At a loss with an aquarium disease


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We've lost a large number of fish in two separate aquariums over the last week, and we haven't been able to identify the specific disease. Hoping someone here can help?

The issue started showing up after a recent water change, so my wife did another change, assuming there was something that came in through the pipes (although she changed water in several tanks that day, and only two tanks have been affected). She uses Prime to condition the water, and both tanks are heavily filtered. The filters were also cleaned and extra air added in an attempt to stop the deterioration of the fish. One tank had african cichlids, the other had baby bristlenose plecos and baby cory catfish. As of this morning, both tanks have been completely wiped out.

In the tank of babies, everyone died within a couple days, so very little time to observe. The cichlids held on longer, so I can describe them. The symptoms give the appearance of scales sticking out in random spots, however it looks more like the scales are flaking rather than actually sticking up. Its not dropsy -- there was no bloating at all. The fish had a loss in appetite and were hiding in the rocks. After adding a large air pump Sunday evening, they were starting to act normal yesterday -- most everyone was coming out looking for food and generally swimming around instead of hiding, however everyone in the tank had the symptoms. When I got up this morning, they were all dead. There were no visible sores or signs of fungus, the scale flakiness was the obvious signs, although a couple looked like they might have some fin rot? They also did not flash against the rocks, and I didn't see any parasites in the tank.

The other symptom was a very noticeable smell in the water, putrid sort of like when a new tank cycles? We ended up doing three water changes on the cichlid tank, and added an extra dosage of Prime, but it didn't seem to help.

I didn't get any pictures. I've been looking through google images, but I can't find anything that looks like what I saw. The description of columnaris sounds similar, but the pictures do not match our fish. So we're stuck. Obviously both tanks are going to get a complete scrub-down and given lots of time before we try re-stocking, but with 17 aquariums in the house its really important to identify this problem in case it shows up in another tank!
 
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Its a long time since I kept chiclids but it sound as if your water is bad especially if it was smelling like that , question did it smell slightly of sulfer or just bad .
First thing you need to get the survivors into somewhere safe with good water.
Next what happened , it may well be that heavy nitrates have got into your water supply somehow .
We see it here in the UK when the farmers muck spread and nitrates are washed in to the reservour then into our drinking supply going thropugh the whole system then out the taps and cause us koi keepers problems .
It may be something they have put into the water aluminium sulfate is used by water companies( we Know that here in the southwest when a tanker emptied its load in the wrong tank and poisoned the town of Camelford.
It may well be the wrong amount of chlorine/chloromines has somehow been released into the water did you keep a sample ?
Contact your local water authority and ask them to look into it which they should do free of charge

Dave.
 
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There are no survivors. Both tanks are completely wiped out.

We generally have very good water here. Our water treatment plant is one of the best. That said, there have been times when we think extra chlorine has been added, so my wife usually does a slightly higher dosage of Prime than normal. It was the concern for something being in the water that prompted the extra water changes, however there are two problems with this... Normally if something shows up in the water, it has cleared out by the next day. Also several other tanks received water changes the same days, and none of those tanks have shown any problems.

Honestly it seems like something that has gotten into one of the tanks and was spread to the other, but without any clue as to what we're dealing with, it makes it hard to guess how to treat if it shows up in another tank now. Both tanks also have live plants, so we can't just bleach them and kill everything. Also keep in mind these are both well-established tanks. Both have been running for at least 2 years. The baby tank was in good enough condition that the cory catfish were spawning (we're never seen them do that in any other tank) and some of the babies were a couple months old. The plecos of various ages have been in that tank up to 6 months, and some were large enough that we were getting ready to move them to other tanks. The previous inhabitants of that tank were moved to other aquariums and are doing fine. I'd say its been 2-3 months since any new baby plecos were added to that tank, and nobody new has been added to the cichlid tank since last year.
 
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Oh I'm so sorry to hear.

I'm wondering if you share any equipment between the two tanks, or if you use those with other tanks too. I'm just trying to see the link to just those two tanks here.
 
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Yes, the python used to drain/fill the tanks, nets and tweezers... there's plenty of sharing, but the same stuff gets used in other tanks as well. She usually works on several tanks at once when doing water changes. The only time we usually have to worry about disease is when we get new fish or plants, but I can only think of one tank that has gotten new fish in the past month, and that tank wasn't worked on the same day as these two tanks were cleaned.
 
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There are times in thhe UK when they do put extra chlorine into the system its normally at the times of greatest demand on their systems like when the kids come home from school, tea time at weekemds etc
Basically we try to do our changes prior too these peak demand areas of useage .
I doubt even if you got a microscope out and tested everything in your two tanks that your going to see anything in the way of a parasite I strongly believe it was the water having had to live with the problems our own compamy cant resolve or create .


Dave
 
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I have no idea what could have killed them.

Just wanted to say I'm sorry. It's hard enough to lose one fish let alone several.

Are you planning to restock these two tanks eventually?
 
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@bettas - oh we will definitely be restocking, my wife has already been asking what I think about different fish. It looks like we'll be doing another dwarf cichlid tank (we have a tank of german blue rams, she's thinking of going with kribs in the 115gal).

@Mmathis - it was a consideration, but highly unlikely. I bought a jug of prime that is over 5 gallons, and we use it to refill the smaller bottles. However all of those bottles get used between various tanks.

So, an update on this issue... We started losing giant danios in the S.American cichlid tank, and the clown loaches were looking pale. The test kit last night showed that the pH was so low it barely registered. My wife found some promising information however, under the phrase "slime coat peeling". When adding in symptoms that look like tail rot, she found what was referred to as old tank syndrome. Essentially what we are seeing is that the pH has dropped out the bottom and the kH is non-existent. Combined with our very high pH tap water (generally 8.4 and above), we think the water changes were actually exacerbating the problems in the other tanks, making for some wild pH swings each time we tried doing a water change.

Last night we pulled out some old coral to soak and clean up, and this morning I remembered the trick with baking soda. Our jack dempsy and firemouths were all hiding in the back, and some of the clowns are showing signs of the slimecoat peeling. I couldn't remember dosage, so I mixed a tablespoon of baking soda with tank water and poured it in (this tank is 120gal). Within a couple minutes there was a definite improvement in the tank -- all the cichlids came out swimming around and most of the clowns also got active. So that's promising at least...

Right now our goal is trying to keep everyone else alive and get the coral in the tank tonight. Hopefully we can manually keep the pH balanced until the coral brings the kH back up. And then we need to start checking the other tanks and see what's going on with them.
 
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My wife had a chance to check tank parameters again after work. Since sitting all day with the baking soda, the pH has come up to 6.0, and the kH is at 4 drops (around 71pm). We didn't have an initial reading on kH. Everybody in the tank is swimming around freely, their eyes have cleared up, and I no longer see any signs of the slime-coat flaking off... Definitely looks like we're on the right track here! The coral is going in shortly, and another 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda was added.
 
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One more update... This evening after work the pH tested at 6.8. It looks like the coral is doing it's thing already. I'll grab a kH test before the lights go off, but things are looking promising. The jack dempsey is still clamping his fins, but he's swimming around and eating, and nobody in the tank is showing any further signs of slime coat peel. Considering the nature of the problem, it is likely that we will start seeing this in other tanks as well, so I'm glad we finally figured out the problem. We have a pretty decent supply of this coral (it came with another tank but we've never done saltwater), so I can add and remove pieces to various tanks as needed to keep them properly balanced.

[EDIT] Ugh the battle's not over yet. Keeping a close eye on the fish, and this evening they started breathing heavy again. Did some water tests, and the ammonia skyrocketed. I guess the high pH did a number on the plants or algae or something. So we're in the process of doing a large water change now, and I'll buffer it with some more baking soda to keep it from starting another cycle.
 
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I'll keep my fingers cross for you. This remind me to do water test at my tank and pond!!
 
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Yeah its so easy to get complacent when the fish appear to be doing just fine month after month.

So this morning the pH is in the upper 7's, but the ammonia is down quite a bit. Still high, but much better. Ammonia was around 1.5 last night, and its about 0.5 today. We use biological filters on this tank, so I'm betting the previous problems also killed off the beneficial bacteria. We might have to keep doing water changes every few days until the ammonia comes back down and the filters start working again. The fish are very active today though, and nobody is clamping their fins now, so that's a plus.
 
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Do you have a substrate in these aquariums?
If so, what is it and how often is it cleaned?
Any planted areas that have never been cleaned, driftwood or other ornaments that have never been moved or cleaned under?

Old tank syndrome usually refers to a buildup of detritus in the substrate, or in the case of salt water aquariums, an additional buildup of heavy metals in coral skeletons and live rock.
The coral skeletons will stop contributing to your KH once the PH reaches 7.

Sorry for your losses. I have a lot of cory babies right now as well.
It would be heartbreaking to lose them.
 
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The substrate is white quartz sand (pool filter sand). She uses the python to clean up the sand at every water change, and a couple times a year she will get in there and move things around to clean up better under the logs and plants. We also have some golden dojo's in the tank who love digging through the sand, so it gets sifted around quite a bit.

Honestly if the pH stayed near 7.0 I'd be happy. Whatever happened in these tanks drove the pH way down which caused all the other problems. We're getting some crushed coral to put inside the filters for the different tanks, figure that will have more affect than just having the large lumps sitting in the bottom of the tanks.
 
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So I wanted to let everyone know that the aquarium is finally recovering. The ammonia had dropped to zero yesterday, nitrate/nitrite is pretty much zero, and the pH has been holding around 7.4. We lost the giant danios, but all of the larger fish have recovered and are doing great. Today we did another water change and added the crushed coral to one of the filters. Just have to keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn't crash again.

We also tore down and cleaned out the tank with the african cichlids. Found quite a few more bodies trapped under the rocks. The tank has been completely cleaned and we set it back up with part of the original lace rock, plus a really large chunk of driftwood and some plants. We're going to start over with kribenzas and several other fish that my wife has been looking at, who will also enjoy the rock caves. Its still really frustrating that we lost so many fish all at once, but now we know the signs and we can stop it when it starts to happen to other tanks.
 
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Much better... we managed to keep the 120 gallon fairly stable for a few days while it cycled, and it is running on its own again. The 115 and the 20 have also been cycled and we have a couple new fish in each to test if the tanks are safe again (because water tests don't always tell the whole story). So far so good, although we're seeing signs of distress in other tanks as well. This can't be a coincidence, the city must have changed something in their filtration, however we have plenty of crushed coral to go in the filters of all the tanks, so we're slowly adding to each when we clean the filters.
 

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