The Guppy is a highly popular community aquarium fish that is available in many colors, patterns, and tail types. They are easy to keep, hardy, and active, making them a fish keepers, especially novices, dream.
Sadly, the beautiful Guppy is also prone to either being born with or developing a bent spine. This is far from a rarity in Guppies, in fact, it is a fairly common occurrence. Typified by a curve in the Guppies body, a bent spine will be obvious when viewed from either above or the side.
Whichever way the curvature has formed a bent spine will often make swimming for the Guppy affected more difficult and also slow down their growth rate. Sufferers of bent spines are also often bullied by other fish, probably because they are weaker.
Being so prevalent, it would be easy to think that the causes of a bent spine in Guppies would either be many or unavoidable. However, this isn’t quite the case. Bent spines are almost solely the territory of two ailments which are Scoliosis and Fish TB.
What is Guppy Bent Spine Syndrome? Guppy bent spine syndrome is a disease called Scoliosis which affects not only fish but humans also. Popular tropical fish like guppies develop a bent spine and unfortunately, there is no cure. Euthanasia is often the outcome.
Scoliosis (Bent Spine)
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine develops a curve either in the shape of an ‘S’ or ‘C’. It can be stable, never changing during a Guppies life, or develop in shape over time. It most commonly manifests itself at the larvae or fry stage but in some cases can appear in adult females after fry has been born. This is due to dramatic changes in abdominal pressure.
When scoliosis develops in the fry or larvae stage, it is most often a result of inbreeding. This is particularly true of new species of Guppy that do not have a large gene pool. Reproduction of Guppies that have Scoliosis is also fairly common which increases the problem as parents will pass it onto their fry. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of fry born to a female with Scoliosis will inherit this condition.
Scoliosis is also frequently found in aquariums that have low levels of oxygen, are overcrowded, or are receiving an unbalanced dry food diet. Spacious aquariums with live plant and food that is varied, by comparison, have relatively few cases of Scoliosis.
Sadly, there is no cure for Scoliosis but it can be prevented. Avoiding inbreeding is essential with a balanced diet, spacious aquarium, live plants, and fresh water every week also being highly beneficial. A balanced diet would consist of high-quality tropical flake or pellet mixed with a live or frozen diet of foods such as bloodworm or brine shrimp.
On the bright side, if you do find yourself with a group of fry affected by Scoliosis it is not necessarily the end of the world. Guppies with this disability can still have a good life. This, however, is completely dependent on their ability to swim without difficulty, and that they are not picked on by other stronger fish. Guppies that are suffering and not leading a good life should be responsibly euthanized.
You will also want to ensure that any Guppies you have with Scoliosis do not breed. This can be difficult in a species like the Guppy which is a prolific breeder. Should they breed you may wish to consider either culling the resulting fry or allowing them to be eaten by their parents and other fish in the aquarium.
Fish are not the only ones that can suffer from Scoliosis, humans can too. Read all about the symptoms and cures here.
Fish Tuberculosis (Fish TB)
Before we get into the ins and outs of Fish TB, it needs to be said that technically this disease is not TB at all. Rather it is caused by the Mycobacterium Marinum bacteria, a close relative of (Mycobacterium Tuberculosis) TB.
As with most diseases, Fish TB is found far more commonly in aquariums that have poor water quality, and that are not being maintained properly. It can also be imported if you buy fish from less than reputable stores with dirty and cramped tanks. Fish TB is, and this is of high importance, transmissible to humans and other animals if not dealt with in the right way.
Should you be worried about this? Yes, if your Guppies are showing signs of this disease and you have had your hands in the water with cuts or lesions. However, on the plus side, human infection is rare; you’re far more likely to be killed by a knife-wielding maniac!
Back to Guppies with Fish TB, there are a variety of symptoms they will display. These include:
- Curved or crooked spine
- Lesions on body
- Loss of scales
- Loss of appetite
- Body wasting
- Sluggish movement
- Folded fins
- Eye protrusion
- Hangin at the surface
- Skin defects (blood spots, open wounds)
- Black spots
Diagnosing this disease can be difficult but treatment is even harder. Effectively, there is no way to cure Fish TB, with traditional treatments not working or even exacerbating it. Both adding salt and raising the temperature in the aquarium, for example, do not work. In fact, raising the temperature will only help the bacteria grow better.
Your only real chance of saving your Guppies when they are suffering from Fish TB is to remove them from their aquarium as soon as they show symptoms. You could also try antibiotics such as Neomycin, Kanamycin, and Isoniazid although these are rarely successful. Euthanization is often the only way to go to prevent your fish from suffering.
Unfortunately, since Fish TB is transmissible, it is highly likely that once one fish succumbs to it, the rest will follow. This means that preventing this disease is paramount. The best way to do this is to ensure that your Guppies do not become stressed and hence have their immune systems lowered. To ensure this, keep your aquariums in tip-top shape by providing excellent maintenance.
A Word On Fish Euthanasia
It is a sad fact that many Guppies who develop Scoliosis or Fish TB will need to be euthanized to prevent them from suffering. However, there is always heated debate over the best way to do this. Research into humane ways to euthanize a fish is limited, and there is no consensus on what is best.
What is Euthanasis and is it legal to do in pets and fish? Read all about it here.
It is pretty much agreed, however, that there are certain ways which are not humane. These include flushing fish down the toilet, immersing them in ice, freezing them, boiling them, suffocation, and carbon dioxide. So, please do not euthanize your fish in this manner.
Of the methods left not all are suitable for every species. However, clove oil is one that should be OK for most, and definitely for Guppies. This method ensures that your fish will quickly lose consciousness, stop breathing, and die from Hypoxia in around ten minutes.
Clove oil is a sedative that at high doses can be used for euthanasia. You will need approximately 400 mg to one liter of water for this to be successful. Clove oil can be easily obtained from chemists and is a useful item to keep in your fish medicine cupboard in readiness for this purpose.
To euthanize a fish in this manner, you should first mix the clove oil with a little warm water before adding it slowly to the bowl with your Guppy in. Slowly is imperative as adding the mixture all at once will excite your fish. Once all the clove oil is in the bowl, you should leave your Guppy for at least ten minutes as this is the time it will take them to die. Before disposing of your Guppy you should also ensure that they have no gill movement for at least ten minutes.
Read how to dispose of your dead fish with respect and dignity here!
Conclusion: Guppy Bent Spine Syndrome
Though a bent spine in a Guppy does not always lead to them needing to be euthanized, it should still be avoided wherever possible. This can be achieved by providing the correct care and not breeding from Guppies that have this issue.
You should also take care to purchase Guppies from a reputable breeder who does not inbreed their stock. By doing this, hopefully, we can eliminate irresponsible breeders and in turn eradicate the issue.
For more information on guppies and the timescales for their growth rate and lifespan then read our article by clicking this link.
Check out our complete guide on Tropical Fish Disease Here!