Posts Tagged ammonia poisoning

Ammonia Poisoning: Symptoms, Prevention and Control

Vienna Zoo: Trouble in Paradise
Ammonia poisoning, also referred to as ammonia stress, nitrogen stress, or nitrogen poisoning, is often considered one of the most common causes of death of aquarium fish.

Causes of Ammonia Toxicity

Problems in water quality often pave the way for ammonia toxicity. Ammonia is a biological waste product of fish, decaying plants, algae, and uneaten food. This toxic substance is produced when these materials break down inside the tank.

As the levels of ammonia increases in the water, there will be a resulting displacement of oxygen in the tank water by ammonia. The more ammonia present in the water, the less oxygen will be available to your fish and the beneficial microorganisms that function as your biological filter.

New aquariums have also been linked to cases of ammonia toxicity because of the presence of high ammonia levels coupled with a small population of nitrifying bacteria that can convert ammonia into less potent forms. It may take up to six weeks for a new tank to be completely cycled and have acceptable levels of ammonia and nitrifying bacteria.

Besides inefficient tank cycling, important predisposing factors of high ammonia levels include small tanks and overpopulation.


Early signs of ammonia toxicity include fish that seem to be struggling to breathe at the water’s surface. They may have reddish or purple gills that appear to bleed. The fish will soon start to lose their appetite and become increasingly lethargic.

In some cases, fish can be observed at the bottom of the tank, with fins fixed to the body. If ammonia level is not corrected, the body tissues will be affected as manifested by the appearance of red spots on the fins and body. The buildup of ammonia inside the tank can irritate and eventually damage sensitive fish tissues like the gills.  This signals internal and external bleeding that can eventually lead to death of the fish.

Depending on the concentration of ammonia in the water, poisoning can occur suddenly or over a period of several days.

Addressing Ammonia Toxicity

In order to nip the problem in the bud, you must first identify what is causing the elevated levels of ammonia and address it appropriately. There is a need for prompt intervention to correct the problem and save your fish.

For many hobbyists, the first step is to do a water change. It is best not to use to ammonia remover at this time for it can have long-term negative side effects on the tank’s aquatic environment.

A water change will remove some of the ammonia and allow the tank’s biological filter to begin processing excess waste.

A water change may not correct the underlying issue, however it is a short-term answer to removing some of the ammonia. When making a water change, make sure that your tap water has been treated with a dechlorinator to remove chlorine and chloramine.

Other important measures that you can undertake include the following:

    • Stop feeding your fish so there will be less ammonia produced. Don’t worry for they can survive for a few days without any food. Feeding can resume when ammonia levels are about 0 ppm.
    • Make sure the tank’s filter is fully functional.
    • Improve tank aeration by putting air stones or air pumps

About the Author:

Peter Hartono is the founder and CEO of Just Aquatic – a proud Australian company that provides excellent online aquarium supplies for betta fish tanks, goldfish tanks and also aquatic plant care products carrying top of the line brands including API, biOrb and Exo Terra.

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