Introduction to Underwater Depression
It may sound strange at first how aquarium fish, seemingly enjoying a life of tranquility and abundance, may exhibit strong signs of depression and stress. You would think that being taken of as much as they usually are, they would be relatively stress immune. Unfortunately, signs of depression and stress can manifest on all living things of this Earth and our underwater friends are no exception. Much like us humans, fish under long stretches of stress can develop serious health complications and severe problems – and the matter of fact is, such cases are much more widespread and common than one would think.
Perhaps the biggest contributing factor towards their depression is how fish take quite the leap in their lifestyles when brought from the wild all the way to an aquarium. They experience all kinds of stresses, like changes in their diets, the conditions of the water they live in or even a lack of space for them to swim in. Not least among these factors, is how fish are highly social animals and being forced to considerably limit their social life heavily impacts them.
Identifying the leading causes of depression and stress
To better understand how fish develop depression, it is vital to understand what causes it in the first place. While treating sick fish is certainly possible, the best kind of medicine is preventing the sickness from taking root. Whether you already have tropical marine fish in your at-home aquarium or you are planning to get them, you would do well to address the following factors to ensure they live long and happy lives and avoid unnecessary harm:
- Low oxygen levels: Should oxygen levels fall bellow the recommended level, fish are forced to use far more than what is optimum for their health. In extreme cases, this can even cause death. In any case, improper oxygen levels is a sure way to inflict chronic or acute stress on your fish.
- Inadequate tank size: While the notion that “fish grow to the size of their tanks” is certainly a myth, it is established that fish who live in tanks too small for them and generally low quality living conditions become stunted in their growth and unhealthy.
- Fluctuations in temperature: The vast majority of tropical and marine fish have problems with sudden temperature changes. The daily fluctuations produced by tanks that have not been set up properly can inflict significant chronic stress on the fish, whether the temperature is too high or too low.
- Improper nutrition: Even though many fish are robust enough to survive a less than ideal diet it absolutely does them no good and negatively impacts their well-being. The effects of malnutrition are many and you should really pay attention to how much and what kinds of food your fish eat.
- Harassment from other fish: On their natural environment, fish have plenty of room to navigate around and many hiding places to protect them. In a small yet crowded aquarium, however, chances are they likely to have conflicts with neighbor fish – and no place to hide. In-fighting among fish is not uncommon. It is part of their nature. Being left helpless against the aggressor fish, however, and being unable to hide is certainly a big cause of stress for them.
Signs to look out for
There is a great deal of revealing signs for you to look out for on your fish to see if they suffer from depression. These fall under the following categories: Differences in their swimming activities, having issues with their appetite, a change of their colors, changes in their breathing rate and how aware they seem of their surroundings.
- Swimming activities: The most common indication is called the “shimmy” – the fist looks as if it is swimming really fast yet fails to move, practically staying in the same place. Other indicators are generally out of the norm swimming practices: Frantic swimming all over the aquarium is a sure sign of duress. Reversely, a significant decrease in swimming indicates weakness and should raise your red flags.
- Appetite: Stress triggers a fish’s fight or flight reflexes. A highly stressed fish is constantly on the look out for danger instead of looking around for nutrition. This eventually depletes its energy stores causing it to become weak and susceptible to all kinds of hazards. It is a vicious cycle: The fish’s appetite drops due to stress, and because it does not eat nearly enough it accumulates even more stress.
- Color: Closely related to a drop in appetite, colors beginning to fade are a sure sign that you fish suffers. Maintaining the beautiful colors your fish sport is quite the costly endeavor for their organisms: When they stop having adequate energy intake through their diets, their coloring is one of the first victims to suffer.
- Respiration: Our breathing rate increases when faced with stress or adversity – this happens due to our natural fight or flight instincts. An increase in respiration consequently increases the concentration of available oxygen, which aids us when dealing with potentially dangerous situations. Fish have an extremely efficient system of respiration. Unfortunately, it is quite susceptible to infections, disease or plain poor water quality: These cause their gills to produce mucus which in turns decreases the gills’ function and thus causes fish to essentially breathe faster, considerably tiring and weakening them in he long term.
- Awareness: Acute changes in a fish’s mentation, whether they lean on the side of dullness or overt stimulation are a red flag for distress. Generally, a depressed fish is more likely to be laying still and drifting around instead of racing the aquarium in agitation. In both cases, however, out of the norm activity should be considered a sign of distress. You should take great care to note your fish’s activity levels to be able to deduce whether there is a sudden change or not. It is very important to keep in mind that there is a rather large variation among the many different species of fish, with some being more active than others.