Having a bit of trouble...


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Tank of the Month 🏆
Jun 15, 2009
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East Yorks
Hi I'm having a bit of trouble with my Mbuna tank and I'm getting a bit concerned that I don't understand fully what is going on.

Here are the tank stats

300 litre 4 foot tank, Fluval FX4, 300 watt Ehiem heater.

8 Msobo Magunga
6 Socolofi
5 Rusties

Ph 7.4, Hardness 15gh, temperature 24, ammonia 0, nitrite 0 nitrate 20-40ppm (testing with an API test kit) - I did water change on Monday this week but prior to that as explained below I had missed a few weeks so nitrates could have been higher before this one.

First fish were added in October 2023, next batch in December 2023 and then most recent group was mid March 2024. Batch 1 and 3 were from Wharf Aquatics (very reputable) and batch 2 was from Kevs Rifts (again very reputable).

I've lost a few fish over the 6 months I've owned them to aggression which is to be semi expected but a bit gutting - though this is not my issue at the moment.

Shortly after I got the third batch of fish due to work and personal stuff I couldnt get on top of my water changes and I went about a month (maybe a bit less) without a water change and I lost 2 fish, these were 2 of the smaller Socolofi, they bottom sat for a day before they died - though not clamped and not the worst bottom sitting if you see what I mean - they did move but often sat at the front of the tank against the glass rather than the tank.

After the second died (both in the same day) I did a big water change and clean out and the next day I saw one of my sub dominant male Msobos with a stringy white poo and looking quite bloated. He deteriorated quite quickly and died that night so I ordered some meds online which came the next day - I wanted an Esha one because I'd heard they are quite gentle so I got Esha NDx and added the dose last night - one drop per litre and it gave the calculation that 100 drops = 4.4ml. I used a syringe to add 12ml as I've heard you need to under dose Esha due to water displacement from rocks and sand etc. The instructions were add the medicine and then 24 hour later do a water change so I had one planned for tonight.

And this is where I'm a bit stuck

When I woke up this morning the tank looked empty and all the fish were hiding in the rocks (I mean it is what they do as rock fish but, they generally hang around the rocks and substrate rather than hide). I turned the light off and left them for the day and I've done a 50-60% water change tonight and left the light off.

The fish still look quite stressed but maybe a bit better 20-30 mins after the change.

Did I get the right medicine? Can anyone think of anything else to do?

I'm not sure what else to do...

Sorry you're going through this @Wills !

Deep breaths. I suspect you're beating yourself up for slacing on W/C's while your life was busy, so it's knocked your confidence a bit. You're an incedibly knowledgeable and talented hobbyist though, so please don't doubt yourself, or beat yourself up to much!

You know I have no experience with the species you keep. All I can offer is my own experience with those products.

I've got a lot of confidence in the eSHa products having used them in my tanks with different species, didn't have problems with shrimp, oros, plecos, cories, or the livebearers. I've used the eSHa NDX, GDEX, and 2000 without problems despite those species and shrimp being delicate.

The GDEX and NDEX treat worms, the 2000 is a more generic treatment supposedly treating a few things - the only 'problem' I had with it is that it's anti-bacterial too, so it knocked back the nitrifying bacteria somewhat, but it was only a mini-cycle easily handled by the heavily planted tank and some extra water changes, and I was prepared for that so easily rode out the mini-cycle, and the bacterial colonies were back to normal within less than a week. It also appeared to be effective for what I was treating the few times I've used it.

Personally it sounds like maybe the high nitrates had them stressed, and doing lots of large water changes and giving them some time to rest and recover as you're doing (because you do know what you're doing, please don't doubt yourself!) after you've W/C out the ndex since it seems they reacted badly to it was the right move.

Was it just one fish with the stringy poop? I'm wondering whether a few weeks of W/Cs to get those nitrates down before trying to treat for worms, especially if you've only seen one fish with white stringy poop would be best. Lower their general stress levels from the higher nitrates before putting them through the stress of medicating, you know?

My other concern is that the ndx only treats one kind of worms, gdex the other. I can't remember which way round right now, but one only treats roundworms, the other flatworms, so I used both (in stages, not at the same time) since I thought my fish likely had both types.
Do you have any carbon you can add to the filter to help remove the last of the medication, since they seem to have reacted poorly to it?
What are you feeding the fish?
Most Mbuna are vegetarian or primarily vegetarian and a large part of their diet should be plant based. If you give vegetarian fish too much meat based food, they regularly develop intestinal protozoan infections and need Metronidazole asap or they die.

Frozen bloodworm and beef heart & liver are regularly fed to cichlids and lots of Rift Lake cichlids should not eat these foods. No fish should be fed beef heart and liver because most fish don't digest mammal meat that well. Frozen bloodworms are an issue to lots of fishes and vegetarian cichlids are no exception.

You can feed Mbuna small amount of marine based meats like prawn, fish and squid, along with daphnia, mysis shrimp, mozzie larvae, brineshrimp, etc. They should also have algae to graze on and live plants to eat. Vege flakes or pellets can also be offered.

The following link has info on fish doing stringy white poop. Section 2 covers internal protozoan infections.


Nitrates don't cause stringy white poop or fish to sit on the bottom. High nitrates and dirty tanks can lead to hole in the head disease, which is caused by Hexamita. Big regular water changes, gravel cleaning the substrate when you do water changes, and cleaning the filter at least once a month should prevent hole in the head disease.
Ah man, this is a deflating read ☹️ I wish I knew more about them to be able to help...we can research for a million years but still only truly learn when we have them in a glass box at home.

My only advice is to get back on top of those water changes 😬 keep us updated!
Mbuna can be hard to keep when things go wrong, because they hide, especially when they're weak. So it's easy to miss early stages. They're so prone to intestinal infections. They can be the toughest fish on the world, but they have that Achilles heel.

I don't know those meds in my country. But I was treated with antibiotics for resistant pneumonia, and I think the med that saved my life made me feel sicker for a couple of days. Antibiotics can be hardcore, and maybe you made the right choice, but you are seeing that?

I would stay the course and see how they do. Once you start it, you probably should finish it.

The biggest issue I had when my mbuna got sick was observing them.

March 2024 is pretty recent. It's still in the "quarantine zone" period where you discover you bought more than fish. Something could well have been percolating in the most recent arrivals, and could have spread. I always figure 6 to 8 weeks are the danger period. It may have nothing to do with how you keep the fish, or how things went when things got busy. That really limits what you can do about it. You researched the med, and are doing what is generally suggested for the situation. There's always an element of luck with invisible disease.
For information, the med Wills use, eSHa-ndx treats round worms and contains levamisole hydrochloride.

The other eSHa meds that Adora mentioned -
eSHa gdex for flat worms and flukes; contains praziquantel
eSHa 2000 "fungus, finrot and bacteria treatment" contains ethylacridine lactate, proflavine hemisulphate and copper sulphate.

Wills' calculation is correct. The tank is a 300 litre tank. The dose for 300 litres water is 300 drops or 13.2 ml. Wills used 12 ml which is the amount to use for 272 litres which allows for decor etc.
To add(?) to what's already been said, my thoughts were...

If I had a belly full of worms and they suddenly died, I think I would feel a bit 'off' aswell. They'll still need to poop them out before they rot, to feel better, I guess. That may explain the sudden hiding...or the wierd taste / smell of the water. I don't use Esha so can't really comment further on that.

I was also wondering what you're feeding them to cause the bloat. And that nitrates of 20-40 are too high for cichlids generally, and asking for trouble at some point.
Wish I could offer some help, Wills, but I don't know meds that well, and I don't know rift lake cichlids either. I suspect Gary is right and you had some hitchhikers come in with your new batch of fish. You're getting some good advice, and it sounds like you were already on the right track. It is so disheartening when things aren't going well. Hang in there.
Hi all thanks for all the help few things mentioned I've already ruled out so just to share here

The food I use is all Mbuna specific one, all plant based and spirulina etc. Very conscious of Malawi Bloat with these guys so really avoided anything like that.

For the nitrate situation I appreciate it is an issue but those that know my tanks know my tap water is quite high in nitrate I have a large peace lily in the tank which is definitely starting to contribute but could be a few more months until it is fully on top of everything I want to add more here too but need to find the right plants as I want to avoid pothos and vining plants as it wont suit the set up, but thats a longer term goal.

The fish are generally doing much better today, through the day the whole group has become less skitish and when we had dinner tonight (the tank is in the dining room) they were pretty much back to normal. Just the one sub dominant male Msobo Magunga that I'm worried about, swimming around slightly clamped and generally staying near the sand at the front of the tank. Its an interesting dynamic between this group so I'm not ruling him just being stressed and a bit toughed up after the bloated male died last week. I have 2 dominant male Msobo Magunga who have claimed each of the two rock piles each, the alpha to the right and the beta to the left but they are both coloured up in alpha colours.

I'm going to do another water change tomorrow night just to get more of the meds out of the water but not sure how else to proceed. Anyone know a medicine to consider next if the wormer I've used doenst work?

You've treated for round worms (eSHa-ndx, levamisole) so would it be worth treating for flat worms as well (tapeworms)? For those you need praziquantel, which is in eSHa gdex.
Reading the ndx instructions in the 'tolerance' section it says

"This product also kills Planaria and non-parasitic nematode worms, These planaria and worms can excrete toxic substances when dying. Remove as many Planaria and non-parasitic worms as possible, before and during treatment."

Maybe the missed water changes allowed the colonies of planaria, detriatus worms etc. to expand and they have now died creating the toxins? I'm guessing more water changes and gravel cleaning will be beneficial short term?

I agree with Essjay that you calculated and dosed correctly, and the others advising to strive to do weekly 50% water changes, follow up with another ndx in a couple of weeks and to also use the gdex if ndx doesn't cure the problem.

FWIW, I also have tap nitrate (23ppm) and have tried resins, emergent plants etc. What I think worked for me is feeding just 4 times a week so that the aquatic plants can work on reducing nitrogen without a lot of food waste simultaneously raising the level. @seangee always advocated feeding very little and swore his fish were healthier for it. I can confirm he was right. I have got into the routine of feeding tues/thurs/sat/sun because these are the days when I don't work late and am least likely to forget (and subsequently compensate by overfeeding!) The schedule is now easy to stick to and works really well. The fish are not skinny or sickly, quite the opposite in fact and they utilise every morsal that lands in the tank.

Also, if pressed for time or energy I do 'no frills' water changes where I resist the urge to clean the glass/filter/preen the plants; I focus on just draining and refilling with dechlorinator so that I get through all the tanks that week efficiently without running out of time/energy. As @AbbeysDad always tells us, there's nothing better than plenty of fresh, clean water so it is best to prioritise that.

Keep us updated.
We also can't underestimate what exactly worms are doing, if it is worms causing an issue. Sometimes it's easy to think "add the med, de-worm them, done!" without considering what it is that worms are doing.

@Wills , this isn't directed at you so much, I know you know this stuff! But it's still worth adding for the lurkers and when people later search for things like this and find threads, and worry that the medication itself is what's making the fish unwell.

But the worms themselves are latched onto the fishes digestive tracts, and the fish still needs to expel the worms once they die and detach. Sometimes they can't fully expel all of the worms, so a dead internal parasite rotting inside the fish's digestive tract isn't good, but even if they expel all of the worms, that still leaves open wounds inside the fish that leave them vulnerable to secondary infections (and probably just generally make them feel unwell and unhappy, at least until they recover a bit).

In your case @Wills , I'd still want to use the gdex to treat for flatworms too, since worm variety unconfirmed, and follow up with the second dose of ndex in a fortnight (if I remember that right, I'm going from memory, but check instructions), but that's always gonna have to be a personal call!

But I'm really glad to hear that most of the fish are looking brighter and more active again! Fingers crossed for that one male. :)
Post pictures and video of the fish and a picture showing the entire tank. It could be bullying caused by too many males and not enough hiding places, or a disease. Bullying is very common in Mbuna tanks and unless they get meat based foods or live in putrid tanks (yours aren't), they are pretty much bullet proof from a disease standpoint.

Don't add anything until we figure out what is wrong.

If you deworm the fish, they should be treated once a week for 3-4 weeks to make sure you kill any baby worms that hatch from eggs. The eggs are not affected by the medication and will hatch a couple of weeks after being laid by the adult worms.

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