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Anna, Pet Expert/Biologist
Category: Pet
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Experience:  40 yrs.: herps, pocket pets, rabbits, poultry, dogs, horses. Biology degree. Vet assistant.
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My goldfish is in trouble

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My goldfish is in trouble. I have 2 common goldfish that are about 13 yrs ols in a 20 gal tank, they are both usually very healthy, i have never added new fish or any live plants or food to tank , they have been in here about 10-11 yrs. one has over the past 2 yrs, had floaty problems, would sit at top of tank, i would give a pea and he would be fine next day, this went on for 2 yrs, didnt happen all the time, this past 2 months or so it has been happening about every day, i feed him peas and he does stop swimming so jerky , but last two nights he has been swimming like this

His tail will go up from behind him and soar him to top of tank with his head down, he will then sit vertically at top and look bent as though he is hanging head in water and tail, but its fin at top is along waterline, he eats well, very well but i havent fed alot lately, I started him on medigold, doesnt seem to be helping, I make gel food, bought many new foods, etc. I fed him only peas today, seems no better. My ammonia is always at 0.25 cant change it no matter what but they have always had this for many years, I have two filters running, one a new whisper about 1 yr old, and the other a very old biowheel, it is as old as tank, water hardly comes out of it but enough to rotate the wheel, i use airstone, I read that it can be swimbladder, gas bladder elecric current , many thing I dont know what to do?? Please offer advice, I clean 2-3 gallons a week, ph is around 8 kh is 200 gh is 0 (have always had to use water from my water softener (whole house) nitrates fluctuate from 20-40 right now at 20 after water change, no nitrites, some algae, one plant (silk ) in tank

Thank you

My other fish is fine, the one in question always has white feces, not much at a time, his tail the last few days has looked bent, he dives in to stones to look for food, he swims okay in the morning, straight body and tail, but when he goes to get his food if swimming to fast dives and sorta list a bit over top or side, not completely and sometimes after he eats about an hour later or so, he sits at top of tank most of the day until i come by, then jerkily swims to bottom and around tank looking for food


I apologize that no one has responded to your question sooner. Different experts come online at various times. I just came online and saw your question. I'm sorry to hear that your fish is having this problem. From what you have described, there are several possibilities for what is going on. If possible, a photo of the fish when he is having difficulties would be useful. You can upload a photo by clicking on REPLY, then at the top of the area where you would type is a tool bar with icons. Click on the little paper clip icon (it's right next to the YouTube icon). Instructions will pop up. On some browsers, this doesn't work. if that happens, you can put your photo on one of the free photo sharing websites, such as Then come back here and paste the link to your picture in a REPLY.

If a photo isn't possible, let em know, and I'll ask a few questions that will give me some additional information.

Thank you.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I sent a photo, but you want one when he is at top, I changed the old biowheel filter out last night with a new one, it seems to make more current as the old one was jsut about stopping with its flow, would barely drop into water, Would this make any difference in his condition, also when i feed him progold with probiotics in it, he seems so far to be doing better, still goes to top but dont swim jerky? Do you know anything about probiotics and swim issues, Could the bending at top last night and a few times be from gas pain??

Ill send a photo if he does it again


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

here are two more pics, he ate a few hours ago and swims okay for now, but here is how he sits at top, havent noticed yet the swimming with tail bent from bottom to top, it is strange, he will put his tail up toward top and bend it a bit and shoots him straight up, but for now so far he isnt doing it, can i keep this open until tonight when he will most likely do it again


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

here are some more pics, now i have light on, i keep it off as if it is on he wants food some are blurry as he was moving

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Did you get my pictures?? Thanks, Cathy

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hello, is anyone going to answer my question?? It is okay if you need time , but please let me know so i dont keep sitting here waiting!
Thanks again


[email protected]

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I have not got an answer yet, PLEASE contact me!!


Cathy, I apologize for the delays. There was apparently some glitch in the JustAnswer system and I was never notified that you had responded. None of your pictures came through at all. Can you post them at and then send me the link. I really need to see what that bend in the tail looks like in order to figure this out.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

here is the url for my pics

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Did you get the link to my pics


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I sent the link to photos, he only does it after about 6 or so hrs when he eats and sits at top, he swims with it straight

Hi Cathy,

I got your post that says, 'Here is the url for my pics,' but there is no url. i see that we are both online at the same time for once. If you hold on, I'm going to give you some first aid measures for your fish that may help no matter what is wrong. We'll worry about the bent tail later. It will take me a little while to type of the information, but I want to assure you I'm working on your answer. Please don’t respond to this post as that can lock me out of the question. I’ll be back shortly.

Thank you for your patience. First of all, I have some serious concerns about your water, but I'll talk about that in a moment. I would start with a 1/3 water change (about 6 1/2 gallons), but don't use softened water. Instead, buy some filtered drinking water from a supermarket. Don't get distilled water, but filtered drinking water. After the water change, add 1 teaspoon of aquarium/pond salt per gallon of water. Don't use table salt because it often contains additives to help it flow, and they cna be toxic to fish.

Now about your water. an ammonia level of .25 ppm isn't enough to kill a goldfish, but it is enough to produce ammonia stress, especially over time. Some fish have stronger constitutions than others and don't show signs as quickly. That's why one fish can seem fine while another is sick. You can confirm that this amount si harmful on this reputable forum:

Ammonia is more toxic at a higher pH, but goldfish need that higher pH. As little as 0.01 ppm of ammonia can cause illness under the right circumstances.You can read more about ammonia levels and pH here:

The reason you can't get the ammonia down is that your tank is not big enough for two old goldfish. t used to be recommended to have one gallon (about 4 liters) of water per inch of fish. that still holds true for tropical fish, but not for goldfish. For large goldfish, it is generally recommended to have 30 gallons (about 113 liters) per fish, regardless of size. I’ll share my own experience with 12 inches total of goldfish (3 fish). They are in a 90 gallon tank. I had an undergravel filter, a hanging filter, and a powerful canister filter. It takes all three of those filters to maintain perfect water quality. If you can't get a bigger tank, you can help by adding another very powerful filter and by doing more frequent water changes - several times a week. If you do decide to get a bigger tank, let me know because there are important measures to take before putting fish into a new tank.

Your pH is great, and the KH is fine. Your GH is horrible, and that alone is enough to make goldfish sick. Softened water should never be used for goldfish. They need the mineral ions that are dissolved in hard water to remain healthy. Your GH should be at least 200. You can read more here:

and here is a very detailed explanation of the importance of water chemistry:

The water change with filtered drinking water will reduce the ammonia and increase the GH. The salt helps goldfish cope with stress. After the first water change, I would do a 10% water change every day until you can get the ammonia down to zero and the GH up to 200.

You are on the right track with peas for the ailing goldfish. It does sound like a swim bladder disorder. Unfortunately, once a goldfish develops that problem, it tends to recur and get worse with time. Salt and peas can help with that. A bent tail can indicate some serious diseases. However, most of the time, the tail will not ever straighten out when these diseases occur. If you can find away to get me some photos, I'll be happy to take a look.

If you have more questions, let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope you'll be able to improve the water and your goldfish will be fine.


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

okay i will do more water changes, although i do them alot, wspecially now! I put epsom salt in tank to put some minerals in and make water a bit harder, it shows it is going up slowly, will this be okay, I will slowly try to introduce bottled water in tank, this means i will have to always buy it, or would the salt and water changes be okay, As far as his tail goes ,it is straight when he swims, only bent when he floats to top and when he sits there, is this a constipation issue? I have made some gel food, let me know if this may help, baby food peas, pinch of garlic, probiotic pill, some crushed progold food, If it does help please explain how, Can i keep this open till tomorrow afternoon, i have to get to bed with my grandson being here ane have to go away early, will be home around 1 eastern time, I will find a way to send photos, can i attach them to an email to you
Thanks so much

Hope he is okay in the morning so i can start working with him, I did get a new larger filter he has two now running really well, will this help?



I couldnt go to bed without changing some water, they had a bit higher ammonia reading, not 1 but between 0,25 and 0,50 so i changed some out and added a few drops of prime, not knowing if this will be okay, also need to know if i can use epsom salt with prime, willmy changing the new filter biowheel and keeping old filter in new one, cause ammonia to worsen?? Oh i am nervous about mixing things in the water, i keep it too clean i think, i really do , could this be the problem, it is cycling again?I never get any mulm or poo from bottom, nothing at all, the old water i dump looks very clean, i dont know, what to think, please advise

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

i sent a few more question , i want to continue as it is late here and am not finished can you still keep this open a bit longer, see if you can find my reply to your last post


Yes, i got your posts, and am working on a reply right now.

First of all, yes, you can keep this open until we have all your concerns addressed. Epsom salts will increase the water's hardness, but you have to be careful not to overdose with it.Use one tablespoon per 10 gallons of water. Do not repeat this treatment. The best way to increase GH is by adding water with some minerals in it. You don't necessarily ahve to buy it. If you know someone who has ordinary tap water, get some in clean buckets. You'll need to treat it with a de-chlorinator, and let it warm to room temperature before using it. You can also put a clean limestone in the tank as an ornament that will also gradually increase GH.Pet stores also sell products that will increase hardness. Prime is safe to use with Epsom salts.

The food concoction you mix up won't hurt anything if the fish will eat it. The fiber in the peas will help if the fish is constipated. Constipation can put pressure on the swim bladder and lead to swimming problems.

Frequent water changes can lead to an inability of a tank to cycle, but when a tank is small for the fish, the water changes are unavoidable. When you c change filters, save some of the media from the old one to put in the new one to help the bacteria become established.

Justanswer doesn't allow contact off the site, so I can't give you my email address. However, you can email the pics to [email protected] They will then send them on to me - but probably not until some time tomorrow.

It's late here, as well, and I'll be going offline, too. We can talk some more tomorrow. I hope you get a good night's sleep.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Okay I will try to send pics now, i will say they are for you, also the epsom salt increased water hardness and all other parameters are good, he still floaty?? Will baby food peas in a gel form work as well as frozen thawed without skin?

I am really trying here, He doesnt seem to be getting any better, a few weeks ago he would only float about every other day or so now it is every day, he swims straight, but still hangs with a crooked look at top of tank, did you get my mails on new filter, and yes i kept old filter media


please dont leave!!


I sent some pics with your name, please let me know when you view them, Will the epsom salt hurt the fish as it did raise gh??

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I sent pics, I fed him a piece of the gel food about 1 pm today and he started swimming on side at top eating bubbles, he even spit one out (a bubble) i added airstone on other side, lots of surface action, now he dont know where to go to sit at top, I am so worried, I am nervous, why does he swim on side when he eats and eats bubbles from surface or air??


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I need help now, he is on side at top, will swim some normally but cant get to bottom, goes to top and sits, I have read feeding them a pea with a grain of epsom salt, or one told me to use a dropper to put some warm water and oil down mouth, Please help soon!!The water is good, i think it is contipation bad!

Hi Cathy,

I'm sorry to hear that he is sicker. The pea with a grain of Epsom salt can help if there is constipation.

Swimming at the top and gasping at bubbles is most often a sign of inadequate oxygen. This cna eb because there isn't enough air in the water, or it can mean the fish has something wrong that makes it impossible for his body to properly process oxygen.

There is no emergency first aid to give a fish in such bad condition. I wish there were because I'd love to be able to give you more help. My honest opinion is that this is not simple constipation. You have already been feeding things that should help with that. If you put Epsom salts in the water, that would also help. This fish may ahve something wrong in the digestive system, such as a tumor, that makes it impossible for him to pass droppings normally. There would be no treatment for something like that. We do need to take into consideration your fish's age. While goldfish have been known to live to age 20, the average lifespan in 10 to 15 years when optimal water conditions are provided. Once they get past 10, they are prone to diseases of old age. Since you have now tried so many things without getting results, I think we need to realize that this may be an age related condition. Still, it won't hurt anything to give the fish a pea with the Epsom salt grain in it. If you want to try the oil and water method, you need to consider that it will be very stressful to the fish to be taken out of the water and have something forced into its mouth. It's your decision if you want to try.

If you need anything else, don't hesitate to ask. The photos haven't arrived yet. I'll be in touch when they do. Thank you.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I dont think ill do the oil thing, and another site told me that the epsom salt wouldnt be a good thing, does it cause them harm with osmoregulation,?? He loves to eat, so it is not something making him sick to not eat, jsut has floaty problems, please try to locate the pics?

Thank You Let me know when you see them


I wanted to let you know I just finished consulting with several aquarists (members of an aquarium club) with many years experience. Their consensus is that the ammonia and lack of GH is the root cause of the problem. Poor water quality can lead to swim bladder disorder and digestive problems. Until the water is optimal, medications and treatments do not work.


Where did you send the pictures?


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

What else do they suggest i do for water, i am glad to hear it can be helped, what do they suggest i do to get him over this crisis in swimming and defacating??
Do peas cause gas, he acts as he has this, like a human would do if in pain, I sent the pics to [email protected]


Put for anna on each one??

Let me know and keep talking to the aquarium people, if you can, people that have had them know of problems like this i suppose, it is nice to have someone here to talk to , thank you for that

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I wanted to add that the gh is rising due to the epsom salt i keep putting in over past week, but i take some out too with water changes, i replace it, it is now at 120??
I had to get a new whole house catalytic water filter with sulfaban in it about 3 months ago, i had my tap tested and it had ammonia in it, the water company said this filter would remove it , along with sulfur , chloramine chlorine and iron, now when i test my tap which is not supposed to have ammonia in it, shows same color as tank test, i cant tell alot of times if it is 0 or 0.25, I hate this test kit, but have no others!
WIll look forward to your reply


They haven't sent me the photos yet - I'll let you know when they do. Remember that Epsom salts are toxic in too large of amounts. That's why I said earlier it needs to be dosed carefully and only once.

Everyone agreed that the best solution is a bigger tank, filled with water that hasn't been softened. As I said before, your fish is critically ill. There may not be anything to get him through such a crisis. By the time they are floating sideways, it is often too late. What you can try is setting up a hospital tank with aeration. Use purchased bottled drinking water at room temperature to fill it. In many areas you can buy drinking water in one gallon jugs for around a dollar. This doesn't need to be the expensive little bottles. Then put in one teaspoon of aquarium/pond salt per gallon of water. Taking these steps will get t he fish out of the ammonia, provide hard water for him, and the plain aquarium salt can help with swim bladder and constipation. This is what I would do if he were my fish, and my friends agree this would be the best option. You do need to keep in mind that it may not be enough, but it certainly can't hurt to try.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I didnt know epsom salt is toxic!! I have been putting a bit in every day for over aweek or so!! I has made water harder, should i take more out again! I dont have any tanks, like i explained the ammonia is either 0 or 0.25 and comes from my tap that has a special filter for removing ammonia before using, I have to also add that he dont lay on his side, He will list over on side a second then come back to normal, but he does this alot, then he starts to poop and settles back into sitting at top of tank, Sure wish you could find the pics, I am now concerned with the epsom salt, I keep taking water from tank so much so this past week that i think i have taken over half the tank water if not more, I was often told that epsom salt is good to leave in tank always?? Wow I have to stop searching around, How is it that some say not to use aquarium salt on fish and some say do?? Can i add it even though it has epsom salt in there still?? If so how much can i add as he is not on side now, jsut sitting at top, he had a long long piece of poo coming out about an hour ago, but it was thin not chunky, Please note that when he eats, about an hr after he gets bad and acts so stressed, then later he settles down some, what do you think

Anything is toxic in large enough amounts. Epsom salt is generally used in a bath, which is far different from adding to the tank. It can be added to a tank to increase hardness, but only once. Also, it adds magnesium, not calcium, so it isn't a balanced hardness. The advice to put Epsom salts in all the time is an old wives tale, and some people are still passing it around. Aquarium salt is much safer, but there is no salt that should be put in the tank all the time. Note that I said above: Epsom salts will increase the water's hardness, but you have to be careful not to overdose with it.Use one tablespoon per 10 gallons of water. Do not repeat this treatment.

The problem with many of the sites you'll find online is that anybody and his brother can post a blog or make a website, and then give their opinion. If you want to search, make sure you look for reputable websites. The ones I've given you are. I wish you would go and read them all. Here again is one of the most important:

Your situation is now so complicated that I almost don't know where to tell you to start: we have ammonia, we have no GH, we have Epsom salt in the water, and the fish has been eating medicated food. Besides the original illness, any number of toxins and drugs can be interacting in the fish's body to cause further problems. And to complicate matters more, there's no way to set up a hospital tank. Anything we do at this point is going to stress the fish.

All I can do is give you some steps to take based on my judgment. It may be too late to save this fish, but with all these complications, the other one may get sick too, if we don't do something.

1) Do a 1/3 water change. Use drinking water from the store. After the water change, don't add anything to the water.

2) Go ahead and put in the new more powerful Biowheel. The Epsom salts have destroyed the good bacteria by now, so it doesn't matter.

3) Stop feeding the sick fish. Sometimes getting all food out of the stomach can help.

4) Consider buying a RubberMaid tote and small filter so you can set up a hospital tank.

I have now way to look for the pics. If you sent them [email protected], they will eventually be forwarded to me. It would be nice to see them, but at this point, I think the bent tail is the least of our problems.

Try to take the steps I just outlined. Let me know how things are going in the morning.


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hello, this is what is so strange about this fish, Last night i thought wow he is in bad shape, the listing to side is temporary as he comes back normal, even when he is bad he dont stay that way, he just sits at top, BUT every morning especially this morning he is swimming as normally as you could ask, all over tank, gracefully, no stress, etc. As soon as i feed him in about an hr, he will start stressing skimming along top and sit all night, he acts like he gets gassy or something, If it were swim bladder wouldnt he stay that way all the time?? Never able to get down?? He scared me last night but looks so good this morning, Now I dont know what to do, I sent the pics to experts at just ask .com NOT the one you mentioned in last post, the one you told me to before that, If you could ask the aquarist people what they think of this, maybe they would have an idea

Good morning,

Here is a quote from my post where I told you to send the pics: "Justanswer doesn't allow contact off the site, so I can't give you my email address. However, you can email the pics to [email protected] They will then send them on to me - but probably not until some time tomorrow." If they ha d been sent to either JustAnswer or Pearl, they would have been forwarded to me by now. JustAsk is a totally different company and they would ahve no idea why you sent them photos. When an address is in blue in my posts, it is a link. You can just click on it and a blank email should open up. when it is a URL, you click on it and it takes you to a website. You can try to send the photos again. either of these addresses should work:

[email protected]

[email protected]

Now for the fish's behavior. Apparently, there is something about eating that causes the problem. Food in the intestines may be putting pressure on the swim bladder. That might mean the fish has a tumor in the digestive system. when you add food as well, there isn't room for it, and pressure is put on the swim bladder. Please try not feeding him at all for a couple of days. Fish can live for weeks without food, so a few days isn't going to hurt him. This is the only way to find out for sure if the food is the cause of his swimming problem. We need to find out if he is fine even at night when he isn't fed. (It won't hurt your other fish to go without food either, so don't worry about that.

So, no food for two days, then let me know what happened. You can also try sending the photos again. Thank you.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

im sorry, but i didnt mean to say i sent photos to jsut ask, it was experts at just answer com, I seen my sent folder

I will try what you say, i anchored some fake plants in the area he goes to eat bubbles, it seems to be okay so far and it has been many hours since he ate, we will see, Do fish have to eat bubbles to regulate swim bladder, or do you think what i am doing is okay, if he needs the bubbles then i dont know about the plants

If the pics were sent to JustAnswer, the moderators should be forwarding them to me. I don't have access to that information, so I have to wait for them.

I hope the fish isn't really eating the bubbles, but is seeking oxygen. Fish don't need bubbles to regulate the swim bladder. Taking air in through the mouth rather than the gills can result in gas, just as it can in people. Using the fake plant should be fine.

Let me know how things are after not feeding. I'll be in touch if I get your photos.


If our interaction and my support through this complicated problem have been helpful, please take a moment to rate my answer with a smiley face. We can continue to talk as long as necessary after you do that. Thank you.
Anna and other Pet Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hello Anna,I am wanting to ask you some more if its okay, I started feeding him a week long on peas only, he swims better and doesnt flip over, However he still will sit at top, but will come down easily to bottom, he still has sorta the same kind of poo, it is long and sometimes thin with bubbles in it or a bit thicker and long, usually mucous with it or bubble, I am about to stop the pea food and dont know what to feed to keep him from floating, he stopped doing that, he sits at top but no floating or swimming funny, no flipping over, i changed water several time since i talked to you and the epsom salt should be out of water by now, let me know , thanks


Hello again,


I'm glad to hear your fish can swim better. But as you suspect, peas are not a good permanent diet. You can continue to feed some along with other healthy foods. Using spirulina-based goldfish foods can help in some cases. Buy the highest quality foods you can find. Another step to take is to take out a little tank water and soak the pellets or flakes for 15 minutes before feeding them. This cuts down on the amount of air swallowed and makes the food easier to digest. Both will decrease the chances of swim bladder problems. I hope these steps will help.



Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you again, i wondered about the long poos, as he is eating the peas and spirulina, does this mean anything, it is clear stringy with some green from peas at the ends of it?? Looks like bubbles at times

It's not normal, but at age 13, I wouldn't worry about it. He is pooping, and that's the important thing with swim bladder disease. I don't think it indicates anything too serious in a fish this old.