010 at 05:06 PM.
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Old 06-08-2010, 05:10 PM   #2 
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I'm glad that you learned from all your mistakes! I'll make sure to keep some things into account now when I look at my bettas. I learned some new things from you, and I thank you for that.

I didn't know that garlic helped treat internal parasites... I also didn't know the symptoms of it.
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Old 06-10-2010, 04:12 AM   #3 
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Ok, an update. I used some epsom salts in the platy/kuhli/planted 29 gal with no ill effects - 1 tsp/10 gallons. The emaciated platy died, but that was no surprise, and I doubt no connection. The other fish seem really perked up!

I did more research on the epsom salts, though, and figured out I had mistaken what its used for. It's for cleansing the intestines, such as for bloating, constipation, and preparing for treatment with anti-parasitic medications. So I ordered some Jungle Anti-Parasite Food. I can't use a water treatment, because all the tanks are planted, and I can't risk damaging the plants in Dr. Mike's tank.

I'm also going to use garlic in my tanks, but I can't in Dr. Mike's, because of the smell.

More updates as warranted!
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Old 06-15-2010, 06:55 PM   #4 
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Update: got my anti-parasite food in the mail yesterday and fed them. Two platys aren't looking too hot - starting to get skinny, scales ruffled, lathargic with clamped fins and another with a spot of fungus on the head. I'm debating whether to put all the fish in a 5 gal hospital tank to treat them with the Fungus Eliminator in addition to the food.

Sad: one kuhli looks fine but has rapid breathing and won't eat. He's not that old, maybe a few years. I think it's the one fry that survived from the spawning, so...maybe 5 years old? Either way, I haven't seen the other one in a few days, either, and I just moved their hiding spot. He's maybe dead. Thing is, catching a kuhli that's already stressed might just kill him outright.

I think a slooow 50% water change and feeding before I go out tonight, and if they don't perk up, the hospital tank tomorrow. Will add epsom salt back.

Damn, I wish that medication didn't kill plants! grrrrrrrrr At least I have wads of java fern that I can sacrifice in the hospital tank for cover. If the anubias in the ten gallon weren't rooted to the UGF plate, I'd use that tank.

A note: at least the java fern will act as a test as to whether the Fungus Eliminator really does kill plants. Though it's almost impossible to kill java fern.
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Old 06-17-2010, 04:00 AM   #5 
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Wednesday night - the third day feeding the Jungle foods.

The fish were all either ecstatic or indifferent to the water change Tuesday. The fourth kuhli showed, and for the first time in a very, very long time, he's making happy-circles with the java loaches! Wow, I'd really let my water-quality standards drop over the years. The kuhli with the rapid breathing seems to be doing a little better, no lying on his side.

It may be helping that I left the water level down for better aeration. I'm going to turn the heater down to 78F, too. I didn't replace the epsom salts, wanting the food to sit in their guts for the medication to absorb. I haven't seen any more stringy poop.

I don't know if the kuhlis are eating the food, but the java loaches are, and the healthy-looking platys are, as long as it's finely crushed. The two sick-looking platys, when I looked closely, were spitting it out. I thought they were just more sensitive to the taste, not feeling well, and put a lot of the minced garlic and juice in the tank. I hoped it would mask the yucky taste. I waited a minute, and the less-sick platy started to flash. I started to worry about her, got stressed, and put the garlic away.

When I came back from the kitchen, I looked closely again, and she was actually eating! It seems the idea worked - either it really stimulated her appetite, or it masked the taste. I never got to see if the other one was eating. They're both back at their hidey-places as the others actively pick around looking for more food and garlic.

Oh, and the orange one with the white patch on her head is doing better. I think it'll be gone entirely in a couple days. The three fry are growing quickly (one is also orange. :) )

The 15 healthy, juvenile platys in my 55 gallon seem to eat the medicated food fine. I'll watch more closely tomorrow. They're getting only the anti-parasite food, not the anti-bacterial food mixed in like the 29 gallon tank.

A little note: Or should I call the sick kuhli a her? She seems to be gravid! It must be the older one. Some of the platys are ready to pop, too. I hope a few of their fry make it; the last two batches I'm aware of had two and one survivors respectively. As for the kuhli, I'll just be happy if she recovers, forget spawning.

Last edited by mfskarphedin; 06-17-2010 at 04:03 AM.
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Old 06-18-2010, 12:18 AM   #6 
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The worst platy died. Now another has clamped fins. There's no improvement in the kuhli. I don't know if I need to just wait for the medication to work, or if I should put them in a hospital tank (which will greatly stress them,) and JFE them. I wouldn't be able to transfer the few smallest fry, anyway, because the filter would suck them up. They'd probably just re-infect the adults when they got back in.

Maybe I should pull all the plants out of the 29. I have an empty 29 to put them in. Then I could treat the main tank.

I'll think about it. It's very late, and I'm very tired and cranky.
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Old 06-18-2010, 12:56 AM   #7 
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I don't think this is the forum or place for this, your advice and experiences are very good, but very misleading. Before we know it we'll have all the new betta owners drowning their bettas in garlic and epsom salts... =/

Sorry Kristen for your losses..
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Old 06-18-2010, 01:59 AM   #8 
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Actually, I think this is great. It's a learning experience, showing how a member is going through an epidemic of some kind and is treating it. Should someone else go through the same thing, they can look at this and see what did or didn't work. I'm sorry this is happening, but it'll help out a lot of people in the long run. Keep it up, and don't give up hope (:
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Old 06-18-2010, 04:06 PM   #9 
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Kuhli died. One of the 2 clamped platys looks better. Orange w/white spot is much improved. They all seem to be having more problems accepting the new food. I got fresh garlic today and will soak the food in it to mask the supposedly-nasty taste. Will paste up some of their regular flake with it tonight as well.

I also think this thread very relevent. Whatever they have, they gave it to my betta, who also succumbed to it in the end. It's not like bettas are an alien species completely removed from other fish; they are tropical fish, no matter how much prettier or more special some people might think. However it turns out, it'll help people learn how to diagnose and treat problems, whether I fail or succeed.

And if people who keep and breed Discus use these tonics and medications for their fish with similar symptoms with success, I trust their advice over any others.

Thanks, Mikayla.
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Old 06-18-2010, 04:55 PM   #10 
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I agree, I think it's very good to see what you're going through and the steps you're taking. It's so hard with fish. You take a dog to the vet but with fish we have to rely on eachother and our history with sick fish.

I can really identify with your post. When I was younger I kept fish and I did NOT stick to any kind of schedule. I won't go into details but it wasn't pretty. I, like you, let stuff build up. I didn't do a really good job of keeping fish until today, when I'm almost 40. Now I have a strict schedule of water changes and upkeep and I hope that people also learn from that part of your post. These fish rely on us and we have to be up to the challenge. I can see that you are. :)

I'd like to add that anyone dosing their fish with garlic and epsom salts, for whatever reason, are responsible for their own actions. She's only recounting what she did.
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