In January, 2010, I traded off an extra Redhead for this nice variegated female Midas. She’d been used as breeding stock, but was no longer required by her previous owner, so I brought her home to my tank. The fellow from whom I got her told me that the fish had been bullied severely, hiding under a rock and not getting much to eat as a result. Once re-homed, she was initially ravenous and would eat heartily. Her fins and torn scales seemed to heal a bit over time, but she didn’t really appear to gain much weight.
By August, however, the fish that used to happily munch away at large pellets and swim up to get them was starting to flounder. She lay on her side most of the time, rigid and only flapping her fins. Only food placed right in front of her mouth was consumed. As time went on, the only food she’d eat would be a few grains of sinking granules, while the rest would go to waste.
She was isolated and a series of treatments for internal infections were tried (increased temperature, salt, Wound-ease, Fungus-ease, Maracyn, Maracyn Two, Metronidizole) to no avail. Scared for the fish’s life, early September saw me stumble upon the article referenced below, which outlines why a fish gets malnourished and steps “to feed a stressed, bullied or ill fish who has given up eating and started wasting away”.
The article is fairly broad, makes some excellent points and is worth a read for more information. I discovered mention of a state known as autopepsia or self-digestion, which is “ulceration of the gastric mucous membrane by its own secretion, or the digestion of the skin surrounding a gastrostomy or colostomy opening”. Lovely!
After reading this, I began to understand that being bullied in her old tank resulted in a slow loss of weight from fear of feeding, and that this was compounded by being fed a diet too high in protein-rich foods (one-too-many earthworms) in her new tank, leading to ulceration of the stomach from not enough plant matter in the diet…or food period!
I procured a syringe and stuck a piece of airline tubing on the end. The food mixture was made from crumbled flakes, as well as crushed veggie wafers, pellets and sea salt. Some crushed garlic was added to the water, which apparently entices fish to eat more, despite making the room really stinky! After priming the feeding apparatus with water and mixing a small amount of water with the food, some of the mixture was slurped up…
Gently inserting the tubing into the fish’s mouth and being careful to ensure it went past the mouth down the throat, the plunger was pressed and food expelled. While some food did exit through the gills, the fish seemed to “chew” a bit and enjoy the experience of eating once again, so hopefully, the prognosis is a good one!
Day 5 – any improvement? She really doesn’t object to being held underwater in my open hand.
Day 9 – she pooped! At least I now know that some food is making its way through the digestive tract. 🙂 Also found that holding her mouth closed for a few moments after releasing the food encouraged some chewing and swallowing action. Even just placing a finger in front of her lips keeps more of the food from being spit out. I’m keeping the food varied, upgrading to some whole small/medium pellets, colour bits and plankton. Adding a bit of Metronidizole powder to the “injections” to ensure there really aren’t any internal parasites at work.
Day 13 – I don’t know that there’s much improvement. She’s a little more feisty and quite eager to accept her tube at feeding time, but she still looks emaciated. Perhaps adding some liquid fish vitamins is the next step?
Day 19 – I got some flavour enhancer to encourage the fish keep more food down and liquid garlic/vitamin/HUFA mix to soak into the food to help with recovery.
Day 22 – Last night’s feeding included some mashed green peas, which is said to aid in digestion and clearing out the digestive tract. I’m somewhat hesitant to share the results today, deciding whether it is better for everyone else to learn from my mistake or hiding them so as not to look foolish. I was having trouble getting the mashed peas into the plunger via the bottom, so I poured them into the top instead. The pressure required to expel the peas was huge and it rammed too much food into the fish too quickly. Though at the time she seemed okay, Creamsicle was dead this morning, laying motionless with a throat full of uneaten food. She had really started to gain some weight, with her stomach starting to expand and being level with her ventral region, rather than sunken in. This brings and unfortunate and abrupt end to this experiment, as I’d really hoped to learn and observe more with future feedings, aiming for a full recovery. I believe I ruptured something during feeding time that claimed her life overnight.
RIP Creamsicle. 😦
For more info: Force-feeding Fish