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Goldfish coming to surface for air too often in heavily oxygenated tank


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Hello, I posted this question on [someforum].com but got some conflicting advice, so wanted to repost here. I have a 5" comet goldfish named Kaji in a 36 gallon bowfront tank measuring 24"L x 15"W x 21"H. It has two HOB filters, an Aqueon Quietflow 30 and a Fluval Aquaclear 50, and a 20" bubbled wand attached to a powerful airpump. There are no other fish or living creatures and no live plants in the tank. Kaji is very active, has a very good appetite and his gills fins, etc. appear very healthy as far as I can tell. However, ever since I introduced him into this tank (about 2 months ago) he has been going to the surface for quick gulps of air too often (about once every 5-10 minutes, sometimes more, sometimes less). He doesn't hang at the top or sip air constantly, he just takes a gulp then goes back to searching for food or whatever he was doing. The only other strange behavior I can think of is that now that he is in the larger tank, he sleeps hovering a couple inches above the gravel instead of lower down right on top of the gravel.

To give you some background, I got Kaji 6 months ago when he was about 1.5". He was an unexpected "gift" that one of my friends won from a fair. Since I didn't have time to prepare for him, the first 4 months I had to put him in an uncycled 5.5 gal aquarium, where he lived by himself. In the first 2 weeks I got him, despite frequent water changes, he developed fin rot and popeye, but he made a full recovery after I treated him with Maracyn 2 and the tank eventually did cycle okay. In the smaller tank he almost never went to the surface for air.

However, ever since I put him in the bigger, more spacious 36 gallon tank with two filters and a bubble wand, he has been going to the surface for air a lot. The tank cycled almost immediately because I used the filter, media and gravel from the old tank. Water parameters also seem both normal and consistent (see below).

On the other forum, some people suggested it could be flukes, but this would be odd because Kaji acts very active and healthy and his gills are a normal pink-orange color when they open and don't seem to be moving rapidly. Also, I have never introduced other fish, live plants or live food into either of his aquariums. Today I just began treating the tank with prazipro just in case. So far, his behavior hasn't changed -- he's still both active and going to the top for air quite often.

I'm completely stumped and would really appreciate any insight or advice people could give me. Thank you!

  • Test Results for the Following:
    • * Ammonia Level(Tank) 0
    • * Nitrite Level(Tank) 0
    • * Nitrate level(Tank) 5
    • * Ammonia Level(Tap) .5 (but became 0 after I treated with a double dose of Seachem Prime)
    • * Nitrite Level(Tap) 0
    • * Nitrate level(Tap) 0
    • * Ph Level, Tank (If possible, KH, GH and chloramines) 7, 120, 180
    • * Ph Level, Tap (If possible, KH, GH and chloramines) 7, 40, 120
    • Other Required Info:
      • * Brand of test-kit used and whether strips or drops?
      • API drops for ammonia
      • API test trips for other parameters
      • * Water temperature? 77 F
      • * Tank size (how many gals.) and how long has it been running? 36 gal, 24"L x 15"W x 21"H , running for about 2 months
      • * What is the name and "size of the filter"(s)? Aqueon Quietflow 30 and Fluval Aquaclear 50
      • * How often do you change the water and how much?
      • once a week, 7 gallons (20%)
Edited by dnalex
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  • Regular Member

Hello and welcome :)

Flukes (and other ectoparasites) are always a possibility when a fish is gasping/piping at the water. Other possibilities toxic ammonia/nitrite and high nitrates, pH derangements, as well as food.

What do you feed him? Is there any discernible patterns to his piping at the surface? How often does he do it?

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Hello and thanks for your quick reply!

I think I accidentally left off part of the checklist.

Kaji comes to the surface I would say anywhere between 2-15 times every hour. I think he does it noticeably more after eating.

I feed him twice a day, Hikari fancy goldfish mini sinking pellets in the morning (3-4) and a tiny amount of blanched veggies in the evening (lettuce, broccoli, bok choy etc. and half a pea once a week). Occasionally I feed him freeze-dried bloodworms. I usually submerge these in the tank and he eats them right out of my hand (in the water, not at the surface).

The nitrite and ammonia have been at a consistent 0 since after the first week the tank was set up and the nitrate usually reads very low on the strip test, always under 20. I did notice that the tap water tends to read low for KH and GH and has chloramine in it, but I always treat with appropriate amounts of Prime before putting it in and the actual aquarium water reads normal in all of these.

Someone suggested that he might have permanent gill damage from poor treatment as a fair fish and the diseases he suffered when his first tank was cycling, but the piping behavior didn't actually start until after he moved to the bigger tank, so I'm pretty baffled.

Please let me know if I can provide any more information and thanks a lot for any help you might be able to give me!


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What we can do to test is you can temporarily move him back to the smaller tank for a couple of days, to see if he continues to do this. My feeling is that he will. It may be that the moving, and the inevitable stress of a new environment might have brought out to latent issues. So, we'll check first on your hunch and go from there. :)

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So, I wasn't able to move Kaji back to his old tank because I don't have it anymore, but I did lower the water level to about 3/4 of the height for a couple days and Kaji still went to the top just as often. I have noticed that the piping behavior happens much more often after he's just eaten -- so maybe it's somehow connected to the swimbladder? He's just as lively and healthy as ever, so I was wondering whether you think the piping will have any long-term negative effects on his health. I'm not sure what else I can do for him.

Thanks a lot for the help!


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Here's a suggestion. He may not be going up for air, but for a sip of the tasty biofilm that collects on the surface of the water. This biofilm has a base of proteins and lipids that leach out of the food, but does collect other organic materials, all of which look like food to a goldfish. The increase in this behavior after feeding supports this idea. Sipping biofilm tends to become a habit.

I am glad you are treating with prazi. I'm a little concerned about your description of the gills as pink-orange. Healthy gills are usually described as red, bright red, or dark red. This may be just variation in how people describe colors.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • Regular Member

Hello, I'm sorry I haven't been logging on! I just wanted to give an update.

It had never even occurred to me that the behavior might not be sipping air but eating biofilm! When I think about it and watch him it does seem like that might be what it is since he doesn't look the least bit distressed and tends to gulp at the edges of the surface.

As I've said, he's otherwise very healthy and energetic and did not have any parasites, so I think it might be safe to conclude that the behavior isn't a sign of sickness but just a bad habit and I was being overly anxious as an inexperieneced fishkeeper.

Thanks a lot dnalex and shakaho for taking the time to reply to my question!

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