Ammonia and Nitrite Spikes

Ammonia or Nitrite Spike, What Should I Do?

Ammonia and nitrite can both be deadly to fish so dealing with the problem swiftly is essential, don’t panic though. The most important first step is to formulate a plan. Rushing into this without the correct information could make things much worse

First, we need to establish that a spike is in fact what we’re dealing with. Some symptoms of ammonia poisoning can also be caused by other factors. The only way to know for sure is to use a test kit or take a sample to a trusted fish shop and ask them to test it for you.

Now we need to think about the things that can cause ammonia.

  • Uneaten fish food
  • Dead fish
  • Rotting vegetation from plants
  • A filter malfunction

The first 3 simply need removing from the aquarium, the last could be a bit trickier. If a filter has malfunctioned then there’s a good chance that the bacteria in the filter has died and the water that’s trapped in the filter is now very toxic. If you’re able to fix the filter then it’s essential that you also clean it out before restarting it to avoid polluting your tank.

There are other things that can result in ammonia spikes, these include.

  • Not using dechlorinator when changing water
  • Over cleaning can kill beneficial bacteria
  • Adding lots of fish at once
  • Suddenly increasing food

Hopefully you have now identified the cause so we can move on to the steps required to resolve the problem.

The first and most important of all is to stop feeding. Don’t worry, your fish won’t starve. Fish can go for a very long time without food and the chances are they won’t want to eat until we have the situation under control anyway. Ammonia is produced from fish waste and leftover food, if we don’t feed then fish won’t produce waste and there won’t be any leftover food to rot down.

The next steps depend upon the severity of the situation. If the ammonia or nitrite readings are below 0.50PPM then the best thing to do is nothing. Just keep testing the water and wait for the readings to come back down. If over 0.50PPM then perform water changes until we get them below this point. Remember this phrase “the solution to pollution is dilution”.

 How long it takes can vary depending on the cause of the problem. It’s very unusual for all bacteria to have died in an established tank so normally it only takes a few days for things to catch up. You can speed things up by using a bacteria booster such as API Quick Start although this isn’t essential.

Hopefully this guide has helped you. If you need further help then you can leave a comment below or email us. We’ll be happy to help.


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