Disease Control, by Vern Archer (updated Sept 2014)
Effective disease management relies on early detection and diagnosis.
Recognize and avoid Stress, the leading cause of discus illness.
Common causes of Stress:
1. Poor Water Quality - High levels of nitrate, nitrite or ammonia; a heavy bacterial load caused from crowded conditions or over feeding; infrequent water changes; gravel in the tank.
2.Inadequate filtration - Ineffective filtration not removing ammonia and nitrite while replenishing oxygen.
3. Shipping - Purchasing from mail order, or a store, young discus fry go without food for several days before during and after they are shipped. Symptoms can be delayed a few weeks, careful observation of the feces during quarantine is advised.
4. Colour Enhancing - The use of hormones and other chemicals to enhance colour create stress. Compounding the situation this usually happens just prior to shipping.
5. Lighting - Intense overhead lighting or an aquarium facing a window. Utilize a night light to avoid a sudden shock when the main overhead light goes on and off.
6. Tank placement - Avoid high traffic areas and placing the tank to low to the ground.
7. Tank mates - Avoid the fast moving dominant species, especially the nocturnal fish. Discus are best kept by themselves.
8. Temperature - Low water temperatures over time will impact discus. Minimum temperature 84F or 29C. Fry should be initially kept at 86F or 30C.
9. Shot gun remedies - Or the wrong medication, indicates you are usually guessing at a problem. In many cases discus issues are more environmental, not one that requires medication. A continuous bombardment of medication negatively impacts internal organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Symptoms of stress; darkened stress bars; hiding; facing the back of the aquarium; the reluctance to eat; white fluffy feces. It's well documented that flagellates can live in small numbers in the intestine as part of their normal flora. When the discus is weakened from stress, the flagellates multiply dramatically consuming the intestinal contents and left untreated can lead to death.
There are a number of resistant strains of flagellates circulating the hobby, so extended treatments may be necessary along with an increase in temperature. Treat with metronidazole per the instructions further down this page under Symptoms 1).
Have good colour, not dark; Clear bright eyes, not cloudy; Fins are erect, not clamped; Their feces is dark in colour, not white or yellow and stringy; They are responsive to a good quality food; Are often seen swimming throughout the aquarium, playing by pecking each other, a sort of tag.
Iguarpe pair (left), White Butterfly (middle) Red Albino male (right) These Discus show all the key signs of healthy Discus. Note the eyes and fins.
Observe your Discus for Symptoms; 01) White stringy feces? 02) Are the discus breathing hard? 03) Are the fish scratching against objects in the aquarium? 04) Are the fish dark in colour? 05) Are the fish showing clamped fins and hiding? 06) Are the eyes dark and cloudy? 07) Is the fish showing an abdominal swelling? 08) Are the fish fussy on eating? 09) Are the fish not responding to you i.e. begging for food? 10) Are your fish Head or Tail standing?
If you are seeing symptoms, then read the "Cause and Remedy" listed below.The following detailed treatments must be completed in a bare bottom tank, with no carbon, ozone, or UV for an effective treatment.
The Basic Parameters; Temperature is 84 to 85F or 29C for adults and 86F or 30C for fry; Nitrates 5 to 10 ppm, not to exceed 20 ppm, with negligible or "0" ammonia; and no plant fertilizers. Your aquarium should not have low oxygen levels from crowded conditions or the use of CO2 injection for plants.
Discus will demonstrate the same symptoms for many different illnesses including poisoning. Differentiating the cause can be difficult, especially to the untrained eye. However there may be some clues if we look back at recent activities.
* The introduction of new plants or fish, possibly adding a pathogen? * A small water change after weeks of no water changes, creating a rise in pH, resulting in an ammonia spike. * Disturbing the ground cover, cleaning or re-landscaping, releasing toxic hydrogen sulphide gas? * Outside influences like air borne paint fumes and pesticides? * Overfeeding? The introduction of a new food, or an old dated food?
The wrong treatment will make the problem worse. If the symptom has been created from poisoning either by hydrogen sulphide gas from the gravel, or ammonia from a dramatic rise in pH, the gill filaments may have been damaged. Adding any medication at this point further hinders the ability of the discus to extract oxygen through their damaged gill filaments.
In many cases a thorough cleaning of the aquarium and a large 50 to 60% water change will remedy the situation. Add regular course non iodized table salt, found at your local grocery store, at 1 tablespoon per 10 gallons. Often hobbyists panic, throwing every medication, that someone may suggest on a forum, looking for instant results. The accumulation of different medications can kill your fish. A calm targeted approach is always best.
Symptoms - Cause and Remedy. 01)White Stringy feces?
The feces should be dark, not white and stringy indicating an internal intestinal problem. There are two different pathogens that can cause white stringy feces; First pathogen is flagellates; The feces is stringy white and fluffy like cotton wool and the fish stop eating and hide, usually facing the back of the aquarium. The Medication of choice is Metronidazole.
Treatment; Administer metronidazole daily, for 10 to 14 days following a daily 25% water change. The strength must be400 to 450mg per 10 gallons or you risk developing a resistant strain of flagellates. Metro's effectiveness is greatly reduced after 8 hours, so to kick off the treatment, the first and second dose can be just 8 to 10 hours apart with a small water change prior to the second dosage. The temperature should be slightly elevated 88 F or 32C, to raise the animals metabolism. Also, add a couple of air stones to increase oxygen levels. The reduction of light, will reduce stress, helping the recovery.
Monitor your temperature and heater; It's fairly common for a heater to stick to the "ON" state, especially at higher temperatures. In a small hospital tank make sure the wattage of your heater is appropriate.
Once the animal is eating, in addition to the daily treatment, you can place metronidazole directly in the food. Either by soaking live food in a metro and water solution (I use white worms in a shot glass with the mixture and let soak for 30 minutes prior to feeding) or by adding it directly to a frozen beef heart mix. (Thaw about a tablespoon of frozen food and add 200mg, mix well and refreeze). Feed twice a day.
Second pathogen,is intestinal worms;The feces is whitish yellow and stringy and your discus could be losing weight, getting thinner or not showing any growth, despite an increased appetite. There are a number of different species of intestinal worms and each species can impact the discus with a variation on the symptoms including a reluctance to eat.
Treatment; There are a number of worming medications and some are more effective then others, depending on the species of intestinal worm you are targeting. I recommend, "Wormer Plus", with flubenol available at www.angelfins.com. This medication is effective against most internal worms and is very gentle, even on small fry. Two treatments a couple of weeks apart is the most effective. Prior to any worming medication a lite cleaning of the filter and a large 50% water change must be administered.
In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to add a second type of worming medication directly to the food. (following the treatments of flubenol and waiting a couple of weeks).
If you have a live food culture, such as white worms, or you can use frozen bloodworms (Hikari's bio pure), place some worms in a shot glass with water and a very small amount of "Prazi Pro" (liquid form of praziquantel). Let it soak for 30 minutes in the solution then feed. Once a day for 3 days. Repeat in 10 to 14 days
Note:only one method should be administered at any one time. Syphon off any feces at the end of the day so the worms do not get re-ingested by the fish.
Note; Heavy worm infestations can create stress on the fish, resulting in an infestation of flagellates, monitor their feces, a 10 day metronidazole may be required.
02) Are your fish breathing hard? Heavy breathing; Adult discus should have a respiration of 60 to 70, younger fish slightly higher at 70 to 80. Measure in a quiet state, not when they are excited from feeding, chasing each other or fighting. Respiration (breathing), is the opening and closing of the mouth and gill once (the number of times in a minute, time it for 15 seconds and multiply by 4). The gill is the lung of the fish, fine gill filaments extract oxygen from the water. Damage to these filaments or the lack of oxygen in the water will cause rapid breathing in the discus as it trys to extract additional oxygen from the water. Small fry are especially susceptible to parasites like gill flukes that will feast on the young tender gill filaments. Bacterial infections can also occur creating damage to the filaments, usually caused by poor water quality or from dramatic pH fluctuations. Discus are especially sensitive to ammonia which can result in gill filament damage as well.
Laboured, rapid breathing can be attributed to; Water quality; High ammonia or nitrate; High temperature; Low oxygen from fish crowding; The use of plant fertilizers and CO2 injectors; A bacterial or a parasite infection of the gill; The bombardment of medications. In extreme cases, the discus can be seen gasping, pointed at the surface, desperate for additional oxygen. This usually indicates a significant water issue, very low oxygen, high nitrate and ammonia or poisonous sulphur gases. Immediate action must be taken or the fish will suffocate. Treatment; Removal of the fish immediately to your backup tank with new clean water and airstones, and proceed to do a 100% water change to the existing tank. If a backup tank or large plastic bucket with air-stones is not available, the only course of action is an immediate series of large water changes of 75 to 80%. Large water changes are continued until the water parameters improve. Drop the water temperature slightly, as cooler water has more oxygen, add air-stones. No feeding.
Use Seachem's "Prime" to remove the chlorine and help lower ammonia. Reseeding your filter may be necessary utilizing Seachem's "Stability".
Note; If you have recently cleaned the gravel or performed a small water change you may have caused your water to become toxic and you need to replace as much of your water as possible, ideally 100%.
Two "extreme case" causes; The first, read the "Perfect Storm" on the "Startingout" page, which addresses water changes and the transformation of ammonium to toxic ammonia with a rise in pH; The second, is when sulphur gases are released when cleaning the gravel, burning the sensitive gill filaments of the fish. The fish will need time to heal in clean quality water with a lite salt treatment (1 tablespoon per 20 gallons) and extra air stones. Lower the amount of light on the aquarium to reduce stress. If you have gravel, it's inevitable, as the gravel matures the sulphur gases build, "An Accident waiting to happen".
03) Are your fish scratching against objects in your aquarium? Then it's usually one of two issues;
First issue;If you are performing water changes utilizing water direct from the tap, you may be introducing small nitrogen micro bubbles when adding the new water. These small bubbles are seen on the sides of the aquarium and also form on the gills of the fish, which they find irritating. This is temporary, once the water sits for a period of time the bubbles disappear, until the next water change. Removal of sharp objects in the aquarium is warranted. Treatment - Age your water, utilizing a storage tank or backup aquarium. If that's not possible, some success has been achieved by slowing down the change water and running it through a sponge or bouncing it off a plastic container to "burst" the bubbles as they enter the aquarium. This problem is more prevalent in the winter time, when the tap water is very cold.
Second issue,can be "gill flukes", worms that attach to the gill filaments of the fish, damaging the gill by consuming it. Fry and young discus provide a feast for these worms as their gills are tender. This feasting slowly suffocates the young fish and for very small fry (less than 1 inch) I suggest Euthanizing with Clove Oil, as the treatment required to remove the flukes will result in their death, trying to save small fry is pointless and inhumane.
Symptoms - You must be fairly certain of the presence of gill flukes prior to subjecting your fish to this treatment. Ideally you will, very gently, take a gill scraping and verify their presence utilizing a microscope. If that is not possible then the alternative is to do some detective work; 1) Verify water quality especially nitrate and ammonia; 2) Bacterial gill disease can show similar heavy breathing however there is less scratching. It is usually caused by sustained poor water quality. 3) Look for heavy fast breathing usually well over 100 with younger fish and scratching (flashing) against objects in the aquarium. Young fish may go dark with erratic swimming as well. If one fish has them, they all do, as they are just at various stages of the infection. 4) Have you purchased fish or plants recently? Adult wild fish can tolerate the fluke fairly well with no outward signs of an issue, only when they are kept with domestic fish or fry will the effects of flukes be visible.
Note: Gill flukes doesn't just appear because of stress, they must be introduced to your aquarium by the purchase of plants or other fish. They can also be introduced using fresh water foods. If you have recently added fish or plants and fluke symptoms start to appear a few days later, then you more than likely have gill flukes. Don't panic and follow the following procedure carefully.
Formaldehyde 37% is toxic and I suggest gloves, mask and good air circulation by opening a window or two. If your discus has a cut or open wound do not treat until it has healed, similarly if you have moved the fish with a net, wait a couple days prior to treatment to make sure there was no damage to the skin. Formaldehyde 37% may be purchased at your local chemical supply store. Note: Formaldehyde should be reasonably fresh the liquid clear not foggy or have white flakes in the bottom of the container. Fresh is best. There are no short cuts with this treatment! I frequently get asked "There must be another way", unfortunately there is not. They must be removed to a fresh tank after the 30 minute bath. The existing tank torn down and dried and cleaned with alcohol. This is the only known treatment that effectively eliminates gill flukes.
Treatment is a 30 minute bath, each time moving the fish after the treatment to a properly cleaned new tank setup, leaving the flukes and their eggs behind. Gill Flukes have evolved over the years and have become resistant to all of the medications found in our stores. Medications like Prazi Pro, Clout, Wormer Plus are all ineffective against gill flukes and are a waste of time and money. I know this from my own personal experience working with wild discus. Many medications claim they kill flukes, at best they may help reduce the numbers for a short time, but they do not kill all the resistant adult flukes, as some survive, as do the eggs.
Andrew Soh's book, "Naked Truth", points this out as well and suggests a 30 minute bath with formalin at 18ml to 50 liters of water as the only effective method to rid your discus of "gill flukes". The fish should be monitored closely during the 30 minute bath and then removed into a fresh tank and he suggests to repeat every 5 days for 4 treatments, each time moving to a new tank setup. Temperature is not stated, which unfortunately is very important since flukes multiply faster in warmer water, therefore the treatment time may need to be adjusted (shortened). Note: I have used, 4 day intervals of the 30 minute treatment, at Andrew's prescribed amount of formalin, at 84F, for 4 treatments, cleaning wild discus, with excellent results.
Dieter Untergasser author of "Discus Health"; In his chapter, in the book called "ExoticDiscus of the World" by Dr. Clifford Chan, makes a similar claim of a more resistant gill flukes and makes a very similar suggestion to rid the gill fluke. However he suggests Formalin at 8ml per 100 liters for 10 hours, which I have not tried, as I prefer to monitor the treatment and monitoring for 10 hours is not practical for me.
The best way to sterilize a tank, wipe it down with Isopropyl Alcohol and let dry for at least 3 days. The fluke eggs, as indicated by Andrew Soh and Dieter Untergasser are killed by the alcohol and 3 days of drying. Keep in mind, it only takes one or two eggs to survive for the tank to be re infested, so be thorough. Heaters and filter plastics should be thoroughly wiped down using Isopropyl Alcohol and let dry for 3 days. If you are using a canister filter replace everything inside, followed by a thorough cleaning with alcohol and let dry. Sponge, air line, air stones, and nets are relatively inexpensive so replace with new. Refill the tank after the 3 days of drying and restart with Seachem's stability. I suggest setting up 3 small 30 gallon tanks; Note: the size of tanks will vary depending on the number of discus to be treated. Set the tanks up temporarily on styro-foam on the basement floor, bare bottom with a glass lid no light, residual room light is fine with a heater, sponge filter and extra air stones. Utilize Seachem's Stability to help condition the water and start the filters. Light feedings with daily water changes using clean hoses and nets. During the treatment, you are cleaning, drying and restarting the original tank where they will be moved to after the 4th treatment. If you suspect you received these flukes from a store, complain! maybe they will loan you the tanks and equipment for the treatment. The average hobbyist may feel overwhelmed, however, it is achievable and unfortunately the only way. Next time you bring plants or fish in, don't forget to quarantine. Note: Younger hobbyists, make sure to get an adult involved!
04)Are the fish dark in Colour? Discus turning dark, tells you there is a problem, the fish is stressed;
Water quality, temperature, ammonia and nitrate levels are all factors for a discus turning dark. Some of the newer colour variations originate genetically from the "pigeon blood" strain, and are incapable of darkening their colour or showing stress bars. If you have a mixture of these new colour variations among the traditional strains, one can conclude that they are affected as well. Too often a hobbyist will see one or two dark fish and think there isn't a major issue when in fact a number of his fish are unable to show stress. Let's narrow it down; Poor appetite? Respiration is fast? Clamped fins? Feces colour is light in colour? Is it one discus, or are they all dark? Is there a lack of oxygen from fish crowding, the use of plant fertilizers and CO2? Have you added anything new to the aquarium, fish or plants? Is there ground cover, gravel or sand, and have you recently disturbed it? Have you done a lite cleaning of your filter lately? Rating the problem;
Minor Situation; the respiration is fine, but the fish goes dark from time to time, and it's only one or two discus in the tank. Treatment; Isolate the fish, placing it in your small hospital tank for better observation. A large water change and add some course salt, at 1 table spoon per 10 gallons, and monitor the situation, especially the feces for signs of intestinal worms or flagellates. Medium Situation; respiration may be high; fins slightly clamped impacting all fish. The ground cover may be hiding uneaten food or there may be a build up of protein on the inside glass and airline, especially if there is a chance of overfeeding. Treatment; Wipe the inside glass and air tubing down with a sponge to remove any protein buildup. Perform a large 50 to 60% water change, re[eat on day two. If you have ground cover in your tank do a thorough cleaning, or consider removing it, as the toxins below the surface may be the issue. Extra air-stones should be added. Add coarse salt 1 tablespoon per 10 gallons. Do a lite cleaning of your filter.
Note; If disturbing or removing gravel in a mature aquarium, remove the fish to another tank, first. Dangerous toxins within the ground cover may be released, killing your fish.
Major Situation; In a major situation something has happened to either the Water Quality; or you have introduced a Virus or Parasite to your aquarium. The fish are gasping at the surface, clamped fins, dark and shedding a grey slime, which is a normal reaction to a bacteria or virus invasion. Note; the excess grey slime is a defence mechanism to fight off a bacterial, viral or toxic intrusion. Monitoring the respiration and maintaining the intake of oxygen is the goal until the virus runs it's course in about 10 days. Treatment; You need to move the fish to a bare bottom tank for treatment. If you do not have a secondary tank, you have to remove the fish to a backup tank or a few large plastic pails with air-stones while you completely drain your tank, removing all gravel and plants and refill with clean water. Use "Prime" water conditioner to remove the chlorine. If done quickly your filter should be fine, maybe do a lite cleaning.
Salt Bath Treatment; Before you return the fish to the tank, add coarse salt at 1 tablespoon per gallon into their present holding tank or pail, with air-stones for about 20 minutes, remove immediately if they roll over or appear stressed. Place in newly furbished tank with lights off. We now have achieved a temporary cleaning of the gill area, helping the animal breath.
Next; Add Furan2, at the recommended manufacturer's dosage, and repeat the antibiotic daily for at least 10 days following a large 50% daily water change. Also add course salt at 1 tablespoon per 10 gallons. Maintain this level of salt, adding any salt removed from daily water changes. Turn the lights off, as this will reduce stress on the fish, and add extra air stones. Temperature should be around 83 to 84 F or 28C to help with the oxygen content of the water. Note the virus usually starts with one fish and spreads quickly in the tank, an early response is critical to their survival. No food as water quality is extremely important. Note: If you have other tanks or an outside KOI pond, bacteria and viruses can spread quickly and some can live outside the water. Wash your hands at every step. Do not share nets or hoses between tanks. The key, is not to panic, think it through, but act quickly, it only takes a few days to kill. Make sure to continue treatment for the full 10 days. In the absence of Furan 2,
Maracyn 2 can be used or a new product by Tetra called "Fungus Guard" which is similar to Furan2 .
Coarse salt can be found at most grocery stores, non iodized salt in a 2.2 kilo bag for about $4. For those hobbyists that have water holding tanks gradually lowering your pH over a few days with the daily water changes will help reduced secondary bacteria. However familiarity with lowering pH and having a good meter is a must.
05) Are the fish showing clamped fins and hiding? Colour and respiration are good, but the fish's fins are down not erect and it may be hiding afraid to come out. This is common with new fish going into a tank for the first time. Lower the light level a little, so it can see out of the tank, and make sure the water parameters are good especially the temperature (86 F or 30 C for fry or 84 to 85F or 29C for adults). If it's small fry, hopefully it's not a "one of", as fry are more relaxed with a few of their siblings around for protection, 6 to 8 is recommended. Clamped fins is more of an emotional response showing fear and stress. Spending time with them will help, but long term if there is only one or two fry in a tank, they will not eat properly and therefore not grow properly, afraid to come out, and the stress can bring on disease. The same can be said, if you only have one adult discus in a tank. If you can't afford to purchase 6 to 8 fry at a time, or at least 2 adult discus, you might consider keeping another, less expensive, type of fish.
06) Are the eyes dark and cloudy? Cloudy eyes may indicate an internal problem; bacterial infection, intestinal worms, poor water quality or even a nutritional problem. High Nitrates and cold water are also a serious factor. I suggest worming and a hard look at what you are feeding. Water quality and diet are instrumental to the health of your discus. If you are seeing a fungus this can be damage from an injury or poor water quality. Treatment; Increase the frequencies of water changes and ensure water parameters are good. I recommend Maracyn 2 or Furan2 and coarse salt at 1 to 1.5 table spoon per 10 gallons (2 ppt). Treat every day following a small water change until the fungus clears. Isolate the animal to its own tank for treatment. Increase the temperature to 88F or 31C.
In addition to the anti-biotic, for eye fungus or fungus on an open wound, use "Methylene blue" directly on the fungus. Remove the fish, gently placing it on an old towel, still in the net, drop one or two drops of methylene blue directly on the fungus, count to ten and return the fish to the water. You need to be organized and quick with this procedure, but it's effective and can be done twice daily.
07) Is the fish showing an abdominal swelling? If your discus is showing abdominal swelling it can be a couple of issues; Usually caused by food or over eating; An intestinal blockage or constipation is generally caused by pellet and flake foods. The foods fed dry, expand with moisture in the stomach causing a blockage.
Another source of blockage is the failure to blanche greens whether it be spinach, lettuce or peas etc. prior to adding them to your BH food mix. Blanching softens the vegetable matter making it easier for the fish to digest. Peas are a natural laxative and should be included in your food formula, it can ensure they are kept regular. It can also be caused by over feeding
Treatment; Isolate the fish, stop feeding and maintain a temperature of 86 F or 30C.
Administer an Epsom salt treatment, (seen here on your left), available at most drug stores. Create a liquid solution and Gradually add the Epsom salts solution over 3 to 4 hours until you reach 2 level tablespoons per 15 gallons. Low indirect light to reduce stress. After 24 hours if it hasn't worked then it probably won't.
It can be a bacterial infection; Bloat is usually caused by poor water quality or the consumption of food that has been left over from a previous feeding. In some cases it can be a heavy infestation of worms blocking the intestine. Isolate the fish and monitor the feces to help identify the cause. Usually there are other signs like "pop eye" and the swelling can be throughout the fish instead of just the abdominal cavity.
Treatment add a strong internal anti biotic like Kanamycin.
(Seachem's Kanaplex) At 1 to 2 measuring spoons per 5 gallons every other day for up to 10 days following a water change. If the feces can confirm that worms are present then worm the animal with "wormer plus".
Unfortunately there is a high mortality rate with abdominal swelling,the key is to have a good preventative program, worming your fish and not feeding live fresh water foods and blanching greens that you add to your BH mix. It's important to catch it early. If there is no improvement after a week of treatment then the humane thing to do is euthanize using Clove Oil, see method further down this page.
There have been some success stories reported on the forums treating over an extended period like 30 days with Kanaplex and salt, however I feel this is very rare. The cost of medication and the suffering of the animal should be a consideration.
08) Are the fish fussy on eating? If the fish, suddenly stop eating and the feces is fine, then we need to look at water quality and the bio load. Discus, I believe, have a keen sense of smell and if there is rotting food left in the tank, or there is a protein build up on the inside glass or airlines, this will put them off eating. It can also be a filter that needs a lite cleaning. Measure your water quality for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to confirm it's poor water quality. Water temperature can have an impact, cold water slows their metabolism making them sluggish. Note: If you have ground cover, then you could have issues with it harbouring uneaten food and feces, and if you are going to perform a good cleaning, first remove your fish, as the toxic bacteria and gases residing in your ground cover can kill your fish. Your best to do this project when you can monitor your fish through out the day. Change at least 80 to 90% of the water after cleaning the ground cover, then add "Prime", then add your fish. There are many accounts on the forums, where hobbyists cleaned the ground cover at night, only to wake up the next morning to find their fish dead from these toxic gases. Treatment; A thorough cleaning of the inside of the aquarium and a large 50 to 60% water change, two days in a row. A lite cleaning of the filter as well. The issue could be diet, again assuming the feces is fine. A balanced nutritional diet will put the sparkle back in their eyes. Most serious hobbyists and breeders feed a beef heart Seafood mix with vitamins, minerals, fruits and vegetable to provide a well rounded diet. You can also add the occasional feed of white worm, or Hikari's frozen Spirulina adult brine shrimp, or if they will eat it, a good quality dry food, being careful not to over feed.
09) Are the fish not responding to you i.e. begging for food? If your fish are healthy and happy then this should not be a problem, they should get excited when you first walk in the room following your every step looking to be fed. If this is not happening; Verify their water parameters including temperature are good? Whens the last time you cleaned your tank and performed a water change?
Can they see you? Or is their light so bright on the tank that they can't see out. This will result in skittish, nervous discus as all they can see is the occasional shadow. Additional information on lighting can be found on the "starting out" page.
What are you feeding? It's hard to get excited if it's the same old cereal every day (flake food). I have had numerous hobbyists, once they try our food formula, can't believe the improvement in their fish. So a good nutritional diet could be the answer.
10) Are your fish Head or Tail standing? Head or tail standing, is an indication of a swim bladder problem. A successful outcome is dependent on early detection and treatment. See Understanding Swim Bladder Problems by Robin and Ron Futrell @ www.discusnews.com/article/cat-02/swimblader.shtml .
Why are Discus Prone to so many Problems? Life expectancy of a discus in a closed environment like an aquarium, is not good especially if the hobbyist is not focused on water quality. A large number of young discus sold by mail order or from a store do not live more than a few weeks. It is usually the result of the hobbyist forcing the fish into a community tank situation with cold water, a soup of plants fertilizers and high powered lighting and of course gravel, all of which bring on disease.
The discus has no natural defence against the hobbyist that neglects the aquarium's ECO system. Discus originate in the Amazon, in very soft acidic water, where there are less bacterial issues. Pathogens like gill flukes and intestinal worms multiply quickly in a small closed environment like an aquarium, as compared to the vastness of the Amazon river system. Thousands of years of evolution have not prepared the animal for all the world's pathogens in the confines of an aquarium.
Discus require; greater water quality then regular tropical fish and nutritional food, avoiding fresh water aquatic foods. Buy your fish from one source, a quality breeder (not broker) who practices proper discus keeping. Many pathogens can appear from other fish like cardinals, since most are wild caught and carry intestinal worms. Scavenger fish like plecos and catfish can be loaded with parasites and should be cleaned prior to placing them with your discus. Plants, purchased from a store can become carriers of pathogens to your tank so careful cleaning is required. How may times have you seen fish that have been returned to the store usually in horrible condition placed in the plant tank?
To often, I see hobbyists collecting discus as if they were stamps, buying compulsively the next colour variation to add to their collection, adding pathogens to their aquariums at every purchase. Adult discus, can live and survive with a small concentration of worms and to the untrained eye, look fairly normal. if you introduce fry to adults and the adults are not clean, pathogens will be passed on to the young fry. If you plan on keeping the fry in their own aquarium, make sure to use a separate net and syphon hose, and wash your hands, as worms and other pathogens are easily transmitted from tank to tank.
The "Medicine Cabinet": I have assembled a list of antibiotics and medications for those that like to be prepared. I suggest keeping them in a cabinet or drawer in a cool, dark and dry place away from small children. I have found these particular products to be effective. However, antibiotics should be used properly, and when treating make sure to finish the treatment so as not to develop resistant bacterial strains. I don't use "shotgun" or "cure all" treatments as targeting a specific problem is more effective, less stressful and less damaging to the internal organs of the fish. In an emergency, and if a "shotgun" remedy is all you can find, then you have no choice, but it is better to be prepared.
Don't let your fish suffer; I often here a hobbyist say " the fish hasn't eaten in a month". I know it's hard for a pet owner to part with an animal, whether it's a cat, a dog or a fish, however it's your responsibility as their owner to do what's right for the animal and not prolong it's agony. If an animal is not responding to treatment then, it's likely in pain, the humane thing is to euthanize. As a breeder I have to euthanize (cull) fry that are deformed or maybe an older discus that life has just run it's course. I euthanize with "Clove Oil" which is very gentle, putting the fish out of it's misery.
The following method is inexpensive, fast acting and will not place any stress on the animal. Clove oil works as an anesthetic putting the animal to sleep and in small doses can be used for minor operations. The Clove Oil solution's strength is based on treating 1/2 a gallon of aquarium water.
Treatment; Utilizing a pail or 1 to 2 gallon aquarium, add 1/2 gallon of aquarium water along with an air stone. Add 10 to 15 drops of Clove Oil into a small jar 3/4 filled with aquarium water, place cap on jar and shake well. The solution should be milky white in colour. Place the fish in your pail or small aquarium andslowly, over a few minutes, add the solution until the fish is resting on the bottom of the container. I pour the solution into the air-stone which helps to disperse the solution evenly. There should be no movement after a few minutes other than you may see the gill move very slowly as the fish is still breathing. If the fish continues to move around add more solution. After about 10 minutes or so and you are confident the fish is a sleep, add about 20 to 25% white grain alcohol (2oz. of vodka per 8 oz. of water) to finish it off. I reduce the amount of water at this point since the fish is asleep, which saves on the amount of alcohol required. After 20 minutes, do a 30 second monitoring of the gill to confirm the animal has expired. At this point I bag the fish (no water) and place it in the freezer until I can dispose.
Disease Alert - Discus Virus A University of California has isolated and identified a Discus virus as a form of Herpes virus. It is very difficult to isolate and required advanced equipment. There is no cure or any way of detecting animals that have previously been infected. In addition Discus samples supplied to the University of Florida have concluded that a virus was present in the samples provided. In Germany wild Altum angel fish had been exposed to domestic angels and suddenly became sick and were analysed and found to have had the herpes virus. This particular virus, first appeared in December of 2009 in some of the local area fish stores. A number of the discus forums around the world reported numerous hobbyists and suppliers with the illness after purchasing and introducing new fish to their existing stock. Symptoms - The new fish may look fine, since they are the carriers of the virus, but the existing discus, within a day or so, clamp their fins going dark with a heavy slime, huddled in the corner or gasping for oxygen at the surface of their tank. Treatment - (see above # 4 Major). 2014 September Update!
I have been assisting, very recently, a few discus illness issues, that appear to have the symptoms of the Herpes virus. A local importer here in Toronto, importing discus from a number of sources has been fighting the disease for a month or two. He also had angel fish come down with it. Although I have asked him not to pass the recovering fish on to the stores and public, as they are now carriers, you never know. I have also assisted two hobbyists in the US with the same symptoms after receiving fish from mail order. I think this is a good time to be vigilant with quarantining all purchases.
As with the common flu and cold viruses you can always count on a virus returning, its the nature of the world we live in. So it's always a good idea to follow quarantine procedures and have your fish medicine cabinet prepared.