Betta fish are popular among several aquarists due to their resilient behaviour towards diseases, but it doesn’t mean they’re completely immune to all health conditions.
They’re susceptible to various ailments and infections if living in water parameters not suited for them.
One such disease is gill flukes.
If you notice wounds, swelling, or damage on your betta’s gills, it might be the case of gill flukes, which can become fatal if not treated in the early stage.
Fortunately, gill flukes in betta fish are a treatable and preventable condition if you know its symptoms and treatment.
Gill flukes can affect your bettas at any time of their life. That’s why you should always be prepared for it.
This betta gill flukes guide will help you learn everything you need to know to prevent and treat this condition, as everything is explained in detail here, from causes and symptoms to preventative measures and treatment methods.
Let’s get started.
What are betta gill flukes?
Gill flukes are a parasitic infection that targets (but is not limited to) the gills of betta fish.
The condition is caused by tiny (0.3 mm in size) aquarium parasites belonging to the Dactylogyrus specie.
They reproduce and grow in the gills, and if not controlled in the early stage, gill flukes can also latch onto the skin.
Gill flukes thrive in poor water conditions, such as fish tanks with high ammonia, nitrate, and nitrites.
In poor water conditions, your bettas become stressed and suffer weakened immune systems, making them easy targets for gill flukes.
Parasites causing gill flukes enter the aquarium with live plants and decorations. They can also be introduced to your aquarium when you add infected fish.
Once in the fish tank, they can easily infect healthy betta fish.
What causes gill flukes in betta?
If your betta fish are healthy and their immune system works at maximum capacity, they can fight the parasites causing gill flukes.
Therefore, as a fish keeper, you should identify and eliminate causes of gill flukes in betta fish, as they are often causes of other diseases in betta fish too.
Poor water conditions
Poor water conditions in the aquarium are believed to be the primary cause of gill flukes because it leads to the impairment of the immune system in your bettas, making them prone to parasitic infection.
Excessive buildup of wastes and bioload, accumulation of food leftovers, and higher levels of ammonia in the aquarium water are some factors that make the living conditions imperfect for your betta fish.
Such conditions trigger gill flukes in two ways:
- By causing your betta to become stressed out due to potential ammonia poisoning.
- By making favourable living conditions for gill flukes.
Anything that triggers stress in your bettas can show up as a cause of gill flukes.
Stress weakens healthy fish’s immune systems and reduces their capacity to fight parasitic or bacterial infections.
Besides poor water conditions, unfavourable or sudden temperature changes, and aggressive tankmates are some other factors that can cause your betta to become stressed out.
Betta fish need a balanced diet to maintain a healthy immune system.
A poor diet can impair their internal body functions, making them a target for gill flukes.
Your bettas must be fed a good quality diet having adequate meaty and non-meaty content that can properly nourish their immune system.
This can be done by mixing high-quality pellets, frozen food, and live foods.
I like to use Dr Bassleer Bio-Fish Food with Garlic, frozen bloodworms, and live daphnia to feed my bettas.
Click here to read my betta feeding guide.
Signs and symptoms of gill flukes in your betta fish
As mentioned earlier, gill flukes are too small to see with the naked eye.
They hide in betta’s gills for most of their lifecycle, making them more challenging to notice.
Therefore, the best way to diagnose gill flukes is to look out for their symptom, which includes:
Breathing difficulty and air gasping
Gills are a crucial part of the respiratory system of betta fish as they breathe through them.
When flukes get deep into the gills and damage them, your bettas may feel breathing difficulty, which they would express by gasping for air at the water’s surface.
Breathing difficulties are rare in betta fish as they obtain air from the surface.
If you notice your betta catching her breath with an open mouth or feel strain in breathing, it can be a symptom of gill flukes.
The longer the flukes remain in the gills of your betta, the more damage they will inflict.
If you don’t apply treatment immediately after spotting the gill flukes condition, it could reach a stage when the gills could start to fail, and your betta may stop breathing altogether.
However, you must remember that breathing difficulty or gasping for air can also be caused by ammonia poisoning, so it’s important to look out for other symptoms of gill flukes before jumping to a conclusion.
In severe cases, when flukes invade deep down in the gills’ skin, you may notice damage in the gill area.
It may look like that something is consistently eating away the gills.
At this stage, you must act quickly for the well-being of your betta fish. I’ll cover the gill fluke treatment later in this post.
Mucous layer on gills
When gill flukes attack, your betta’s immune system tries to fight the parasitic infection by flushing out harmful wastes from the body, resulting in a mucous layer that covers the gills later on.
So, noticing mucous on your betta’s gills indicates she might suffer from gill flukes.
A mucous layer around gills or other body parts can also result from columnaris.
So, you should look for other symptoms to ensure it is gill flukes, not columnaris infecting your betta fish.
A simple difference is that only affected gills produce mucous in gill flukes disease.
In contrast, if your betta suffers from cotton wool disease, mucous can also be produced by other body parts.
Scrapping or rubbing of skin against solid objects in the aquarium
If you notice that your betta is scraping or rubbing her body against solid objects, like decorations, in the aquarium, it can indicate that she might be suffering from gill flukes.
The parasitic infection makes your betta fish feel quite itchy.
They try to remove the parasite by rubbing their bodies against anything solid available in the aquarium.
However, scrapping is a common symptom of parasitic and bacterial infections in bettas such as ich, velvet, and anchor worms, so it’s not a conclusive sign of gill flukes – but still a big sign of any potential issues.
Wounds and ulcers on gills
Infected betta fish may develop wounds and ulcers on their gills due to damage and scrapping their bodies against solid objects in the aquarium.
If the scratching is too intense, it can also cause wounds on other body parts.
These wounds and ulceration cause stress and sickness pin your bettas and may eventually jeopardise their health if not treated properly.
As you have noticed, almost none of the symptoms above-mentioned are unique to gill flukes, so what is the best way to diagnose this condition?
The location of symptoms can help you ensure whether or not your betta fish are suffering from gill flukes.
Whichever symptom you notice, the best thing you can do is to check whether it is localised to the gills.
If yes, it’s an indication of gill flukes.
For example, if you notice a mucous layer only on the gills, you can consider it a symptom of gill flukes.
Treatment of gill flukes in betta
Once you’re 100% sure that your bettas are suffering from gill flukes, you can move on to their treatment.
Treating gill flukes is often easy.
However, the effectiveness of the treatment depends on the treatment method you’re using and the stage of the condition.
If you’re applying a recommended method in the early stage of gill flukes, your betta’s chances of survival and recovery are higher.
Many different treatment methods are used to cure betta fish suffering from gill flukes, some of which are better than others in certain circumstances.
Here, I will share two recommended treatments for gill flukes.
Using anti-fluke medication is an effective way to eliminate gill flukes, and many anti-fluke treatment options are available in all major pet stores and online.
Consultation with your vet can help you make a better choice while purchasing a medication.
Once you have the right anti-fluke medication, you can start the treatment procedure.
Generally, this method focuses on treating the aquarium water with a specified medication dosage.
When the treated water comes in contact with the gills of infected betta fish, it eliminates flukes.
A single medication dosage is often enough to treat affected bettas. However, if the infection is severe, you may use multiple dosages.
While treating the aquarium water, you must follow the instructions printed on the medication’s label.
Here’s the rough guideline you should follow when dosing medication:
- Set up a quarantine tank and make sure the water quality and temperature match your main aquarium.
- Follow the dosage instructions.
- Add your betta fish into the quarantine tank.
- Follow the instructions set out on the medication bottle.
I highly recommend against dosing directly in your main aquarium as it might affect tank mates, plants, and your bacteria colony. This will further cause poor tank conditions and might affect other livestock in your aquarium.
If you’re looking to dose directly into your main aquarium, you should also perform a 25% to 50% water change in the aquarium after the treatment ends.
You should use a new activated carbon with the aquarium filter to absorb any chemicals the medication leaves in water.
Aquarium salt treatment
Aquarium salt enhances the capacity and capability of your betta’s immune system. It’s also believed that salt treatment stops and slows the growth of gill flues.
Therefore, giving a salt bath to your bettas is an effective method to kill gill flukes.
However, it’s important to remember that aquarium salt treatment is not as effective as anti-fluke medication – especially if it’s in the later stages.
That’s why anti-fluke medication should be your go-to treatment method for severe infections.
You can follow these tips to treat your betta fish with aquarium salt:
- Prepare a quarantine tank full of water and add aquarium salt to it based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Now, transfer your bettas from the main aquarium to the quarantine tank and check on their behaviour for a while. If they seem distressed, immediately transfer them back to the main aquarium.
- If everything seems fine, then bathe them for 4-5 minutes.
- Continue aquarium salt treatment for three consecutive days and look out for any signs of improvement.
- If you notice an improvement in symptoms, then stop aquarium salt treatment. However, you may carry on with salt bathing if very little improvement is noticed.
How to prevent betta gill flukes
Preventing gill flukes in your betta is about keeping your aquarium clean and maintaining high water quality.
A properly maintained aquarium can lower your betta’s risk of suffering from this condition by a great deal.
Of course, there’re some other preventive measures you can take to protect your betta fish from gill flukes, such as:
- Quarantine all new fish and plants for at least 2 weeks before adding them to your betta aquarium. That will help you ensure they’re healthy and not carrying gill flukes or other diseases. If any new fish or plants are infected, the infection will be apparent within 15 days, and you’ll have the opportunity to treat them before adding them to the aquarium.
- Test your water parameters constantly.
- Perform frequent water changes in your aquarium. I like doing 25% partial water changes weekly. Do larger 50% water changes if your water quality is poor.
- Provide a high-quality, balanced diet to your betta fish to prevent them from being stressed out.
Gill flukes are an infection caused by tiny parasites that live, grow, and breed in the gills of betta fish.
They can damage the gills and produce wounds and ulcerations if not treated early.
After getting infected from gill flukes, your betta fish may develop serious breathing problems and other bodily issues that can negatively impact their overall health.
Knowing the signs, symptoms, and causes of gill flukes helps treat your betta fish more effectively and speeds up their recovery.
You can also prevent betta gill flukes from happening in the first place by taking the above-mentioned preventive measures.