Fish has severely swollen "throat"/gills, will not eat, twitches (photo attached) - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 8 Old 08-25-2011, 04:38 AM Thread Starter
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Fish has severely swollen "throat"/gills, will not eat, twitches (photo attached)

Hi everyone, my freshwater fish Norman (I'm not even sure of his breed) has suddenly fallen quite ill.

Backstory: two days ago, I noticed he had swelling around his anus (sort of like a donut jellyfish), did some googling, and figured it was constipation - possibly from overfeeding. Lots of people recommended epsom salts, so I added 2 tsp (to a 40 gallon tank, which Norman shares with two other cichlids - flowerhorns, specifically).

Two days later, the swelling around the anus has subsided almost 100%, but he has developed severe swelling around his gills/throat area (I've circled it in red) literally overnight. He's normally very active and responsive, but is now staying near the floor - he seems lethargic and stressed out, and will not eat.

The "flesh" underneath his mouth is very swollen, along with his gills, and his breathing seems labored - it looks like he's panting. He's also been twitching his dorsal fin occasionally, and once in a while will just seem to shudder. It isn't just his gills but his throat that's swelling - typically that area is perfectly flat/smooth on him, not bumpy as shown. I don't think it's parasites because of the sudden onset, and because he's just been swimming in the same place, without rubbing himself against rocks/aquarium ornaments.

I assumed the epsom salts would be fine as I used a minimal amount, and the other two fish Norman lives with seem perfectly healthy. Still, I changed their water and fished out detritus. At this point though, I'm not sure what else I can do. Please help, I really love this fish and he's been in perfect health - very lively - until now. Thanks very much in advance, and apologies for the long post.

Last edited by normie; 08-25-2011 at 04:44 AM.
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post #2 of 8 Old 08-25-2011, 01:27 PM
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Do you have both male and female in tank? It looks to me as if 'fry holding' is your issue. Some cichlids are mouth brooders and when holding fertilized eggs or fry do not eat.
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post #3 of 8 Old 08-25-2011, 03:03 PM Thread Starter
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Hello, thanks very much for your reply! There are no other yellow labs in the tank, but Norman (Norma?) shares it with 2 male flowerhorns. I assumed it was a gill issue because Norman's breathing was very quick/labored, and because he (she?) exhibited constant discomfort, like occasional shuddering. Norman's breathing has become more even today but is still quicker than normal, and the gills still show swelling. Could this be due to fry? Also, very basic question - can yellow labs "mate" with flowerhorns? All the fish, including Norman, were acting normally until two days ago.

ETA: I examined Norman's mouth as carefully as I could - he's not exactly keeping it shut - and there doesn't appear to be anything egg or fry-like inside of it. Also, Norman has started rubbing himself against scratchy surfaces and his fins seem unusually stiff. Could it be parasites?

Last edited by normie; 08-25-2011 at 03:21 PM.
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post #4 of 8 Old 08-25-2011, 08:16 PM
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NO, Electric labs won't mate with the flowerhorns.

Is this an established tank, newly cycled or still cycling? Could you please supply the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, PH levels and do you know if you have hard/soft water. It could be a water quality/chemistry problem and those 2 species really require different parameters. They also have different dietary/nutritional needs.

Could be partly stress as well and I wouldn't keep those 2 species of cichlids together for compatibility and water chemistry reasons. How long have they been in the tank together and much decor/hiding places do you have in the tank? Usually only having a few cichlids can resort in increased aggression, especially if you have all males (I think the Lab looks like a male to me), so providing more hiding places may help a bit with the chasing issue.
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post #5 of 8 Old 08-26-2011, 12:22 AM Thread Starter
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Hi Beaches, thanks for your reply. It's definitely an established tank - we've had these fish for at least two years. They were purchased by my parents (who didn't do any research beforehand), and Norman has managed to survive one of the flowerhorn's aggression (the other flowerhorn is peaceful and doesn't bother the other fish). I will have to purchase a testing kit - what would explain the sudden change, though? Could overfeeding have made him susceptible to disease? He's been eating more than usual, and this is really the only thing that's changed recently.

As for hiding places - Norman moves very quickly and has somehow managed to escape being nipped by the aggressive flowerhorn for years. He has a little castle to hide in that the flowerhorns couldn't possibly fit into, and that's where he usually hangs out when he's being threatened.

I can't figure out why he suddenly fell ill - I know living in that tank is stressful for him, but he's managed to withstand it for years, even when he was tiny. Would you have any preliminary advice on what I could do if I quarantined him? The scratching and swollen gills make me think he has parasites, but nothing online has described what causes swelling in the throat area. The rest of his body has gotten pretty thin by comparison (he hasn't eaten in several days), so there's no bloating otherwise. I think I also mentioned tail fin stiffening, and noticed some pale white spotting/streaking on his fins - it's not prominent, but he normally doesn't have this.

I'd really appreciate advice - thank you for taking the time to read...
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post #6 of 8 Old 08-26-2011, 04:19 AM
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It is advisable/recommended to always have a test kit on hand to monitor ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and Ph. Sudden changes or spikes in any of those can affect fish, damage gills, cause flashing from skin becoming iritated and stress behaviour. Some fish can tolerate a problem in those areas more than others, so not all may show signs at the same time. What is your tank maintenance/water change schedule like? I would keep up with frequent partial changes to start with while unsure of your parameters and what the problem might be.

I could be wrong and it is a female, Bluebirdnanny maybe onto something and she is holding eggs, as it is sounding/looking more like it. Single females still produce eggs at times, they just won't get fertilised and they should eventually get eaten. I know you have had a look at his/her mouth, but try and use a magnifying class (if you haven't already), to get a really close look. The spots/streaks could be egg spots, but I don't think electric labs. have them, so if not, could be from stress or if flashing against things often, some scales may be getting rubbed off.

I honestly don't think it is a parasite as it seemed to be sudden and wouldn't use meds. at this stage. If you definitely don't think she is holdling, then I would isolate Norman so you can keep a closer eye on him/her and see if his behaviour changes, enable him to get more rest, coax him into feeding and medicate later on if necessary.

You mention he was eating more than usual, but now hasn't eaten anything for the last few days, perhaps Norman was filling up before holding eggs, since they don't eat during that time. If he keeps his mouth open all the time, another possibility is that he damaged his jaw. Cichlids often use their jaws when fighting with others, so perhaps it got damaged or dislocated. I can't say I have heard much about the tail stiffening you mentioned.

People often recommend putting dither fish (like danios) in a cichlid tank if their are only a few, as it helps with aggression or shyness issues.

Last edited by Beaches; 08-26-2011 at 04:23 AM.
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post #7 of 8 Old 08-28-2011, 01:21 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks again for your informed reply - I don't change the water myself, but I think it would be about every two weeks or so.

I've been keeping track of Norman's behavior for the past couple days and he doesn't seem to be getting better, and is now spending most of his time in his little castle (he just floats in place when he leaves it, or scratches his side on the gravel). He's getting very skinny and still refuses to eat, and continues to exhibit lethargic behavior. I've also noticed that the small transparent spots on his fins have gotten bigger (they basically look like white spots that have been leeched of color) and that his scales are starting to look very slightly velvety. He hasn't been gilling as rapidly of late, but his throat is still swollen.

Is it safe to say that he might have velvet? He's exhibiting a lot of the symptoms and his scales are starting to look fuzzy - it's hard to tell if there's a film covering them though, because he's so bright/nearly gold-colored. Would it be a good idea to start treating the water with aquarium salt and copper sulphate?

I've read that velvet is highly contagious, but so far the other fish in the tank are doing fine. Advice is, again, very much appreciated.
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post #8 of 8 Old 09-03-2011, 12:25 AM
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Sorry for not replying until now normie, life got in the way. How is Norman doing now, I hope it isn't too late!

So who takes care of the fish/tank maintenance and do they check the water parameters? I understand that the fish have been in the tank for 2 years, but something may suddenly have gone awry. Also fish are very good at hiding illness for as long as possible, so any stress factors he may have been constantly subjected too, could have finally taken a toll. If he did damage his jaw, a secondary/opportunistic infection could have set in, if he was already in a weakened state. Can he open/close his mouth normally?

I honestly don't know if it is velvet/columnaris, many diseases can have similar symptoms. If it were me though, I would isolate him and treat with a fungal/anti-bacterial medication (no point in subjected the healthy fish to stress from the meds. unnecessarily, if what Norman has isn't contagious.) and I would also try feeding him anti-bacterial fish food, or if you can't find any, fish food containing garlic can help boost the immune system and improve his appetite if his jaw/throat isn't stopping him from eating.

I do hope Norman makes it!

Last edited by Beaches; 09-03-2011 at 12:27 AM.
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