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APPETITE LOSS

Did your gluttonous gold gourami fail to report for chow this morning? Perhaps he scarfed down the catfish's portion yesterday. If not, his lack of appetite may signal something more serious.

Causes

Normal, healthy fish should eagerly gobble up their rations at least twice a day. If they don't, something is amiss with your feeding routine, an illness has infiltrated your tank or there could be an environmental problem.

Evaluate the cuisine. Stale or moldy food can put a damper on anyone's appetite. Did you recently change brands? Finicky fish may prefer certain colors, odors or textures.

If a new feeding regime or the environment isn't to blame for your pet's indifference, an underlying illness may be the culprit. Stomach or intestinal problems are the most common causes, but any serious infection or disease can spoil your pet's appetite. These include liver or kidney infections and gas-gut disease (Vibrio alginolyticus), a common condition in marine species.

Your fish also may stage a hunger strike if intestinal parasites such as roundworms, coccidia or Hexamita are feeding on his intestines and irritating his bowels.

What You Can Do at Home

Examine your finny friend. Has he lost weight? Is he bloated? Does he defecate more often and leave less firm waste? These symptoms may signal intestinal problems. First rule out environmental causes of illness. Test the water for ammonia, nitrite and pH imbalances. Your local pet store or veterinarian can help if you don't own a test kit. Also check the thermometer to make sure the heater works correctly. The water should be 72 to 80 degrees F.

Next perform an immediate 25 percent water change, making sure you dechlorinate the water and match the temperature and pH. This simple process dilutes any pollutant or disease organism in the tank.

When to Call the Veterinarian

If the water analysis doesn't indicate a problem, call a qualified fish veterinarian immediately. The doctor may examine your fish, recheck your water parameters, perform a fecal analysis and obtain a thorough medical history. He may also recommend X-rays, blood tests and ultrasound examinations.

If your fish dies, don't dispose of him right away. You just might flush away evidence that could save the other fish who live in the tank. An aquatic veterinarian may perform a necropsy using tissue from your deceased fish. If you can't find an aquatic veterinarian in your area, ask local pet store personnel for advice.