Discussion about MelaFix and bettas

  • #1
A little bit ago, someone claimed that the Melafix/betta issue just wasn't true, and posted a link to a site "proving" that Melafix didn't hurt bettas. This site was a thread that was really just a mirror of our own Melafix/betta thread; it was saying that Melafix was absolutely not harmful to bettas at all.

Granted, this someone was just trying to cause problems, but it still got me thinking, and I've been looking at our threads on Melafix, as well as searching other forums and the internet in general, and I think that, in the interest of accuracy and maximizing our options of keeping our fish healthy, this should be better discussed.

Doing a simple Google search ("betta Melafix") I found two things:
Several separate accounts of bettas dying in very similar manners when exposed to a full dose of Melafix,
Several separate accounts of people using Melafix with no problem.

The fact that there are repeated accounts of bettas dying in very similar manners (which echo accounts that members have told us over the past couple of years) suggests that there is something to the idea that Melafix can kill our bettas. Correlation does not equal causality, but it sure is a good indicator. It is possible that all of these bettas (most of which were suffering from fin rot when they were treated) died in a similar manner for some other reason, but I don't think it's very likely.

The fact that there are repeated accounts of bettas not dying when exposed to Melafix shows that there is some factor that determines whether or not exposure is fatal. This may be an allergy that is almost (but not quite) species-wide (similar to poison ivy in humans. Some humans simply don't react to the oil). It may be some other additive (particular dechlorinators, for example). Or it may be concentration.

I am inclined to believe it is concentration. Here's why:
Many of the bettas who died went through a full regimen of Melafix before they started showing extreme symptoms.
On the other hand, many of the bettas who didn't die were given smaller doses (including doses of the product Bettafix... I'll get to that in a moment).
Again, correlation does not equal causality, but it's a pretty strong pattern.

On to Bettafix. This is another reason that I'm inclined to believe that Melafix is the problem. API created a product that is nothing more than a watered-down version of Melafix, and I've got to think that it's because they've seen the link between Melafix OD and dying bettas. With the watered-down version, even if a consumer accidentally ups the dose by 50%, the betta is still getting less than a full does of the melaleuca (tea tree oil, the active ingredient). Thus, aquarists are less likely to kill their bettas with an accidental Bettafix OD than they are with an accidental Melafix OD.

We know that Melafix has the potential to be helpful to certain issues in bettas, but also has the potential to be harmful. Those two statements leave it about on par with every other medication in the world. So the issue is to narrow down the advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, we run into the same problem we often run into; scientists aren't terribly interested in testing the efficacy of various aquarium-keeping methods unless they directly relate to a more marketable science (or maybe it's that the grant-issuers aren't interested in funding said tests), and aquarists aren't interested in risking their charges' lives to test these things.

Thus, we end up where we often end up; things being a matter of personal choice. Several members have said that they have used Bettafix with no ill effects and will continue to use Bettafix. Other members (myself included, though I am now questioning this) are loathe to use something based on melaleuca with any of their labyrinth fish (note that I haven't heard anyone say that they have had a gourami die of Melafix OD, so the labyrinth organ link may not be entirely true... please, if you have info on this, share. I'd like confirmations or denials here).

It is definitely important that people be warned about the potential effects of Melafix on bettas (and maybe other labyrinth fish), but I plan on keeping a more open mind to the possibility of diluted melaleuca (preferably in the form of Bettafix) as a treatment. It will be on the bottom of the list, with salt, but it's still there. We have, in the past, had members in situations where they had a fish with rapidly-progressing infections and no readily available source of medications beyond what they had in the house. If such a member has a bottle of Bettafix or Melafix, it would be worthwhile to at least consider the possibility of using one of these products to treat the infection, with a warning that the instructions must be followed on the former and the latter must be used in much smaller doses.

Thank you for reading, and again, I want this to be a discussion. In the past, discussions have been very one-sided, largely due to a lack of information. I want people to share both successes and failures with these products. If you've had other labyrinth fish die from them, I want to know that, too. It's discussion and a continually evolving knowledge base that makes Fishlore among the best (if not the best) aquarium community on the web. Let's keep it growing.
  • #2
I had read the same think regarding Melafix (cajeput oil) a couple of years ago in treating Dwarf Gouramis, in Tropical Fish Hobbyist and in (Fishlore archives). Most people were recomending no more than 50% strength (and having success), as full strength inteferes with the respiratory organ behind the gill cavity and the fish suffocates as it was explained, which is what happened to my DG's when treating with Melafix and Primafix, and I used full strength (recomended dosage). I have only had to treat DG's three times since this episode, I dilute the Melafix to approximately 25% when treating, and I make sure I have very good oxygenation in my Q/T and so far no fatality.
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  • #3
Excellent to know. So we have support that other labyrinth fish are affected similarly to bettas.
  • #4
Good thread SDS

I think this situation bears many similarities to treating with products containing copper - not the action of the medication, but the fact that a particular breed/kind of fish is sensitive to that medication for whatever reason. Sensitivity to copper among tetras and scaleless fish is documented on the packaging, but I found out the hard way (a long time ago) that a full-strength dose of copper-containing medication will very quickly kill harlequin rasboras and cherry barbs. Therefore, since other medications are available to treat the same ailments, which do NOT contain copper, I choose to use the 'safer' medications.

In the same way, as there are other medications available to treat my bettas and gouramis that do NOT contain tea tree oil, I will choose to use them instead, as the possibility of the treatment being worse than the affliction doesn't sit well with me.

That all said, when I first set up my 20 gallon (before I knew about the warnings) and ran into some troubles, I treated a betta (along with several other kinds of fish, but not gouramis) with full-strength Melafix and Pimafix at the same time, and saw no ill effects. I can't say why it worked in that instance, but that particular 'success' doesn't change my current decision.
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  • #5
I see the forum is having issues. There should be something stopping the multiple posts from happening.
  • #6
I think this can be a very interesting discussion!

That being said, I do believe that we can discuss it to the ends of the earth, and not come up with anything solid either for, or against the product. We would have to elminate every other possibility for fish distress to attribute a death to melafix. And as we all know, it can sometimes be nigh impossible to figure out what particular illness a fish has, or the cause of an unexpected death, especially without the assistance of a vet specializing in fish care. Now, if deaths or distress were occurring in every single instance, that would be a different thing. Even with similar symptoms manifesting in multiple fish, the only way we would have a definitive answer on a cause of death is through an autopsy.

Now do I believe there is a correlation? For sure. I'd say it's probably less a cause of death, and more a factor. I believe only lab research would be able to tell us exactly what is happening sometimes in these cases.

On that note, the best thing a fishkeeper can do is become informed of the risks that are possible. For me personally, I probably won't ever take the chance, until there has been some research to confirm that it is safe for my fish. I'd rather be safe than sorry.
  • #7
I see the forum is having issues. There should be something stopping the multiple posts from happening.

I tried to edit my post and it re-posted it; I deleted the first post and it deleted both; I pasted the text into a new reply and it re-posted it twice; I deleted the first of those and now there's only one. I'm not touching it again - hopefully it's done now!

  • #8
I tried to edit my post and it re-posted it; I deleted the first post and it deleted both; I pasted the text into a new reply and it re-posted it twice; I deleted the first of those and now there's only one. I'm not touching it again - hopefully it's done now!

Great thread. I'm thinking along with Haedra that it is more of a contributing factor to death, rather than the sole cause. Maybe the ones that were weaker to begin with succumbed more easily to the effects of the oil.
  • #9
Here is the link to the patent of tea tree oil TTO/Melaleuca alternifolia for use in treating aqautic animals (Melafix).

5 ml of commercial product per 40 L (approx 10 US Gallons) of tank water rcomended dosage. (1 US Teaspoon = 4.92ml) which is per the document.

Item 0076, specifically mentions Dwarf Gouramis (Colisa lalia) as subjects.

The only link (which I thought I bookmarked and cannot find) statd that concern with TTO (the emulsion of the oil in the aqaurium water) added to the water, is that it covers the labyrinth organ thus decreasing its' ability to perform. That fish already suffering the (not the begginings of disease) advanced or even mid-level infections fungal/bacterial infections cannot tolerate the loss of performance of this organ.
  • #10
this is a great first thread back

I've never treated but I've seen on a couple Betta breeding sites that a lot of breeders (some very experienced) that treat and deal with melafix with success, however I don't know the dosage that they're youring just that they've mentioned it.
  • #11
We see similar things with humans. Give two people with the same ailment the exact same medication and dosage, and their bodies can have vastly different reactions.

Some Betta's may have a higher tolerance for Melafix ... while others can't take it and it affects their labyrinth organ much more readily. ... I do agree with sirdarksol, in that there must be a reason API saw fit to make 'bettafix'. At the very least, they recognized Betta's need a different dosage.

I actually really like Melafix though ... but won't be using it (even at low dosage) on my Betta. If for no other reason than uncertainty.

I did treat a Red Wag Sword with it who had his tail nipped to near nothing while in a tank at Petsmart. He responded very well to a combination of Melafix, Vita-Chem, NovAqua+, and a higher protein diet. With my Betta Viking ... getting him out of the cup and into a heated/filtered 10 gallon of his own makes a huge difference. He's getting daily water changes ... in addition to the Vita-Chem, NovAqua+, and HikarI bloodworms, just as the sword received ... but no Melafix. If his finnage (not in terrible shape, but needs some repair) doesn't respond to this or begins to show signs of rot ... I have Macaryn Plus on standby for him.

Also of note ... even with my Sword, I DID NOT follow the bottles recommended instructions to dose for 7 days and then perform a 25% water change. With fin rot of course, pristine water is priority #1 ... and thus I performed daily water changes. And I also did it to avoid a potential build up. The WC's were 50% ... and I would then add a 1/2 dose of Melafix to correspond with removing half of the tanks 10 gallon volume. IF a Betta owner did follow the bottles instructions ... it could potentially be a 'build up' of the medication to very high concentrations (minus WC's and with repeated full doses), that ultimately had the adverse affect on the labyrinth organ.
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  • #12
My concern that this is more than just a factor is that there have been people who have used it to treat the beginning stages of fin rot (which doesn't really affect the fish until it reaches the base of the fins), and had a fish die of what appears to be slow suffocation. Sure, the fish was likely a bit weakened by the fin rot, but I don't think that would be enough to turn something from a minor issue to a fatal issue.

I do believe that overdose is the key. With bettas, we're dealing with a small amount of water, meaning that accidental overdose is much more likely. This is really no different from many other medications. Aspirin or Tylenol, for example. In moderate doses, they relieve pain and can even help the body heal. However, an overdose of the former can thin the blood to the point that the body has a problem maintaining proper blood pressure (not to mention bleeding issues) and an overdose of the latter wreaks havoc on the liver.

I am not suggesting that everyone use Melafix for their bettas. I never plan on using it with mine. I believe that it is important to use meds with a minimal negative impact on the patient, and I think that it's pretty obvious that this one has the potential for great negative impact. Conversely, maracyn is a pretty mild med, and can deal with many of the diseases we would use Melafix for with our bettas.
However, life has ways of throwing at us things that we don't plan for, and I think it's important to keep our options open, and our knowledge about those options as up-to-date as possible.
  • #13
..great thread, I have been wondering about the melafix 'taboo'. I was told this at my beginning betta knowledge. I have not used the medication for my betta. First, I'm not sure exactly what ailment would call for using Melafix. If its fin rot, there are many options available before the use of these meds.. 2nd, I would use all options before medications, as a rule.
The way these medications are dispensed is most confusing. Most have dosages amounts for anywhere from 10G to 50G, 1ml, to 5ml. I cap-full to half cap-full. Because of this, I would tend to believe that over-dosing is a main factor in the negative outcome. Of course the other is the anatomy issue of the labyrinth fish. I'm also wondering how well does this 'oil' mix in the tank water, does it linger at the top of the water for longer periods? I don't know..
Fortunately, there are alternatives available. But I have to add, I still would not use the melafix, even if the facts are unprovable. Still seems to risky..
  • #14
I used Melafix a lot when I was breeding... but only in the specific situation of fish torn badly during spawning. I was always kind of iffy about using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, didn't want to be breeding my own resistant bacterial strains! Also found that a liquid was easier to dose in small amounts than the pills or powders most antibiotics are sold as. So every breeder got some salt and stress coat, and the shredded ones got 1/2 dose of Melafix as well as a preventative. Unfortunately I never got around to doing any sort of comparison of healing time, incidence of fin rot, etc. in treated vs untreated fish (though I did never have a single fish get any sort of infection of fins or body after breeding, no matter how badly damaged), so I don't know if I was just being paranoid or if it was actually doing any good, but it definitely never caused any of my fish any harm at the amounts I used, on fish that were injured but otherwise healthy. I've never tried it to treat any sick fish... so can't comment on that, but for my very specific application it seemed to work out alright.
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  • #15
Thank you for chiming in, Pandora. I had hoped that you would see this, because I guessed that you would have had some experience.

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