Tiger Barbs dying off, fast!

mark144

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My daughter's tiger barbs suddenly started dying off. Although my pH and hardness is high in my source water, they have seemed happy and active up until the past four days. My other parameters have been more or less textbook perfect.

Four days ago, the smallest tiger barb stopped swimming with the others and retreated to the corner of the tank, where he stayed all day, not even attempting to eat. His breathing seemed faster than usual. Other than that, I didn't notice any other symptoms. I checked my water parameters to be sure, everything still looked fine. The next morning he was dead, sitting on the bottom of the tank, very pale.

The rest of the barbs seemed to be behaving more or less normally. I removed the body immediately, checked my parameters again did a ~20% water change. I dropped the water level of the tank slightly to give the filter a bit more aggressive oxygenation. Everything seemed fine and I couldn't find any explanation for the first death.

Yesterday, a second barb started showing the same symptoms as the first, hiding in the corner of the tank, not eating, and breathing rapidly. About an hour ago, I found him dead, stuck to the filter intake. A third barb is now showing symptoms. I just triple-checked my parameters and everything still looks great. I expect to lose him(her?) too, and I'm at a loss for what to do.

Please help!

Tank size: 20-gallon
Water Parameters from API Freshwater Master Test Kit with expiration in 2024
pH: 8.2
ammonia: <0.25ppm
nitrite: 0ppm
nitrate: 5-10ppm
kH: 10-11dH
gH: 10-11dH
tank temp: 78F

Volume and Frequency of water changes: 10-15% weekly, normally. But I added a 20% change when I found the first death.

Chemical Additives or Media in your tank: Fluval Aqua Clear filter for 10-30 gallons, sponge+active charcoal+biomedia

Tank inhabitants: Single species (Tiger Barbs)

Recent additions to your tank (living or decoration): Live plants ~three weeks ago

Exposure to chemicals: None

Photos + videos of both dead fish, as well as the third fish showing symptoms:
 

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FishGuest5123

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Do large daily water changes for 10 days. We’re talking 75% daily. Heavy breathing is usually water quality. Do the bellies look swollen? Were they still eating? Could be parasites. @Colin_T, what do you think?
 
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JuiceBox52

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Although the fish may have seemed happy they are not suitable for hard water. It slowly damages them from the inside, making them more prone to disease and they will suffer an early death.

I agree with deanasue definitely do the water changes
 

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I agree with the others. Also your ammonia levels are of concern they should be at 0. Ammonia affects the gills making it hard for them to breath and burning their gills. Also poisoning the fish, The 75% water change should help with this too but you need to do 50% water changes once a week after you are done flushing out your tank.
 
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mark144

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Do large daily water changes for 10 days. We’re talking 75% daily. Heavy breathing is usually water quality. Do the bellies look swollen? Were they still eating? Could be parasites. @Colin_T, what do you think?

I've already upped my WCs but I'll do 75% changes. The water quality is what's strange to me because the numbers look great, have looked great since I first added them, other then a slight spike when they were first added to my already-cycled tank. Although the water hardness and pH is on the high end for tiger barbs, it has not changed. In fact, I've been very slowly reducing the hardness by mixing my tap water with small but increasingly large percentages of distilled water when doing water changes. Over a 3-4 week period, the tank water has gone from an 11dH KH and GH down to ~9. I've been doing this very slowly so as not to cause any stress.

I don't see any swelling of their bellies, but I am not sure that I know 100% what their bellies should look like normally. They were eating voraciously up to ~24 hours before dying, when one by one they have suddenly quit eating and then died.
 

utahfish

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While water changes are always a good idea until one can pin point the reason for the rapid breathing its going to be a problem. My first guess would be the ammonia. A fully cycled tank shouldnt have any ammonia.
The ammonia could be from an outside source like ones tap water. Are you using a dechlorinator that also detoxifies chloramine?
When you clean your filter pads do you use tap water or tank water in a bucket. Tap water will kill the beneficial bacteria on the pad which will cause ammonia spike.
Does ones tap water have ammonia in it and if so what level?
Those are 3 i can think of can you rule any of those out?
 
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mark144

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Although the fish may have seemed happy they are not suitable for hard water. It slowly damages them from the inside, making them more prone to disease and they will suffer an early death.

I agree with deanasue definitely do the water changes

I have been very slowly reducing the hardness of the water by mixing tap water with small amounts of distilled water during water changes. I didn't want to do this too quickly because I didn't want to risk stressing them. All of this was long before any of them were symptomatic.
 
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mark144

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I agree with the others. Also your ammonia levels are of concern they should be a 0 . Ammonia affects the gills making it hard for them to breath and burning their gills. Also poisoning the fish, The 75% water change should help with this too but you need to do 50% water changes once a week after you are done flushing out your tank.

I should clarify. I would call the ammonia levels 0ppm, but there are times in certain light when I think I see the very slightest, almost imperceptible twinge of green in the yellow. I don't think it's anywhere close to 0.25ppm, but I don't feel confident every time in saying that it is absolutely 0.0. If I were to pick which of the values on the chart it is closest to, it is without question closer to 0ppm than 0.25ppm. It's just that very very tiny hint of green that I sometimes think I'm seeing that makes me say <0.25, but in reality I feel it is safe to say it is at 0ppm.
 
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mark144

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While water changes are always a good idea until one can pin point the reason for the rapid breathing its going to be a problem. My first guess would be the ammonia. A fully cycled tank shouldnt have any ammonia.
The ammonia could be from an outside source like ones tap water. Are you using a dechlorinator that also detoxifies chloramine?
When you clean your filter pads do you use tap water or tank water in a bucket. Tap water will kill the beneficial bacteria on the pad which will cause ammonia spike.
Does ones tap water have ammonia in it and if so what level?
Those are 3 i can think of can you rule any of those out?

As stated in another comment, I would call the ammonia level a 0. There have just been moments in certain lighting in which I think I might be seeing the slightest hint of green in the yellow, though still definitely well below 0.25 and it's possible I'm only imagining the green because my wife has said she can't see it at all the times I have asked her for a second opinion.

I am treating the tap water before using it in the tank. Seachem Prime.

I clean out the filter with every water change, agitating the sponge and biomedia in the dirty tank water after removing it. I've never rinsed it in anything other than tank water, nor have I ever used any cleaners on it, chemical or otherwise.
 

Byron

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I would not consider the GH and pH to be the issue here; while I agree this species is a soft water fish, the GH and pH is not what I view as extreme for this species, all else considered. I would look for something else.

Ammonia would not be it, given the plants, and even if it is actually 0.25 ppm.

What is the substrate material?
 

FishGuest5123

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I've already upped my WCs but I'll do 75% changes. The water quality is what's strange to me because the numbers look great, have looked great since I first added them, other then a slight spike when they were first added to my already-cycled tank. Although the water hardness and pH is on the high end for tiger barbs, it has not changed. In fact, I've been very slowly reducing the hardness by mixing my tap water with small but increasingly large percentages of distilled water when doing water changes. Over a 3-4 week period, the tank water has gone from an 11dH KH and GH down to ~9. I've been doing this very slowly so as not to cause any stress.

I don't see any swelling of their bellies, but I am not sure that I know 100% what their bellies should look like normally. They were eating voraciously up to ~24 hours before dying, when one by one they have suddenly quit eating and then died.
I am going to go against the flow here. Your ammonia is probably O.K. Check to see if your city uses chloramine. If they do, the ammonia reading is probably actually ammonium which is not as toxic. Mine always tests at .25 with my API Master test kit but if I test with my Seachem Free and Total Kit, it actually breaks down further and ammonium won’t show up. Yes, my city uses chloramine. I suggest getting a Seachem Free and Total test kit. So, I doubt it’s ammonia poisoning. Let’s see what @Colin_T says when he comes on. Do the water changes until we hear from him. Also, don’t use distilled water for fish. It lacks needed minerals. You may want to add an air stone too to provide more oxygen since fish are breathing fast.
 
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FishGuest5123

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Oops, Byron must have been typing as I was. Once again, great minds think alike. ;)
 

utahfish

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I am going to go against the flow here. Your ammonia is probably O.K. Check to see if your city uses chloramine. If they do, the ammonia reading is probably actually ammonium which is not as toxic. Mine always tests at .25 with my API Master test kit but if I test with my Seachem Free and Total Kit, it actually breaks down further and ammonium won’t show up. Yes, my city uses chloramine. I suggest getting a Seachem Free and Total test kit. So, I doubt it’s ammonia poisoning. Let’s see what @Colin_T says when he comes on. Do the water changes until we hear from him. Also, don’t use distilled water for fish. It lacks needed minerals. You may want to add an air stone too to provide more oxygen since fish are breathing fast.
Distilled water should be fine. I use RO water which is the same. I remineralize it but if the poster is mixing with tap water then the tap water will remineralize it.
 

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