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Spinal Injury?

6417 Views 16 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  X skully X
(Feels a little bit ironic to be posting in this section myself, but I'm a bit stumped and am looking for some opinions)

Last Wednesday (5/6) my betta Polaris was totally fine. On Thursday when I woke up, she was holding her spine crooked... And hasn't straightened out since.

I'll give more details at the end of the form, but after a few days of observation I'm starting to think she injured herself on the filter's intake and I am not sure how to help her heal if that's the case.


How many gallons is your tank? 10gal (Hospital tank: 1g)
Does it have a filter? Yes, HOB (Hospital tank: No)
Does it have a heater? Yes
What temperature is your tank? 80*F
Does your tank have an air stone or other type of aeration? No
Does your Betta have tank mates? What kind? No

What food brand do you use? Omega One, NLS, frozen bloodworms
Do you feed flakes or pellets? OO Flakes & NLS Pellets
Freeze-dried? No
How often do you feed your Betta? How much? Typically 1x daily, either a small pinch of flakes, about 3-5 pellets, or a few bloodworms. Since 4/24 I started feeding her 2x a day to encourage growth.

Before your Betta became ill how often did you perform a water change? Once weekly, bumped up to twice weekly when I increased her feedings. (Hospital tank: daily)
What percentage of water did you change? 20-30% (Hospital tank: 50%)
What is the source of your water? Tap
Do you vacuum the substrate or just dip out water? Siphon, tank is bare-bottom
What additives do you use? What brand of conditioner? Prime conditioner

Water Parameters:
What are your water parameters? Please give exact numbers. If tested by pet store please get exact numbers. "Fine" or "Safe" won't help us help you. Important: Test your water before the regular water change; not after one.

I've got some major egg on my face because... I don't really know. My last test kit expired a while ago and I haven't had the money to replace it. (Thankfully, I was able to borrow some and now have a kit on the way!) Also I panicked, and did a large water change before thinking to set some aside to have tested at a store.

Ammonia: 0ppm according to Seachem Ammonia Alert
Nitrite: "0" (According to a urinalysis test strip... Not willing to commit to its accuracy)
Nitrate: n/a
pH: Approx 6.5 (Again, urinalysis test strip)
Hardness (GH): n/a
Alkalinity (KH): n/a

Symptoms and Treatment:
When did you first notice the symptoms? Thursday (May 7th)
How has your Betta’s appearance changed? Her spine is held crooked side-to-side, and she has some trouble staying horizontal- her tail drifts upwards. The rest of her body seems fine, no discoloration or damaged scales, fins intact & unclamped. Possibly there is or was some swelling on her side, it's hard to tell for sure.
How has your Betta’s behavior changed? Thursday she was hiding and lethargic, but since then she has been acting like her usual self.
Is your Betta still eating? I decided to fast her in hopes she was just constipated, but when offered a pellet yesterday she happily ate it.
Have you started treating your Betta? If so, how?

Thursday: Immediately dosed tank with 1mL Prime. Flubbed what I was doing and she ended up getting 100% clean water in the hospital tank. Main tank had a 60% change. Gave an Epsom dip at 1 Tbs/g for three hours, then 1 tsp/g Epsom in the hospital tank. Fed in morning but interrupted her before she ate much. No poop.
Friday: Epsom 1tsp/gal, 50% water change. Fasted. No poop.
Saturday: Epson 1tsp/gal, 50% water change. Fasted. Passed a small amount of poop, normal colored & shaped.
Sunday: Epsom 1tsp/gal, 50% water change. Fed a pellet. No poop.
Monday (Today): Epsom decreased to 1/2 tsp/g after 50% water change. Haven't fed yet. No poop so far.

Does your Betta have any history of being ill? I have been concerned about slow growth- thread here- because she was purchased as a "baby" and has stayed small. Otherwise no.
How long have you owned your Betta? Since Jan 3rd, so just about five months.
Was he or she ill or suffering some sort of damage when purchased? No


Monday (Today):


(I apologize that it's so hard to see her fins & individual scales, but they do look undamaged to me)


So here's what I have been thinking as far as possible explanations go:
  • An immediate concern was possible Nitrite/Nitrate poisoning, so I dosed the tank with Prime and did a large water change even though she didn't seem to have other symptoms.

  • Because I have been feeding her extra I thought she may have been constipated and it was putting pressure on her organs, so I used Epsom as a laxative (and to help the tail floating) and fasted her. However, she hasn't seemed bloated to me- a bit pudgy, but not swollen- and after pooping the curve is still there.

  • On the flipside, scoliosis from malnutrition seems unlikely since I was feeding her twice a day, and the curve showed up suddenly.

  • I don't think Mycobacteria/Tuberculosis is likely because she is showing no other symptoms, and her spine is curved side to side instead of vertically. But I am keeping an eye out for signs and making sure to be extra careful about cross-contamination with my other tanks, since TB is such a vicious disease.

  • I also think it's unlikely to be internal parasites putting pressure on her organs, because when she did poop it was normal in appearance and she doesn't seem either bloated or emaciated. Similarly, as far as I can tell she doesn't seem to have any other symptoms that suggest a bacterial or viral infection causing internal pressure.

  • A tumor is technically possible, but the curvature showed up literally overnight with no build-up of symptoms so I'm not sure how likely it actually is.

  • Which leaves me thinking this is the result of physical damage, presumably from getting stuck to the filter's intake or wedging herself into a hole in her decor. Her spine doesn't seem to be broken, and she is still able to move her tail at least somewhat when she swims. But her body doesn't seem swollen like she was hurt, her skin/scales are unbroken, and her fins are all intact.
I just really don't know for certain, which is why I'm posting for ideas here. Is there a possible explanation I've missed?

And if it is the result of damage... Does anyone have suggestions for how to help her heal, other than clean water & good food? I'm planning to start feeding her again tonight since fasting hasn't seemed to do much, and will keep her in the hospital tank at least until the end of the week so there's no current for her to fight against.

Going forward if no one has specific treatment ideas, I guess I'll just see how she does against the filter's current and possibly switch from HOB to a sponge or box filter. If the amount of space in her 10g seems to be too hard for her to navigate I have a smaller 2.5g I can downgrade her to, though I don't really want to.
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Poor baby!

I think you've covered all the bases. Can't think of anything else you might try. Here's hoping her body straightens back out and if it doesn't, that she remains eating and active.
Thanks, even just hearing I haven't missed anything obvious really helps take some anxiety off!

Since it's been a few days without any major changes, I'm at least hoping she won't suddenly take a turn for the worse. I figure, if it's damage from a physical injury she probably would have already gone belly-up by now, and since I'm still not seeing any obvious signs of it being caused by an infection... Maybe she'll just continue being okay.

It's not my first choice, but I can handle a handicapped fish.
Is there anything in which Polaris could have wedged herself? Or squeezed through going and and coming out? That's all I can think of that might cause such an injury. Hope someone has insight.

Good luck with her. She's always been a real cutie.
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I thought I'd plugged up all the holes in her decor, but I'm definitely going to look them over again before she's back in the main tank. I didn't plan on her being so small so it's possible I overlooked a few nooks & crannies...

Oh, the joys of owning fish! They don't even make noise to alert you when they get into trouble. :b
Minor update, Polaris is still eating like a champ and pooping. So if nothing else, whatever happened doesn't seem to have affected her digestive system.

She also seems to be getting a little bit straighter! I couldn't get a picture to confirm since I didn't want to turn the light on and bother her, but it looks as if her spine is not as curvy as it was even just yesterday. So that really gives me hope that she'll get better and be able to handle swimming around her big tank again soon. :D

What's interesting though is that when she did straighten out, it made it look as if one of her sides was more swollen than the other... So I'm going to be keeping a close eye on that. It seems to be midway down her body, around where her ovaries are rather than her main organs. But it could just be from the curvature of her spine making one side seem "pushed out" more.

I'll definitely try to get a clear picture tomorrow.
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An immediate concern was possible Nitrite/Nitrate poisoning,
First thing that sprang to my mind when I saw the photos second was SBD third was TB.
I appreciate the thoughts! Sometimes it's impossible to diagnose a problem without getting some outside perspectives :)

Nitrite/Nitrate poisoning is definitely a possibility, it's just odd to me that she wasn't showing other symptoms like gasping or browned gills. But like I said in my original post I don't have a test kit right now (and I did a large water change so the levels are diluted when it does finally get here), so I can't really know for sure.

Thankfully Polaris has been in totally clean water since, and I'll do another large change on the main tank before letting her back just in case... And make sure not to let my kit expire again without a replacement ready.

A swim bladder condition is also still possible, it's definitely not something that's easy to rule out especially since bettas are prone to them.

I will say I don't think it's likely to be congenital since I'd have noticed before now, and fasting vs feeding hasn't affect anything so I'm not thinking it's totally constipation-caused either. But then again I feel like she'd have gotten worse if it was caused by an infection of some sort, since I'm only "treating" her with clean water (and a little Epsom) right now...

But again, there's really no way to be sure- so many factors can make a symptom go away or return seemingly at random! I'll just have to keep watching her to see how things progress.

And boy, I sure am hoping it's not TB! That's one of my nightmares, since as far as I know it's basically impossible to cure and it's very easy to spread to other tanks.

I try to keep my aquariums pretty separated with different equipment etc, but for example I had been using the same container of thawed bloodworms for feeding every tank so there is at least one source of cross-contamination, and probably more I can't think of. The fact that right now Polaris hasn't gotten worse or shown other common symptoms of TB is reassuring on that front though, and that none of the other bettas seem affected so far... Knock on wood it stays that way!
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I've just gotten a clear picture of Polaris and she is definitely less crooked than she was a week ago, yay!! Her tail is no longer totally curved to the side, instead her spine is just a bit wavy. Still not sure if her side is actually swollen or it's a trick of her posture, though, so I am keeping an eye on that.

Hopefully she keeps getting better instead of suddenly starting to show other symptoms...! 🤞


(She also stuck her face right into the siphon tube yesterday when I was changing water but thankfully that doesn't seem to have left any lasting damage. Silly fish.)
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Rana get some sort of intake screen for the hose.

Like this


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Yeah, I am definitely considering putting a bit of floss or something over it, to prevent any future accidents. My siphons are all made of airline tubing so it's a very small diameter, which is why I haven't been very concerned- before now, anyway!
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I hold my finger a bit below the end to 1: Keep fish, shrimp, etc., out and 2: Keep a distance from the sand so I don't remove too much of that.

BTW, she is looking so much better!
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A happy update in case anyone was wondering, I have closely watched Polaris this whole week and her tail seems to be totally straightened out again! There still looks like a very slight swelling on her right side, but it's so hard to say for sure, and could just be one ovary developing a bit larger than the other or something harmless like that... Especially since I don't have any recent "before" pictures taken from above I can compare to.

So after much thought, I decided to go ahead and switch out her HOB filter for the box filter I have. Even if it wasn't an injury caused by the filter's intake, it still has a very strong flow which may be too stressful for her right now anyway (This filter design doesn't adjust or have an easy way to baffle it). I also checked over the decorations and am stumped as to where she could have gotten herself stuck, but I filled in a few more suspicious areas anyway to be safe. And then I let her go back into the main tank!

Of course I forgot to get a picture before releasing her, and now that she's back in her domain she won't sit still for a photo op.

But she seems bright and active still, so I'm just going to hope this is all over. :)
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I was just going to post and ask how Polaris is doing. Glad she's on the road to mending.
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Thanks, and I'm glad too, little girl gave me such a fright when I saw her like that!
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Awesome sauce Rana! I was wondering about this and hunted down this thread to see how she was doing 💜 I’m so happy for you! And Polaris of course.
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