The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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An axolotl is a water dwelling amphibian also called the “walking fish” or the “Mexican walking fish.” As might be evident from its nicknames, its characteristic feature is its tendency to walk along the bottom of its watery home.
Some people like to keep axolotls as pets. They are interesting additions to tanks, they are low maintenance, and they are easy to care for and durable, making them good pets.
But sometimes axolotl owners may notice that their pets are not walking at all, but rather floating on the surface of the tank. This should be cause for concern, since axolotls do not like to float and should not do it often.
There are several reasons why this might occur, and some of them are detailed below. Some of them have to do with the axolotl’s behavior itself, and some of them have to do with its environment.
Of course, if none of these methods work, you may consider consulting an expert in tanks or even a veterinarian who specializes in marine animals.
Why Is Floating Bad for an Axolotl?
Aside from the fact that one of their characteristic and interesting behaviors is walking around on the bottom of the tank, some owners might question why floating is cause for concern.
Axolotls do not like to float because they prefer dark environments without a great deal of activity. If they are forced to float for a prolonged period of time, they may become stressed, which can cause further health problems.
In the wild, walking on the bottom of a body of water is an adaptive survival mechanism since it protects them from predators closer to the surface, especially birds.
Consider the strict requirements it would take to keep an axolotl healthy in an outdoor pond replicating its natural habitat.
Also, because floating is unnatural for axolotls, it is often a sign that something is wrong, either with the animal itself or with its environment. It is very important to treat the causes of floating.
These are some of the most common reasons why an axolotl might float and what to do about them. At the end of this article, there are specific steps listed to help determine which of these causes might be the culprit in a floating axolotl.
Of course, when it comes to living things, straightforward answers can be elusive. It is never a bad idea to consult a veterinarian or an expert.
1 – They Have Gas or Bloating
That’s right, just the same as people, axolotls can have digestive issues, including gas and bloating, and it is normal for them to occasionally experience these symptoms. There are a few different causes of gas and bloating in axolotls.
The axolotl may have swallowed some air bubbles while eating, especially if they ate rather quickly. They actually enjoy eating air bubbles since it is healthy for their gills, though it does not always result in floating.
If the axolotl is floating because they have swallowed air bubbles, they will be floating with their backs on the surface of the water rather than in an inverted position. Owners can try scaring their axolotls to get them to swim back down to the bottom, which they will be able to do if air bubbles are the cause of floating.
Similarly, the axolotl may have eaten too many food pellets that absorbed too much water. To prevent this from happening, soak the food pellets prior to feeding in the tank and be careful not to overfeed.
In order to prevent the causes of floating above, owners must be diligent about their pets’ diet. Axolotls should be fed just enough food, not too much, at the right intervals.
Lastly, there might be a non-food reason for gas issues in an axolotl, such as improperly balanced water (the presence of too much ammonia, which is a more dangerous cause for floating, is discussed below).
In addition, changes in water temperature can cause bloating and floating in an axolotl, which is another important reason to closely monitor the water quality in its tank.
2 – They Have Eaten Something and Their Systems Are Impacted
Impaction happens when the axolotl eats something that is too large for their systems to digest and that they cannot pass out of their bodies. This is a different, more serious cause of floating in axolotls.
Axolotls are prone to eat just about anything that they can fit in their mouths, so this is more common than one might expect.
As a responsible axolotl owner, prevention of impaction is key as it can be fatal. The most common cause of impaction is rocks or gravel; therefore, axolotl owners should use sand or very fine gravel or large rocks (too large to be eaten, about the size of the axolotl’s head) to line the bottom of the tank.
If the axolotl becomes impacted, it can be treated at home by cooling the axolotl’s environment. Amphibians such as axolotls are cold-blooded, so refrigerating them seriously lowers their body temperatures, which allows them either to pass the stone or regurgitate it.
Refrigerating is a delicate process involving the axolotl’s container, the temperature of the fridge, and the amount of time that the axolotl needs to be refrigerated. It is best conducted under the supervision of an expert.
3 – The Water in the Tank Contains Too Much Ammonia
Ingesting ammonia through the water in their tank can cause axolotls to float. This is also an easy cause to diagnose and fix, so if a pet parent sees their axolotl floating, one of the first steps to determine the cause is to test the water.
Anyone who owns a tank for fish, axolotls, or any other animals should always keep testing strips on hand.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for testing the water, which usually involves taking a small sample of the water and inserting a strip into it. The instructions should clearly explain how to detect high ammonia results.
The best way to lower the ammonia rate in your tank is a 50% water change. You will need to remove about half of the water in your tank, prepare an equal amount of new water (using whatever method you typically use to prepare water), and add it into the aquarium.
There are other methods for lowering ammonia, but since it is so dangerous for water pets, the 50% water change might be the best method to assure a quick fix.
Remember that new water needs to be adjusted very closely to the temperature of the water already in the tank; amphibians such as the axolotl and other fish are cold-blooded, and even a small sudden change in temperature can be very dangerous for them.
Prevention is the best method for this cause of floating axolotls as well. Regularly test your aquarium water and consult professionals if your water is frequently needing adjustments, especially for ammonia, which can be deadly for fish and other animals.
What to Do if an Axolotl Is Floating
While the descriptions of the causes of floating above might be informative and helpful, they may also be alarming. Responsible pet owners who care about their animals might assume the worst, but taking the following steps in this order can help owners properly treat the problem.
- Observe the axolotl: note whether the axolotl is floating upside down or right side up, how long they are floating, and whether they are floating frequently during a certain span of time.
- Try to scare the axolotl: if they are floating because of air bubbles especially, they will swim right back to the bottom when they are scared. If their systems are impacted, there is too much ammonia, or another more serious reason, they may not be able to do so.
- Test the water for ammonia: it is probably a good idea to test the water even if the axolotl can swim to the bottom. Too much ammonia is very dangerous for axolotls and most tank animals so it is better safe than sorry.
- Don’t feed the axolotl for a few days: if the cause has to do with its diet or feeding, allowing its digestive system time to empty out and reset can be helpful. A couple days without food will not cause long-term damage to an axolotl.
- Gradually reduce the temperature of the water, but be cautious about doing so if there are other animals living in the aquarium. Make sure that the temperature stays within a safe range for them.
- Try refrigeration; again, it is recommended that refrigeration be done under the supervision of a professional.
- Consult a veterinarian or tank professional: many owners will do this before they refrigerate their pets, but especially if refrigeration does not work, it is time to consult an expert.
Pet owners should also contact a veterinarian or other expert if they notice their axolotls floating frequently. Floating should be a rare occurrence and even if these home remedies work, frequent floating could be a sign of a bigger issue.”
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