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Guest tooterfish

Could Copper Cause Vertical Swimming

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Guest tooterfish

Hypothesis: Newly purchased fish exhibiting difficulty in swimming horizontal (vertical swimming) within 2 weeks of purchase, whose symptoms mimic those of SBD, parasite, or bacterial infection, may have heavy metal poisoning (toxicity), I am focusing on Copper, and the treatment of fasting and peas, or anti-parasitic, antibacterial medicines, may not be appropriate.

Vertical swimming current diagnosis:

Off water parameters: Treatment includes testing water params, water changes, retesting.

Swim bladder disease (SBD): Treatment includes fasting, husked peas, presoaking food.

Bacterial infection: Treatment includes antibiotic medications.

Parasite infestation: Treatment includes anti-parasitic medications, salt dips, salt of 0.3% to tank water.

My question:

Reading through posts submitted to Koko?s Goldfish World, I noticed a large number of fish owners were looking for help with their newly purchased fish who were swimming with their head down, tail up (vertical). Why?

After determining correct water parameters, most posts were immediately diagnosed with SBD and prescribed fasting and feeding peas as treatment.

?Swim bladder disease is a multifactorial illness which primarily affects ornamental goldfish which have globoid body shapes, like orandas, ryukins, and fantails. It most often presents as a fish which floats at the surface, or a fish which stays on the bottom and doesn't seem to be able to easily rise.? www.koivet.com

It is thought that the epithelium of the swim bladder can be blocked by a build up feces inside the fish, the fish then cannot control the air bladder, which is why fasting and peas, a laxative in goldfish, are prescribed. The definition of ?float at the top? or ?stays at the bottom,? were what made me question this diagnosis for vertical swimming.

Another diagnosis is bacterial infection, or parasitic infestation.

?This is a symptom of a bacterial infection. Check your water?. You will lose the head-down fish within a week to ten days and then other will die if you do not intercept the parasites which may have preciptated this, and intercept the bacterial invasion going on inside.? www.koivet.com

This may prove to be true, yet, I could not find definite testing of the fish post mortem to determine if it is indeed bacterial or parasitic. I have not been able to do owner polls to see if anti-parasitic techniques were used or antibacterial medications were administered, and the outcome of their fish.

My thinking:

What would cause a fish to exhibit this behavior, if the water params were good? In learning about the GH, kH and pH, I discovered that water has more identity than just H2O. Could something other than ammonia, nitrites and nitrates be affecting these fish?

A member on Koko?s posted that within days of getting a healthy fish, he started swimming vertical. Assuming the fish was healthy, what would be different between the LFS and owner, if they lived within the same town, had the same water source? The owner probably had better water, as her tank was newly set up with fresh water (no amm, Ites, Ates) and no over-crowding. Yet the fish became and stayed vertical, then died. Could every owner who purchases a fish, who appears healthy at purchase, then begins to swim vertical have SBD, parasites, or a bacterial infection. Why do some show this behavior, then die within 24 hours, yet others remain in this position for weeks, even after peas, medications, and/or salt have been used.

What could be different? What else could cause this?

Could what is in their water be affecting their fish?


?Copper rarely occurs naturally in water. Most copper contamination in drinking water happens in the water delivery system, as a result of corrosion of the copper pipes or fittings. Copper piping and fittings are widely used in household plumbing.

Because the physical and chemical characteristics of water vary, the corrosive properties of water vary as well. Factors causing corrosion include acidity (low pH), high temperature, low total dissolved solids (TDS) content and high amounts of dissolved oxygen or carbon dioxide. Generally, naturally soft water is more corrosive than hard water because it is more acidic and has low TDS. Observations have shown increased copper levels in water softened with ion exchange water softeners.

If the water is not corrosive, hard water minerals are slowly deposited on the interior of plumbing. These hard water deposits form a calcium carbonate lining inside pipes and fittings which protects against copper contamination, however, it may take up to five years for an effective calcium carbonate lining to form and softening hard water with an ion exchange unit can either prevent or dissolve the calcium carbonate scale, reducing or eliminating its protective effect.? (www.ianrpubs.unl.edu)

Copper poisoning in humans can cause intestinal distress, cramps, vomiting. Higher levels of copper poisoning in humans can be fatal. Copper is carried through the blood stream to all tissues, the highest concentrations being in the liver, heart, brain, kidneys and muscle. The body does try to detoxify copper, it produces a natural chelating material called Metallothionein.

Metallothionein is a metal-binding protein which is important in heavy metal detoxification, it binds zinc, cadmium, copper, mercury and silver. Metallathionein creates a ?memory? when exposed to these metals, becoming more adept at binding them.

This could explain why only new fish exhibit this behavior. Older fish within the tank may have more of this natural chelating material within their systems.

Copper that cannot be bound is transported from the blood into the liver, which becomes inflamed, to the point of being severely enlarged. This is in humans, I am assuming similar results would appear in fish. The liver of the goldfish is located toward the front of the body, in between the gill plates.

If the liver becomes inflamed or enlarged, the weight may throw off the fish?s internal buoyancy ability. Fish float horizontal, with the change in their air bladder they can raise, and lower, but then level off, horizontal in the water. They cannot naturally remain vertical without deliberately using their fins to support themselves.

Water is considered safe for drinking, at the source, if the copper readings are below 1.3mg/L (milligrams per liter) where 1.3mg/L would be the maximum containment level and treatment is required. (EPA conversion: 1mg/L = 1ppm, therefore 1.3mg/L = 1.3ppm)

Deaths in humans have been reported at levels of 2mg/L (2ppm.) Autopsy reports found noticeable weight increases in the liver tissues.

?Copper level : for goldfish 0.4 ppm, (but in hard water),?

?Additional data for several species indicate that toxicity also decreases with increases in alkalinity and total organic carbon.

The actual toxicity of copper in your tank will depend on the stability of the original chelate (assuming that it is chelated), on the pH and alkalinity of your aquarium, and on the presence of other organic compounds in the water.? Neil Frank, Aquatic Gardeners Association

Chelation is the binding of a heavy metal with another compound, to render it non-toxic.

Fish keepers add water conditioners, such as Stress Coat and Prime, to eliminate chlorine, but also for detoxifying heavy metals.

Stress Coat instantly removes chlorine and heavy metals such as copper and zinc from tap water

Directions for Use:

Each dose of Stress Coat removes 3.0 ppm chlorine and 0.3 ppm heavy metals.

To protect fish and condition water:

Add two teaspoonfuls (10 ml) for every 10 U.S. gallons of aquarium water.

To remove chlorine and heavy metals and neutralize chloramines:Add one teaspoonful (5 ml) for every 10 U.S. gallons (40 liters) of tap water.

For tropical fish use only. Do not use on fish intended for human consumption.


?Prime? is a complete conditioner for freshwater use that removes chlorine, chloramine, and detoxifies ammonia and nitrite. Converts ammonia, nitrites and nitrates into a food source for your GOOD bacteria to thrive on. It also provides essential ions and stimulates NATURAL slime coat. It will also detoxify any heavy metals found in the tap water at typical concentration levels. (www.goldfishconnection.com)?

My concern is in this statement on the Stress Coat (this is the only exact product source I could find, I am assuming that other water conditioners are in the similar range) ?Each dose of Stress Coat removes?0.3 ppm heavy metals,? the dose being ?1 teaspoon (5ml) for every 10 U.S. gallons (40 liters) of tap water.?

If your water source copper is high (but lower than 1.3ppm) and you have copper pipes (which may be corroding,) one dose of Stress Coat might not be enough to eliminate all the copper in the water.

If the remaining copper is slight, the body tries to detoxify it. Continual exposure to increased copper causes the liver to enlarge, thereby throwing off the natural buoyancy, giving the appearance of head standing, or vertical swimming. Copper in amounts that the liver cannot handle, will result in the failure of internal systems, and death.

Suggestions for immediate treatment:

Add additional water conditioner, (many products claim that overdosing does not affect the fish in any adverse way,) doubling or tripling the dosage can eliminate the copper in the tank water. If the copper poisoning is caught early, the fish?s liver may be able to naturally expel the copper from its system. Expelling the copper, the inflammation reduces, the buoyancy is then restored.


M Bernard

**this is still a work in progress, and by no means difinitive..

any comments, questions or contrstructive criticism will be appreciated.**


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Guest martinez14pr

i think you have done wonderful research and could definitely be on to something, it certainly makes sense to me. i once had the vertical swimming happen to a new fish, shortly after the death of another fish. we panicked and in fear of losing another, we seperated her in a bowl with 100% new water with a 1 tsp salt to 1 gallon concentration, and within 12 hrs, she was back to normal. i can't really tell you what it could have been, but now she is stronger than ever and even picks on a few that used to pick on her!

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This "incurable vertical swimming" which progressed into side sitting on the bottom and eventually death were the symptoms of my "incurable bacterial disease" that swept my tanks from December to June. I treated with every known antibiotic treatment available, treated for multiple parasitic possibilities, as well as tried the bucket to bucket method. No definative bacteria was cultured on necropsy. Scapings revealed nothing.

I do, however, use RO water. The system does not contain any copper pipes, excluding the small ones rising from the well the water is drawn from pre-filtering. Copper from our well is measured to be inconsequencial. I do not use water conditioners for my RO water is assumed to be virtually "empty".

Is it possible that I am picking up copper contamination of some nature somehow? I am willing to entertain any possibility!

Luckily I no longer have any stricken fish - but Clack has always been "semi" head down since Click succumbed to the mysterious affliction. Perhaps I shall treat that tank's water with a water conditioner and observe if there are any changes.

Is there a home test for copper available?

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I *think* you can get home tests for copper (marine aquarists test for this, I believe). If not, your LFS should be able to do it, or even your local water company? Mine will come out and test our water if we suspect there is metal contamination.

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Guest tooterfish

actually you could substitute "copper" with any of the metals.. but copper was one that i was able to find alot of info on.

it was a thought that i had had.. but i cannot test it without harming fish (nor do i have the setup to do controlled experiments)

i had just wondered why.. when we choose the seemingly most healthy fish from the store tank.. bring it home to a "good" environment .. why it would display this symptom within a few days.. hence the "could it cause..."

i was feeding my brain, but couldnt come to exacting conclusions.

as to your querry about your setup... RO is supposed to remove everything? (similar to distilled? i have limited knowledge with this) so this may not be what strickened your fish.

But - from the koivet site.. it stated that it could also be caused by a secondary bacterial infection from parasites.

were you ever able to scope your fish... for flukes and/or other?

i remember you had used a host of meds, but i cannot recall what they were.

i wish i could offer a simple explanation for your fish's illnesses


p.s. i remember reading that there is no "home" test for copper, and it can be expensive to have it done by a professional.

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just today at LFS i was looking at some filter media and there was one called poly something and you put it in your filter and it removes harmful things including copper and after a mounth (i think) you take it out and the coulour of the media tells you what it removed !!

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