malawi bloat article 

This is quite detailed and invaluable to the treatment and possible cure of this disease.

Is a word that generally spreads panic through fish keepers, it is usually fatal and highly contagious, most fishkeepers hopefully will never experience this disease, those that have experienced it know how deadly this disease can be, this is a little introduction into this disease on what it is, how to prevent it, what to look for, and a possible cure

So what is bloat
Bloat affects the digestive system of the fish spreading quickly through the Gut, digestive tract, and intestine, eventually spreading to all the internal organs. Malawi Cichlids carry some form of bloat that lies dormant in the fish and usually requires a trigger to activate the disease. Poor water quality, as an example, will lower the fishes immune system making way for the disease to spark into life. Other factors can be newly introduced fish already carrying the disease. It grows through the digestive system eventually blocking any path for food to be consumed and the initial look of the fish is swelling of the body as the disease takes a hold of a fish, hence the name bloat. Because the path for food gets blocked the fish starve to death and if left the fish will look painfully thin at around the time of death.

What causes bloat

Poor water quality is a big factor in getting bloat. With poor water the fish become stressed and the immune system becomes affected, losing the ability to keep the disease at bay. A good maintenance routine on your tank is essential. Wild fish in particular are prone to bloat with near perfect water conditions required and a good maintenance routine needed, this is one of the reasons wild fish are not suitable for beginners to the hobby. Tank bred fish are a lot more hardy and can usually tolerate water that is, lets just say not ideal, although still require something near.

Newly introduced fish already carrying the disease
I cannot stress this enough, you have just spent £2-300 pounds maybe a thousand pounds on your tank, there is no excuse not to buy a small quarantine tank with a cheap filter and heater for thirty quid. You have a new fish and you want to see this fish in all its glory in the tank but this one fish has the potential to wipe out your whole population of fish why risk this for the sake of two weeks inside the quarantine tank, even if you have bought fish from a reputable source and your have bought from them before, always always quarantine

A good tip when buying fish is to find out what water parameters the fish is in because it might be vastly different from the water its going to be going in. If this is the case then you are better off shopping elsewhere, because this causes all sorts of problems to the fish and fish keeper with trying to balance out the difference with either having to gradually lower or raise the water parameters. Chucking a fish into vastly different water parameters will send the fish into shock/stress and leave it open to all sorts of infection. Remember, NEVER put the water in the tank that the fish have been in that you have just bought.

it can be from many sources bullying, water, over enthusiastic males ect, get to know your fish look for sudden changes in your tank, and if necessary make the changes needed for the fish to live a happy life.

Mbuna have developed, over how ever many years to feed predominantly on a veggie type diet. Yes they do take small fry but this is more of a tasty treat, not a regular part of their diet. Look for foods that have a protein content of a max of 40% lower if you can get it, too much of a meaty diet and the fishes digestive system simply cannot deal with it.

Most haps like a more meaty diet, giving them a veggie diet is not providing the fish with the protein it requires. [Mixing the two species in one tank is not really recommended because of this situation you cannot feed the fish the right diet without the Ddifferent types eating each others food.

Over feeding
These fish are greedy little scavangers, we all approach the tank and are faced with everyones face at the top looking for food. They are not hungry just greedy, fed once a day just enough, the general overall look of the fish should be lean, level ish across the bottom of the belly. A fat well rounded fish might look better in your eyes, but in fact isn’t healthy for the fish, these fish have a fairly slow digestive system and because of this overfeeding can lead to undigested food rotting inside the fishes gut.

What to look for in a fish with bloat
Most of the things to look for can be something and nothing, and it is important to stress just because one of your fish might have, what look like a symptom can usually be put down to something else, so don’t panic at the first sign of a fish behaving a little different. Instead try to associate two or more symptoms before you begin to stress yourself out.

Slow lethargic fish hanging around motionless, usually near the surface.
Do not confuse this with a bullied fish or a female that has been harassed and is having a break, if you study your fish then you will notice what exactly what this is.

White stringy faeces
We have all read or heard of this but what exactly is it. Look for faece trailing from the bum that is as thin as a piece of cotton and white/transparent in colouration , some foods can change the appearance of their poo, so if you are feeding something new for the first time don’t panic, because sometimes the colour can alter due to this.

Lack of colour
This is usually accompanied with the slow movement of a fish, however this can be vague, if there has been a change in the social standing, a fish will colour down.Also a dominant male will never show a weakness so will always be in colour, sometimes the first sign of a problem is when he is dead from the disease

Swelling of the fish
If you are feeding the fish regularly and the right amount, then a sudden swelling in the fish can be down to the disease showing itself. Females swell when ripe with eggs so its important to notice the males behaviour around this time, he should be showing some signs of interest in his "girlfriend", if he is not it could be the wrong type of swelling, also they eat like pigs when getting fed, and eat as much as they can, so ignore any swelling just after feeding time.

Not eating any food
If your fish is an established fish in your tank, then a sudden lack of interest in food is a bad sign that the fishes digestive system is blocked with the disease and the fish cannot feed.They may take in some food but spit it out nearly straight away. With any new fish it may take a while for them to settle so give them around a week to start feeding, also if they spit food it could be down to, not being used to the feed you're giving them. Being naturally greedy, they will soon become accustomed to it and begin to feed. Females, when they have bred have a mouthful of eggs/fry and very rarely feed until the fry are released by the female, this can be up to six weeks, this is perfectly normal so do not worry about this.

The fish appear to be being sick with a rapid movement of the mouth and throat without actually coughing anything up, this usually coincides with the fish not eating, and is a reaction to the fishes digestive tract being blocked to the gut. Do not confuse with an occasional similar sign when the fish has taken something in its mouth that’s its trying to rid from its gills ie. sand particles.

It is important to separate any suspected fish early because the disease is very contagious and can wipe out your whole tank.

If more than three fish in your main tank are showing signs of bloat then it is probably best to treat the whole tank, rather than separating the odd fish, although this will be very expensive to do.

Setting up your quarantine/treatment tank
A tank around 20-30 litres is ideal, as soon as you get your tank place the filter pad inside your main tanks filter, this way it will be full of good bacteria, and if the time comes to utilise it the pads from your main tank can be placed in the filter with no need to cycle your tank.
Always fill your tank with water from the main tank. Do not fill with fresh water as this will knock the filter out.
Turn the heater on and set temp to the same as your main tank and leave for a couple of hours for the tank to settle.
No lights or interior decoration are needed such as sand, if you want to, you could add just a few small rocks for the fish to retreat to and feel safe.
Place the suspected fish inside the tank, and increase the temp to around 29 degrees as treatment will work better with an increase of temperature. *** This is for treatment only, leave temp alone if just quarantining a fish***
It usually pays to add an airstone as well, because like most medications it can reduce the oxygen levels in the water, or adjust the filter outlet so the water is breaking the surface.

Treating Malawi Bloat
Lets not get confused with this title, the treatment is not 100% and more often than not,the fish will die from this disease, this is a way of giving the fish a fighting chance of surviving, and remember treatment can be expensive, extreme and can last a long time, so its down to the individual if they wish to carry out these drastic measures in an attempt to cure the fish.


Day one
You have your quarantine tank set up and fish in place, what do we do first?
We apply the first dose of treatment in the form of a product called OCTOZIN, there are others available but this is the product I have used personally and can comment on . This is where it gets a little confusing because when you use this for the first time and read the instructions it goes against everything im about to tell you . It states that you use one tablet - 22.5 litres, ignore this and use 3, yes 3 tablets instead, they state this because of the salt content in the tablet hence why it’s also used for a treatment for whitespot, most tropical fish are fairly intolerant to a high salt content but not Malawi fish they can handle the increase in dosage, also because this disease can be lethal an increase in dosage is a major factor in trying to rid the fish of disease and can only help. What you have to remember is this disease is stubborn, if you treat with just one tablet it will do absolutely nothing to cure the fish of this disease.

Add the second dose to the tank another 3 tablets

The third and last treatment for this course another 3 tablets

DAY 4 5 6 7
Do nothing except monitor your fish, the chances are it will not feed so don’t give any, all you will do if you try to feed the fish, is pollute the tank and because its little, the water will deteriorate rapidly with uneaten food in there, and cause the fish even more stress and problems

The first course of treatment has finished, change around 40% of the water.
Treat the tank again with the dosage of 3 tablets, and repeat the course as if it was the first course from day 1

DAY 8-16
Your fish may begin to show signs of a recovery.
Look for a deliberate / increased movement from the fish.
The colour may begin to show again.
It may begin to show an increase in the willingness to feed ,try with a max of three pellets if it takes them in and spits them out it is still very ill so do not attempt any more food for a while, also if it completely ignores them no more food during this course of treatment remove any uneaten food,
it will poo thick white / transparent jelly and a lot of it as well, a lot more poo than normal, if this starts to happen then the fish is showing a good sign the disease is beginning to die off, and its being passed through the system, try to remove this if you can, as one of the ways its thought this disease can spread is through their poo, having a tank with no sand in is easy to monitor for this.
If at any stage the side of the fish bursts then euthanise the fish.
If the fish starts to poo thick red jelly, then the fish has damage to the internal organs and the fish is bleeding internally somewhere, chances are the fish will not recover from either the damage or the disease so euthanise the fish.

DAY 16
Ok, we are into the third course of treatment and a change of 40% of water is carried out again, and we begin the course as if it were day one. Its this course of treatment we are hoping that if no signs of recovery were showing before, then they do now because the disease may have taken a strong hold on the fish and will probably not let go, this is a little bit of a last chance of normal treatment for the fish.

DAY 24
If the fish has not show any signs of a recovery then it probobly never will, if there is a little sign and you wish to carry out another course of treatment then do so.

Because we have got to this stage, then the disease has all but condemned the fish and we are left with a decision as to wether to carry on as before, hoping the fish may recover, but will probably starve to death or die from damage to the internal organs.

Euthanise the fish,it sounds cruel but will be doing the fish a favour

Treat with a dose that will nuke the disease but may also kill the fish, it may sound daft, giving the fish a lethal dosage, but the fish will probably die anyway and you have nothing to lose.

If you wish to carry out the mega dose then change 40% of the water, and then add a dose of ten tablets on day 1, 10 on day 2 and 10 on day 3. If it lives till the 8th day, then it may show signs of recovery, if it does not then put the fish out of its misery. If the fish has shown signs of a recovery, revert back to a normal course of treatment until you are happy the fish is cured.

If at any stage the fish shows signs of a recovery, then complete the course of treatment it is on, change the water 40% and quarantine lowering the temp back to normal as well. Monitor the fish closely and if it shows any sign of a relapse then treat again from day 1. Do not put any fish in your main tank that have had the disease for at least two weeks and be 100% sure of a recovery because you may put back an infected fish to spread the disease to the rest of them again.


Some of what has been written, may seem to some, as extreme, heartless, and inhumane and for this I apologise. However you have to realise this disease is deadly, and drastic action has to be taken to stop this disease.

Follow a good water maintenance routine, feed the right stuff ,feed the right amount, stock the right fish ,and quarantine new fish, then the chances are you wont experience this fatal disease