View Full Version : Discus Hexamita

Norm Peer
03-10-2008, 09:37 PM
I'm a newbie here, but I am at my wits end, and I'm about ready to give up on my Discus. I've been keeping and breeding various ciclids for 20 years. One of my 3 tanks is a 125 gallon discus tank. Currently there are 7 discuss ranging from 2.5 inches to 5 inches in the tank. There are about 50 tetras, mostly Cardinals. I keep the tank at 86-87 degrees (30 celcius). I use two large power filters, and a small canister filter. I've had the tank up about 15 months. About 4 months ago I lost my two favorite fish (isn't that how it always works) to Hexamita. One heater failed and the temp dropped about 8 degrees over a couple weeks before I realized. My fish never responded to treatment (I tried various versions of metrodiazonole SP?). Figuring I must have screwed up, I bought a UV sterilizer (9 watt), and started feeding my fish a better frozen diet, and stopped feeding them black worms (for fear of parasites). There used to be angels in the tank. They were the first thing to go.

After a couple months I bought four new discus. No problems until this week when I noticed at least 2 and maybe four have stopped eating. I saw the tell tale signs of white feces coming from my oldest and until now, healthiest fish. I don't know what I could have done wrong. The tank gets a 20% water change every week. I add trace elements,and feed them well 2-3 times per day (bloodworms, beefheart, brine shrimp, flakes and tablets). Despite all this, I now have to try again (likely in vain) to save my beautiful and expensive fish.

Please help! Is this the way it is with discus? Are they always on the verge of getting this fatal illness? What am I not doing? I'm not willing to buy more equipment (no ozonizers, protein skimmers, or reverse osmosis suggestions please). Is it possible to keep these fish healthy in less than an absolutely pristine enviroment? Please no professionals. I don't believe you anymore.

03-10-2008, 09:38 PM
hello and welcomethumbs2: dont give up someone will help you find the answers :thumb:

03-10-2008, 09:59 PM
Please post your water parameters; pH, gH, kH and the usual nitrogen stuff. Which trace elements are you adding and why? Please post the complete day to day diet of the fish. When did these problems start? What are your acclimation procedures?
If you search for my username in the worm section there's information on culturing black worms yourself, eliminating the possibility of parasites, which California black worms aren't known for anyway.
The white feces is indicative of intestinal parasitical nematode worms. All fish possess them; its only when stressed that fish become vulnerable to damage and eventual death from the worms.
All new arrivals are quarantined and started on a six-week course of garlic-laced foods. The garlic prevents the worms from metabolizing, and they thus starve and are voided by the fish. Fresh pureed garlic added to Discus food is an old trick to strengthen and stabilize the fish.
Something is stressing the fish making them vulnerable to the worms and it'll take some detective work to find what. I'll help you all I can. Please post the required information and we'll work from there.


03-10-2008, 10:00 PM
The problem is partially that the water changes are too small and too infrequent especially for such young Discus. Those young Discus should be getting a 90% water change at the very least every other day and every day is preferable. When I was raising mine to Adult size, I was doing exactly that along with siphoning any junk off the bottom of the tank every day. Discus need more than just low nitrates, they need clean water. As surprising as it may seem, the problem is partially due to water quality. Your water change routine would be great for just about anything except Discus. First thing should probably be to increase the frequency and size of your water changes. Keeping good water quality will go a long long way towards helping the fish.

03-11-2008, 02:08 AM
Although I do think that the water change schedule needs to be more aggressive, I do not believe that it needs to be in the 90% every other day range. Increasing to 50% a week and watching nitrates will be critical.

New Life Spectrum (as good as it is to begin with) has lines that have the required amount of garlic in them. I have used these as the only treatment to cure discus of internal parasites. I had some down with internal parasites, put them in their own tank, used NLS's Thera+A, and weeks to a month or two later they were back to normal.

Norm Peer
03-11-2008, 01:27 PM
Here is some additional information for my situation. The ph in my tank is 6.5, I have never measured any amount of nitrites or nitrates or ammonia. I do not know the exact water hardness, though the tetra scale I have indicates the water is moderately soft.

The fish eat two to 3 times a day. They receive flakes and pelletts at lunch time, usually bloodworms in the later afternoon, and either brine shrimp, beefheart, or nothing in the evening (depending on my schedule). I also switch this around from time to time. I always feed beefheart before cleaning the tank. I add trace elements that are specifically for discus. I can't remember the brand (I'm at work). I add them "just in case". I also take multivitamins - is this bad?

There has been some added stress. Two of the larger discus paired off, which clearly stressed the other fish, as they became territorial. However, they are not overly aggressive.

Acclimation is not an issue, as I had all the fish for months before any symptoms were revealed. I'm a veteran at this.

Never heard of using garlic as a conditioner. Maybe that's a European thing (I'm in Pittsburgh PA). Never heard or read about that before.

I do not quarantine discus. My isolation tank does not have the filtration or water conditions as the main tank (the main tank is moderately planted with much driftwood to keep the water soft and acidic). I certainly would consider this in the future, but again I don't think it is relavant, as the fish were in my tank for several months before exhibiting symptoms. The fish showing the most advanced symtoms (white stringy feces, not eating) has been in the tank over a year, and has doubled in size (as have the other discus I ve had for a year). His problems seemed to start a couple weeks after the other two large discus paired off.

Regarding the water changes, I make the changes as recommended by my local dealer (he actually said 15% a week is enough). 50% water change is not practical for so many reasons. Least of which is time. Recall I said I have a 125 gallon tank. I have to carry the water to the tank from another floor. I'm already struggling to find the time every week as I am the father of 3 young children, and have a time consuming occupation. If it is consensus that 20% a week is not sufficient, I will find another home for the still healthy discus I have. Maybe I just don't have the time to treat these fish well enough. Retailers, and books always say it's not so hard to care for discus, but I'd say they are not objective.

03-11-2008, 02:23 PM
Do you have the water sitting before you add it, or just fill buckets and dump them in?
Can you buy a Python water change system, or make one yourself? I can't imagine having more than one 10 gallon and using the bucket method. I do 50% water changes on my 150 (and all my tanks) twice a week and use a python, it takes about an hour or so for the 150. If the nitrate concentration really is 0 then it is not a big deal to get water changes up, but it is still a good idea.

Norm Peer
03-11-2008, 04:30 PM
I use dechlorinators (aqua safe) before adding the water. How would it be practical to have 40 gallons of open water sitting around (let alone 60 or more)? I'm curious if there is a consensus on the 50% or more water change. I have never heard anyone prior to this forum advocate such huge water changes. I would think it stresses the fish. How do you maintain the ph without using additives (my ph is normally 8) let alone hardness.

I know discus require clean water. Is that not why we use mechanical and biological filtration? I have 3 filters running constantly, pushing 200gph.

This is very discouraging. There is no way I'm changing that kind of water every week (or more). Python or no python. I still have to pay for the water (my bill is already about $50 per month). I think you have answered my questions. I'm going to talk to some locals too, but I think I'm going back to astronomy (nothing dies, and optics last a lifetime). The Cardinals can stay!

03-11-2008, 05:04 PM
Interesting thread... welcome and goodbye to the AC! I hope not the later???

Note to self: Do not even think about raising Discus. NO, NO, NO! 50% waterchanges would kill me too!

Why don't you trade in the Discus for african cichlids? You already said your water ph is 8.0 and is hard?.... that's the winning combo for these cichlids. And they are a lot less maintenance!

03-11-2008, 05:08 PM
Any tank should have significant weekly water changes. If it is well planted and lightly stocked you keep the water changes to about what you are doing. If your nitrates are undetectable I think you should be fine with your current schedule.

I am on a well so I don't use a dechlorinator. If I did I would simply put it in the tank when I started filling.

Some people have new, clean trach cans with water sitting (with an aerator or pump) so that the pH stabilizes.

Do you do anything to bring the pH down and soften the water?

Norm Peer
03-11-2008, 06:22 PM
Rainman. I do have another tank with Africans. You are right. My Africans look better than any I've seen. And I only change their water once a month. Very easy to care for, and they eat anything. I was looking for something different with the Discus. Very Pretty and interesting behavior. But I'm afraid this bout has done me in. I have already started calling pet stores about taking the healthy ones, but I doubt any will. I once raised discus and had 25 little babies no one would take. I ended up giving them away. The parents died after about 5 years from hexamita. That was about 5 years ago, and I have a much nicer tank and equipment now, and I thought that would make the difference.

Fishguy. Thanks for your advice. But I just have too much in my life already to put this kind of time, effort and expense into caring for fish. Just to be complete however, my tank is filled with drftwood and plants. The decay keeps the ph around 6.5, even after 50% water changes (which I have only done 2x.).

Hopefully I can find takers for my healthy fish (anyone in Pittsburgh?). I'll try to nurse the others back to health in my "sick tank" which hadn't been used in years. Then who knows. It's a 30 gallon tank, maybe they'll get used to it.

03-11-2008, 07:11 PM

Welcome to AC! I'm sorry you're having so much trouble with your fish! I'm a yinzer here, also! What part of the burgh are you from?

If you decide you're really through with the fish, I have a friend or 2 who keep discus, I'll talk to them about maybe buying from you. What type are they? I have been wanting to keep discus, but the tank I've prepared for them is now taken up by a Retic Ray. Oh well...

Norm Peer
03-11-2008, 10:02 PM
I do have an African tank and they do look great. As good as any I've seen. I only change their water once a month (at best). That tank has been up for years.

I wanted Discus for something different. I am trying to get rid of them now. I doubt any store will take them though. I raised 25 babies about 8 years ago, and no one would take them. I gave them away. (anyone near Pittsburgh out there?)

Fishguy, thanks for your advise. I did a lot of reading prior to getting the discus. Like I said previously, no modern books were advocating such large water changes. However, they're trying to sell books not discourage a dilitante hobbyist. I called the dealer that sold me most of my discus. They recommend 20% a week. But i'm inclined to agree with you after recent events. By the way, the ph and softness seems to stay low because of the plants and driftwood I keep in the tank.

I was a little disappointed by so few responses. But thanks guys.

Norm Peer
03-11-2008, 10:10 PM
Do I have it right? I live in Robinson, but I'll drive. I want the fish taken care of. I wouldn't just euthanize them. So if you do know someone, write back, or provide a phone number. I have seven discus now. But I believe 3 are sick (two for sure). I'll likely remove them from my tank tonight, and place them in a sick tank. I wouldn't feel right giving them to someone. The other four are a leopard turquoise, a spotted turquoise (a beautiful fish), a red melon (my favorite fish ever!), and a mixed pigeonblood that is mostly cream and orange with a lot of peppering.

03-12-2008, 03:09 AM
Don't give the fish away! They aren't that hard..

Keeping discus is not that hard to do. Cleaning does require more attention and if you are doing them a week apart, 50% water change is recommended. I do changes everyday to every otherday at 15-20% and heavier if I miss a day.

I use Discus Buffer, Blackwater Extract, and Discus Minerals with every water change because I live in a hard water area. I'm assuming your water is very soft if there isn't any CO2 to keep the pH low. There are so many additives, it will drive you nuts. This is what has been successful for me and I think this will help add some nutrients in addition to the trace elements. You may want to use a tap water conditioner, or something a little stronger on the chlormine bond too.

If you have the ability to quarantine the sick fish, I would do so... that way you can see and diagnose them easier. If you take the same media from you large tank and use it in the filter of your hospital tank, fill it with water from your 125 and you will be fine. This way if medication is needed it will not cost too much. Filtration is not an issue if you can use the same media. I did this 3 weeks ago. I moved my 6 discus from a 75 to a 20 and I used Aqua Clear filter with the chemical and bio media in my canister and it worked for 2 weeks. Easier water changes too!

If they are going through a territorial phase, the fish may miss a feeding but will come through. You may also be feeding too much food. They will not eat like most other fish, if you are feeding more than an eye size of food per discus then they may be feeling somewhat sluggish. Like slamming a turkey and then going for a jog.

With water temperatures so high, the fish waste and excess food will decompose quicker and release toxins sooner which discus are very sensitive too. I'm assuming this could possibly be why your pH dropped so drastically. Frequent changes with addition of an alkaline buffer and 1/2 dose of aquarium salt will solve that. **If you are using a carbon pad in your media, make frequent changes or look in to buying a stronger media. Most carbon will become weak and release toxins back in to the water as well.

I only know this because I had the same issue with discus, luckily I was able to save my discus but I lost about 8 smaller tetra's and loaches in the process.


Norm Peer
03-12-2008, 08:17 PM
I have been thinking it over, and I do want to give it another try. I have already decided to move the fish like you suggest. I was also thinking that maybe I was feeding them too much as well (they have grown super fast though). I also worry about the temprature. I've been keeping it at about 87 to fend off disease, but at the same time wondering about stress, metabolism, quicker decomposure of the food. What do you feel is a safe, sustainable temperature for the main tank?

I can only do one water change a week. That being said, I will increase the volume to half. I can't believe that in my well planted tank with 3 filtration systems, the quality sinks that low in a week.

You had other good suggestions. Actually ph has not been a problem, though our water is a little hard. I believe that between a little peat moss, a lot of driftwood, and decaying plants, the ph stays about 6.5. I rarely use carbon though. Never saw any benefit to it in other tanks, but as you have noted, discus are sensitive. I always add extra media in my other ciclid tanks instead of carbon.

03-12-2008, 08:26 PM
I have always kept my Discus at 84. 84 is plenty for Discus. As for feeding, I fed mine 4-6 times a day for the first year and then dropped off to 2-3 times a day after that. Young Discus do have higher nutrition needs because of their high growth rate.

03-12-2008, 09:33 PM
82-84F is fine for discus. I think Jack Wattley keeps his tanks (at least the adults) at 82F.

I think that very high temperature may have contributed to the problems. At that high temperature pathogens reproduce and spread very quickly.

03-13-2008, 12:17 AM
Since I had a huge outbreak of bacteria, I dropped the discus tank temperature to 85.5 degrees, which is still a little warm. I've thought about doing peat nuggets and all that too, but haven't tried it yet. If your discus are tank raised they shouldn't have a problem acclimating to your tap water, it's just always good to mimic some of the natural environment as best you can.

The carbon can be a benefit though. This helps remove some the toxins discus are sensitive to, just most common carbon media is not strong enough which is why I think you should invest in a stronger media. If I use the filter brand made carbon I will only leave it in for a week, 2 weeks at the max. I like the Dick Boyd's Chemi-pure. Chemi-pure does not release toxins back in to the water and it helps stabilize fish tanks. Finding what you like can take a little bit of time, but I would use something stronger to polish your water a little bit. It also last for 3-6months (which is what they claim) so I only used it for 3 months at the most.

The main thing is just keeping the tank and water as clean as you can. Your discus should be fine with once a week changes as long as those cleanings are thurough and not shocking to the fish.

Glad to hear you decided to give it another shot! Discus are an amazing fish and too beautiful to give away!

03-13-2008, 12:43 AM
I wouldn't use carbon or other chemical medias, they can take out too much of the good stuff and can actually contribute to or even cause HLLE.

I have heard it takes extreme pH changes for carbon to release anything.

03-13-2008, 01:08 AM
What is HLLE?

I have been having good success with swapping the carbon in and out of my filter media. When I didn't have the carbon my tank seemed to fluctuate pH and clarity quite a bit.

My bro has had his discus fish in a carbon filtered tank and they have done well with no problems.

To each his own I guess, if you have any good articles or info about the pitfalls of carbon in a discus tank I would be interested in them! I've just spent so much time trying to get my fish tank right and this is what's been told to me.

03-13-2008, 01:33 AM
HLLE is Head and Lateral Line Erosion. There is an article in my blog on carbon and one on HITH/HLLE.

Norm Peer
03-13-2008, 03:35 PM
SpyderSpy and Fishguy,
I'm going to try the high end carbon for a while. One of the reasons I rarely use it is because I don't want it sucking up the addititives I put in the water (Trace elements and Fertilizer). Speaking of which, I'm going to stop using the fertilizer as well, as it does contain a lot of Nitrogen. My plants don't really need it anymore anyway.

Glad to hear you all feel the temperature can be dropped to 84. I always wonder about the accuracy of thermometers though. I will often take the average of several different ones, as crappy fish store thermometers I've seen vary by 6 degrees. I have a cooking thermometer I use which seems to be more accurate, but that may be my perception since it's digital and measures to a tenth of a degree.

I did transfer the three sick fish last night. I'll begin treating with metrodiazonole (I know the spelling is wrong, but you know what I mean) today. I guess if I remain with the forum I'll have to come up with a "handle".

03-13-2008, 04:05 PM
Did you read those articles? Don't use the carbon if you are using meds. And as you stated, no point in using any additives if you use carbon too.