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Swimming in Ammonia

Posted Oct 01 2008 4:15pm
Our poor fish…I’m starting to wonder if there’s a curse on the tank.

After Bob the Pleco died, we tested the water quality and found the ammonia was too high and the nitrates and nitrites were non-existent. This means the nice bacterial cycle that keeps the tank healthy had collapsed and the fish were being poisoned. I suspect that’s what killed Bob. The other fish weren’t looking so healthy either, and Nero the Severum had stopped eating. So we did the smart thing and changed out about half the water.

The next day, our tank heater must have gone bonkers. All three surviving fish were resting on the bottom—not typical for Gourami or Severum! We checked the thermometers to see if it was too warm, and saw no reading. The maximum temperature they detect is 86 degrees—and the tank was hot to the touch, so apparently we were talking 90+. Somehow we were making fish soup in our tank! We unplugged the heater, which James has always hated because it doesn’t have any numbers to help us set it, and opened a nearby window. We were afraid to add cooler water in case we shocked the fish.

After cooling overnight, the fish looked somewhat better and the temperature was within normal range again. Of course, that means the Gourami, who are now both showing evidence of eye injuries, were back to bumping against the glass and Nero still looked like someone had been chewing on his fins. So better is relative.

When Nero stopped eating again (after hardly eating anything in a week) we started to wonder. So I tested the ammonia again—off the scale! So we did another quick and severe emergency water change. At James’ request I took another reading the next day. The test only reads up to 8 parts per million, and anything over 1PPM is bad. I got yet another maximum reading. Does that mean we were potentially twice over that the day before???

James pointed out that this was well over the ammonia value in urine, something I frankly didn’t want to think about. (I have heard rumors of South American fish who actually like swimming in these conditions, but I haven’t checked Snopes on that one.) Never mind that I had already made the analogy that our fish were swimming in cleaning solution.

So I did my online research thing and found the chemical answer—I hope. I didn’t think any safe chemicals existed for neutralizing ammonia, but thankfully I was wrong and our local pet store, where we adopted all of our fish, sells it. From what I read on the Ammo-Lock bottle, this will take at least a week to fix. I will be much happier when Nero stops hanging out at the bottom of the tank half lying on his side and when the girls stop gulping air from the surface.

And they say 10 gallon tanks are the tough ones. Those fish are just fine, the algae is under control, and I’m the only person I know who introduced snails on purpose—and they didn't even survive.

Wish me luck.
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