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3 Common Causes of Cichlid Bloat

3 Common Causes of Cichlid Bloat

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This post is written to the author's best knowledge and is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. In addition, this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cichlids are fish that so many people love. There are various types of cichlids that you can buy for your fish tank.

No matter what type of cichlid it is that you own, you want to care for them to the best of your ability. This is why it’s disheartening when something goes wrong in the tank.

Does your cichlid appear to be bloated? What would cause this to happen?

Read on to learn everything that you need to know about cichlid bloat. This should help you to make the right choices to help your fish.

What Is Cichlid Bloat?

Bloating is actually a fairly common problem that many cichlids experience. There’s an illness known as Malawi bloat that impacts many types of African cichlids.

It specifically targets cichlids that originally come from East African lakes. This doesn’t mean that only African cichlids from those lakes can be impacted by bloating issues, though.

It’s also notable that other tropical fish that aren’t cichlids can experience this illness. This is a serious problem that you absolutely shouldn’t ignore.

When this bloating disease is left untreated, it’ll wind up killing the fish. You want to protect your cichlid and help it get better, and that means that taking action immediately is the best choice to make.

Understanding Malawi Bloat

Malawi bloat is a disease that impacts the digestive system of your fish. It winds up causing significant swelling that will be noticeable when observing the fish.

This condition will kill the fish after several days have passed. It is possible to treat the fish and keep it from dying, though.

When a fish gets Malawi bloat, you might notice that it will start acting strange. Often, cichlids will start hiding and they will stop coming out to eat.

This lack of appetite is something you should notice right away. Cichlids are normally very hungry fish that will happily eat when you go to feed them.

If you observe the fish, you’ll likely notice that it is pooping in unusual ways. Fish with Malawi bloat produce long stringy poop that is white.

You might even notice stringy white poop hanging from the fish. As the condition advances, you’ll begin to see the belly of the fish start to swell.

Sometimes the scales of the fish will begin to lift up when it has this illness. It’s also common to see red markings near the vent area of the fish.

Could the Fish Simply Be Constipated?

Yes, the fish could simply be constipated if it has a swollen belly. It’s common for fish that eat too much to become constipated.

Constipation is not a serious problem and you should be able to get the fish back to normal fast. Feeding the fish a boiled pea is often enough to get it to feel better.

This will make the fish poop a lot and is going to clear the constipation issue right up. Sometimes constipated fish will have swim bladder issues, and feeding the fish a boiled pea is the best way to alleviate things.

Malwai bloat is a more significant problem. If you notice the other symptoms mentioned above in tandem with the swollen belly, it’s more likely that you’re dealing with Malawi bloat.

What’s the Cause of the Malawi Bloat?

It’s thought that Malawi bloat occurs as a result of high numbers of protozoan parasites in the guts of fish. Protozoan parasites live inside of fish and don’t typically cause them harm.

Hexamita is a type of parasite that is more harmful that might cause this significant type of bloating. When the fish becomes infected with too many parasites, it’s going to begin to suffer.

Not everything is known about Malawi bloat at this time. Much of the information about the condition is anecdotal since not every aspect has been researched.

Some say that Malawi bloat can wind up causing a secondary bacterial infection. The parasitic infection is the main cause but a secondary bacterial infection can make things worse.

There are also people who believe that bacterial infections are the main cause of Malawi bloat. There isn’t enough verifiable information to say right now.

That being said, it is known that Malawi bloat doesn’t normally impact otherwise healthy fish. This is a condition that preys upon weak fish that have compromised immune systems.

Something is likely going wrong in the tank if your fish has Malawi bloat. Some of the situations below might be the cause of the bloating issue.

1 – Water Quality Issues

Water quality issues might be to blame for the bloating. Fish will become very stressed when they’re kept in fish tanks with poor water quality.

The water quality in the tank is of the utmost importance. You need to monitor the water parameters to keep everything in the right range.

Regularly test the water to ensure that the pH balance is where it needs to be. If it’s off, you can adjust things using chemicals to lower or raise the pH balance as necessary.

You also need to maintain the right water temperature. This should be simple enough so long as you’re using a high-quality heater in the tank.

Regular water changes are a part of keeping the water quality high. You should be changing the water weekly to prevent the tank from getting too dirty.

Ideally, you should do 15% water changes each week. You could get away with changing 25% of the water on a biweekly basis as well.

Do your best to keep the water quality high to protect your fish. If you do a great job taking care of the tank, it’s much less likely that your cichlids will have to deal with illnesses such as Malawi bloat.

2 – Dietary Problems

Dietary problems can cause the fish stress as well. This could be related to feeding the fish the wrong types of food or it could be that you’re not feeding the fish often enough.

You need to make sure that you’re feeding your cichlids recommended types of food. Each type of cichlid is going to have specific nutritional requirements.

It’s important to feed the fish a balanced diet that will give them all of the nutrients that they need. If you’re only feeding your fish one type of food, it could be lacking important nutrients.

You might need to look into the dietary requirements of the fish and change your approach to feeding it. Feeding the fish a better diet might help you to avoid issues such as Malawi bloat in the future.

Also, it’s bad to go too long without feeding your fish. Technically, cichlids can go seven to ten days without being fed.

However, it’s best to feed cichlids between three and four times per day. Depending on the type of cichlid you’re caring for, it might be best to feed the fish at specific intervals.

An average cichlid does well with four feeding sessions a day. You’re supposed to feed the fish as much as it can eat in 30 seconds each time.

Adjust the way that you’re feeding the fish if you know you’ve been making mistakes. You should be able to turn things around.

3 – Overcrowded Fish Tank

Another common cause of stress is overcrowding the fish tank. You should never try to put cichlids in a fish tank that is too crowded.

When you attempt to cram too many fish in one aquarium it’ll make things worse for all of the fish involved. Cichlids are semi-aggressive fish and they’re going to become territorial if they don’t have enough space.

Always make sure that all of the fish in the aquarium have more than enough space. Look into the recommended tank size for the cichlids that you purchase.

Even if you’re using a fish tank that is the right size, you still need to avoid overcrowding the tank. If you want to create a community fish tank, it’s best to buy an even larger tank.

This ensures that all of the fish are able to live comfortably. If you can’t do this, it’d be better to avoid making a community tank.

Fish tanks that are overly crowded will also be much harder to keep clean. This is a problem because dirty fish tanks are also known to cause the fish stress.

Be careful when setting up your fish tank. Plan things out properly and you’ll have a much better experience.

How to Treat the Fish

When your cichlid has developed Malawi bloat it’s going to be important to treat it fast. If you leave things alone the fish could wind up dying within days.

Malawi bloat is a treatable condition if you catch it fast enough. The first thing you should do is place the bloated fish in a quarantine tank.

If multiple fish appear to be sick, it might be better to treat the entire main tank. You can make that call based on how many fish are sick in the tank.

It’s recommended to test the water first to see if the parameters are right. You can then make the necessary adjustments to get things back to normal.

Next, you should do a water change. A 40% water change should be helpful in this situation.

With this done, you can start to treat the Malawi bloat issue with medication. The best medication to use is Metronidazole.

It’s a type of antibiotic that does a great job getting rid of bacterial and parasitic infections in fish. You can find this drug being sold under many names such as Octozin, Metroplex, and Flagyl.

All of these are essentially the same and will get the job done. The best way to administer the treatment is by adding it to the water directly through the water column.

You might see benefits from feeding your fish medicated food as well. It’s possible to soak food in Metronidazole and feed it to the fish once it starts wanting to eat again.

Some fish owners say that treating this issue with Epsom salt is helpful. It can help to decrease bloating in the digestive system.

You want to use one tablespoon of Epsom salt for every five gallons of water in the aquarium. It’s best to add the Epsom salt to the water gradually to avoid causing the fish to experience shock.

Do you remember that peas can help fish to clear up constipation? Feeding fish peas here can help them to get better faster.

Boil a pea and feed it to the fish after it has cooled. It’ll make the fish poop a lot and it should help to get rid of Malawi bloat faster.

With all of these treatment options, the Malawi bloat issues should clear up within a few days. Eventually, your fish will look better and it will have a normal appetite again.

Final Thoughts

Malawi bloat is a serious problem that could wind up killing your fish. It’s thought to be caused by protozoan parasites that live inside of the fish.

Some say it’s caused by a bacterial infection, though. As of now, the exact cause of the Malawi bloat is up in the air.

Regardless, it’s known that this is a serious condition that you can’t ignore. If you don’t treat Malawi bloat, it’ll wind up killing the fish within a few days.

Thankfully, this is a condition that can be treated. You can help the fish to get better by giving it medications such as Metronidazole.

It’s also helpful to treat the fish using Epsom salt to clear up the internal bloating. Giving the fish medicated food will be beneficial as well.

Some choose to feed their fish boiled peas to help as well. Just be sure to allow the peas to cool first.

Prevent your cichlids from getting Malawi bloat in the first place by ensuring that they don’t become stressed. This condition only impacts fish that are stressed and have developed compromised immune systems.

Be sure to feed your fish a good diet that will meet all of its nutritional needs. Avoid overcrowding the fish tank so the fish won’t be stressed due to a lack of space.

Take good care of the aquarium and keep the water as clean as possible. Monitor the water parameters closely and your fish will be more likely to thrive under your care.

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paul jednak

Monday 20th of November 2023

Jeff, good, concise information. Thank you. I have several Mbuna Esterae, one of which appears with a thick mid area, still eating, not hiding. The tail end appears to lift the fish toward the surface. The fish appears to make an effort to stay near the mid level of tank. May be constipation as it still appears to have appetite. Daily feed is Spirulina flake, with less frequent feeding of 41% protein, general cichlid flake. Fresh lettuce, greens offered regularly. I have witnessed small air bubble at fish vent area, it separated and rose to the surface. No other fish shows this symptom. Water parameters are without question, regular water changes. 75 gal, 20 fish, max size 3.0 inch.