Common livebearer illnesses: how to recognise and treat them

pineapple male swordtail

Common livebearer illnesses

livebearers facts and info

How to maintain healthy livebearers

Most tank raised livebearers are quite healthy fish. In other words they hardly ever get sick as long as their aquarum is kept clean and healthy and nothing goes wrong such as a faulty heater.
However, dirty water, overcrowded aquariums, overfeeding or even a poor diet can lead to livebearers getting sick.

Diseases can be avoided and should be avoided rather than relying on medications and treatments to cure sick fish it is better to avoid the conditions that lead to sick fish.

Here are some common sense tips:

  1. Don’t buy sick fish. Even apparently healthy fish should be quarantined for a few weeks in case of hidden illnesses to avoid spreading illness to your existing fish.
  2. Remove dead fish immediately. I dead fish which may have been carrying an illness will release its illness into the water as it decomposes. Also a decomposing fish will rot and pollute the water causing the other fish harm. A partial water change after removing a dead fish is a good idea too.
  3. Check your fish daily for any signs of lack of health such as lethargy, clamped fins, scratching against objects or unusual breathing by the fish.
  4. Treat your fish as soon as a disease is spotted. Some diseases can only be cured if the disease is treated early.
  5. Keep common fish medications at hand. In other words buy them early. Methylene blue, malachite green, white spot medication and an antifungal medication are helpful first aid. Also sea salt is often helpful.

Common illnesses that affect livebearers

1) White spot
The signs of white spot are white dust like spots about the size of a grain of salt sprinkled over the body and fins of affected fish.
Treat fish early. Fish can die from untreated white spot. Raise the temperature to 85F but less for livebearers from cooler waters. Add some salt to the water. 1 teaspoon per 5 litres of water. Treat with the latest white spot medication as well.

2) Mouth fungus (cottonmouth)
Recognised by white fluffy growths around the mouth or occasionally along the fins. Although it looks like fungus, it is not. It is actually caused by a bacterial infection – columnaris.
Treat fish with marycin, salt added to the water and malachite green. Cottonmout has become resistant to some antibiotics so you might have to re-treat with a different antibiotic.

3) Fin Rot
Signs of fin rot are split or frayed edges to the fins with dark or white edging to the fins.
Treat with nitrofurazone or a similar wide spectrum antibiotic. Also add salt and methylene blue to the water.

4) Fish tuberculosis
Symptoms include bloated stomachs, pop-eyes, body abscesses and protruding scales.
This is very difficult to treat because TB forms a protective mass coating that prevents antibiotic penetrating to kill off the bacteria. Very sick fish are best killed.

5) Gill flukes
Symptoms include: fish having laboured breathing with gill covers open. Fish may also start scraping their gill plates against objects.
Treat with praziquantel baths. Alternatively treat with a dylox bath.

6) Intestinal parasites or worms
Symptoms are thin bellied fish, stringy white poop. Fish may go off their food.
Buy anti-parasitic medication that can be mixed into the fish’s food. If the fish are not eating you will have to capture the fish and inject the medication directly into the fish’s mouth.

7) Cloudy Skin
Slimy looking film on the skin or fins is an infection of ciliates or flagellates. This may be cured by raising the temperature slowly over several days until it reaches 85F and treating with methylene blue.

8) Poisoning
The fish will have clamped fins and may dart about the tank and rub against objects. Fish will also breathe heavily.
The main causes of water poisoning are Chlorine from tap water, ammonia from decaying organic matter or a build up of fish urine and poop, chemicals from aerosol sprays, insecticides such as fly killers are pretty bad.

Do an immediate 50% water change with safe water that has been standing for at least 24 hours and is the same temperature as your aquarium. Remove any decaying matter or dirt in the aquarium, remove excess mulm from filters, stop feeding. After 24 hours do another 50% water change.

9) Fungal infections
Symptoms are white or greyish fluffy patches on the body or the fins. This may come about from injury to the body or fin. Dab the affected area with cotton wool dipped in malachite green or set up a malachite green bath dip for the fish. Leave the fish in the bath for 1 hour.

10) Shimmies or livebearer disease
Symptoms are when your fish continually rock from side to side.
This is thought to be because many livebearers prefer hard alkaline water with some salt added. Livebearers kept in soft acidic water will over time develop this disease.
Treat by adding some salt to the aquarium and find ways of adjusting the ph and hardness of the water. Perhaps by the use of crush coral sand or dolomite sand.

 

Fungus – the ever present danger to fish and eggs

This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus

Fungus – the ever present danger – to fish and eggs

This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus
This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus

There are many species of aquatic fungus but by far the most common two are saprolegnia and achlya.

Symptoms of fungal attack

Fungus occurs as white, grey and sometimes brown fluffy growths on the skin or fins of fish or on developing eggs from a spawning.

Saltwater fish actually suffer less, than freshwater fish, from fungus because of the salt in a marine environment. However, brackish water fish, even mollies, when kept in insufficiently salty water are the most prone to fungal attacks.

Fungus often starts as a small tuft, and usually spreads when not treated and can kill a fish if the fungus penetrates the internals of the fish. Fish eggs if not treated or infected eggs are not removed can cause all nearby eggs to be infected and killed.

What causes fungus to develop

Fungus and fungal spores thrive in damp environments with decaying organic matter and an aquarium is full of water so is ripe for fungal outbreaks. Fungus sprouts where there is decaying organic matter, dead fish, or unfertilised or dead fish eggs. When fungus grows it releases millions of spores into the water which will quickly infect any fish that has a break in its protective mucous which may occur after rough handling or an attack from another fish or bumping into aquarium rocks.

Parasitic diseases such as ich, body ulcers and infections will damage the protective mucous and allow entry of fungal spores, compounding the fish’s problems.
When fish are kept in poor quality water conditions with water that is full of bacteria, nitrites, ammonia and excessive fish waste then they are much more likely to get infected by fungus.

Fungus treatment for fish eggs

Several eggs from this spawn are starting to get infected
Several eggs from this spawn are starting to get infected

With fish eggs any unfertilised eggs or dead eggs will quickly get infected with fungus. If that egg is not quickly removed then the fungus will spread and infect otherwise healthy eggs. All adjacent eggs may be killed.

Prevention of egg infection by fungus is achieved by adding methylene blue to the water immediately after the eggs have been spawned. Be careful not to overdose because eggs may suffer developmental problems. Also remove any off-white eggs with a pipette before they become heavily infected.

Cichlids actually do a good job in removing dead and unfertilised eggs and keeping the eggs free from dirt as part of their parental care.

Fungus treatment for fish

Treat as soon as possible. use an aquatic antifungal remedy from your local aquarium shop. Place any heavily infected fish in a quarantine tank and treat the fish there. In the main aquarium a dose of salt added to the water should heal slightly infected fish and help to kill of most spores present.

Prevention is better than cure and this is a mostly preventable illness. Remedy the environment of the aquarium that led to the original outbreak. If it was an accident such as a dead fish then a salt dose to the aquarium should be sufficient.

However, if the cause was rotten food then you must keep up good feeding practices of not feeding more than the fish will eat. Observe all the food you place into the aquarium and remove any uneaten food with a siphon. When your aquarium has a nitrite or an ammonia spike then fish will go off their food. If you feed at this time then you will surely cause a disaster.

Make sure your filter is fully cycled. Make sure that the water you add to the aquarium has the chlorine removed before adding. Also, siphon through and disturb the gravel to remove any build up of fish waste. And make sure your filter has not become clogged. If the filter is clogged then squeeze out the excess dirt from the sponge into a bucket of aquarium water.

And finally, keep up good maintenance practices. Then you should never have a problem with fungus again.