How to Treat Livebearer Disease

How to Treat Livebearer Disease

Livebearer disease is a catch-all term used to describe many disorders that commonly affect livebearers (or fish that bear live young). The shimmies and wasting diseases, as well as body fungus, are just a few of the many ailments that can be found. First, diagnose and treat your fish for the specific type of livebearer illness.


Why is “Livebearer Disease” so common?

Livebearers are frequently raised in hard water or brackish environments (see this article for more details), and when they get brought into our fully freshwater aquariums, their bodies start to crash, their immune systems become compromised, and it’s easier for pathogens to attack. Unknowingly, many people buy livebearers that are stressed and then catch the next disease. This can wipe out all fish in the tank. This outbreak often gets labeled generically as “livebearer disease” because we hobbyists are not adept at identifying fish illnesses. There are many fish diseases, but the most common ones that your livebearer will have is fin rot, internal parasites, fungus or some other commonplace condition. We strongly recommend that all fish enter your home be quarantined, feed them high quality foods and treat them with preventative medication (such as vaccinating a puppy).

We were concerned about the health problems that new livebearers face. Therefore, we sought out ichthyologists to help us narrow down the selection of fish medications. Based on our research, we narrowed down the search to three broad-spectrum medications – Mardel Maracyn, Aquarium Solutions Ich-X, and Fritz ParaCleanse. Each fish receives this trio of quarantine medication to keep them healthy. Our fish store has had thousands of fish in its care over the years. Read this article on how to use these medications to proactively treat your fish at home.

Quarantine drugs in a trio

Shimmies, Shimmying, or Molly Disease

Shimmying can be seen in mollies or other livebearers. The fish will rock its body in a snakelike motion, moving in a shimmering motion. Shimmies can be caused either by:

– Fish may “shiver” to heat up at low temperatures. – Low pH levels, where their skin is burning from acidic water.

This is the most serious problem, as most farm-raised bees are raised in either hard or brackish water environments. For the past 30-40 year, the standard wisdom has been to add salt in order to treat shimmying of African cichlids or livebearers. “Livebearer salt” not only contains sodium chloride salt (e.g., regular table salt and aquarium salt), but also a mixture of calcium, magnesium, electrolytes, and other minerals that are essential for healthy biological functions. Salt can cause damage to plants and snails in higher concentrations, which is why we don’t recommend it.

Mollies can shimmy if they were raised in brackish (partly saltwater, partly freshwater) environments.

If your livebearer is shimmying, provide the optimal living conditions with higher pH levels from 7.0 to 8.0, warmer temperatures between 76deg and 80degF, and increased mineral content. If you have soft water, minerals can be easily added with supplements such crushed coral, Wonder Shell, and Seachem Equilibrium. If your tap water is extremely hard, simply doing more frequent, partial water changes may be enough to bring additional minerals into the aquarium. Just remember that the fish you bought may have been sitting at the wholesaler and fish store for a long time in fresh water with no minerals. Therefore, it may not be possible to save the fish if the damage was already done and it wasn’t treated quickly enough.

Wasting Disease or Skinny Disease

One example of wasting diseases is when you buy 20 fish. Five of the fish look extremely skinny after a month, while the rest of your fish are fine. Eventually those five fish pass away, and then a couple of months later, you notice five more fish are getting thinner and are also starting to die one by one. This type of livebearer disease is usually caused by internal parasites, such as tapeworms or camallanus red worms. The parasites take nutrients from the fish’s bodies, leading to weight loss and organ damage over the long-term.

Tapeworms infest a fish’s digestive system and can cause intestinal blockages. Stringy poo and weight loss are some of the symptoms. However, it can be difficult to diagnose the disease without looking at the feces with a microscope. That’s why we recommend that every fish gets a preventative treatment of ParaCleanse, which contains an antiparasitic drug called metronidazole and a dewormer called praziquantel. You should repeat the ParaCleanse treatment approximately two to three more weeks after the initial one to make sure that all eggs hatching new eggs are also eradicated.

Tapeworms are difficult to spot if you don’t have a microscope to look at the waste.

ParaCleanse is not effective in stopping wasting disease. You may need to use another type of dewormer. Fritz Expel-P is very effective for treating roundworms, camallanus red worms, hookworms, and even planaria in your aquarium. Although most parasites can be seen with the naked eye, camallanusworms can be easily identified by looking at the small, reddish worms that stick out of the fish’s anus. Medications like Expel-P that contain the active ingredient of levamisole or flubendazole work by paralyzing the adult worms so that they can be expelled by the fish and removed using an aquarium siphon. After two to three weeks, re-dose your tank with the dewormer in order to eliminate any remaining parasites.

Because their eggs can be passed through fish waste, worms are easy to spread. Livebearers are also good scavengers and will eat infected feces. Worms can also infect other species such as angelfish but they don’t usually kill them. The parasites that live on large cichlids are tiny, so the parasites won’t be too big to harm them. However, when a guppy or other small livebearer gets infected, they are much smaller in size, and it only takes a few worms to wreak havoc on their health.

How to Prevent Livebearer Disease

Prevention is key to your fish’s health, so if you plan on getting new livebearers, follow these simple guidelines:

1. Provide the proper water parameters with a pH of 7.0 or higher and lots of minerals in the aquarium. If necessary, you can use crushed coral, Wonder Shell or Equilibrium to boost your mineral levels. 2. All new fish should be kept in quarantine for at least a week to check for signs and symptoms. To prevent most common diseases, you can treat them with the three quarantine medications. 3. While the fish are in quarantine, provide a low-stress environment to help them recover from their travels and rebuild their immune systems. Keep them away from any aggressive tank mates, and feed them plenty of good food.

If you are unsure if your fish have livebearer disease but they display different symptoms, we have detailed information to help you.