Bloat Is Hell
by Fredrik Hagblom ( The Cichlid Gallery )

To write an article about a disease without any medical training is very difficult and perhaps not even appropriate. An article about a fish disease should be written by a veterinarian. It’s just that among the veterinarians I have been in contact with, very few are experienced in dealing with infections in fishes. We who have kept several kinds of mainly African cichlids, at least know how it feels to have all your fish bloat and die and god knows we have tried all the tricks in the book to make it STOP in time. I cannot cure bloat but I can try, this is what I have come up with, this is my story.

For quite some time I was walking around with a stupid smile on my face thinking that the fish keepers who got this disease were just sloppy with their tanks and that those who filled up their fish room cabinets with medications were just hypochondriacs. There’s nothing a little clean water and salt can’t cure. Today, if there is one thing about this that I can tell you for a fact, it is that it can happen to anyone. I’m not saying this because I think I’m the perfect fish keeper. I have seen loads of fish rooms kept a lot better than mine and it has struck them as well from time to time.

The disease in tropical fishes normally referred to as Bloat remains a mystery. I think it must be one of the most popular subjects discussed by keepers of cichlids from the lakes Malwi and Tanganyika. Even though several fish keepers claim to know exactly what this is their often conflicting stories actually tells me that they don’t. We know what it looks like, we know that they die and we know what type of medication to give them, or do we?


The basic symptoms of bloat are loss of appetite, white thin stringy droppings, difficulties in keeping the balance, fish sitting on the bottom of the tank or lingering at the surface and finally bloating in which case the fish is already doomed.

I had kept my group of 22 wild caught Tropheus moorii “Kala Island” for 2½ years. There had been ups and downs and a few deaths. Sometimes they wouldn’t eat all that well, sometimes they would have some bad looking droppings but some larger water changes, some salt, less food, maybe a little higher temperature was all that was needed to turn them back into the regular piranha style behaviour at feeding time. But all of a sudden things were different. I just couldn’t get them to come out of it. I went to talk to a person that has been dealing in cichlids for over 30 years which was the person who’s opinion I respected the most at the time. We talked back and forth about what this disease really was and the discussion pretty much ended in him saying,
-I’m really not sure but "this" and "this" often works as a cure.

The dominant male of my group of T. moorii "Kala Island". One of the great losses to bloat in my fishroom

I tried curing them with a medication for internal bacterial infections with the substance Nifurpirinol as the active ingredient. The whole group died on me. This is not to say that Nifurpirinol does not work. I have had several successful treatments using this drug but in the case with my “Kala Island” it was a failure.

The Cause

It is important to try to sort out what caused the disease. In most cases it is due to some kind of stress. Fish can become stressed in many ways. There can be to few hiding places, a dominant male can have to few females to chase, lack of oxygen, poor water quality, to little space in general. The cause of Bloat can also have to do with an improper diet such as too much protein or fats for fish who are mainly vegetarians in the lake, or that you switch from one type of food to another too quickly. However I have witnessed several cases in which it has been impossible to come up with an explanation.

The Drugs

From the causes mentioned above the fish can become infected by three types of bacteria all causing close to the same type of symptoms. One is a common type of bacteria that lives in an environment where oxygen is present. In this case the Nifurpirinol works fine and you can use some type of medication from you LFS containing this ingredient.

Then there are cases caused by anaerobic bacteria, this is a bacteria that lives in closed mechanisms where there is no oxygen available. In this case you need a medication containing Metronidazol as the active ingredient. In my part of the world (Scandinavia) there is a drug called Flagyl available against prescription containing Metronidazol. If you call a veterinarian and tell them what you need it for you will probably get him to prescribe it.

The third kind is caused by parasitic and protozoan infestations. In this case you should treat with a medication containing Trichlorphon as active ingredient such as Clout which is a popular medication for pretty much all kinds of fish disease in the USA.

The problem here is that one fish keeper sees something wrong with his fish, he pours some Clout into the tank, the fish gets better, he goes on an internet forum and claims that Clout saved his fish. Maybe his fish would have gotten well with just a water change? Then my fish aren’t well, I read his post, I pour some clout into my tank but my fish die. Maybe my fish would have gotten well from Nifurpirinol? In most cases fish keepers claim that only one of these two kinds of bacterial infections is the real bloat. Why this is I do not know.

As you can see I wont be able to sort it out. I don’t know if these medications interact with one another in a harmful way but to me it seems like they should all be put into one tablet. Now this is difficult since a few of them are only available against prescription and cannot be purchased in a normal pet shop. Whatever kind of medication you use here is a few hints on how to do it.

The Treatment

If your fish are still eating try mixing some medicine into their food. If you feed shrimp mix this is easy if you use pellets you can dissolve the medication in a few drops of water and then soak the pellets in it.

If your fish are not eating, which is normally the case, this is how I do it:

This time it is a large group of Tropheus sp. red "Lupota" that has gotten infected. As you can see I have started to empty the tank so it will be easier to catch the fish without stressing them too much.

Bring out a plastic container. A wider type like in the picture is better than an ordinary bucket since there will be more water in contact with air in order to get more oxigen into the water.

Get out a few air pumps. If you dont have any laying around borrow some from your other tanks or frinds tanks. Im sure they can live without them for a few hours. Get as many as you can, these are the ones I had laying around the house.

Fill the container with water from the infected tank and get the pumps working in it.

Pour the medicine into the water. In this case I am using Aqua Furan in which Nifurpirinol is the active ingrediant. I use as much medication as you are supposed to use for 500 liters according to the instructions, only in my case i pour it into only 8 liters.

The airpumps helps you mix it well into the water.

Gently place the fish into the container with the medication.

Keep the fish in the medication for about 30 minutes. While you do this you empty the tank were the fish were completely and fill it up again with tap water. I dont clean the tank, gravel, or filters since the fish cant be away from it that long. What ever might be left in there will be very diluted as you fill the tank back up again anyway.

Now the tank is filled up with tapwater again and the fish are let back in there. Now all you do is cross your fingers and pray. You can repeat the process after about three days.

As far as dosage goes I cant really say. I started out with quite small doses that was recomended to me. Since then I have done 10 times as powerful doses and fish dont seem to be botherd by that. When it comes to Metronidazol i suggest 200 mg for 10 liters of whater in intesive baths like this. If I medicate directly in the main tank I use 200 mg per 50 liters and change the water after 3 days.

Finally, I hope you dont have to go through this ever but if you do I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.

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