Phoenix's 2nd Trip To The Vet (long Read)

  • #1
Yes, this is a long one! I honestly didn’t realize that I would be writing a short story when I first sat down to type this out but here it goes. First, here’s a little bit of background information.

I got Phoenix last August at a LFS. While in the cup at the store, I noticed his small size and contributed it to him being young. I also thought his rapid swimming in the cup was out of sheer excitement and hoping to get out, but this wasn’t the case. When I got him home and removed the lid off the cup, I noticed how thin he was and saw several uneaten pellets at the bottom of the cup so obviously he wasn't eating.

He was acclimated to a 10 gallon tank without any problems. It took a couple of days for him to eat, it seemed as though he didn’t know how to eat pellets, even very small ones, but eventually he got the hang of it. While in the 10 gallon tank, I could really see how odd he looked. He swam with a curved body and anytime he was in a resting position, he would lean. When he looked for food with his mouth to the gravel, the back portion of his body would flip over him. Thinking that the filter was too strong, I baffled it with a water bottle and that seemed to help at first.

Having had a VT Betta for five years without any issues (SIP Drake 2000-2005), I thought I had a pretty good handle on taking care of a Betta, until I learned about the nitrogen cycle from here. I cycled using prime and stability, which took a couple of months so now we are into October. No more than a week after cycling, I noticed a couple of small white spots on Phoenix’s body. I thought he probably had ICH so I did the heat method as directed and the two white spots went away. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, after completing the heat treatment, the white spots came back and his breathing became more rapid. I thought maybe I didn’t do something right with the heat treatment so now the ICH must be in his gills. I treated him with tetra lifeguard as directed and his breathing improved but the white spots remained. I also lost the cycle, due to having to remove the filter for treatment.

A couple of days later, I moved him to a five gallon and treated him with ICH medication. He did fine with the first dose, but the second dose almost killed him. He was lying on the bottom of the tank and at one point he stood up on his tail looking like he was going to fall over and die. I immediately removed him from the tank into a one gallon with fresh water where he improved. I thought enough of trying to figure this out on my own, so I called a local animal hospital and asked if they knew any vets in the area who see fish. I was given a number to a small and exotic animal clinic and thankfully they had a vet who saw fish. I was able to bring him in the next day.

The vet looked no more than 30 years old but seemed very knowledge and confident working with fish so I completely trusted him. He first mentioned how thin Phoenix looked and thought his spine looked curved. He also said that when this happens, they get concerned about kidney disease or failure.

He said Phoenix was around three months old.

The vet took a sample of one of the white spots and a sample from Phoenix’s ventral and analfin to make gram strains. After looking under the microscope at the grain stains, the vet explained that Phoenix had streptococcus and would need to be treated with erythromycin for two weeks. The vet also stated that Phoenix was most likely born with the infection.

During the two week treatment, I cycled the filter in another tank using TSS+ and shrimp pellets so it would be ready once the medication was completed.

After two weeks of erythromycin, the white spots were gone and Phoenix was swimming better too, until a couple of months later. In January, Phoenix wasn’t coming up to the front as quick as he used to and started hanging below the filter constantly swimming. It looked like he was using the current from the filter to stay upright while leaning on the side of the tank. He looked completely exhausted and was eating air bubbles from the filter nonstop. I moved him to a one gallon where he completely fell over on his side, he couldn’t keep himself upright. I then started treating him with Betta Revive. After three doses, he was back to his normal self so I only treated for one more day, as the instructions state 3-7 days.

I got Phoenix a four gallon long tank to keep the water level down but still provide enough swimming room. He did very well but looked like he wanted more width room so I got a six and a half gallon long. A few weeks later, now we are into March, he started leaning against the glass and swimming wobbly again. I could see he was using his pectoral fin to press against the glass for stability. He also was having to dive down hard to get to the bottom and he wanted to stay at the water line or on his Betta leaf, most of the time. It looked like something kept pulling him up to the water line. I should also mention that Phoenix never had a constipation problem but I had to watch him carefully as to not bloat him with food. I knew he should be eating more but when his abdomen got pudgy, I had to hold back on the amount, otherwise his swimming would even be more off.

I thought I would try Betta Revive again, since it worked so well the first time. Although he wasn’t as bad off this time, I expected to see more improvement than I did after three days of treatment. I have researched swim bladder disease more than I would like to admit but this time around I found a treatment option that I never knew existed; bladder venting. Granted all the videos I watched were performed on much larger fish than a Betta, mostly huge gold fish but I thought what the heck, I’ll give Phoenix’s vet a call and ask him if he feels comfortable doing this procedure. I expected him to say no but to my surprise he said yes and added that often times it over inflates again. I said I’m willing to give it a shot as I can’t keep medicating him every couple of months as this will eventually kill him. He agreed so I made an appointment for the next day. It’s important to note that this procedure should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian who has extensive experience working with fish, if not done properly, death could result.

The vet examined Phoenix and saw that the white spots were gone. Again, he mentioned how thin Phoenix looked and the way he swims in a curve. He also said Phoenix has one pectoral fin that he uses more often than the other. He thought this may be related to a deformity. I asked if the procedure would be painful and he said not any more painful than him having the white spot removed last time. He took Phoenix in the back, which seemed like an eternity, I was very worried.

Finally, the vet tech brought Phoenix back and he was swimming but the moment he stopped, he fell to the bottom of the cup like a rock, he looked paralyzed, my heart sank. Quickly, the vet tech took him back to the vet. The vet came in the room and said he would keep him in the back for a bit and watch him. The vet explained that upon examining Phoenix, he could feel that his swim bladder was distended so he went ahead and vented it.

The vet said that he removed more air than what should have been in there and in the process a small amount of fluid was also removed.

The gram stain of fluid from the swim bladder showed streptococcus. The vet also said this was not a reinfection but that the prior round of erythromycin didn’t get rid of it all, therefore, Phoenix would need another two week treatment. He said there’s a chance Phoenix’s swim bladder won’t refill if the infection caused scar tissue to one or both of the tubes connected to the swim bladder but he can still live a normal life with water level adjustments.

When the vet brought Phoenix back to the room, he was still laying on the bottom looking paralyzed. The vet didn’t seem too worried but I was and as I walked out to my car I started second guessing my decision.

Like the first visit, the vet only charged me 50 dollars for everything, which I think was very reasonable.

It was touch and go for a few days, he couldn’t stay up to swim and continued to drop to the bottom of the tank like a rock. I didn’t think he would make it but after a couple of days he looked stronger and starting swimming all over the tank. Fortunately, though this entire ordeal, Phoenix never lost his appetite. He got so strong that when I lifted the cover off his shallow-wide one gallon rubbermaid tank he jumped out onto the hardwood floor, I was devastated. I hurried and picked him up and placed him back into the container. He laid at the bottom with clamped fins and again I thought this would be last of him but after a couple of hours he was back to his usual swimming self. After that I started researching why fish jump out of tanks and one of the reasons given is that the water is too shallow so they will jump looking for deeper waters. That’s all I need to know so I got him a larger rubbermaid container, I really like these, the water level doesn’t have to be very high to get the same water volume as in a tank. He now has a hydro sponge filter and he’s not bothered by it at all.

It’s been over two weeks now that Phoenix finished his erythromycin treatment and he’s doing excellent. Swimming better than ever and none of that pulling up to the top. He’s able to stay upright in a stationary position, which is something he never was able to do without leaning over. He can also swim to the bottom without effort. I'm now able to feed him more and not once has he showed any signs of bloat since having the procedure. He's also gaining weight.

I’m very pleased with his progress and I think he will live a lot longer now.

I wanted to share my experience of having a Betta with chronic SBD. Maybe, just maybe, someone will find this information useful. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Phoenix today

  • #2
Wow - what a story!! That whole experience must have been so traumatic, both on Phoenix and on you!!! I am SOOOO glad that Phoenix is doing so much better now!!! What a handsome boy he is!!!

Thank goodness you were able to find a knowledgeable vet! It can be so difficult sometimes, to find an exotics vet for any "non-dog/cat" pet!! Sounds like you have a really good vet there!! Nice of him to keep the cost down too - that was a very reasonable fee for the treatment he did, IMO, based on my experiences w/ "exotics" vets! And thank goodness that Phoenix has a "mama" who would go the extra mile for him, and take him to a vet!!

Very heart-warming story, since it has all turned out well in the end! And I'm glad I saw this post - it reminds me that I need to look around my area & see if I can possibly find a fish-vet, while I'm waiting on my tank to cycle, so that I'll be prepared & will know where to go IF I should ever need a vet...(hopefully I won't need one, but ... )

Best wishes to both Phoenix & you!!!!
  • #3
I am so happy that Phoenix is feeling better! It must have been so scary for you and him throughout the whole ordeal. It is great knowing that there are such great fish parents out there
  • #4
Thank you for sharing Phoenix's story.
  • #5
Thank you for sharing Phoenix's story. What a luck little guy he is to have you in his life
  • #6
You have my utmost respect. I love that you stuck with him through thick and thin (no pun intended). I'm glad he has you. If it was any other fish keeper they probably would just let him die. Betta's have a special place in my heart because they got me into fish keeping. Kudos to you and Phoenix for holding on!!!

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