Fish Gasping At The Top - 0(?) Ammonia/nitrites

Discussion in 'Freshwater Fish Disease' started by Joe Z, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. Joe Z

    Joe ZNew MemberMember

    First post here, been lurking for awhile. My issue: Besides high ammonia or nitrites, what else can cause the fish to gather toward the top and gasp?

    This happened to me last night. I noticed a couple of snails made their way out as well. I immediately did a 50% water change, and the behavior stopped right away. The snails made their way back in.

    Ammonia is zero, Nitrites are 0 or 0.25ppm (I just can't tell on the API color chart), Nitrates were high at 40-80ppm (again, test chart colors are too close for me.)

    The only thing I can think is that this is a lightly planted tank and the day before I accidentally dosed a capful of Seachem Nitrogen, thinking it was the Prime bottle, as I was doing a 25% water change. (They're the same size.) I never use the N, it's just been sitting there. So the nitrates were high but not off the charts.

    Is there something else that can cause this behavior? Are 80ppm high nitrates enough to send the fish gasping? I didn't think nitrates actually caused this particular behavior. I'm worried there might be something else lurking I didn't think of.

    Thanks for the advice!!!

    38-gallon freshwater tank - I took over from a friend a couple years ago
    Stocking: 15+ platys (from the original 6 ugh), 2 mollys, 6 tetras, 2 6" balas (yes working on finding them a new home), 1 dwarf plecco and 2 cory cats. 6 nerite snails. I had 2 Gouramis I have lost over the course of the year.
    Filtration: Big canister filter (Aquatop CF for up to 120 gal) + sponge filter
    Planted as best I can

    Attached Files:

  2. AWheeler

    AWheelerWell Known MemberMember

    The water being too hot and high nitrates can do it as well :)
    Anything over 20-40 in nitrates isn't very good. I try to aim for 20 or lower.

    Welcome to Fishlore.
  3. OP
    Joe Z

    Joe ZNew MemberMember

    Water is 77. Yeah I am assuming the N fertilizer capful (oops) sent my nitrates thru the roof.
  4. AWheeler

    AWheelerWell Known MemberMember

    Are they all better now with the water changes that you already did?
  5. jdhef

    jdhefModeratorModerator Member

    Welcome to FishLore!

    It can be caused by a lack of oxygen in the water. Do you have an air pump with a bubbler? Are you getting good surface agitation?
  6. AvalancheDave

    AvalancheDaveWell Known MemberMember

  7. OP
    Joe Z

    Joe ZNew MemberMember

    Did a 50% change last night and a 25% this afternoon. Everyone is acting normal now... Nitrates are now between 5-20 (I don't know what kind of color perception you need to read these charts, but, I don't have it. 10 and 20 look exactly the same to me.)

    jdhef, now that you mention it, yes, I forgot! I have a sponge filter run on a bubbler. And it was off last night, because I was trying to give the plants a chance to grow better and I'd been told the bubbler off-gasses CO2. So I was going to try awhile without. Everyone in the planted tank forums talks about how you don't need a bubbler etc etc, and that it doesn't really change the oxygen level in the water. My canister filter spray bar outputs a lot of force anyway, which keeps the water rippling but not breaking on top, so I thought I'd be fine.

    So I dunno, I guess I will keep the sponge filter/bubbler on from now on. The plants will have to deal it. :)
  8. Chaory

    ChaoryValued MemberMember

    Place the test tube etc and chart onto bright lighting to see the colors better.
  9. OP
    Joe Z

    Joe ZNew MemberMember

    Hey Avalanche, I thought someone would catch that :) But I did follow up with Prime immediately on that water change, I caught my mistake.

    I justt use Flourish Excel once a week, and alternate weekly with Flourish and Flourish Trace. I do 20% water change weekly.
    I've single-bag Purigen in the filter (in lieu of any carbon), and the bio media is Matrix.

    Chaory: thanks for the tip, I think I need to just find a friend who isn't so red-green colorblind to read these for me.

    So, it started again. I had just tested a couple hours before and got Ammonia 0 / Nitrites 0 / Nitrates 10ish. In the meantime, I'd forgotten to take the bubbler off the timer. It probably turned off at like, 8pm. By 11pm, they were at the top looking like they were trying to eat with nothing up there.

    I turned the bubbler back on and ripped out the timer, and they didn't stop so I did a 30% water change. Most have stopped but a couple are still up to it.

    I notice it's only the livebearers, and not the tetras or balas. They don't look like they are desperate or stressed, like, sortof casually at the top with their mouths up their the surface. Is this gasping behavior?

    Anyway I've got the lots of bubbles in the tank now and my spray bar going above the surface too. Hopefully that'll solve it... :-/
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2017
  10. Arwen

    ArwenNew MemberMember

    Hey Joe thanks for posting in Fishlore, are water conditioners added prior to topping up/what's the ph value? As they have some instant effects over the livestock.

    In the earlier post, nitrogen was introduced - that may have affected the dissolved oxygen in the water competing with live stock that may resulted in the surface activity - I maybe wrong too
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  11. AvalancheDave

    AvalancheDaveWell Known MemberMember

    I don't think it was the Seachem Nitrogen. If you have detectable nitrates you probably don't ever need to use it.

    One possibility is O2 depletion at night when lights are off. This easily ruled out if the surface breathing ever occurred during the day.

    I'd want to test pH and/or kH.

    Flourish Excel can cause this but I would expect it to happen after dosing it.

    I would stop using Excel and any other glutaraldehyde product. It's highly toxic to fish and even low dosages can cause all kinds of strange symptoms in your fish.
  12. Mom2some

    Mom2someWell Known MemberMember

    I have had gasping at the surface twice in the last year.
    Time 1: pH crash caused (it eventually turned out) by low kH levels. My pH dropped from 7.6 to 6.8 when I caught it by seeing them all gasping at the surface.
    Time 2: Random nitrites spike last weekend, where the fish were revived by water changes every 12 hours x 3 total.
    Since you are testing 0 for nitrites, I would say check your pH. Also - if water changes are improving things.. keep up with them! Sorry - it is SO frustrating when you an't figure it out (never did figure out what caused my nitrite spike despite a wealth of fishlore brain power on the problem).
  13. DutchMutch

    DutchMutchNew MemberMember

    Reading from the first OP
    Corydoras need at least a school of six
    nitrates I would lower down to 10-20ppm rather than 40ppm, go regular 50 percent water changes weekly if you didn't do that already. Nitrite if it was .25ppm try to get 0ppm I know the tests are difficult to read lol. Try to fix that stocking though, also lower your temp to a steady 75 degrees according to the fish you have in your tank. Do you know your gKH and gGH?

    I would like to point out though that this isn't true. metricide and excel use glutaraldehyde and It isn't "poisonous or toxic" to fish. If you pour a unrecommend amount you are going to get bad results then. I don't personally use excel anymore since it provides false carbon basically, but I used to.
    Flourish excel and fish? - The Planted Tank Forum
    If you add to much.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 12, 2017
  14. Arwen

    ArwenNew MemberMember

    I'm sorry may have read off wrongly of the nitrogen supplement as a bacteria boost solution for filtration kick start. Yup have to agree it can be quite frustrating trying to figure out what's going on with the water parameters.

    The feeling that we get when we finally discover the cause can be overwhelming. Had similar experience with gasping was of water conditioner efficiency during water change.

    Another was of addition of live bacteria booster according to dosage as it depletes the dissolved oxygen. For me filtration stability plays an essential part & it's so good reading from everyone's perspective.
  15. AvalancheDave

    AvalancheDaveWell Known MemberMember

    Glutaraldehyde is used in industry as a biocide so it's literally a poison to everything from viruses to mammals. It's one of the chemicals injected during fracking to control growth of microorganisms. It's used in pulp processing to control growth of microorganisms. It's used in hospitals to sanitize things such as endoscopes. It's been studied several times as a candidate toxin to poison any hitchhiking aquatic organisms (plankton, algae, seaweed, invertebrates, and fish) in the ballast water of ships.

    There's probably a dosage low enough that no fish in any aquarium will be killed or injured. That dosage is almost certainly well below the recommended dosage. People using the recommended dosage or less have had fish in respiratory distress and even mass deaths.

    It's not possible to predict when glutaraldehyde will kill fish. All that's known is that it's more toxic at higher temperatures and in environments with fewer microorganisms and organic compounds. Sulfur compounds similar to dechlorinators are used to neutralize glutaraldehyde so some tanks with residual dechlorinator may be getting what's effectively a lower dose.
  16. OP
    Joe Z

    Joe ZNew MemberMember

    Thanks everyone for all the valuable information to consider. I'd been doing 40-50% water changes daily since first posting, but haven't done a change in the past 4 days.

    pH is 8.0 now (same as tap). Used to be closer to 7.6.
    GH is 120, kH 80
    Ammonia, Nitrite 0 and Nitrate 10-20
    Temp 77

    It's also true that this was only happening at night after the lights had gone low. They're getting lots of bubbling and surface agitation now and I haven't seen the behavior again (since the 2nd time.)

    @DutchMutch Re temp, I had picked 77 as a midpoint between the temps I read for the fish I had stocked. Is there an overall benefit to going lower?
    @AvalanceDave I'll def consider the info you provided on Excel and look more closely at that.