Category Archives: Ammonia

Ammonia – Hidden Killer of Fish, First Step in the Cycle – Symptoms and Cure

Ammonia: Most Common Killer of New Fish

– By Dr. Erik Johnson
Ammonia is the primary waste product of fish, excreted primarily through the gill tissue, but to a lesser extent via the kidney. Ammonia can also accumulate from the decay of fish tissues, food and other organic debris derived from protein. Ammonia accumulations cause reddening of the skin and disability of the gills by its direct caustic effect on these surfaces. Fish suffering in water with high ammonia accumulations will isolate themselves, lie on the bottom, clamp their fins, secrete excess slime, and are much more susceptible to parasitic and bacterial infection.
Ammonia is a big problem in new systems because the bacteria that would naturally dissolve ammonia are not established, see discussion of cycle. As well, even in established systems, ammonia may accumulate in springtime when the water is cold but fish are eating, because filter bacteria have not emerged usefully from hibernation.

Ammonia ionizes below pH 7.4 to Ammonium – and so in its ionized state is less toxic to fish.
Above pH 8.0 most ammonia is ionized, and so becomes more toxic. Care should be taken not to increase th pH of a system if ammonia is present but the need to drop the pH or restrict oxygenation to tanks of fish to keep pH down is an overrated aberration in the literature.

Treatment: Water changes and management of the pH near neutral will go a long way to cutting losses from Ammonias, ancillary, less useful modes of Ammonia management include the use of the various water conditioners that bind ammonia, and the application of rechargeable Zeolites to the system filter. I am still going to tell you that time and water changes are the two mainstays, however.
Water that is warm, high in pH or deprived of oxygen will have an enhanced toxicity when ammonias are accumulating. These are all important considerations as we try to interpret the varying symptomatology of fish at the same ammonia level, for example, but are affected very differently.

You will never have to worry about Ammonia if you use a drip irrigation system for constant water replacement at about 10-20% per week.

ammonia as an important toxin to pond fish and koi

More about ammonia

Ammonia – Understand this! – by Doc Johnson
Ammonia is the first waste product of your fish. It is often the cause of your first mortalities in new facilities and new ponds. There is a simple test to measure the levels. I am a big fan of Kent’s Ammonia Detox to reduce the toxicity of ammonia, and of Enviro Reps BRF13A (Ammo Down) for the seeding of beneficial bacteria to reduce the ammonia on the long term. Bioseeding may be the most effective method of all, when possible, and AP’s AmmoLock is great. I do not like Amquel. At all.

  1. Made from rotting fish wastes/urine/food
  2. Tested with Nessler’s Drop Type tests
  3. After (the regrettable) addition of aldehydes such as Formalin or Ammonia-binder agents, test with Salicylate reagent tests.
  4. Ammonia causes redness of fins, general poor health, excess mucus production, flashing, and by chronic auto-intoxication: Pinecone disease.
  5. Ammonia is more toxic at pH above 8.0
  6. Ammonia is directly irritating to fish gills and tissues
  7. Ammonia is removed from the environment by beneficial bacteria called “Nitrosomonas”.
  8. You can control Ammonia with partial water changes or addition of Zeolites.

I discourage the use of chemicals for Ammonia binding. All but a few of them contain aldehydes (glutaraldehyde) which are guilty of binding oxygen and irritating the fish.

Wet dry filtration (versus submerged media) is very superior for supporting nitrifying bacteria.
I will upload a VERY lengthy discussion of Ammonia in *doc format please check the downloads section.
There will also be a pretty-rare document there showing Gratzek’s research on my favorite ammonia binder, Ammolock II

Additional notes:
“First of all, because it is foiled by fewer organic molecules, let’s establish that Salicylate test kits are superior to Nessler’s tests. Still, Ammonia testing can present a problem. You may not know that dechlorinator can zero-out your ammonia test. The reason is that in the salicylate test kit, chloride ions provide a reagent. Ample dehlorinator and other ammonia binders will zero out this free chlorine reagent and show you a zero test. The only way to be sure that the Ammonia is truly bound up is by “live-tissue cell culture histopathology”. Cells are bathed in test-water and then examined for tell-tale signs of Ammonia damage. The only company that has done this so far is Aquarium Pharmaceuticals who used Drs Lukert and Gratzek at UGA. This Ammonia binder does not contain any aldehydes. Even the so-called “Sulfide Ion” binders are often nothing but Formaldehyde-bi-sulfite (rongalite) which is incredibly unstable.” Doc Johnson

Ammonia “The Silent Killer” Koi Health and Ammonia Accumulation

Ammonia is the primary chemical waste product of the fish. It’s basically fish urine. It can accumulate in ponds and cause health problems for the fish. Step Four is to assess this ammonia level with a test kit, or have someone test this for you. After assessing Ammonia levels in the pond, assure a healthy pond by doing water changes to remove the offending Ammonia, and reduce feedings in order to reduce Ammonia production by the fish. In some cases a dead fish may be decaying in the pond and cause high Ammonias. Some people use chemicals to bind the Ammonia but even though the application of certain chemicals may deceive your ammonia test kit to show a negative, the application of chemicals for Ammonia seldom results in healthier fish.

Don’t go too far into a discussion of Ammonia without also knowing about its correction by easy water changes, and Bioseeding.

From my sister-site Fishdoc.co.uk by Frank Prince-Iles

Keywords: Considering Ammonia, ammonium water quality, the nitrogen cycle and Koi Health

Ammonia is extremely toxic and even relatively low levels pose a threat to fish health. Ammonia is produced by fish and all other animals, including ourselves, as part of normal metabolism. Such is the toxicity, that most animals immediately convert it to a less harmful substance, usually urea, and excrete it in urine.
Fish shortcut this process and continually excrete metabolic ammonia directly into the surrounding water via special cells in the gills. In a natural environment, such as seas, lakes and rivers, it would be immediately diluted to harmless levels. However, in the confines of aquaria and ponds, levels can rapidly rise to dangerous levels unless it is constantly removed, usually by biological filtration. Additional amounts are produced from decomposing fish food, fish waste and detritus.

The effects of Ammonia on fish health:

Raised levels affect fish health in several different ways. At low levels (<0.1 mg/litre NH3) it acts a strong irritant, especially to the gills. Prolonged exposure to sub-lethal levels can lead to skin and gill hyperplasia . Gill hyperplasia is a condition in which the secondary gill lamellae swell and thicken, restricting the water flow over the gill filaments. This can result in respiratory problems and stress and as well as creating conditions for opportunistic bacteria and parasites to proliferate. Elevated levels are a common precursor to bacterial gill disease.

Fish response to sub lethal levels are similar to those to any other form of irritation, i.e. flashing and rubbing against solid objects. Without water testing it would be very easy to wrongly conclude the fish had a parasite problem.

Ammonia As an Aquatic Toxin – Important

Ammonia – The Essentials

Knowing about water quality
Knowing about water quality is the single most important thing a beginner will do.

Ammonia – Understand this! – by Doc Johnson
Ammonia is the first waste product of your fish. It is often the cause of your first mortalities in new facilities and new ponds. There is a simple test to measure the levels. I am a big fan of Kent’s Ammonia Detox to reduce the toxicity of ammonia, and of BIOSEEDING

  • Made from rotting fish wastes/urine/food
  • Tested with Nessler’s Drop Type tests
  • After (the regrettable) addition of aldehydes such as Formalin or Ammonia-binder agents, test with Salicylate reagent tests.
  • Ammonia causes redness of fins, general poor health, excess mucus production, flashing, and by chronic auto-intoxication: Pinecone disease.
  • Ammonia is more toxic at pH above 8.0
  • Ammonia is directly irritating to fish gills and tissues
  • Ammonia is removed from the environment by beneficial bacteria called “Nitrosomonas”.
  • You can control Ammonia with partial water changes or addition of Zeolites.

I discourage the use of chemicals for Ammonia binding. All but a few of them contain aldehydes (glutaraldehyde) which are guilty of binding oxygen and irritating the fish.
Wet dry filtration (versus submerged media) is very superior for supporting nitrifying bacteria.
Additional notes:
“First of all, because the test is foiled by fewer organic molecules, let’s establish that Salicylate test kits are superior to Nessler’s tests*. Still, Ammonia testing can present a problem. You may not know that dechlorinator can zero-out your ammonia test. The reason is that in the salicylate test kit, chloride ions provide a reagent. Ample dechlorinator and other ammonia binders will zero out this free chlorine reagent and show you a zero test. The only way to be sure that the Ammonia is truly bound up is by “live-tissue cell culture histopathology”. Cells are bathed in test-water and then examined for tell-tale signs of Ammonia damage. The only company that has done this so far is Aquarium Pharmaceuticals who used Drs Lukert and Gratzek at UGA. This Ammonia binder does not contain any aldehydes. Even the so-called “Sulfide Ion” binders are often nothing but Formaldehyde-bi-sulfite (rongalite) which is  unstable.” Doc Johnson

*Nessler’s may be off the market now due to Mercury.

Ammonia Toxicity in Aquatic Environments

Where Are Ammonia Levels From?

Recall from the “cycle” discussion that Ammonia is the primary waste product of the fish. It’s mostly excreted through the gills by osmosis*, and some is excreted through the kidneys. This is important because you have to bear in mind that anything which hurts the gills can also damage the fishes’ ability to flush out Ammonia and therefore, many times, damage to the gills causes ammonia accumulation in the fish, and death. Be good to the fishes’ gills!

Ammonia is measured in the water with a simple test. When a pond is new, you should test water for Ammonia every day. During the first part of the cycle, Ammonia will begin to accumulate. Bioseeding from a healthy established aquatic environment will speed the cycle, creating a viable culture overnight in many instances. Partial water changes also help to reduce the Ammonia levels.

If you give the fish less food, they will produce less wastes, and less Ammonia. Live plants also seem to have the ability to reduce the severity of Ammonia accumulations.

Ammonia binders can be used for a short term fix.

Never use an ammonia remover without the presence of Ammonia in the water.

There are two kinds of test for Ammonia. The best is the Nessler’s test. It’s a liquid test which uses a test-tube and a single liquid reagent which is added to the water sample. A more accurate but more difficult-to-run test is the Salicylate type test, which has more reagents and is more complicated.

People ask me quite a lot about how often they should be testing their water… After the cycle is well established, I’d recommend you test your ammonia using the following guidelines:

  • Whenever fish are acting funny
  • Every five days If you’re lazy like me; at
  • LEAST Every three weeks.

If you’re still in the process of breaking in or “cycling” the pond, you should be recording the nitrogen numbers every single day.

SHORT AND SWEET: Ammonia control is best accomplished through the balanced employment of Ammonia binders, water changes, bacterial adjuvants of known efficacy and reduced feedings while the bio-filter “catches up”.

 

BIOSEEDING