Constant High Ammonia Levels In Established Tank - Help!

marcybeth0281

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Hi there. Any help would be appreciated.

I have an established 46-gallon tank. Had it for over 2 years and have had all levels perfect after cycling initially. For the past 3 months I have had extreme problems with ammonia levels. It started 3 months ago when an otherwise healthy platy just died. I checked the levels and the ammonia was absurdly high. Ever since then, no matter how many water changes we do, what products we put in, how little we feed the fish.... the ammonia is out of control. Yesterday a bristlenose pleco and rasbora died. So I'm here. It's out of control.

Left in the tank: 1 pearl gourami, 2 bristlenose plecos (1 is on his death bed), 4 rasboras, 4 tetras, 4 hatchets.

Current readings:

Ammonia: 1.5ppm
Nitrate: 10-20ppm
Nitrite: 0ppm
PH: 7.2
Temp: 78 degrees


Last night we did a 40% water change because the ammonia level was up to 3ppm. The fish had a starve night the night before, so I fed them lightly and most all were eating fine. The plecos refused their wafers. But up to this point, all through the 3 months of hellious ammonia, all the fish were eating fine. No flashing, no jumping, no sense of discomfort AT ALL. It's so bizarre. My feeding pattern is as follows: I do a 3 day rotation, first night is some bloodworms and flake food, second night is just flake food and wafers for plecos, third night is starve night. Then I repeat. Every week the fish get 2 zuchinni circles. Since the ammonia spike began, I cut WAY back on the food to see if it was overfeeding, but the levels didn't change really. We have been doing weekly water changes of 40% (we were doing them more rapidly when the problem began....trying to rid the tank of the ammonia). The only chemical I use is stress coat to condition the water. I don't use carbon - just a sponge for biological filtration.

The ONLY thing that has been different the past 2 days is that I (reluctantly) bought some Ammo-lock to see if it would cure the problem, at least temporarily. I used it, the ammonia readings were no better.... I used it again, and still, no better. I'm at a loss. HELP!
 

KittyKat

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You should be doing 95% water changes, not 40. Use a dechlorinator which deals with ammonia. Do water changes twice per day until ammonia is well under 0.25 ppm.

What's your tap ammonia? Did you change anything? Remove plants? Change food? Is there a kid around who can feed the fish when you're not looking? Have you cleaned filters? Did you change or clean filter sponges in tap water?

For the moment, stop feeding veggies (they rot) and bloodworm. Feed only every other day with as much as the fish can completely finish in 30 seconds.

Ammo lock won't affect the readings if your kit tests NH[sub]3[/sub] and NH[sub]4[/sub][sup]+[/sup]. Keep using it because it will make ammonia less toxic for the fish.
 

SchottayB

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+1 Kitty. I'd do 90% water changes, as long as the fish have enough water to sit in for a while your good to go. Two a day should bring it straight down.
 
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marcybeth0281

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We *were* doing HUGE changes for the first month. We would change about 80% of the water every single day....but the ammonia level always spiked back up by the evening. After a full month of doing the water changes every day....which gets horribly tiring especially when I have a husband who hates dealing with the fish in the first place and has to haul the buckets back and forth for a half hour...it just wasn't helping. Nothing is working. I could try going back to the giant water changes, but we did them for a MONTH with no change. We've cleaned the sponges and the filter (always in fish water - not tap water. We've added no plants....all our decorations are plastic anyhow. We have no kids, so no foul play with feeding. And as far as the veggies, I always feed at night then take out any unused portion in the morning.

Our tap water has no ammonia. I checked. I swear I think I'm losing my mind.
 

Caprichoso

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Is it possible that the substrate was stirred up while doing the daily water changes and that it had some negative effect on the water? Does your tap water contain chloramine? This is a very frustrating thing, sorry for your fish loss.
 

AstonN24vantage

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Hi there. Any help would be appreciated.

I have an established 46-gallon tank. Had it for over 2 years and have had all levels perfect after cycling initially. For the past 3 months I have had extreme problems with ammonia levels. It started 3 months ago when an otherwise healthy platy just died. I checked the levels and the ammonia was absurdly high. Ever since then, no matter how many water changes we do, what products we put in, how little we feed the fish.... the ammonia is out of control. Yesterday a bristlenose pleco and rasbora died. So I'm here. It's out of control.

Left in the tank: 1 pearl gourami, 2 bristlenose plecos (1 is on his death bed), 4 rasboras, 4 tetras, 4 hatchets.

Current readings:

Ammonia: 1.5ppm
Nitrate: 10-20ppm
Nitrite: 0ppm
PH: 7.2
Temp: 78 degrees


Last night we did a 40% water change because the ammonia level was up to 3ppm. The fish had a starve night the night before, so I fed them lightly and most all were eating fine. The plecos refused their wafers. But up to this point, all through the 3 months of hellious ammonia, all the fish were eating fine. No flashing, no jumping, no sense of discomfort AT ALL. It's so bizarre. My feeding pattern is as follows: I do a 3 day rotation, first night is some bloodworms and flake food, second night is just flake food and wafers for plecos, third night is starve night. Then I repeat. Every week the fish get 2 zuchinni circles. Since the ammonia spike began, I cut WAY back on the food to see if it was overfeeding, but the levels didn't change really. We have been doing weekly water changes of 40% (we were doing them more rapidly when the problem began....trying to rid the tank of the ammonia). The only chemical I use is stress coat to condition the water. I don't use carbon - just a sponge for biological filtration.

The ONLY thing that has been different the past 2 days is that I (reluctantly) bought some Ammo-lock to see if it would cure the problem, at least temporarily. I used it, the ammonia readings were no better.... I used it again, and still, no better. I'm at a loss. HELP!
the intention of ammo lock is that it becomes a less harmful form of ammonia, and ammonia still shows up on tests. i would do bigger water changes
 

karin

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Wow. This is a strange one. I have had mini-cycles from filter failures before but the established tank should bounce back in a week or so.
What kind of test are you using to test the water? Could the test kit be expired? How high is the ammonia after a week of not changing any water? Seems like the fish should be dead, but they aren't. Could you take a sample of water to an lfs to get a second opinion? Are you sure there are no hidden dead fish?

I don't know where you are or how your set up is but a python water changer will save your backs and make water changes very easy. You could also get some zeolite or other synthetic material for your filter to help process ammonia. It isn't ideal but you have a mysterious problem that sometimes needs drastic measures.

Just thoughts. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.
 

KittyKat

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Do look into draining and filling the tank with a hose from the tap, it's not worth the pain, doing it all by hand, for larger tanks.

Do get a second opinion about the test results, using a different liquid kit.

Do try adding some undemanding plants, they will help with the ammonia; try Amazon swords, Hygrophilas, Java moss and fern, Cabomba, Crypts..
 
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marcybeth0281

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Is it possible that the substrate was stirred up while doing the daily water changes and that it had some negative effect on the water? Does your tap water contain chloramine? This is a very frustrating thing, sorry for your fish loss.


Absolutely.... I thought of this. We have sand substrate, so I try to every couple of water changes stir it up so no gases get built up. So it's doubtful....but definitely a possible explanation.
 
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marcybeth0281

marcybeth0281

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I'm going to buy another test kit today. This one is about a year old. It is very possibly my high ammonia levels are not legit. We did a giant 90% water change last night and the kit is currently showing no ammonia. The one sick pleco looks a little better today....although his eye is hazy and I think it may have burned out. *sigh* Maybe it will actually clear up the tank this time. Thanks for all your help....
 
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marcybeth0281

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Okay, I am back. *sigh*

Went and bought a new kit after reading through the responses. Did a 95% water change that night and got the level down below .25ppm. By the next night it was back to .50ppm. Repeated this process for the next 7 days with the same results every day. I stopped feeding the fish altogether for the first 3 days and then fed the tiniest bit of flakes every other day after that. No veggies and no bloodworms.

After a full week of 95% water changes, I gave in and bought some Amquel to see if I could at least neutralize some of the fish's discomfort (I normally try to avoid all the gimmick-type treatments and fix it biologically). The next morning, my pleco was dead. It was almost as if the Amquel killed him....he had no distress prior to my adding it. SO..... I did a 95% water change to try and save the remaining pleco, and have maintained these water changes (every other day now) with the same results. This ammonia problem WILL NOT go away. And again, this was a completely established tank that had no ammonia problems for about 2 years. Literally nothing changed when the ammonia started creeping in. We've always been understocked, and I do NOT feed the fish too much - if anything, I'm too conservative.

*sigh* I just don't know what to do. My big pleco is still hanging in there (but not eating - I tried a wafer a few times and put zucchini in last night and he wouldn't touch it) and all the other fish seem to be doing fine. All eating, playing in bubbles, acting normally. Is it possible it could be some sort of decoration giving a false read or something? I have a few resin decorations and all plastic plants. Could it be the sand substrate? I've never changed it since the tank has been set up. Back when the tank was behaving normally, I'd sift it around every month or so to make sure no gases were developing....but I've never done a full change of the whole substrate. I'm at a loss. Is there anything I can do?
 

KittyKat

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What is your tap ammonia? What is your filter? Do you clean the filter often? In old aquarium water? What is your pH now?

Call your water supplier and find out if they changed anything recently, do they use chloramine or chlorine?

There is nothing gimmicky about dechlorinators which deal with ammonia, I recommend Prime and Stress Coat.. I've heard mixed things about AmQuel.

It shouldn't be the substrate. Did you add any new decorations recently?
 
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marcybeth0281

marcybeth0281

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What is your tap ammonia? What is your filter? Do you clean the filter often? In old aquarium water? What is your pH now?

Call your water supplier and find out if they changed anything recently, do they use chloramine or chlorine?

There is nothing gimmicky about dechlorinators which deal with ammonia, I recommend Prime and Stress Coat.. I've heard mixed things about AmQuel.

It shouldn't be the substrate. Did you add any new decorations recently?


The tap ammonia is 0ppm. Nothing has changed - the water company is the same. I do use stress coat with every water change. I meant an extra ammonia detoxifier when I said I normally don't utilize those.

No new decorations. I never clean the filter in tap water (we have an AquaClear 70 for our 46 gallon tank). Every month I squeeze the sponge and get the nasty gunk out, but it's always in the fish water, not tap. I'm literally stumped. If not for the two plecos dying, I would be convinced it was a false read because all the other fish are so happy and normal.

(Oh, and the pH is hovering between 6.5 and 7.0 lately because of so many water changes....we have slightly acidic tap water.... normally the pH is around 7.2)

I'm losing my mind. The last remaining pleco is hanging on. Made it through the day again. Still no interest in eating though.
 

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