Malawi Bloat – Cichlid Disease Guide

As a cichlid keeper, you may have heard of Malawi bloat. Are you worried that one of your fish may be showing symptoms?

What can you do about Cichlid or Malawi bloat and how you can prevent it? All valid questions that this guide looks to answer.

Every Cichlid enthusiast has been there, feeling overwhelmed at the amount of material and resources available for fish diseases. Sifting through all of that information can be frustrating. This article has been written to focus solely on Malawi bloat from symptoms to treatment.

Malawi Bloat Disease Guide

What does Malawi bloat look like?

It is critical that you know what to look for before you can diagnose and treat any disease, including Cichlid bloat. The initial sign of a potential problem has more to do with feeding than it does with the appearance of your fish.

Will cichlids still eat when they have Malawi bloat? Usually not, and this can be the first sign of the disease (and many others). They will go from being active feeders to sucking in food and then spitting it back out.

As the condition worsens, you will notice a swelling in the abdomen area. What differentiates this swelling from pregnancy or other causes is that your Cichlid’s scales will also protrude from their body. This is especially noticeable when the fish is viewed from above and can help distinguish this from other symptoms caused by things like egg-binding or pregnancy.

Other visual symptoms you may notice include a faster breathing rate as well as discolored white feces. Behavioral symptoms that they will display include uncharacteristic reclusiveness and hovering near the bottom of your aquarium. These manifestations of Cichlid bloat can appear a day or more before advanced symptoms appear.

Advanced symptoms indicate that the Malawi bloat has progressed to a severe level. Signs at this stage include ulcerations on the skin and reddening around the Cichlid’s anus. Malawi bloating is often fatal by this time and you can lose your fish in one to three days.

What causes Malawi bloat?

Tropical fish hobbyists and veterinarians are still not entirely sure what causes Cichlid bloat. One possible cause could be bacterial infections. Another possible suspect would be parasites.

In the case of bacterial infections, they can be introduced to your Cichlids through poor water quality. Sources can include too much fish waste in the water and uneaten food that collects on a dirty substrate. Another source of problematic bacteria can be unhealthy levels of particular chemicals.

The parasites that may cause Malawi bloat are protozoal organisms that live in the Cichlid’s intestines. Once triggered, these parasites begin to grow and block the intestinal run. These parasites can become numerous enough that they actually blow holes within the fish’s body.

In either case, Malawi bloat is often associated with three potential sources for the condition. A poor diet and low salt levels are considered a factor by many. Poor water conditions should also be a consideration.

Cichlids that are natural herbivores in the wild may be receiving too many fats or proteins. This may make them predisposed to Malawi bloat. Maintaining a diet with plenty of fibers and greens appears to be healthier for these plant-eaters.

The less-experienced hobbyist will sometimes introduce salts in an attempt to raise the PH and make the water harder. This rarely provides the chemical balance that they are looking for and Malawi bloat appears to occur in tanks that use salt more often than tanks that do not.

As you know, water quality is important. High levels of ammonia and nitrates appear to contribute to the rates of Cichlid bloat. Keeping these toxins at minimum levels, therefore, appears to produce fewer cases of this bloating.

Can Malawi bloat be cured?

The answer to this question depends upon how far along the Cichlid bloating is. If you are able to detect symptoms in their early stages, you may be able to save your fish. Conversely, if you do not notice any problems until the Malawi bloat is at advanced stages, there is a much slimmer chance of being able to save your fish.

The key to curing Malawi bloat, or other fish diseases for that matter, is to observe your fish daily. You will also want to monitor your aquarium’s water conditions regularly as well in order to discover any chemical imbalances. This can be difficult for keepers new to the hobby, but it is an important skill that you should begin to develop from the start.

Is Malawi bloat contagious?

There is no definitive answer to this question at the moment. It is impossible to say for sure, one way or another until hobbyists and vets discover with certainty what causes Malawi bloat.

Those who think that Cichlid bloat is caused by bacteria will tend to believe that it is contagious, and will take steps to isolate fish that are infected. The people who think that Malawi bloat is caused by internal parasites in the intestines believe that it is not and may seek to treat the problem in the whole aquarium, leaving the sick fish with other tank mates.

Malawi bloat treatment

Hobbyists approach treatment with a variety of chemical options. Many enthusiasts will isolate the sick fish for treatment while others will treat the whole tank. It is recommended that you do both.

If you suspect that a fish may have Malawi bloat, remove the fish from your aquarium and place it in a small hospital tank away from the other fish. Begin a chemical treatment to stabilize the Cichlid and prevent the disease from advancing to another stage of development.

Malawi bloat Epsom salt treatment

Cichlid keepers have used Epsom salt in the past as part of the treatment process for Cichlid bloat. This method is used to treat the Dropsy like symptoms of bloating.

A 1/8 teaspoon of Epsom salt is added to every five gallons of water for a two week period. During this time, you can observe the fish for other signs that will indicate a bacterial or parasite infection. Your treatment will expand from there.

The Epsom salt is believed to help relieve some of the symptoms of swelling caused by water retention in the Cichlid’s body. It can also help fish who may be suffering from constipation due to blocked intestines.

Malawi bloat Metronidazole treatment

There are Metronidazole products that you can buy to treat your Cichlid. You can add a prescribed amount to the water column (roughly 50 mg per gallon) in the hospital tank, following instructions for dosage and intervals. There are also treated food products that contain Metronidazole that works great if your Cichlid is still eating.

Malawi bloat Clout treatment

Clout is another medical product that can be used in the treatment of this disease. It comes in a pill form that is placed into the water where it dissolves. Some hobbyists feel it does a better job than Metronidazole, but this can not be confirmed.

Again, you will want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper dosage and intervals between doses. You will want to keep in mind that this treatment will turn the water blue. It can also stain decorations, hosing, and substrate that will require cleaning afterward.

Malawi boat main tank treatment

If you decide to treat the main aquarium as well, you will want to begin with a water change. You should replace about 30-percent of the water column when you do this.

The main aquarium can also be treated in a similar fashion as the Cichlid in the hospital tank.

Adjust dosages for the extra water volume and remove any charcoal filters to prevent them from removing the treatment from the water column. You should also transfer tank mates, such a catfish, to another home as they may be sensitive to the Cichlid bloat treatments.

How to prevent Malawi bloat

To begin with, if you wish to increase the salt levels in your Cichlid tank, make sure to use products designed specifically for the task. They will use calcium and magnesium instead of pure salt to produce the desired results.

Next, maintain a proper diet. Malawi bloat affects many Cichlids, but the plant-eaters in the African Cichlid range are more vulnerable. Offering them a proper diet will go a long way towards preventing issues.

Their diet should vary, and you will want to include a lot of greens in the mix. That should include products with spirulina. Try to avoid foods that are high in fats and proteins and look for sources containing fibers and greens.

Finally, maintain the quality of the water column. Keep the chemical levels within the range of the Cichlids that you keep, including the ph of your water. Also, perform regular water changes to remove ammonia and nitrates.

Clean out filters regularly and make sure that you remove debris suspended in the water as well as materials sitting on the substrate.

Final Thoughts

Until a definitive answer is obtained, the best way to detect Malawi bloat is to observe your fish for symptoms.

It is not known if this disease is transmittable from bacteria or if it is a parasite located in the Cichlid’s intestines, so you will need to quarantine any of your sick fish. Begin treatment immediately and follow it up by cleaning and treating the main tank.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment so that we can answer them!

Malawi bloat check-list:

  • Observe your Cichlids for the signs discussed above
  • Isolate fish that may be sick in a hospital tank
  • Use one of the treatments we have discussed
  • Treat the main aquarium
  • Return the sick fish once it has recovered from Cichlid bloat
Malawi Bloat Cichlid Disease Guide - CichlidGuide.com - Have you noticed your cichlid looking a little different or a bit green around the gills?