Cichlid euthanasia: A sad inevitability

How much do you care about your fish? Seriously. Are they “just fish” to you? Or does the death of one of your fish really bother you? Maybe the effect on you is somewhere in between.

As for me? It bothers me, and usually for at least a couple of days. I take the responsibility of keeping cichlids quite seriously, as I do any decision to euthanize them. Thankfully, it’s not something I have to do very often. Nonetheless, killing a fish to mitigate its suffering is a sad inevitability.

I did the deed myself last week…and I still think about it. It was a young adult male Telmatochromis temporalis about 3.2″ long.

What happened to him? Great question. The short answer is I’m not certain. Here’s what I know. He was in a 75g Tanganyikan community tank. One day I noticed what looked like a pencil eraser sized abrasion on his underside, just anterior to his vent. I watched it for a few days, thinking he had just scraped himself pretty good somewhere. Even though I do regular weekly water changes and keep nitrates low, he wasn’t healing up like he should have.

I netted and moved him to another tank (30g) by himself. I decided to medicate him, so I dosed the tank with Kanaplex. A Seachem product, Kanaplex is Kanamycin based, which is a broad spectrum antibiotic.

Anyway, the abrasion seemed to be healing, but I augmented the Kanaplex with some Furan. About 24 hours after the combination, he started swimming in a helix pattern…spiraling. Mistake or coincidence? I cleared the tank with more frequent water changes, but the damage was done.

I don’t think this was a swim bladder issue. I think this was a neurological issue based on some of the other behavior I witnessed. Studies have shown that acute ammonia toxicity can have serious neurological effects on invertebrates, including teleost fishes. I did not check the water parameters after dosing, but for a variety of reasons I don’t suspect ammonia build-up was the culprit. In any case, after several large water changes failed to reverse his condition, I made the decision to euthanize him.

I netted him then put him in a two quart bucket. I dosed the bucket with clove oil. Within about a minute he was pretty still. I dosed a little more to shut his system down, which happened pretty quickly (seconds). As customary, I waited for about 25 minutes to ensure no gill movement. I didn’t really have to do that though because I knew the dose I gave him would have done the job quickly.

I hated to do it, but it was the right thing to do. Do right by your fish, please.

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