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Tropheus Disease, Health and Nutrition Discussion of Tropheus diseases, general health, nutrition and water conditions.

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Old 05-01-2013
kitana
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Default A step toward understanding Bloat

Beware, this post will be LONG LONG LONG!

Last month, on March 23rd, I received a group of 28 WC Tropheus Kasanga. They were imported a few months ago and had already received praziquantel and metronidazole treatments.

Being my first Tropheus, I was terribly afraid of bloat and it happened nonetheless. I lost 7 fish, mostly females, and I am still battling it, but as a veterinarian I chose to first do some diagnostics on my fish instead of treating them blindly. I figured that I could post the diagnostic techniques, process and results on here if it could help someone. The following descriptions could be a little graphic for some people so you are warned.

What I did can be done by anybody, not just veterinarians, and I am under the belief that it should be done. As a society we are facing an astronomic rise in antimicrobial resistance in bacterias that affect both us and our animals, and overuse/misuse of antibiotics is at the core of this problem. What you need to diagnose correctly a problem is a regular veterinarian with access to a microscope, vials of formaline and a good fish pathologist. Nothing more. It doesnít cost a lot of money compared to loosing a whole colony to either Bloat or the toxicity of blind treatments.

The first thing to understand is that fish decompose extremely fast. A dead fish isnít worth analyzing. An almost dead fish, on the other hand, is a perfect specimen for analysis. A dying fish can be euthanized humanely by soaking in a eugenol (clove oil) solution. Its belly then has to be opened to expose the internal organs and put into formaline, about a cup for a 3-4 inch Tropheus. The veterinarian can provide you with formaline, then you return the specimen to them to be sent to a pathologist to have a microscopic necropsy, called histopathology, done on the fish.

Another diagnostic technique that is easy to do is the direct examination of fresh feces (poop), and a direct smear of the digestive system. To do the latter, you have to press the intestines against a microscope slide, put a cover slide on and have a vet look at it. The feces examination is done by mixing the poop with saline and looking at it the same way. The vet will be looking for Spironucleus (Hexamita), eggs of intestinal worms and in the case of the intestine smear, granulomas corresponding to either Mycobacteriosis or Cryptobia can be seen. Someone skilled with a microscope could do it at home too.

My fish didnít have Cryptobia, Spironucleosis nor Mycobacteriosis so I sent three fish to a fish pathologists last Friday. Today I received the results : severe necrotizing bacterial enteritis with gram negative rod bacterias and one nematode was seen as well. I know this sounds like chinese, but it means that my fish are fighting a bacterial infection so severe that the guts die and decompose while they are still alive. Not Spironucleosis like we often hear about, but a bacterial infection. Take note that it could have been any of the three diseases I mentionned, and maybe what is affecting my fish isnít what affects others because the symptoms of these diseases are absolutely similar and impossible to distinguish ante-mortem, hence the interest in having a necropsy done.

The last thing that can be done is a bacterial culture and antibiogram. It means that the bacterias can be isolated, cultivated and submitted to every available antibiotic to see which one works the best. I had sent a frozen specimen of fish intestines that was being cultured, and the results helped me decide which antibiotic to use.

My 21 remaining fish are now treated with a combination of antibiotics both in the water and in the food (for those that donít despise the taste of antibiotics !). Three are extremely thin and do not eat so I expect to loose them. I isolated them and Iím treating them with antibiotic injections, but if the guts are already necrotizing, I wonít be able to save them.

The reason behind the bacterial infection is pure conjecture, but by talking with veterinarians specializing in fish and exotic animals, I built up a theory (which is just a theory and can be proven wrong !). Herbivorous animals do not directly digest their food : they use a population of commensal bacterias that live someplace in their gut and do the digestion for them. These bacterias are in a fragile equilibrium with pathogenic bacterias, and anything that upsets this balance can cause dysbiosis, which means that the good bacterias die, the bad bacterias proliferate and the animal dies, usually bloated after a course of anorexia and weight loss. Be they rabbits, cavies or cows, and I think Tropheus and some Malawi Mbunas, the symptoms of dysbiosis are essentially the same.

Dysbiosis can be provocked easily by feeding a large amount of novel food, even if the food is 100% herbivorous. Iíve seen rabbits die after Halloween, they ate pumpkin and bloated. Pumpkin is good for rabbits, but like any vegetable it has to be served in a small amount everyday, not a suddenly huge amount. So it is wise when buying Tropheus to continue feeding them the food they are used to for a few weeks, at least.

Dysbiosis can also be provocked by fasting. The good bacterias die off, leaving the space for bad bacterias that attack the gut. It is customary to fast fish before shipping to reduce the amount of ammonia in the shipping bag. However, ammonia is released in the water by respiration, through the gills, and comes from normal catabolism so even a fasted fish will produce ammonia. There are potent and harmless ammonia removers that can be used in the shipping water. I really question the necessity of fasting for herbivorous fishÖ

Finally dysbiosis can also happen spontaneously following a stress. Stress in any form can weaken the immune system of an animal, allowing the bad bacterias to take over. For a fish, shipping is immensely stressful and it all starts when the seller is catching them. Catching fish in water as shallow as possible, using two nets or even a towel and removing all the rocks should be a given. Keeping the shipping water warm is very important as well, and any heating device/bag/whatever should be test-drived for 24-48 hours before shipping fish (that is packing bags of aquarium water without fish, but in the exact same way, in an insulated container with the heating bags and measuring the temperature after 24-48 hours).

In my case, the water was very cold (18C-64F)when they arrived, the seller forgot to send me their food, there was a DOA with two very weak fish in the same bag, and my tank underwent a nitrite spike a few days after getting the fish. I guess it was bound to happen, but at least now I feel better equiped to deal with the trouble at hand and I hope I wonít loose too many moreÖ
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  #2  
Old 05-01-2013
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Wow!!! I appreciate this thread. A lot of knowledge here. Thanks for sharing your expertise.
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Old 05-01-2013
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Thank you!!!!!
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Old 05-01-2013
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Great stuff! Thanks for contributing
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Old 05-01-2013
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I agree that this is very good information about bloat. And a conformation on the importance of keeping stress to a minimum!
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Old 05-01-2013
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You are one Awesome and dedicated trophs lover!
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Old 05-02-2013
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Very nice article. Imma bookmark this post for future reference.....
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Old 05-02-2013
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very informative thanks
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Old 05-02-2013
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Thanks for this very illuminating post! I would be interested in knowing which antibiotics you're using.
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Old 05-02-2013
kitana
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Thanks for your comments, if it can help someone with such a problem it was worth writing it!

I was expecting the question about which antibiotic I used, and I won't answer it. The reason I won't answer it is because it is not relevant at all. The bacteria that affects my fish is a Pseudomonas, which has a huge variation in sensitivity to antibiotics so whatever I used might not work in another infection, and it also has zoonotic potential meaning I could catch it as well. You don't want to use the wrong antibiotic with Pseudomonas, especially since you risk catching it and having a very very hard time getting rid of it if you misused antibiotics with your fish and created a super-resistant bacteria. The whole point of my post is to show that testing is doable, affordable (less than 200$ was spent for diagnostics, much less costly than continuing loosing fish would have been and much, much less costly than having the disease start affecting other fish in my other tank because I often forget to wash hands between tanks...) and really really Worth it.
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