Gas Bubble Disease is an issue that has been coming up with great enough frequency, especially for those keeping small discus, that I feel it deserves a thread to raise some awareness and hopefully save some fishes lives.
What is Gas Bubble Disease (GBD)?
GBD is the transfer of gasses from water into the body of a fish.
What causes GBD?
GBD is caused when water supersaturated with gasses is added to our aquariums. This happens when we do not give the gasses in our tap water an opportunity to escape into the air prior to adding the water to our aquarium. It is a problem most commonly seen when changing a large percentage of the water. It is also most common during the colder months of the year when our source water is cold and carrying a higher level of dissolved gasses. When we heat this water it becomes supersaturated with gasses that are now looking for an unsaturated medium to escape into. The atmosphere is a prime candidate but unfortunately so are our fish! When these gasses transfer into our fish they form bubbles in the blood stream and other body fluids which can pose a serious risk to the fishes health.
How do I know if my fish has GBD?
Symptoms can be seen in as little as 5-10 minutes after doing a water change and most commonly include bubbles visible inside the tail or pectoral fins. In extreme cases the fish may loose balance, head stand or have a greatly swollen belly. Smaller fish are the most at risk as they have thinner membranes and the gas can diffuse through them with greater ease. These symptoms will often disappear within a few hours and the fish will be back to normal however in extreme cases GBD can be lethal. Additionally chronic expose to GBD can cause long term damage to the fish's organs. ***It should be pointed out that bubbles on the outside of the fishes body/fins are normal after a water change. GBD is characterized by bubbles that have formed inside the fins as shown in the photo below***
My fish has GBD what can I do?
Most of the time GBD is not deadly. The gasses that diffused into the fish will start to diffuse back out once the aquarium water has a lower level of dissolved gasses. Increasing aeration in the tank will help to speed up this process. The bubbles seen in the fins often disappear within a few hours and fish that have lost balance will often regain balance within 1-2 days however. GBD is not to be taken lightly though as chronic exposure can cause damage to the fishes organs and in extreme cases even a single exposure can be lethal.
How can I prevent GBD?
The good news is that GBD is easily preventable! There are a couple of ways that a person can go about this. The first method would be to age your water. It doesn't even have to be a long term aging. I have found that letting water sit in a bucket for only 5 minutes is sufficient to prevent GBD. When you fill your bucket with water you may notice a slight hazing caused by massive amounts of micro bubbles floating around. As soon as those micro bubbles are gone you are safe to add the water to your aquarium. The second technique is for those of us that fill our tanks direct from the tap via hose. In this case I cover the end of the hose with my thumb so as to create a fine spray as the water goes into the aquarium. This also has been sufficient to prevent GBD.