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Malawi Bloat: An African Cichlid Illness

One of the main causes of failures in Tropheus keeping is a disease that usually kills all fish
within a few days. This disease is known as "Malawi Bloat" or "Bloat”. Although referred to
as malawian disease, it also affects the fish from Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika in
particular. The most sensitive are fish which feed mostly plant foods. It is very important to
recognize early signs of disease and start treatment immediately.
1. Symptoms
They are manifested in several stages:
First stage: Fish spitting up food to completely stop eating, deflect from side to side,
abdomen increases and long, thin, white feces instead of normal black and brown are released
from the anus. At around the anus red spots and ulceration may occur.
In the body, there probably seriously damage of the liver, kidneys and gas bladder takes place.
Second stage: Fish really lose weight, hide, lie at the bottom, flip, have difficulty
breathing, darken and die during 1 to 2 days.
2. Factors
It is quite surprising what a variety of reasons can cause this serious illness and death of these
beautiful fish. The most common reason is a keeper’s mistake and not just a disease that
would be caused by inappropriate feeding (eg, live food). For example, reason can be the
major impacts on the environment of fish in the aquarium. There are several reasons:
Stressing the fish
Tropheus are very sensitive to the effects of various stressors, and many fish keepers attributed the main cause of this disease just exposure to stress. This reduces the resistance of fish to diseases. As most often mentioned stress factors can be: transporting fish, tank inhabitants change (adding new individuals, especially their own species and form), a large aquarium layout change, or netting the fish in the aquarium. Basically, all other factors can be described as stressors.  The small number of individuals in the group
Tropheus live in groups hierarchically and the small number of individuals or the lack of shelters the dominant individual (usually male) attacks other fish of its species and forms.  Improper feeding
Tropheus are herbivorous fish and is therefore feeding the animal protein, particularly warm-blooded animals (meat), is not recommended. The main component of the diet should be high quality flake food based on algae (Spirulina). Also vegetable products, such as lettuce, cooked pasta and other can be fed. As a supplement, frozen cyclops or quality blood worms and shrimps can be fed, but only adult fish that are more resistant. Be patient with this feed or if not experienced, rather do not experiment. Herbivorous fish have a long digestive system, which corresponds to a longer processing time for food. Decomposition of poorly digested or incompletely excreted food in the intestines, can cause irritation of the intestinal wall and stress the fish, thereby opening the way for invading parasites.  Overfeeding
It is important to feed in small doses several times a day to avoid single overfeeding the fish. Tropheus are very voracious fish and if sufficient food is available they look "to burst". Fish are very sensitive especially after transfer to another tank, after purchase for example. Then the fish keeper must be particularly careful and to feed them very sparingly. Frequent feeding in lower doses can also eliminate aggression between individuals of their own species / forms.  Poor water quality
One of the other very important factors is the purity of water. There must be a regular water change in an amount of about 30% of the tank every week, although opinions on the amount and period of water exchange vary. Next, inadequate oxygenation of water lowers the oxygen content in the water for denitrifying bacteria and water quality decreases (increased nitrate content).  Adding salt
Some people add kitchen salt to the water in order to increase the pH to alkaline. In this way,
no increase in pH occurs, but sometimes the fish react very negatively to the higher content of
3. Disease cause

At this point, opinions differ between hobbyists. Some argue that it is a disease of bacterial
origin, others note that it is a parasite origin. Most likely, a protozoal parasite that is normally
found in the intestines of healthy fish can multiply in weakened individual (i.e. due to stress)
and block the digestive system. This poses the problem of food intake. The parasite goes
through the intestinal wall into the body cavity and leads to "inflate" the abdomen.
Also the contagiousness of the disease is discussed. This is probably a contagious disease,
because not only one fish get sick, but usually three or more. It would seem that it is a stressor
effect on all fish in an aquarium, and therefore all individuals get sick. Symptoms, however,
do not appear in all fish at once but gradually. In example, first day one fish stops eating, the
second one stops eating the next day and first fish starts to show signs of damage of the
digestive system (bloat) and so on.
4. Treatment

Treatment is only possible in the first stage of the disease. The later treatment is started, the
less chance of recovery. If the symptoms of a second stage disease appear, it is too late.
Usually it is necessary to completely heal the tank, not move fish into a separate tank, because
the disease gets worse and the fish die. However, it is possible to use the quarantine tank.
Hobbyists use various antibiotics for a treatment like metronidazole (Entizol, Emtyl, Flagyl,
Metryl, Protostim, Satric, Neo-trice), which is used in human medicine for gynecological
problems, or other types of antibiotics.
Treatment with metronidazole
If signs of 1st stage of appear, replace 30% of water to improve water quality, increase the air circulation and again replace about 50% of water. It is recommended to remove all the bio-filters, because the drugs kill most denitrifying bacteria. During treatment, turn the lights off. The temperature should be gradually raised to 28-30 °C, but also a strong aeration is needed. Increasing temperatures will accelerate the metabolism of fish and support the immune system. It also accelerates the life cycle of the disease agent. Metronidazole is then applied at a dose of 100 mg per 38 l of water. The dose is repeated every two days, if necessary, until the fish start to eat. If the fish survive, they usually recover during the week. The medicine can be administered in the diet for the onset of disease symptoms, if fish feed. Then the dose of the drug dissolves in a spoon of water from the aquarium, add granules or flakes, let it soak in solution of drug and food is then placed in an aquarium. After treatment 50% of water sholud be changed. Treatment with other antibiotics:  Oxytetracycline hydrochloride
It is used at a dose of 30 mg (with very hard water up to 50 mg) per liter of water for 3 days. At the third day, change 30 to 50% of water and repeat the treatment. This drug is particularly sensitive to light and should be respected the method of treatment without lighting.  Minocycline
It is used at a dose of 7 mg per liter of water for 2 days, then replace 100% of the water and
repeat the treatment again. If used in more than two doses, it is usually fatal. Therefore, it is
only used in a real emergency.


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