Discus Health

 

Discus Health Advise

Discus like any other living being can become sick and unwell. So here we look at the most common illnesses that can upset our discus. How to make them better, and what first aid kit we can put together just in the advent that anything does goes wrong. Very often I get asked by worried discus keepers what medicines I would recommend keeping in, just in case their discus becomes ill and sick. So I have listed some medications to make up a home made discus first aid kit. Firstly as long as discus are fed the correct diet, given plenty of water changes, have plenty of oxygen to keep ORP levels up, they should normally be healthy. ORP stands for Oxidation-Reduction Potential. In some parts of the world, it is also known as Redox Potential. In practical terms, it is a measurement to oxidize contaminants. It’s as simple as that and is also Mother Nature working at her best. To explain simply, when the river levels in the wild drop at the end of the rainy season, so do the oxygen levels in the water. Suddenly masses of discus and other fish are caught in much smaller pools of water or river systems. Mother Nature kicks in with a disease to thin out the weakest, oldest or sick fish or else every fish in the trapped pool of water will die. Thus, ensuring only the strongest survive. Mother Nature is cruel, but sometimes, these measures are necessary to ensure the survival of the species. This is what happens in the home aquarium, and remember a glass tank is a small trapped pool of water. So now we see how in a closed trapped system like a fish tank, how parasites and disease can build up and claim our treasured discus, or any other fish for that matter to disease. They would not normally see this in the wild. This is why disease is controlled in the natural environment. So plenty of good water management is essential for trouble free discus keeping. I have said it before, but skimp on this, and your discus WILL let you know, believe me. But what do you do when something does go wrong? What can you do, and how do you decide which disease your discus has picked? I will go through the most common problems your discus can occur. In ALL cases I always recommend doing as large a water change as you can get away with. This is because doing a water change will do two things to help. Firstly it will remove, or reduce the number of parasites, bacteria or pest etc, and also it will raise the ORP which will help greatly.  In all cases make sure you have plenty of air stones in the water to help keep ORP up as high as possible. Because adding any medication to the water, will reduce oxygen.  Because bacteria will ‘stick’ to the side’s of the aquarium, it is a good idea to clean, and wipe the inside of the tank to remove, or reduce this problem even if the glass looks clean.
First one on the list is:

Rapid Breathing (Poisoning or trematoes)

One side breathing of the gills. Possible diagnoses could be 1st, ammonia or nitrate poisoning. So first thing first, grab your test kits and test the water before pouring lots of chemicals in the tank. If water parimeters are not correct, address water quality and keep up good water management. If water quality proves to be right, it must be gill flukes (proprietary ectoparasite). This can be treated with a number of treatments and the newest one on the market that will do the job and has been recently passed by the new VMD laws is, wormer plus. This internal parasite wormer will also kill fluke’s.  It is best to carry out a 35% water change, and dose with the wormer plus. Then on day four redose again to kill the newly young hatching parasites that could have come from the eggs that were not killed with the first dose of treatment. This product can be also used as a monthly “pick me up” and is a very useful booster for successful, trouble free discus keeping. Thus keeping your treasured discus free of parasites and intestinal worms, if treating once a month. Wormer plus is also much friendlier on your filter systems. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  wormer plus or Sterazin (made by waterlife)

Head Stanading(Nitrite poisoning)

Discus stands head up looking at the surface, and in some cases breathing heavy. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 50% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  •  In most cases this is Nitrite poisoning. Address water quality.
  • Add salt to water to help distress.

Flicking (Scratching and flashing, clamped fins)

Discus flicks and scatches on rocks, bogwood or sides of tank etc. This is normally ectoparasitic infestation (protozoan or skin fluke) reddened areas on skin and sometimes rapid breathing.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  wormer plus or Sterazin (made by waterlife)

Loss Of Balance (Nitrite poisoning)

Discus leans over and leans agaist rocks, wood or side of tank etc, and in some cases breathing heavy. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 50% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  •  In most cases this is Nitrite poisoning. Address water quality.
  • Add salt to water to help distress.

Swollen Abdomen or Eyes (Bacterial infection)

Swoolen abdomen, protruding eyes (pop eye) usually due to bacterial infection.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  interpet number nine anti internal bacteria.
  • Add salt.

Fin Rot and Tail Rot (Bacterial infection)

Fins or tails normally disappear exposing the bony rays. Improve water management.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  interpet number nine anti internal bacteria.
  • Add salt.

Leeches(Piscisola geometra)

Discus is restless, and rubbing against rocks, wood etc. Worm like leeches can be seen clinging to the side of the body. These pest can measure 30mm (1.2in) long.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of wormer plus.
  • Add salt.

Lice (Argulus sp.)

Rare to infect discus. Signs of infection are dics shaped brown parasites that can be seen to the naked eye (8-12mm long /  0.3-0.5in). Usally come in from live foods, but do not live long in tropical waters.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Feed man made safe foods.
  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Threat with salt.
  • Treat with a course of  interpet number nine anti internal bacteria.

Skin Ulcer (Bacterial infection)

White erosive sores appear on skin, reddened skin areas and fins, stops feeding. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  interpet number nine anti internal bacteria.
  • Add salt.

HOLE IN THE HEAD (Flagellate parasite infection)
Normally caused by bad water conditions, or nutritional deficiency. Small holes appear, then get bigger with puss coming out. The puss sometimes ‘wiggles’ around to give to impression of worms.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with aquatic salt.
  • Treat with a course of water life Octozin.

Velvet (Oodinium pillularis)

Velvet disease is not normally a popular problematic parasite in a discus tank. This is a very small parasite, and looks like small white spots, or very fine dusting of white powder over the body of the fish, and one of the reason’s discus can turn black. Velvet is normally only a problem for two reasons. Ammonia being present or the pest being introduced by a new discus or any other new fish placed in the tank that is carrying the parasite. The second way of carrying the disease is quite straight forward. A newly infected fish can introduce the parasite to the existing residents trapped in the closed system (tank / aquarium) and attack the other fish already present. This is why it is so essential to make sure you are buying your new fish from a reputable dealer that quarantines stock properly. You will know who these are, because they are still here and been around for a good amount of time. Many have been and gone, and for a reason. The best way to treat this problem is either use the medication already used for the gill flukes (new…wormer plus), or  protozin (made by waterlife).
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with a course of  wormer plus or protozin (made by waterlife)

White Stringy Faeces

(White looking string hanging out of the vent, sometimes ‘jelly’ like) 
This is very popular  disease, and very often gets confused with it being worms. This is an intestinal parasite, and can turn bacterial in extreme cases. This problem needs to be addressed quickly if the discus is to recover. Once taken a hold, it is very difficult (or in some cases, impossible) to get a discus back to full health after being attacked by such a parasite. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with aquatic salt.
  • Treat with a course of water life Octozin or eSHa Hexamita.

Cloudy Eye (White cloudy covering eye)

Bacterial problem easily cured by improving large water changes,  sometimes eyes will ‘pop’ out at same time.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with aquatic salt.
  • Treat with a course of interpet number nine (anti internal bacteria).

Bacteria (Discus turned black)

Bacteria is the most other threatening pest to our discus. Discus can suffer terribly with this problem, and nine times out of ten it is this pest that has upset our discus. In our first aid kit, we have a another secret……. salt. Bacteria does not like it. But if you add this to your discus tank it will increase hardness to (soft water), so it has to be added carefully. Discus seem to thrive with water changing conditions anyway, so a adding a SMALL amount of salt can help. Plus if used with interpet number nine , this will wipe out a bacterial infection better if used the same time as the salt. Nine times out of ten, this alone will correct a bacterial situation, and bring back your discus to full colour if they have turned black.
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 35% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Treat with aquatic salt.
  • Treat with a course of interpet number nine (anti internal bacteria).

Discus Plague

(Discus are covered in white like ‘cotton wool’ turn black, look emaciated, go off feeding & lay on their sides)
I have never believed in the discus plague, but named it as this here because most discus keepers still call it this, and know what I mean by calling it so. What it actually is, is a very bad nasty bacterial and parasite infection. In most case’s it is near impossible to cure, but always worth a try to save treasured discus. Another problem is any discus that servive the ‘plague’ are normally carryiers of the desease. So these servers can never be mixed with new discus, or the whole thing starts all over again. This is why some discus breeders, cull a whole fish house, strip everything down, deep clean, and re-set up and start again. The desease can also travel trough the air from tank to tank, even if any hands, nets etc have been moved from tank to tank. 
PLAN OF ACTION

  • Carry out a 50% water change wiping down all the sides of the aquarium.
  • Make sure you have plenty of air stones in the tank.
  • Treat with a full dose of octozin and a full dose of interpet number nine anti inernal bacteria.
  • On days two and three treat with half a dose of both treatments again.
  • On day four add a full dose of both treatments again.
  • On day five carry out a 50% water change and add ammo lock because by this time your filter system may well be knocked out, and add salt to the water.
  • Carry out a 50% water change, and replace with half a dose of salt evey day until any serviving discus are better.

Worms & Worming

Many in the trade still believe today that it is not  necessary to worm discus, which of course  is their opinion and that is fine. This is what makes keeping discus very interesting. That a lot of hobbyist and retailers alike have different opinions, and the most confusing thing for new comers to this part of the hobby is, many are right and work while some do not. The biggest argument I hear often is, ‘discus are not wormed in the wild, so why do we need to worm them in captivity?’ My point is this. We try and keep fish in a small glass box, this ‘home’ is much smaller than they are used to in the wild. So is it any wonder that they can become stressed, get sick and parasites build up in a ‘closed’ system? Water changes are not as constant as the flow of the mighty Amazon, to reduce and move on these pests, and then these can build up in a ‘glass box’ taking over any weak, or low ranking discus at the bottom of the pecking order.  But much has changed in the under standing of ‘correct’ worming for your discus certainly in the last year instead of the old fashioned way of doing it with dog tablets, which has been proven to be very dangerous to aquatic life and some manufactures have said some worming treatments can be toxic to aquatic life. Although many older fish fanciers still adopt this method of worming discus, and take a chance and risk it. But with so many suitable products on the market it must be safer to use the proper preparatory medicine than risk an over dose. Then lose your fish and put them through hardship and make them suffer. To explain dog and cat wormer tablets is administered according to the weight of the animal, and there is a big difference between an Alsatian dog and a discus. I think it very irresponsible for people these days to still adopt this practise of worming when there are proper safe aquatic alternatives available. Laws changed in November 2007 on the use of many medications including aquatic fish wormers. Until then apart from some unlicensed wormers, keepers were using some meds used for much larger animals. Many did not even know that discus or other fish could in fact be wormed or indeed could suffer with them.

It is recommended to worm your discus every month to help keep background parasites and pest down to controllable levels. So how do discus contract worms and where do they come from? Every discus carries its own complement of worms. When not stressed or its immune system is not compromised this is not a problem. But if a fish is picked on or bullied, this is when your king of the aquarium could get stressed and suffers with an outbreak off intestinal worms. So to an extent they can’t be avoided, which is why I dose my discus every month just to be sure. Plus the wormer I use will kill parasites and some other pests also, giving them a good mot treatment. I have to be honest and say I never ever suffer with worms in my fish and this regime could be why. Also cancelling out the if its not broken why fix it saying. My way is prevention is better than cure, but like I’ve already said everybody has there own way and this is just my way of keeping on top of it. The benefits greatly out way the disadvantages. Meaning if you don’t worm your discus and lets be honest not everybody does, but how many of those people has had a discus, just one stay quiet in the corner. Go thin and emaciated and eventually die? And discus that go too far and look paper-thin normally cannot be brought back I have always found. The famous pinched in look above the eyes is a sure sign of a sick or dying discus, but the fish is still feeding? This is a sure sign of intestinal worms could be within. Suddenly the words if it’s not broken etc is now haunting the poor dead or suffering discus. At the end of the day these animals are at our Mercy and we have to be responsible and owe it to them if we take them in to take the best care of them, and the best way we can. I fully agree with Andrew Soh who I have met many times in Singapore, and here in the UK. He has the saying ‘that prevention is better than cure, trying to cure discus and make them better is a night mare’. With the experience I have had in the business, I 100% fully agree with him.  For a few pounds, is it worth taking a chance? It still amazes me that people spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds on expensive discus, and will not spend an average of £1.20p a month to help keep these creatures in good condition.

Many other good treatments are available in liquid types and powder forms. The method of treatment I use is wormer plus. Because I find it does what it says on the tin, so to speak and also kill’s ring worm, where some others, do not. It is a soluble powder that dissolves in the tank water but does make the water look cloudy for a day or two. Being suspended in the water the discus has no choice but to get treated and any worms in the fish will come out to try and get away from the treatment. But obviously they can’t and they die in the tank. I prefer this method to get the job done because you can also use this with any other chemical, it does not harm the bacterial filter and will not harm any plants or any other fish, even stingrays, puffer fish, and one week old baby fish fry. Which is useful, as you have to be very careful what you use with them. Wormer Plus is a Flubendazole based medication effective for use against gill flukes, body flukes and intestinal helminths. Wormer Plus can be used at any temperature and will not harm plants or other tropical fish. Worming my discus every month this way I have never seen a single worm in my tanks, I have used this for years and it has never done my fish any harm. Cats, dogs, horses, pigs, even chickens & pigeons are wormed regularly, so why not protect your treasured fish for a small price once a month? This will ensure that parasites, and pests are kept down to safe numbers. So as the old saying goes………the early bird catches the worms.

Dashing Discus (Swimming fast into the sides, or jumping out of the tank)

Now and then discus can turn into exercet missiles, dashing and darting in an erratic, skittish, jumpy manner. All water tests prove fine and there seems to be no reason why they have become so unsettled. So I am given some room in this book to look at this commonly growing problem, what might have caused it, and how to correct the problem if you are unlucky to experience it. This is a growing problem that seems to turn up from time to time for discus keepers. It often leaves the discus hobbyist desperate to do something to help his/her beloved fishy friend. It doesn’t seem to matter where the discus come from, whether it is Germany, Asia or English bred. Or where the discus has been purchased from here in this country, it seems to affect any discus, in any situation, at any time. But it can be controlled or stopped with some forward planning and basic maintenance in some cases. It all starts with the discus feeding and swimming normally, and going about normal day to day business. Then with no reason just one of the discus will dart across the aquarium, bashing into the side of the aquarium. Many have been killed out right by the blow, and some badly bruised and concussed. The strange thing is that it does not affect every discus, just one or two. This is very distressing for the discus keeper and the first thing most hobbyists do is to quite rightly test the water to see if any problems with water quality are evident. When all tests prove to be fine, this is the point the discus keeper switches to panic mode, and contacts every discus dealer they know or can find for help to solve the problem. But one thing is certain. Many times discus keepers have just changed plenty of water when confronted with this problem and it has stopped this alone brings us to the conclusion that it is connected with something in the water. In all cases, carry out large water changes when ever the problem arises causing unsettled discus will help greatly confirming this theory. This alone seems to stop the discus dashing around the tank for a while. Don’t be put off keeping discus because of this, it is not that common. But from time to time this is something from all over the country I hear now and again. So because this has never as far as I know been covered before, I feel it is well worth looking at now. We will need to go through this stage as a process of elimination to get to the route of the problem as it could be a number of reasons.  Some say it could even be a parasite, and I will cover this after we go through the main common causes first.

STEP ONE: If your discus are dashing around and hurting themselves as discussed already, the first thing to do is a FULL water test. Number one on my list in order of commonly found results is:- Ammonia, this is the most common cause of this problem and once addressed everything usually returns to normal. To explain ammonia burns the gills of the discus and the first thing the discus does is to want to get out of the water. Hence the dashing around and trying to jump out of the tank. to get away from the burning sensation. It is also worth investigating why you have Ammonia present, and why your filtration system is not coping with the load.

STEP TWO: Test for Nitrite, this can also have the same effect on the discus. If you have high readings, do large water change to address the situation?

STEP THREE: Check all electrical equipment. Even if you can’t feel any electricity in the water, that does not mean it is not present. Even low voltage in the water can make some discus go crazy. I found this out a few years ago when I had a cut on my finger. It was only when I placed this finger into the water did I feel a sharp pain from the electric present in the water. I checked all the heaters, in case any glass casings were damaged. All was fine. As soon as I placed my hand with the cut into the sump filter, I felt a large tingle from the water. This was where the clue was. My main water pump was the only electrical component in the filter, so I turned off the power to the pump. Hand back in, no tingle!! The answer was the resin around the motor in the main pump had broken down and low voltage was getting into the water. The discus was picking this up through there sensitive lateral line that picks up electrical signals in the water. Apart from some were finding it less comfortable than others. After a new water pump was fitted, no more problems and the discus settled down again.

STEP FOUR: Check the water surface. Is any oily looking substance floating on the top? It has been known for furniture polish to get into the water when some one has been doing the house work. Wax is used a lot in a lot of sprays and when sprayed onto a fish tank lid from the air pressure in the can, millions of small particles are forced into the air and can easily get under the aquarium lid and into the water. This can also cause havoc with aquatic life and cause many related problems.

STEP FIVE: If all the other steps have been covered and addressed if need be, and you still have a problem. It is rare, but it may be possible that the discus has a parasite that is causing this behaviour. If this is the case heat treatment is the answer. First of all do large water change and adjust the temperature up to 92f . Make sure you have plenty of aeration in the water, remember high temperature = low oxygen levels. Maintain the high temperature for five days making sure you still maintain the large water changes. After the five days have elapsed,  turn down the temperature to 86f/30c as normal. This normally cures the problem as the parasite will not tolerate the high temperature and should be killed off.

I hope not many of you will need this advice, but if you do, go through the steps covered and by the time you have reached step five, you should have solved the problem. If you are one of the unlucky ones to get a dashing discus. Restrict it in a floating net or floating net box as soon as possible to stop it stressing and hurting any other tank mates, and of course from damaging itself.

TEN TOP TIPS
1) Make sure your bacteria in your filtration system are working efficiently. Many fish hobbyist wash out the filter media as recommended maintenance by the manufactures of the filter system. Doing this you will loose millions of beneficial bacteria in the sponges and media which places the tank into new tank syndrome without the hobbyist even being aware of it!!

2) Check all electrical equipment on a regular basis, the more often, the better. Is the glass around the heater damaged, cracked or showing signs of condensation on the inside of the glass?

3) Earthing probes are a good investment if using sump filters to ground any leaking voltage from faulty water pumps or even heater stats.

4) Regular water changes will help to stop dashing discus in the first place, stop your water changes and your discus will let you know and go down hill, fast.

5) Regular water testing at least once a week is recommended, and adjust any water parameters that are not at the measurements required for discus keeping.

6) Large nets or floating net tanks are ideal for this kind of holding facility to stop any dashing discus from hurting themselves, until the problem is corrected.

7) Bright light may possibly make discus jumpy. So while you have this problem, subdued lighting is preferred until things return to normal.

8) Keep this article close at hand with a floating net tank. You may never need it, but if this problem arises, you will be glad you were ready.

9) Always make sure you have all the main test kits and make sure any liquid test are in date.

10) Use aquarium salt in the water if this problem occurs. It will help to stop any infection setting in to any damaged discus that may have cut or damaged themselves.

I have covered just a few of the pest that can make our discus sick. If things go wrong my suggested first aid kit to keep on stand by is:-

Discus First Aid Kit.

  • Interpet number nine, anti internal bacteria
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Wormer plus
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Waterlife protozin and sterazin.
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Aquarium Salt or cooking salt (not table salt) and treat at one heaped table spoonful, per ten gallons of aquarium water.
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • eSHa Hexamita
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Octozin
  • If you keep your discus at 86f / 30c, parasites do no like these high temperatures and will be less likely of being a problem.
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Remember, high temperatures, low oxygen readings. Make sure you have plenty of air stones working in a discus tank!!
  • Good water quality goes a long way to ensure trouble free discus keeping in the first place.
  • Good water changes, minimum 25% a week.
  • Keep ORP levels above 300. Unless a discus’s immune system is really low, you should not have any sick or unwell discus.

Did you get the hint on the water changing?
This alone will help avoid heartache and problems with discus.

Chris Ingham

Author of Discus World, the complete up to date manual for the discus keeper.