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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi!

I'm new here and as you may be able to tell, new to forums in general. My fish is not doing very well and I'm eager to to see if there is anything I can do to help him recover.

When we couldn't get our RO Purified water for his tank due to the covid-19, we mistakenly used mineral-rich purified water. We forgot to test before using it and within several days our Betta became lethargic, air-hungry, listless, and at times frantically swimming about and rushing to the surface for air. We were sure we would lose him. We took our time lowering his pH with RO water with pH about 6.4. We took it very slow over many days doing 20% water changes. He stopped gulping for air constantly, though he still does it more than usual, and he still quite lethargic and won't eat but a few morsels every couple of days.

The pH had lowered to about 7.0 pH, with adding the Ro water, but rose again to 8.0 pH. We can get it down to about 7.2pH with the RO water but over a day or so it rises to 7.6+. Other than the water having caused this, there is nothing new added to the tank from when it always maintained healthy parameters. Same black sandy substrate (never had an issue with the pH for nearly a year with this), 3 marimo balls, 1 sword plant, 1 filter, 1 heater.

I've lowered his air to help with the carbon dioxide but he gets too air hungry when I do. Not sure where to go from here. Hoping to learn something that will correct this and make him comfortable again, if he hasn't been made too ill to recover.
I greatly appreciate any help with this. Thanks so much.

Housing:
How many gallons is your tank? 5
Does it have a filter? Yes -Tetra Whisper Internal Filter
Does it have a heater? Yes - small auto heater (no thermostat)
What temperature is your tank? Approximately 79-80 degrees This heater does not do a very good job of maintaining temp. in so few gallons.
Does your tank have an air stone or other type of aeration? Yes - small air pump on hose.
Does your Betta have tank mates? What kind? None
He does have one living sword plant in his tank + 3 marimo balls.


Food:
What food brand do you use? Tetra BettaMin - mostly the Brine Shrimp and on occasion the mini pellets when he refused the shrimp
Do you feed flakes or pellets? Sometimes pellets, never flakes (he won't eat them). Most often dried Brine Shrimp.
Freeze-dried? No
How often do you feed your Betta? How much? 2 times per day - a few small morsels of brine shrimp. He often does not want more than 2-3 tiny pieces the size of the a small grain of rice.

Maintenance:
Before your Betta became ill how often did you perform a water change? Once every 2-3 weeks
What percentage of water did you change? 20-35%
What is the source of your water? 7.2pH RO purified water from grocery store machines. (has since changed which caused this whole issue- I explain below)
Do you vacuum the substrate or just dip out water? Vacuum
What additives do you use? What brand of conditioner? None - we had been using the Purified RO water with a pH of about 7.2. Then because of Covid we could not get it and instead, by mistake, used mineral-rich purified water of 8.8+ pH . We forgot to test the pH of the new water before using it. >_<

Water Parameters:

Ammonia: 0
Nitrite:0
Nitrate: Approx. 20
pH: 8.0+ at it's worst when symptoms began. Is currently 7.2 - 7.6
Hardness (GH):?
Alkalinity (KH): ?

Symptoms and Treatment:When did you first notice the symptoms? About 1 week into using new water. We could not get our Purified water due to all stores being sold out due to Covid-19 so we purchased a Berkey Water Filter. We did not realize that the Berkey leaves beneficial minerals in the water, unlike Reverse Osmosis. The pH on the Berkey was 8.8+!
How has your Betta’s appearance changed? Not that I can tell.
How has your Betta’s behavior changed? Lethargic, hiding in upper corner of tank or laying on bottom. Usually puts his fins down while resting but instead he's been laying sideways on the substrate or resting vertically in top of tank near the heater and filter. When we first realized the pH was so high he was switching between frantically gulping for air/swimming in rapid bursts to laying sideways in obvious distress (nothing at all like when he's usually just resting on leaves). He has since stopped the frantic gulping since we slowly brought the pH back down over a few days, but he still is lethargic and shows signs of air hunger. He's currently parked with his face/gills sitting over the air stone.
Is your Betta still eating? Not much if at all
Have you started treating your Betta? If so, how? We found some RO water at the store and began 20% water changed over many days.We took it slow as not to kill him from a sudden drop in pH. Lowered at a rate of approximately .2 pH per day. But Even when we lower it, it creeps back up. We're puzzled.
Does your Betta have any history of being ill? No, not a big eater in general though, no matter what we offer him.
How long have you owned your Betta? About 10+ months
Was he or she ill or suffering some sort of damage when purchased? No
 

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I think you aren't supposed to use RO water. They need some of the minerals that are found in tap water. I would use tap water and a water conditioner (I use Seachem Prime). I would do 50% water change using tap water that has been treated with dechlorinator and make sure it's the same temp as his current water. ( I usually run mine till it feels about the same temp) I'm new myself though and don't want to give you bad advice. I'm just going off what I've been reading. Maybe @RussellTheShihTzu could advise?
 

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I forgot to mention that I would suggest more frequent water changes. Maybe 20-25% water change once a week regardless of the numbers and more often of there is a spike. Maybe your tap water has better PH. (I've honestly tested my PH only a few times) I pay the most attention to the Ammonia, NItrites, and Nitrate levels.
 

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Hi,

Thank so much for the reply. It was recommended in our Betta care books to use Reverse Osmosis water. I'll have to look further into that. We've used RO water for nearly a year with perfect pH consistency. It wasn't until using the high-pH mineral-rich water that this occurred. We just can't seem to get the pH down and keep it down now. I'm hopeful for some insight on this from this forum. Thanks again!
 

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Maybe if you edit the title to something like "Sick betta"? Hopefully someone comes along that can help! I don't want to advise wrong. I'm still very new to all of this myself
 

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Unfortunately yes, RO or distilled water is not recommended for bettas (or any fish). They actually need some minerals in their water in order to be healthy. If your tap water is safe for you to drink it is most likely safe for your betta, as long as you use a water conditioner to take out the chlorine/chloramine.

That said, it sounds like it may indeed be parameter shock from the new water. Bettas can adapt to a fairly wide range of pH's and other conditions, but changes should be slow or it stresses them. Since the RO water has no buffers it will not hold a steady pH, which is why it has been so difficult for you to lower it again since it is "competing" against the minerals in the new water- which, with a pH that high, sounds like it was a specialty product and not something I'd have recommended for a water change anyway.

At this point I would not add in a pH stabilizing product, I'd just start doing small frequent water changes using conditioned tap water. Most likely once you introduce some water which has its own minerals and buffers, the pH will begin to stabilize. Only if it does not settle after a week of tap water changes would I recommend considering using a commercial buffer, or adding something like peat or driftwood to the tank, which will slowly and naturally lower the pH.


Also, from your wording I'm not entirely sure if you were using bottled "mineralized" water or if you purchased a filter to use with your tap? If it was a tap filter, then you absolutely need to add a water conditioner ASAP because such filters do not remove the chlorine/chloramine which is present in tap water. This may be what was causing your boy to be sick more than the pH swing, since either substance is very harmful even in small amounts.


After that, there's two main things that stand out to me about your tank. First, you should be doing more frequent water changes. In a 5g I'd suggest 25% weekly. This will not only keep the Nitrates low but will reduce other dissolved substances to keep the water clean, and replenish minerals.


The second thing that worries me is you are feeding your betta freeze-dried brine shrimp as his main diet. This is not recommended, since freeze-dried foods are meant to be a treat- they don't have proper nutrition to be a main food and indeed, are often compared to potato chips compared to a baked potato for nutritional value. Even if they were healthy, only eating one type for the most part means he's potentially missing out on important nutrition which he'd get if fed a wide variety.

The Tetra food is also not great either, because it contains a lot of plant ingredients which bettas have a hard time digesting. Which may also contribute to why he isn't very enthusiastic about eating it.

So if you have the budget I would recommend switching him to a higher-quality pellet as his daily staple, one which has fish/seafood or insects as the main ingredient and as few plants listed as possible. Some good brands to look for are Omega One, New Life Spectrum, and Bug Bites- at least one should be available at most pet stores.

A healthy betta will not starve himself, so don't panic if he doesn't seem to like his daily pellets. Just keep offering it and he will start to eat it once he realizes he won't be getting any more tasty treats. Once he's eating a pellet consistently, then you can start to introduce treats back into his diet.

If you're able you can also switch the freeze-dried for frozen, which has more nutrition. However this should still not be his main diet, unless you are committed to feeding a variety to make sure he has enough of everything he needs.
 

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Hi Rana!

Thank you so much for your reply. I appreciate all of the thorough information. I'll copy and paste your message below to answer your points directly in bold.

Unfortunately yes, RO or distilled water is not recommended for bettas (or any fish). They actually need some minerals in their water in order to be healthy. If your tap water is safe for you to drink it is most likely safe for your betta, as long as you use a water conditioner to take out the chlorine/chloramine.

Interesting! The water we always used (prior to the Berkey Water which caused this current problem) was RO from our local grocery store purification machines. It was purified tap using RO. The tank parameters were always spot on with that water and the fish was always so healthy seeming.

That said, it sounds like it may indeed be parameter shock from the new water. Bettas can adapt to a fairly wide range of pH's and other conditions, but changes should be slow or it stresses them. Since the RO water has no buffers it will not hold a steady pH, which is why it has been so difficult for you to lower it again since it is "competing" against the minerals in the new water- which, with a pH that high, sounds like it was a specialty product and not something I'd have recommended for a water change anyway.
* This makes sense. We'll need an alternative water source. This Berkey Water should never have been used. We were really back up against the wall with quarantine. i explain the Berkey below.

At this point I would not add in a pH stabilizing product, I'd just start doing small frequent water changes using conditioned tap water. Most likely once you introduce some water which has its own minerals and buffers, the pH will begin to stabilize. Only if it does not settle after a week of tap water changes would I recommend considering using a commercial buffer, or adding something like peat or driftwood to the tank, which will slowly and naturally lower the pH.
* The water changes seem to be helping. But again, as you mentioned it's a battle, as the RO water is competing with the Purified water. Can you please recommend a commercial buffer in case we need it?

Also, from your wording I'm not entirely sure if you were using bottled "mineralized" water or if you purchased a filter to use with your tap? If it was a tap filter, then you absolutely need to add a water conditioner ASAP because such filters do not remove the chlorine/chloramine which is present in tap water. This may be what was causing your boy to be sick more than the pH swing, since either substance is very harmful even in small amounts.
* The water that caused this upset in the first place was using water from our Berkey Filter. We do not consume tap water in our household due to the level of contaminant (it is not safe for our consumption so we don't use it in our fish tank. Once water became scarce in stores during quarantine, we had to invest in a Berkey. They're a powerful water purification system for at-home use.

Here is a Berkey and what they filter:
https://www.berkeyfilters.com/pages/filtration-specifications. You fill the Berkey with tap water and it filters through. The Berkey leaves all minerals from the tap water intact. There is absolutely ZERO chlorine left in the water after it passes through the Berkey, so we know we've never needed a de-chlorinator. That was the water we put in the tank since we had no access to the purified water from the store.

What can we use for the tank instead of tap water?


After that, there's two main things that stand out to me about your tank. First, you should be doing more frequent water changes. In a 5g I'd suggest 25% weekly. This will not only keep the Nitrates low but will reduce other dissolved substances to keep the water clean, and replenish minerals.
* We will begin doing this weekly. Our Nitrates are always at 0 with each week's test. So I'm confident the Nitrates will stay low. ^_^

The second thing that worries me is you are feeding your betta freeze-dried brine shrimp as his main diet. This is not recommended, since freeze-dried foods are meant to be a treat- they don't have proper nutrition to be a main food and indeed, are often compared to potato chips compared to a baked potato for nutritional value. Even if they were healthy, only eating one type for the most part means he's potentially missing out on important nutrition which he'd get if fed a wide variety.

The Tetra food is also not great either, because it contains a lot of plant ingredients which bettas have a hard time digesting. Which may also contribute to why he isn't very enthusiastic about eating it.


So if you have the budget I would recommend switching him to a higher-quality pellet as his daily staple, one which has fish/seafood or insects as the main ingredient and as few plants listed as possible. Some good brands to look for are Omega One, New Life Spectrum, and Bug Bites- at least one should be available at most pet stores.
I will purchase one straight away!:)

I've always wondered about the food. So many Betta "experts" recommended the brine shrimp but we've heard so many contradictions and felt confused. This is the food we've been feeding him but will switch ASAP: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Tetra-BettaMin-Select-A-Food-Flakes-Betta-Fish-Food-1-34-oz/276613257


A healthy betta will not starve himself, so don't panic if he doesn't seem to like his daily pellets. Just keep offering it and he will start to eat it once he realizes he won't be getting any more tasty treats. Once he's eating a pellet consistently, then you can start to introduce treats back into his diet.

If you're able you can also switch the freeze-dried for frozen, which has more nutrition. However this should still not be his main diet, unless you are committed to feeding a variety to make sure he has enough of everything he needs.

*Lastly, could you possibly recommend a heater with a thermostat? These cheap small tank heaters just do not maintain a steady temp at all. He hugs the heater all day and night.

Thank you so much!!

😊
 

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As noted above, constant fluctuations in pH are not good for Betta. As hardy fish, Betta can live in almost all pH levels. Mine, for instance, are in water than ranges from 7.8-8.2 with no issues. But, to suffer from pH shock, the change would have to be around 3.0. A shift from 6.0-8.0 will seldom causes issues. A shift from 6.0-8.5+ does. In addition, pH shock is sudden; it is not gradual as the problems with your Betta.

All of that being said, I am going to disagree about your boy's current problem. Adding the Berkey water was coincidental and had nothing to do with his issues. Berkey is actually much healthier for him than RO as it does contains needed minerals and trace elements. Also, there are many things which can influence the pH: Nitrate levels, aeration, etc.

A lack of the minerals and trace elements fish need to survive doesn't kill them immediately. It does not show up immediately. Instead, it is a slow process often taking up to a year to manifest. Sadly, that whole time, organs, functions, etc., are being compromised. The symptoms you are seeing are typical.

There are no meds that will cure him. The only hope you have is to do, as suggested, small water changes using the Berkey or tap water to get minerals and trace elements to him and hope for the best.

Do NOT add anything to his tank except SeaChem Prime.

If you decide to stick with RO water if he recovers, SeaChem Equilibrium is the product you want. But, as Rana said, if tap water is safe for you to drink it is safe for your aquarium.

Good luck.
 

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Thank you so much, Russell!


I too felt that the Berkey Water was a good option at the time that we were left with no other water choices (though I should have remembered to test its pH before use). Our tap water here is not fit for drinking. We haven't drunk from it in 20 years and cook with our Berkey water as well. Most residents get their drinking water from the local store's purification machines and fill up for a few weeks at a time. That is why we opted for a Berkey once we couldn't get purified water locally.

Puzzling, when I first tested the Berkey's pH it was off the charts of the pH High Card- 8.8. I tested again just now and it was 7.6pH on the lower card and 7.4pH on the high card.

So, you think that using the RO water from the store machines for several months is the likely culprit behind the onset of his symptoms? He's been deprived of essential minerals and trace elements?

Oddly enough, since we used the RO water in the gallons from the store this week, as an emergency measure to lower the pH, the fish has really pepped back up and is acting a bit more like his usual self. He's terribly ill seeming when the pH is high yet more energetic, aware, and resting on leaves (instead of on his side on the substrate) when the pH is back down around 7.2 - 7.4. This confuses me. If the RO water was the issue, why is it restoring him within a couple of days of use if it is void of what he needs?

His Nitrite is always 0.
His Nitrate is never elevated above 20-40
Ammonia is always 0.
We keep the aerator tube/stone on low and have it off for part of the day.

What is the purpose of SeaChem Prime when using Berkey filtered water since there is no Chlorine in the Berkey water and the other parameters are within an ideal range? 🙂

I deeply appreciate your insight into this. I've been working so hard to take good care of this little guy and it seems I get conflicting info everywhere I turn. It's a breath of fresh air to have an actual person with experience to communicate with. Our boy's name is Ikagerus - Ika for short. Pronounced EEka. Thank you, again. 🙏
 

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Okay, looks like that filter may indeed remove the chlorine/chloramine (most filters people put on their tap do not)... I'd still recommend adding a conditioner to be sure, however. For example Prime is not any more expensive than other conditioners but is super concentrated so you only need two drops per gallon, which means it will last basically forever. IMO that peace of mind is worth it.

However, if you don't want to use your tap water (filtered or not) then I would recommend using bottled Spring water, not distilled or RO. Unless you'll be adding a re-mineralization product, as RtST says.


I really prefer not to use commercial buffers- they wear off so you have to make sure to keep adding them forever once you start- but if you feel you must, I recommend one that claims to keep the pH at 7, rather than just "up" or "down". I feel like it's more stable that way. However if I need to mess with pH I like using natural methods like crushed coral or driftwood/peat to keep it in balance, since they are always in the tank working slowly so you avoid swings.

Also I'd like to apologize, I misread your post and thought your betta started acting strange immediately after adding the new water, which is why I suggested parameter shock. Reading it over again I can see that it was indeed more gradual, so I'm leaning more towards what Russell suggests- that the water change was coincidental.


RE food, brine shrimp in moderation are great when live or frozen, particularly for people raising fry. But they shouldn't be the main source of food, and a lot of new fishkeepers don't realize there's a difference with freeze-dried, which causes some of the confusion.

You can absolutely keep feeding the freeze-dried ones you have if you want, just keep in mind that they're not nutritionally complete and should only be dessert, not dinner. ;)


For a heater, really almost any brand will work. I've used Aqueon, Marina, Hydor, Elite, Tetra, others that I am forgetting... I just don't recommend getting a super cheap "no name" one, since I don't trust their quality and a heater is potentially hazardous if it malfunctions.

The real key is to get the right size- in your tank, you'd want to look for a 50 Watt- and make sure it is adjustable. Fancy digital or old fashioned twist-dial doesn't matter. Pre-set heaters can be fine, but if they're not accurate then you have no way to fix it, which is why I don't recommend them if you have a choice.

You'll also need a thermometer to keep track of the temperature. I prefer plain glass ones, they're cheap and never wear out. Digital are great for their precision & ease of reading but because they're electric, they can malfunction so I prefer to have a backup. The sticker types that go on the outside are very unreliable and I don't recommend them unless you have no other choice.

If you have more equipment-specific questions I'd encourage you to start a new thread in our "Bowls & Accessories" area so more people will see it and can give their own advice. :)
 

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If you use the Berkey water you don't need the Prime. I would use it because it would make me feel better.

Can't remember if the Berkey water retains minerals and trace elements? If so, that would be good to use; if not, add SeaChem Equilibrium. Or, as Rana suggested, Spring water.
 

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Thank you so, so much, Rana!

I'm happy to use the Berkey water. As long as the tap water runs through that filtration, I'd give it to anyone. l'll add a conditioner for safe measure.I prefer to avoid commercial buffers as well. I like to keep things as natural as possible and limit the upkeep as much as is possible.I need to upgrade the heater ASAP. The food and thermometer as well.

I appreciate the time and help. It means a lot!

One final question I have, as I've never been able to get a straight answer anywhere and the rep at Tetra was an absolute jerk about it😔 ...

What is the proper protocol to change the filter in the filtration system? Is it as simple as simply take it out and put the new one in? I've been told so many things about beneficial bacteria. I'm afraid I'm harming the fish by just swapping out the filter every month.

This is what we use: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Tetra-Whisper-2-10i-Power-Filter-Fish-Aquatic-Pets/10291764

Thank you for all of your time. I'm relieved to have the help.
 

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If you use the Berkey water you don't need the Prime. I would use it because it would make me feel better.

Can't remember if the Berkey water retains minerals and trace elements? If so, that would be good to use; if not, add SeaChem Equilibrium. Or, as Rana suggested, Spring water.

The Berkey does leave all minerals intact. But I would like to try that anyway. I thank you so much for your recommendations. You folks ROCK! 🙏😊
 

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Don't add the Equilibrium if Berkey doesn't remove everything and make it the same as distilled or RO water. It would be overkill and could do more harm than good by increasing the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids/Salts).

Do not change the filter cartridge. Instead, rinse in old tank or treated new water. Do not replace until it is starting to deteriorate. When that happens and you can do it, add a new cartridge with the old and let them run together for three or so weeks to "seed" the new cartridge.
 

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Thank you SO much for the explanation on the filtration.

Unfortunately, we already took out the old cartridge per the Tetra rep's bad recommendation...>_<

I apologize, I posted a link to a slight variation of the filter we use. I've attached a photo of the actual cartridges that our filter takes. This filter is very small and because the cartridges are rigid plastic, the filter will not allow us to fit more than one at a time. Not a very conducive design to allow seeding of a new filter. Would it be enough to maybe stick the old filter in half way next time(?). Or should I purchase a different filter altogether that would allow me to seed each new filter?

I very much appreciate your help and don't want to take up more of your time. Thank you so much. My husband is deeply grateful to both as well. The Betta is his and he absolutely loves him.
 

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You probably won't need to replace the cartridge for several months or even a year. If it looks dirty that's okay. It's when the outer covering starts to shred that you need to replace.

What I would do is to remove the back that holds in the carbon. I can't remember if you can pop the back off or not? Then when you are close to needing new media you can add filter floss (any brand) to the frame. After a few weeks, remove the old and tie the seeded media into the frame with thread or fishing line. I hope that makes sense. BTW, you don't really need carbon unless you're trying to remove meds. I haven't used it in years.

Or, you could put the new one in half-way and add SeaChem Stability for eight days: Double dose on Day 1 and single Days 2-8. Watch parameters.

Here is this Forum's tutorial on fish-in cycling. It's the method many of us have used for years. Contrary to Internet hysteria on the matter, fish-in cycling is perfectly safe if you pay attention to parameters and act accordingly.

 

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Thank you, Russell! I've wanted to know that for so long. I appreciate the link to fish-in cycling as well. You've been a tremendous help. 😊
 

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hi @everyone. i came here to thank you all kindly. awhile back my girl found you guys when my boy was in crisis. you were all so helpful, kind and knowledgeable. his behavior changed so drastically and rapidly and he stayed that way for a few more weeks... no eating... hiding... i did my best to monitor his water and observe and prepare for the worst. then one day he was just fine :) he was at the top of the tank, playful, a healthy appetite. he's been that way for months now. he likes to be pet, he kisses Roekies finger. he's attentive.

this is my boy, ikagerasu. he's named after a giant white ocean kaiju from an old japanese robot show lol
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IMG_20200817_162958.jpg

again, me and my fish thank you all so much for being here and available for people. you are appreciated.
sincerely, Ross and Ikagerasu
 
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