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"Mystery Bloat" Demystified?


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#1 RandomWiktor

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 10:36 AM

Mystery Bloat Demystified?
New Information on Troubling Condition

Recently, there has been a phenomenon in the UltimateBettas disease section of fish suffering from extreme abdominal bloat. The bloat is caused by a significant build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity but unlike dropsy does not generally cause pineconing. Rather, it gives the appearance that the fish has swallowed a marble. The mass is soft when palpated, unlike a tumor, and if the fish is held to a very bright light will look clear. It is not remedied by feeding blanched peas or daphnia, fails to respond to aquarium salt, anti-parasitics, and anti-bacterials, is often accompanied by the rest of the fish's body wasting (extreme thinness), and appears by anecdotal evidence to be potentially contageous. The condition is fatal, but removal of fluid via aspiration with a fine needle can alleviate some suffering.

The members and staff of UB have been trying tirelessly to devise a treatment or discover a cause, but without input from a veterinarian, we are only hobbyists stabbing blindly at a problem that is frankly above our level of expertise. However, the answer we have been seeking may have been found. Member Dixiesportster generously informed the staff team of a case of this condition detailed on another forum wherein veterinary expertise was gained. The full text can be found in this thread at Aquamaniacs forum. The summary of the findings is as follows:

A necropsy of the fish indicated that the cause of the bloat was fluid retention from organ failure caused by widespread systemic infection with an acid-fast bacteria, thought to be some form of mycobacteria. The bacteria were most abundant in granulomas in the intestines, kidneys, and adipose tissue; the first finding suggests possible oral introduction of the microbe, meaning that it could have come from the betta's food source or from consuming matter in the aquarium.
(Mod note: Mycobacteria are omnipresent in aquatic environments but are generally not pathological in the populations present; I would almost wonder if pernicious populations didn't emerge in waste at the bottom of the tank, which when consumed by the fish caused infection. Purely speculation on my part, of course)

Mycobacteria are very difficult organisms to combat, notorious for diseases such as tuberculosis, and tend to be highly anti-biotic resistant. What's more, the symptoms only become apparent for this specific condition when the fish begins to bloat, which is a sign of kidney failure, meaning that most treatments will be too little, too late. A very early case could possibly be remedied while enough of the kidneys are still functional for recovery if it is caught very early on if aggressively treated with -mycin family anti-biotics, but most OTC fish medications are fairly weak. Until actual treatment attempts occur, it can't be said if any treatment would work, and heavy medication could hasten kidney damage (ironically, the same family of drugs that may be effective is also very toxic to the kidneys).

The symptoms of the disease can be managed by anesthetizing the fish with Finquel, a fish anesthesia compound available legally only through vendors such as Drs. Foster & Smith.com, then using a small insulin syringe to gently draw off excess fluid. This is not a cure - it will simply lessen the fish's discomfort. In many cases, euthanasia may be more kind an option, particularly if you are not comfortable with such a delicate procedure.

This is only one necropsy result from one fish, but the suspicion of the condition being one of mycobacterium origin should be taken very seriously. Fish should be stringently quarantined - information on how can be found here; the article is intended for new fish but is highly applicable to sick fish as well. Also remember that many mycobacterium species can harm humans. This means that you are potentially putting your health at risk working with these animals, so take appropriate safety precautions. Humane destruction of infected animals may be a prudent choice if you have a compromised immune system or live in an environment where young children may have access to the tank and its inhabitant; this is a "better safe than sorry" situation since so little is known.

Hopefully this helps some of you seeking answers. It may not be "the answer," but it IS the most significant finding to date on this terrible condition.

P.S. If anyone with fish who suffered or are suffering from "mystery bloat" would like to share photos for this thread, please PM me! It would be nice to have some pictures for those trying to visually diagnosis.

Additional Information:

According to the National Fish Pharmacy, the cause of this condition could be protozoal parasites as those seen in Malwai bloat. The damage to the GI caused by the protozoans could cause native mycobacterium common in aquatic environments to be introduced to wound sites, becoming pathogenic in turn. This could account for the widespread myco infections in the body that would result in kidney failure, the cause of the rapid onset bloating we observe in this condition. Because there has not been an in-depth study of the condition in bettas, this is conjecture - but it is logically sound conjecture by an experienced research organization. The treatment for internal protozoal parasites is food soaked in metronidazol, as well as in the water supply.

Furthermore, a member of another forum had luck treating the symptoms of this condition with GelTek's Ampicillin medicated food. We will post more information on this if it becomes available, but this does suggest that IF myco is causative, it may be possible to manage with anti-biotics if kidney damage is not too severe for survival. This is anectdotal evidence from one fish, but should not be utterly disregarded; it may be valid to attempt duplicating the results, especially if other treatments have failed.

#2 KarlaBob

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 12:49 PM

I was too heartbroken to take pics of Tiburon when he looked like he had swallowed a marble...I do have some of the earlier pics, though. Would those be useful?

#3 Saucy

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 11:46 AM

I have just consulted with National Fish Pharmaceuticals and the kind lady there told me that this sounds like Malawi Bloat, which isn't overly common in fish that aren't cichlids. Treating with food soaked in metronidazole should help treat the problem.

#4 keli

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 02:32 PM

Greetings

I currently have a fish with this disease...in fact, I found this site by typing "swollen betta" into google, and this was one of the links.

I have some good pictures of my male betta--he is extremely swollen at the moment. I am going to try and attach them to this message...

In the article you linked to, it is the vet's opinion that it is actually the flagellates, not so much the mycobacteria that causes the swollen abdomen (in other words, the disease is a combination of infection by both
mycobacteria and flagellates as both are observed under a microscope), but in the vet's opinion, only the flagellates could cause the massive kidney dysfunction.

I am concerned about this disease--way too many webboards blame constipation. I think the infection is much more common than people are accepting, and I would like to get a handle on it, what to do about it, etc. It's my observation/educated guess that the bloat is only one symptom of the disease and not a disease in itself--in other words, I believe other fish who have the same infection may display differently. In fact, one fish that
was with the one who is now swollen, had a sympton I've never seen before in an adult--she could only spiral to swim. Then she could only lay on her side...and finally, before she died, she was nose down and couldn't get air.
I think the same flagellates/mycobacteria are responsible because they both were essentially healthy fish (able to eat, no wounds, active, betta personality) with ultimately devastating symptoms.

Note: I have been a breeder/hobbyist for about four years... with over a hundred fish at one time, now down to three adults and hundred or so babies in my outdoor betta pond (I live in GA--they stay in the pond from about May to Sept). I have only seen bloat this bad with one other fish, also a male.

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#5 KarlaBob

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 03:50 PM

Oh my god, that is exactly what Tiburón looked like. I feel so bad when I think of how huge he was =(

#6 Saucy

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 04:08 PM

I agree with the article and with what National Fish Pharm has said... Malawi bloat is almost unheard of outside of the cichlid family, but it's caused by the same thing as our mystery bloat. Most fish are usually pretty far gone when they've gotten this bad... but you could try metro soaked food and see what happens.

#7 keli

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 11:08 AM

Malawi bloat may be caused by the same pathogen, but I think it's important to differentiate the symptoms in a betta...

Here are the symptoms in a cichlid:

QUOTE "The first symptom is usually a loss of appetite. Other characteristics follow if treatment if not begun at this point. These secondary characteristics include abnormal swelling of the abdomen (hence the name-bloat), an increased respiratory rate, reclusiveness, white streaky feces, and sitting on the bottom of the tank or lingering at the surface. Red marks around your fish's anus or skin ulcerations might also be apparent. Symptoms only appear in the latter stages of the disease; therefore, it is important to begin treatment as soon as symptoms are noticed, otherwise you will lose your fish." UNQUOTE

Here are the symptoms in a betta:

Acts normal in every way except for ever expanding abdomen: doesn't lose appetite, continues to swim and flare and no visible sores anywhere else on the body. A long, stringy discharge is often noted. (see pic below)

The reason I think it's important to differentiate is that constipation also has the same symptoms--and everyone who writes in to web boards asking for help gets the "pea" advice. In my experience, constipation is almost never the problem. Most fish with a hugely distended abdomen have whatever this disease is, and a pea will not make any difference. People should be advised that the pathogen is most likely deadly, and that people can possibly get infected too, so if you have a cut on your hand, don't put your hands in the water. Also, that starving the betta will not make any difference and probably is adding to their discomfort.

I have tried metronidazole in the the water and soaked in the food. Believe it or not, Neptune is still eating, and so he is eating his anti-biotic soaked food. He only eats one or two small Atison soaked pellets per feeding (2x a day), but his abdomen is still swelling. Starving him will make zero difference in the amount of swelling--in fact, he is wasting away behind the swelling anyway because he is still active and eats so little. But the outcome doesn't look good--don't think the antibiotic is going to help.

He still greets me once or more every day when I come to the glass, and still flares at his female companion. His head isn't affected at all, just his body, unlike so many other diseases I've seen.
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#8 Saucy

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 11:23 AM

Constipation does NOT look the same as bloat. Not at all. I've never seen a betta with JUST constipation get that large. Also, the lady at National Fish Pharmaceuticals told me it WAS malawi bloat. Period. She said they are not different.

#9 keli

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Posted 09 August 2009 - 12:14 PM

I don't see where the cause (which pathogens) has been scientifically determined, but if you trust your source's opinion, that's fine. Your source may be right. That's not what I have issue with!

I AGREE that bloat does not look like constipation--bloat is generally asymmetrical (not a perfect roundish shape--usually one side is more bloated than the other), and much more dramatic.

Again, what I am concerned with is how many people are told to starve their betta when they ask for advice on a fish board if their betta is bloated. If I were a new betta owner I would want to know ALL the possibilites, what to look out for, etc., and what not to do.

Edited by keli, 09 August 2009 - 12:15 PM.


#10 Guest_Oliver_*

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Posted 20 September 2009 - 02:48 PM

This is my first post. O'Ryan is really sick with this. He looks worse, (if possible) than these photos. And it happened very fast. I have had him with me for three years, have been a regular water changer, and have fed him the same thing his whole life.

He's still so happy. I feel simply awful that I'm so helpless here. I live in a very rural area and don't have access to anything that I could get in a hurry.

My username is in honor of my dear Oliver. He went to spirit last summer. He had another issue: he got very sad when I went on vacation and instead of my face everyday he saw my husband's. Anyway - I have one healthy guy left. He is happy and healthy and only about a year old.

They just grab our hearts and hold on!

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Edited by Oliver, 20 September 2009 - 02:49 PM.


#11 silva_unt

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 10:17 PM

This is what Agro seems to have. Any new updates on the disease?

#12 Nes

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 07:32 PM

I was directed here by a post from Silva on another forum, in looking into this disease ... In Rusty's case he was diagnosed with Mycobacteria, an aerobic bacteria ... The vet's initial suggested treatment of a Enrofloxacin (Baytril) is the right course of treatment, and is commonly used to treat Mycobacteria.

Unfortunately when our beautiful little pets get sick you have to catch it VERY early if you have any hopes of treating them.

In a pinch I'd try any fish-store antibiotic until you're able to get Enrofloxacin.




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