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.
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!