Very sick Oranda - time to let go?

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Aquarium Advice Apprentice
Mar 17, 2008
Thanks in advance to any help or suggestions. I've been trying to help my fish for over a week now and seem to be given different advice and water additives from each person I speak with at the local aquarium stores.

In brief, our 1 1/2 year old Oranda was I believe overfed by our housesitter the week before last while we were away. We returned on Friday night the 7th and I found his water discolored and cloudy. I did a 25% water change and filter cartridge change on Saturday and did what I could to vac the gravel. He seemed a bit listless but was eating. By Monday the 10th he was mostly just sitting on the bottom of the tank. He did eat a little Monday evening which is the last time he ate.

I took a water sample to the local Petco for testing on Tuesday and they told me I had high ammonia and nitrates and suggested another water change to include Amquel Plus. I had already prepared water 24 hours previously so I added the Amquel Plus and did another 25% change that evening. I read on-line that the BiOrb filtration is inadequate for fancy goldfish like Orandas, so I added a Tetra Whisper In-tank 40i to help bolster the filtration. I further read that the 8 gallon tank is too small so my hope is to nurse him back to health and move him to a new 20 gallon tank.

By Thursday afternoon his condition seemed to have worsened, so I took another water sample to a nearby Aquarium shop. They tested the water and still found very high ammonia and nitrates. They suggested adding 1/2 a packet of BioSpira to help rebuild the beneficial bacteria which I added. They suggested waiting a few days before another water change to try to let the tank settle down. I have the other half of treatment in the refrigrator but have yet to add it.

On Saturday his belly seemed a bit bloated with some scales protruding as described with Dropsy. As of right now (Monday afternoon) his scales seem less protruding and more normal, but perhaps it's just wishful thinking on my part.

In an effort to try to gradually improve the water quality, I've been doing 1/2 gallon water changes every 3 to 4 hours the past several days. I have not tried to vac the gravel for fear of making things worse.

As of now he is just sitting a the bottom of the tank. Every now and then he swims just a bit and then settles back down in another location on the bottom. His eyes seem clear and I don't see any other wounds or spots. He has shown no interest in coming to the surface for food. I put several pellets in yesterday and removed them after they floated on the surface for awhile.

I'm hoping this community can help me determine if I should continue to wait and see or if the time has come to put him out of his misery. If there's little chance of him improving I don't want to prolong his suffering.

Here are my responses to the forum questions:

1~What type of fish is afflicted? In addition, please describe what is wrong with the fish to the best of your ability (i.e. cotton like growth, bloated, etc.).
Oranda - Near complete inactivity, no appetite, some protruding scales on belly

2~What are your tank parameters (ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, temp, pH)? Please give exact values.
Unknown - I can purchase a test kit and reply if the situation isn't too far gone already

3~ How large is the tank? How long has the tank been set up?
BiOrb 8 Gallon Approximately 1.5 years

4~What type of filtration are you using? Please give the name and number (i.e. Fluval 304) and amount of gph if known.
Built in BioOrb cartridge filter with airstone. Recently added Tetra Whisper In-tank 40i Filter 170/GPH

5~How many fish are in the tank? What kinds of fish are they and what are their current sizes?
Just the Oranda - About 6 inches from nose to tail fins

6~When is the last time you did a water change and vacuum the gravel? How often do you do this? How much water do you remove at a time?
Small .5 changes routinely at the moment. Last 25% change on Thursday. Up until this problem a change of 2.5 to 3 gallons every other week

7~How long have you had the fish? If the fish is new, how did you acclimate it/them?
1.5 years

8~Have you added anything new to the tank--decor, new dechlorinator, new substrate, etc.?
Just the In-tank filter. No other changes for several months

9~What kind of food have you been feeding your fish, have you changed their diet recently?
Hikari Oranda Gold pellets soaked in water
I had the same thing happen a few years ago. I was away on business and my wife (trying to help my son) dumped about 30 algae pellets in a 20 gallon tank. I have yet to understand why but I swear that ... anyway I digress.

I moved everyone to a spare 10g I had. Used about 5g of the water, mixed the rest w/ new. Changed filter pads and moved to the smaller tank. Took the gravel net by net full shaking the crap out it and moved it to the new tank. Then I gutted the old tank. Cleaned top to bottom. Moved everything back and stared new.

Too many organics in there to try and cleap up. You need a full restart. If you resuse everything .. decorations/gravel/filter then you should not have a recycle, or of you do a very small one.
I'm afraid I don't have a spare tank to use, but I do have a very clean bucket which I've used to prepare the water for water changes. I can hang the in-tank filter into it easily enough. Perhaps I should mix the old water and new 50/50 in it and move the fish and the rocks one by one over to it so I can get under the rocks to get all of the old food out. Once cleaned I can move everything back and hope for the best. I still have the 1/2 dose of Bio Spira which might help reestablish everything after the move.
Sounds like a plan. Just don't over do the additives. Dechlorinate the water and see how it goes. If you think you REALLY need the Bio add it after you have given the restart a chance to take hold. You might be suprised. You have alot of good stuff in that filter, on those decorations and in that gravel
When it comes to ammonia, you want that gone ASAP, you don't want to change things slowly. With high ammonia & sick fish, I would be doing a 100% water change(ie removing him to fresh clean water). The only worry I have is the "very high" nitrates. How high is it? Fish that is accustomed to very high nitrates may be shocked when dumped into clean water suddenly. To be safe, you would want to do slow acclamitization (over several hours). You can either do 5 or 6 25% pwc's every few hours, or do a drip acclimatization. (Put him in a clean bucket with old tank water, then drip in clean, conditioned, water slowly & let the bucket overflow. Your aim is to slowly replace the dirty water with clean water over the better part of a day.)

Meanwhile, do a through cleaning of your tank. You can either do a total tear down as suggested, or a major gravel vac & rinse. In eithe case, you will be stirring up lots of gunk, it is generally best to not have your occupant in the tank while you do it. I would not replace the filter cart. however. A lot of good bacteria is there & you don't want to lose those. A good rinse & shake in tank water to get rid of major dirt will suffice.

After all the cleaning, you will need to monitor the water conditions in case of a mini-cycle. You might well need to do daily pwc for a while.

Bloated fish is a worry. If it is truely dropsy, the prognosis is grim. However, getting the fish to fresh clean water will give it the best chance of survival. There is an alternative diagnosis - constipation from the overfeeding. This is more likely if the bloating is only in the belly & not all over the fish. Treatment if the fish is eating is to feed it a shelled pea (blanch, skin & chopped into bits). This is fairly innocuous so I would try that in any case. More aggressivbe is a bath with Epsom's salt (MgSO4). Treat with 1/4 teaspoon in 10 gal of water for up to a week, or more aggressive still, double or triple the dose but only soak for an hour. Increasing the water temp to 80F will also help.

If it is simple constipation & bloat, the fish usu. will improve in a day or 2 with treatment. If dropsy had set in from bad water (this is a symptom of kidney failure), there is a slim chance that the fish will survive with clean water, increase temp, and epsom salt bath. I would give it a week or 2 of treatment & hope for the best.
I went out and bought some test strips. My estimates matching the colored boxes would be Ammonia high between 3.0 but not as dark as the highest at 6.0 `Nitrate looked to be on the lower end - 20 or 40? Nitrite was .5 or less
With Ammonia that high, you just need to get that fish out of there and risk the possible nitrate-shock. Since it's only been a week hopefully that will mitigate it. Don't use any of the tank water.. Dechlorinate new water, get it to temperature and move the fish and contents. Sooner the better.. as in NOW
Your biospera will only be good if kept cold at all times untill you use it. I also would not use anything but the dechlorinator. You are goin to have to just do a lot of water changes, I would also suggest getting a liquid test kit like API freshwater master test kits, strips are not always very acurate. Good Luck
Thanks so much for all of the great advice. I have transfered Bubba and the in-tank filter to the new water prepared around Noon this afternoon which only has the dechlorinator and the Amquel. I just finished draining the tank, removing the driftwood piece, the silk plant, and the rocks which I stored in a bucket with tankwater. There was an awful brown and smelly ooze at the bottom under the rocks as I had suspected. I rinsed the tank thoroughly and rinsed the rocks in small batches in old tankwater. I had about a gallon and a half or so of new prepared water from earlier which I've put back in the tank. The current rescue tank/bucket has about 3 gallons in it. Am I better to leave him there for the night, refill the main tank with tap water and dechlorinator and relocate him in the morning or move him back this evening with the water he's in and use the bucket to prep the additional water I need?
Will do. Thanks again for all of the help and support. We'll keep our fingers crossed...
Hi sorry I got in on this so late. Also if your goldfish is still bloated, add some epsom salts to the water to help eliviate his bloating. Epsom salts draw fluids out of the body. You need not worry about how much water is changed out as long as you add dechlorinator every time. I had inhertited several goldfish from a friend and they were acclimated to very terrible water conditions. They went through similar symptoms as yours. They are all fine and doing well now. Try also keeping the lights off a bit more to help with stress of your fish. Add an airstone if you have one to increase oxygen in the water. Keep the water temperature constant and good luck!
Good News! My little friend Bubba is doing much better this afternoon thanks to the help and suggestions from all of you. I sincerely appericiate your efforts to help me! He is far more active and swimming more normally after the complete tank cleaning last evening. He's not bloated and even ate a couple of soaked pellets. I'm going to offer him food in small amounts and keep a close eye on the water values as the tank resets. Are there other things I should be doing or monitoring closely? I know we're not out of the woods yet but he's much better today than anytime the past week.


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Well I'm afraid my optimism might have been premature. He started slowing down yesterday afternoon and is back to just sitting on the bottom or standing on his head in the silk plant. My guess is that the tank is trying to cycle and that he's stressed from all of the changes. I did a 25% water change last evening and another 25% around 10 this morning. It's now about 3:00 locally and the water values are:

Ammonia - .5 or less
NitrAte - 10
NitrIte - 1
pH - 6.6

I have to fly out of town early tomorrow morning and won't be back until late Sunday night. Should I ask my wife to do any water changes while I'm away or am I at a point where it's better to wait and see?
I would suggest a 50% water change a day or two 25% water changes a day goldfish are huge waste producers. Please ask you wife nicely to do the water changes while you are gone.
The nitrIte of 1 is a problem. Your tank is cycling again, and the nitrite bacteria typically lags behind by a few days.

You need to keep NO2 below 0.25, and that ASAP. Previously I had stated worries about nitrate shock (aka old tank syndrome). However, your NO3 was only 40 at its worst, that is not nearly high enough to cause problems (start worrying at 160 or 200). Therefore, you can do large water changes to keep your parameters, just make sure you temp match & dechlorinate the water.

NO2 of 1 is about as toxic as the previous NH3 of 3. So don't waste time with 25% pwc's ... go for a 80-100% change to get that level down now. You will likely have to do daily 50%+ changes during the cycle, so ask your wife nicely to do that while you are gone .... and get her a present when you are back!

Low level of salt is protective of nitrite poisioning. you can consider that in addition to the water changes. You don't need a lot of salt for it, 0.01% will do. Your 8 gal tank = 40 liters will need about 400mg of aquarium salt (something like 1/10 of a teaspoon). Goldies can tolerate quite a bit more salt (up to 0.1% chronically), so for ease of measurment, you can go up to 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon.
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