Floating is a normal behavior in axolotls but sometimes it can signify various problems with the pet or its habitat. As a pet owner, make sure you can differentiate the normal and abnormal floating to take the necessary measures to keep your pet safe and healthy. So, why do axolotls float and what should you do to save the amphibian?
Is it normal for an axolotl to float?
It is not normal for axolotls to float in their tanks because they’re amphibians who dwell at the bottom and like to keep their feet on the bottom. A floating axolotl is likely a sign of bloating, impaction, or excess ammonia in the tank.
In its natural habitat, the axolotl moves around the bottom as a defensive mechanism for survival. The rare cases of intentional floating in axolotls are for safeguarding themselves from potential predators at the tank bottom. Axolotl predators may include large fish and birds, notably storks and herons.
Your pet can float for a few minutes for fun, which can be risky, leading to swallowing air. Air increases the axolotl’s buoyancy, making it difficult to descend back to the tank’s bottom.
In such a situation, you may mistakenly think your pet is bloated or suffering from constipation. Nudge or blow on it to help it return to the bottom of its tank to start walking again.
If your aquatic pet is floating on the tank’s surface more than it should and without returning to the bottom, even if you scare it a little, that should concern you.
Here are the reasons why your axolotl is floating and not moving:
Considering axolotl is a predator, floating can also be caused by the ingestion of air during feeding or aggressive feeding habits. Bloating hinders the usual mechanism of digestion.
A sign that your pet is suffering from gas and bloating is when it floats with its back on the water’s surface.
2. It’s suffering from impaction.
Impaction happens when an axolotl is unable to digest its food properly, leading to the buildup of indigestible materials in the digestive tract.
Since axolotls tend to ingest almost anything within reach, including their substrate, avoid availing rocks or gravel smaller than their heads in their tanks. The consumption of rocks or gravel is known to yield impaction. As a result, the axolotl will find it hard to get rid of the ingested materials.
Impaction can push your pet to float and even harm it as there is blockage of air and food.
3. There’s excess ammonia in the tank.
Ammonia is one of the popular wastes found in the environment of aquatic life—the toxic gas results from the breakdown of organic matter in your axolotl tank. Ammonia is also released in the aquarium or tank as a by-product of the axolotl’s metabolism.
The high ammonia levels can compromise the water quality and be ingested by your pet to trigger its floating behavior owing to stress. A spike in ammonia level of more than 0 ppm in the tank or aquarium will also make axolotls suffer from ammonia burns.
4. Feeding on unsoaked food
When you put your sinking pellets or unsoaked feed in the aquarium, with time, they tend to absorb lots of water. If your pet consumes lots of sinking pellets, it will cause your amphibian friend to suffer from bloating, which may trigger its floating.
Since floating is a strong indicator that something is wrong with the health or environment of your walking fish, you should be quick to find the appropriate solution. Most of the reasons for the floating of your axolotl may prove deadly.
Here’s what to do if your axolotl is floating:
1. Change the feeding habits and type of food
First, avoid feeding your axolotl for a couple of days. It would be best if you did not attempt to forcefully feed your pet until the bloating issue has been resolved by its system.
Feed your axolotl in smaller portions and avoid feeding them too quickly. Ensure the food is appropriately sized for your axolotl’s mouth to reduce the risk of air ingestion. Additionally, avoid feeding them floating foods.
2. Get rid of excess ammonia in the tank
Use testing strips to examine if the water in the tank has excess ammonia. Once established that ammonia is the cause of the floating behavior, you will have to lower its concentration. This can be accomplished by changing the water in the tank and installing a proper filtration system.
3. Maintain proper tank temperature
Like other amphibians, the axolotl is a cold-blooded animal. Always see that the tank water temperature is conducive to comfortable living. Any small fluctuation in temperature can be harmful, especially to a baby axolotl, since it is not hardy.
4. Refrigerate the axolotl
Use a water chiller or an aquarium fan to refrigerate an axolotl. That is done to lower the blood temperature, which is vital in assisting it in regurgitating or pooping any gravel ingested.
5. Provide smaller gravel
If you must provide a substrate or gravel in the tank, see to it that it is bigger than the head of your axolotl to discourage swallowing, which results in impaction.
6. Clean the tank regularly
Routinely clean the tank of your amphibian pet to get rid of its poop and any other waste. An unhygienic habitat may force it to float as it is stressed.
7. Add floating plants in the tank
If your pet seems to be having more fun on the surface of the tank water, discourage the risky behavior by covering the tank with floating plants safe for axolotl tanks.
The answer to the question may be yes or no. Floating may not always be dangerous to your axolotl. The floating of your axolotl can be for fun or due to health and environmental issues.
Therefore, you have to make sure you decipher the meaning behind the floating behavior. For instance, if an axolotl floats its anterior legs in a conducive water tank, it’s a sign it’s messing around. But, floating hind legs may be a mating or bowel movement behavior.
However, refusal to stop floating for hours, even after attempts to scare it gently, may indicate health issues and the danger of dying. Apart from floating, including the floating tail, other potential signs of danger to look out for include refusal to eat, falling off of gills, and skin shedding.
Seeing your aquatic pet floating for extended periods, you should immediately take appropriate action by consulting a tank expert or veterinarian, especially in case the implementation of the above home solutions proves unsuccessful in dissuading floating.
Caution: Do not attempt some solutions like fridging an axolotl if you are not too sure about what you are doing to avoid worsening its health and even causing its demise.
- Dayna Willems, DVM, Aurora Animal Hospital: Axolotl Care
- Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Service: General axolotl care and health checks
- University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky: Practical Axolotl
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