Sick goldfish, swim bladder issues maybe?

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Aquarium Advice Newbie
May 28, 2022
Bellingham, WA
I have a 4 year old common goldfish (Crowley) in a 50 gallon planted tank, who is suddenly not doing so well. He was "rescued" from my daughters classroom tank when he was very very tiny.

Water parameters seem to be good (Ammonia=0, Nitrites=0, Nitrates=20, pH=7.0, Phosphate = 0 (I think* the colors are hard to read). I'm using API liquid test kits. I don't test as often as I should, but when I do it always seems pretty stable. I do 25% water changes every week or two, and treat the new water with Seachem Prime. I also put in Seachem Gold Trace during water changes.

Right now he is listless at the bottom of the tank, often lying "bent over" on his side. When he tries to swim it's very erratic. Sometimes he's able to sit still or swim very slowly in an upright position, but not often, and he tends to "tip" over.

I moved him to a smaller 5 gallon hospital tank when I noticed his behavior a couple of days ago, and am only treating with small amounts of aquarium salt (to prevent infection as he scraped off some scales on a rock in his big tank, probably when swimming erratically) and epsom salts (thinking that might help with possible swim bladder issue or internal infection?)

I do NOT notice any other symptoms - no red spots, white spots, white patches, red streaks, fins look great and have NOT been clamped at all. Nothing hanging off of him. No weird lines or ulcers. No overactive mucus coat. He looks totally normal other than the not swimming around. He tries to eat but can't seem to orient himself to get to the food. I've managed to hand feed him a shelled, cooked pea soaked in garlic juice.

The hospital tank is a 5 gallon, no sand or rocks or decorations, one sponge filter, one small hang on filter and one air stone (from his big tank - which has multiple filters and air stones). I started the hospital tank with his normal tank water, and I've been doing very small water changes every couple of hours (2 quarts at a time) on the hospital tank during the day.

I've read that laying on his side bent over is a sign of nitrate poisoning, but he doesn't have any other symptoms that I can see. I have no idea how to tell if it's a bacterial infection since there are no outward signs. I really don't want to medicate him if he doesn't need it, but I don't have any clues what to try next. I do have several options in the "medicine cabinet) if I end up needing them, but I've never had to use medicines before.

It's been 2 days of this so far. He's normally incredibly active and responsive. He normally eats shelled peas, omega one goldfish flakes, or Sera Goldy Color Spirulina pellets, and of course he is constantly eating the plants in the tank.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
How big is the goldfish now? How long was crowley kept in a presumably smaller tank before being rescued?

Is the fish pooping ok?

You appear to have plenty of veggies on the menu. Further options would be an epsom salt bath and antibiotic medication.
Thank you for your response!

He's definitely small for his age, only about 4 inches long. He was about half an inch long when he came home in a tiny bowl, He was in a classroom community tank, and I'm guessing he was born there, but I'm not sure. He got moved into a 10 gallon tank the next day with a small filter. He got a 20 gallon tank 6 months later, and the 50 gallon a year later. I'm sure the filters were never adequate in the beginning either, and we didn't have a gravel vacuum in the beginning.

We knew absolutely nothing about fish before we adopted him, and nothing about cycling tanks. He probably didn't have a truly stable tank environment until the 20 gallon. We didn't know not to wash out the filter media or change it, we didn't know about water testing right away, and once we did, we struggled for months to keep the water "clean". Advice that first couple of months came from Petsmart, and then we found a great aquatic shop in town. We've obsessed over every aspect of his care and environment ever since, though I still feel like a completely inadequate parent.

I haven't seen any poop since he's been in the hospital tank, which has to be worse than unhealthy poop, right? I'll keep trying to hand feed him as he just can't seem to navigate to the food. He tries, but it's stressful watching him try.

I've been putting 1 teaspoon of epsom salt in the 5 gallon hospital tank. I was afraid to move him into a stronger bath and back, thought it might be a little too stressful for him. I could try a higher dose in the hospital tank, then just do several bigger water changes to bring the salt levels back down?

I put in a dose of aquamox last night, as things were getting really bad. He seemed to be barely breathing, and couldn't swim at all. He would try to move a little and just kind of whirl, then would lay very still on his side for long stretches. Getting him to eat was nearly impossible. Aquamox is supposed to be pretty broad spectrum antibiotic and works on both gram negative and positive bacteria, right? I'll continue that for the 5-10 days it recommends on the bottle, and keep up with the low epsom salt levels.

This morning he seems to be slightly more active. He is moving around a lot more, swimming a little. Still pretty wobbly, and still tipping over when he lays down (which is most of the time). Still can't seem to get to the food though he's obviously trying. His mouth and gills are moving a lot more than they were last night when he's laying still, so hoping that's a good sign. He did not eat the pea I put in last night, though he may have eaten a little garlic. I'll pull that out and try a new one today.
At 4 years old a goldfish should be pretty much fully grown, 10 to 12 inches. So this one is stunted. The issue may well be from before you got the fish and although its grown some since and has been kept in a more suitable environment, it hasnt recovered and grown as it should.

The problem with stunted fish is their bodies dont grow properly, but their internal organs do continue growing. Things get cramped up in there and this leads to ill health and shortened lifespans.

Aquamox isnt something im familiar with. Looks like an amoxillin antibiotic, and as such would be controlled through vets prescription here in the UK.

It sounds like you are doing the sorts of things you should be doing. Another thing to try would be an epsom salt bath. Another member posted a method for an epsom salt bath for bettas.
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