How to Help a Stressed Axolotl (10 Symptoms and 8 Tips)

When an axolotl is stressed, it will send out a variety of signals for you to interpret. Many of these symptoms will appear to be the same as when your pet is ill. Common symptoms of stress include

      • Loss of appetite
      • Gills that are curled
      • A loss of gills
      • Floating 

If your axolotl displays any of these signs, it is communicating that something is wrong, so you need to intervene rather quickly.

Typical symptoms of a Stressed Axolotl

The signals that your axolotl may give when it is stressed include:

1. A folded tail tip

Axolotl folded tail tip

If your pet curves its tail, this is serious. Your pet is most likely debilitated and very ill. It is advisable to contact a veterinarian.

2. Discoloration of the Axolotl’s skin

If your axolotl is stressed, it may modify its natural skin color, both body and gills. The skin may become a darker tone, almost reddish. If the skin becomes red and swells, it may be due to an Aeromonas hydrophilia problem.

Discoloration of the Axolotl’s skin

If the skin is scratched or features cottony white burns, it is also a stress symptom. Loss of blood can also lead to the discoloration of the skin. Fungal infections will appear as white patches.

3. Your Axolotl is floating frequently

The axolotl is what is called a bottom dweller. It remains at the bottom of an aquarium because it prefers an environment with less light. This is also defensive behavior from potential predators near the surface.

They can float for a bit of entertainment, but frequent or prolonged floating is indicative of stress and discomfort.

If your axolotl has too much air in its gastrointestinal tract it may compromise its buoyancy capabilities and it will float as a result.

4. Your Axolotl is frequently gulping air near the water surface

Axolotls breathe underwater by using their skin and gills. They have thin skin which permits oxygen that has dissolved in the water to be absorbed by the skin which enables metabolism and respiration. If your axolotl is gulping air at the surface it is suffering from insufficient oxygenation.

5. The Axolotl’s gills bend

If your pet’s gills curl forward, it’s usually a water problem. The ammonia in the water may be elevated or there may be water currents that are bothersome.

6. The gills of your axolotl are deteriorating

Gills of your axolotl are deteriorating

Gills generally deteriorate if ammonia levels are too high to the point of being toxic. Other chemicals such as nitrate or nitrite may also be contributing to the problem.

7. Your Axolotl displays a lack of appetite

When an axolotl loses its will to eat, it may be the fault of an aggressive tank mate. However, it can also be the fault of contaminated water, a temperature that is too warm, low water quality, or even an infection.

8. Your axolotl displays nausea which may be followed by vomiting

Nausea and vomiting usually indicate that the level of ammonia in the aquarium water is too high, or that your pet has overfed.

9. Your axolotl is swimming around the aquarium in a panic

While it’s difficult to imagine a panicked axolotl, it does happen. The typical behavior of a stressed pet is swimming continuously very rapidly and even crashing.

This is a symptom of a very high level of stress as well as a cry for help. This behavior can be provoked by high levels of chemicals in the aquarium water including ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. If you have used tap water, it may contain contaminants.

10. Your axolotl is completely unresponsive to any type of solicitation 

If your pet is bloated or even constipated, it may as a result be stressed, unresponsive, and floating at the water’s surface.

Axolotls float occasionally for entertainment but prolonged floating is not characteristic of this amphibian. If it is a digestion problem, it should resolve itself relatively quickly and your axolotl will begin moving normally.

If it is related to poor water quality, the unresponsiveness may be prolonged.

How to Aid a Stressed Axolotl

Consider the following procedures to assist your pet should you observe stress symptoms.

1. Adjust the Aquarium water Temperature

The Axolotl is a cold-water amphibian. It should never be exposed to a temperature higher than 74°F, nor should it suffer bright lighting.

If your pet enjoys proper temperatures and lighting, it will not exhibit stress symptoms such as loss of appetite or others that can lead to death.

Using a water chiller or a fan inside your aquarium tank can help you achieve and maintain an optimal temperature for your pet.

2. Avoid handling and interactions

Axolotls are not social creatures and actually enjoy isolation and hiding. These creatures have very thin skin with a body that is fundamentally made up of cartilage and as such are extremely delicate. Infections and diseases can afflict your pet at any time.

Avoid handling your pet unless absolutely necessary, this will reduce the risk of stressing it. If you need to move your amphibian for example for a tank cleaning, use a very fine net with small holes so that your axolotl’s body is not injured in the process.

3. Furnish new substrate

Axolotls can eat everything in sight, so in their feeding frenzy, they can also ingest a substantial amount of substrate, which in turn can lead to digestive impaction, excessive stress, and in the end be fatal.

Substrate utilized needs to be larger than the axolotl’s head to discourage your pet from trying to swallow it. The use of larger pebbles or stones is a credible option.

4. Give your axolotl space

Axolotls produce lots of waste, so they need a spacious habitat. When confined to a smaller tank, the water becomes quickly polluted with contaminants. Axolotls also can grow to 12 inches, so it requires space for movement and growth.

If your Axolotl is stressed it may have stunted growth as a result. An adult axolotl should have a 20-gallon aquarium with a quality water filtration system.

Axolotl aquarium

Provide your pet with a great variety of places to hide such as plants, caves, and even driftwood inside the aquarium space.

Hiding places are reassuring for your pet. It will feel safe and secure, and your axolotl will be protected from undesirable lighting.

5. Provide proper food

If your pet refuses to eat for whatever reason, it will become stressed precisely because it is not being fed. Because it is an amphibian, you can offer it mice, bloodworms, and frozen fish. 

Beware of feeding with live shrimp and live fish, because they carry both diseases and parasites that can affect your pet negatively.

Also, avoid offering your amphibian larger-sized prey because it may cause your axolotl to be injured during its attempt to ingest the prey.

6. Provide Water that is High Quality

Water that is low quality will distress your pet. It should not contain high concentrations of chemicals or have an incorrect temperature.

If you do use tap water, you need to eliminate contaminants such as chlorine through the use of a water conditioner.

Use a test kit for aquarium water to monitor constantly the water’s quality. If you find that the tank water is contaminated chemically, clean it thoroughly for the safety and well-being of your pet.

7. Refrigerate

Cooling your axolotl can be an excellent choice if you need to treat digestive problems or impaction. Any problem with the digestive tract will stress your pet. By refrigerating or cooling your pet, its metabolism rate will slow.

This will also slow the progression of infections or illnesses, allowing you to intervene to treat the problem. Also when the temperature lowers, an axolotl will spontaneously attempt to eliminate any food or remaining waste from its body.

8. Salt bathing

If you suspect or know that your axolotl has developed a fungal infection, perform salt bathing. Fungal infections appear as white patches on the axolotl’s skin. 

A salt bath should last approximately twelve minutes and should be repeated for several days. This type of bathing will eliminate the fungus and your axolotl will be in good shape in no time.

See also: How Do You Give an Axolotl a Tea Bath?

A Final Thought

If you have not identified the source of your pet’s stress, but have recently introduced your pet to a new aquarium tank, this may be the cause of your pet’s stress.

For your axolotl, this new environment is very strange, and your pet needs time to familiarize and acclimatize to its new surroundings. 

If your pet continues to produce stress symptoms after a few days, there is something else at the source of your axolotl’s distress and discomfort. Recheck the water quality, temperature, and the amount of space your pet has to live in.

Susan R Elliston
I have over 11 years of experience as a vet working with a wonderful variety of species of innocent and lovely animals. Whilst I still work two days a week for a local practice, I realized that I could help more people by sharing my knowledge and experience with my readers.

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