Axolotl Thrashing And Frantic Swimming? When To Worry

Axolotl Thrashing

If you notice your axolotl thrashing, it’s normally a sign of discomfort. It’s essential to identify what causes that discomfort and resolve it as quickly as possible.

In this article, we are looking at the possible causes for axolotl thrashing aswell as recommending the best options for treatment.

Axolotl Thrashing

Owners often observe their axolotl violently throwing their body against things in the tank aswell as jerking or kicking around. This behavior is also described as axolotl thrashing.

There are a few possible causes for axolotl thrashing including:

  • Fungus
  • Injury
  • Poor water conditions
  • Parasites
  • Impaction/constiaption
  • Aggression from other tank mates
  • Frightened or stressed
  • Nervous system disorder, such as a possible seizure or other neurological problem

The two possible causes for thrashing behavior, that are easiest to identify because of the obvious physical symptoms, are injury and fungus. Therefore, those are also the easiest to rule out.

If injury or fungus are not what’s causing the thrashing, then you can investigate the other options such as digestive issues, parasites, or poor water conditions.


axolotl thrashing
Axolotl Fungus

If your axolotl is suffering from an illness such as fungus, they will feel irritated and will be in pain. This can also result in your axolotl thrashing around to either try and find relief or as a jerk reaction to the pain and discomfort.

Fungus – Symptoms

The good thing about fungus in axolotls is that it’s easily spotted. The symptoms are obvious in the axolotl’s physical appearance. If your axolotl is suffering from fungus, you will straight away see white, fuzzy patches on their body and/or gills.

Fungus – Treatment

If your axolotl thrashing is caused by fungal infection, it can be easily treated with salt baths.

To treat the fungal infection, follow these steps:

  • Quarantine. The infected axolotls need to be quarantined
  • Treat with salt baths every day until the infection is eradicated
  • Water changes are required daily during quarantine
  • Feed the infected axolotls live food such as earthworms, if you’re not already doing so

For the salt baths:

  • Use non-iodized aquarium salt or sea salt
  • Add the salt in 2 to 3 teaspoons per litre concentration
  • Each salt bath should only last between 10 to 15 minutes
  • The daily salt baths might be needed for up to 1-2 weeks until the infection has been fully eradicated


Axolotl Parasites

In some cases, your axolotl thrashing can be a symptom of parasites. Parasites can be introduced into the axolotl’s environment through any of the following:

  • Live food
  • Food pallets
  • Sick tank mates
  • Sand

The most common parasites in axolotls include Ciliates, Opalina, Hexamita, Costia and Trichodina.

Parasites – Symptoms

If you suspect that your axolotl thrashing is the result of a parasite infestation, you must check the tank for the parasites. Normally, you should be able to see the parasites either floating in the water or stuck on the decorations, tank walls or floor.

In addition, you should also keep an eye for the following symptoms:

  • Refusal to eat
  • Mucus secretion

Parasites – Treatment

If you’ve ruled out all other possibilities and you’re certain that your axolotl thrashing is a symptom of a parasite infestation, it’s now time to treat it. For treatment, try the following:

  • Administer anti-parasitic medicine into the tank’s water
  • Add metronidazole to your axolotl’s food at 5 mg/g concentration (this is for the parasite Hexamita)
  • Salt baths at 2.5% solution, formalin baths at 0.025-0.050 ml/L or magnesium sulfate concentrations is recommended for parasites that latch onto the skin
  • Food. If you’re using pellets, you might want to switch to live food such as earthworms. This way the parasite worry would be at a minimum and earthworms are great option for nutritional value
  • Always clean up any leftover food straight away

Irritation From Poor Water Conditions

The first thing to do if you have a sick axolotl is check the water perimeters. Axolotl thrashing can be caused by poor water conditions such as spike in ammonia, nitrate or incorrect temperature.

Use a water testing kit like the one below to test the water in the tank. The ideal water perimeters are as follows:

  • Ammonia levels – 0
  • pH levels – 7.4 to 7.6
  • Nitrite levels – 0
  • Chlorine is harmful for axolotls. Therefore, the water in their tank must be either dechlorinated or left to stand for 24 hours before adding it
  • Water hardness. Axolotls prefer water that is slightly hard. This means that they need a good concentration of dissolved salts in their water. Hard water ensures healthy gills and healthy slime coat production


If the water perimeters are off, you should:

  • Check if all the filtration systems are working fine
  • Do a water cycle. Whilst cycling, test the water daily and if the ammonia or nitrite rise above 0.5ppm, do a water change
  • Once the tank is cycled, continue to test the water at least once a week and continue with weekly water changes of at least 25% or more if you need to bring the nitrate or ammonia down to a safe level
  • Continue observing your axolotl’s behavior. If the axolotl thrashing continues but the water perimeters are up to a good standard, the cause for this behavior is most likely something else


Often, axolotl thrashing can be a sign of a digestive problem such as impaction or constipation.

Axolotls love to put things in their mouths, and they are well known for trying to eat anything that they can swallow. Often, that can be pebbles or tank decorations.

The issue with that is that they won’t be able to pass it and become impacted as a result. Another way axolotls become constipated is from gas build up. This can happen by consuming sinking pellets.

Impaction/Constipation – Symptoms

If you’re axolotl thrashing is the result of constipation, you should keep an eye on the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Floating in the tank
  • Frantic swimming
  • Loss of appetite
  • No waste production

To read the full guide on axolotl bloated belly and all the possible causes, head over here Axolotl Bloated Belly? Causes And Treatment For Bloated Axolotl

Impaction/Constipation – Treatment

The axolotl may be able to get rid of the foreign object that’s lodged inside of them. Fridging can help with the process of getting rid of the indigestible foreign body from their digestive system.

If the object cannot be removed, the axolotl will need to be taken to the vet. Then, the axolotl will be put under anesthesia and the object removed surgically, with the help of alligator forceps.


Axolotls injure themselves quite often. Especially, if there are sharp edges or decorations in the tank.

If suffering with an injury, you might observe the axolotl thrashing around because of the pain. This is a normal response, showing discomfort.

But how to tell if your axolotl has sustained an injury? Easy. As axolotl’s skin is very delicate, an injury should be visible to the naked eye.

Injury – Treatment

How to help you axolotl if they have sustained an injury? Well, axolotls have an incredible ability to heal such as regrowing whole limbs.

The main concern when healing from an injury is an infection. That’s why it’s extremely important for the tank conditions to be to the highest standard whilst your axolotl is healing. This includes:

  • Daily water changes at 25%
  • Testing the water to ensure that the ammonia and nitrate are in check
  • The water temperature should be kept lower than usual at around 41°F to 59°F
  • 100% Holtfreter’s solution will reduce the chance of infection. Alternatively, you can use a teaspoon of salt in 2 litres of water
  • Feed live food such as earthworms
  • Any leftover food should be immediately removed

Aggression From Tank Mates

As axolotls are very peaceful creatures, they can be kept with other fish or axolotls. However, sometimes that doesn’t end well. If your axolotl’s tank mates are showing aggression or bullying, it can result in stress or even injury.

Therefore, your axolotl thrashing can be a sign that they are being bullied or getting in fights with tankmates.

There are many reasons for such behavior. Maybe, you have the wrong fish in the tank with your axolotl. Not all fish are suitable tank mates or maybe the tank is too small which can also result in fights and stress.

How To Fix It?

If your axolotl thrashing is a sign of stress caused by fights with tank mates, you should immediately separate them. Place your distressed axolotl in a separate tank.

Before placing your axolotl in the new tank, make sure to test the water. If the water perimeters aren’t up to a standard, it can make your axolotl even more stressed or even sick.

In the future, if you do decide to get tank mates for your axolotl, you need to make sure they are suitable and that the tank is big enough. For example, you can keep two axolotls in minimum 55-gallon tank.


Axolotls are sensitive and fragile creatures that can easily get stressed. A stressed axolotl can be seen thrashing around and swimming frantically.

What’s important is figuring out the cause of the axolotl’s stress and discomfort. This can be anything from the list below:

  • Dirty tank
  • Too much light
  • Water temperature too warm
  • Aggression from tank mates
  • Spike in ammonia or nitrate levels

How To Fix It?

Establish what’s stressing your axolotl and fix it. Is that easy. If you’re providing your axolotl with good husbandry, they should be healthy and happy. Good husbandry includes:

  • Location of the tank. It’s important to place the tank away from direct sunlight as axolotl’s eyes are sensitive and it can also affect the temperature of the water
  • Regular cleaning and water changes
  • Feeding them nutritious foods and the right amounts
  • Regular water testing to ensure the water perimeters are up to standard
  • Having the right substrate
  • Adding safe decorations such as large rocks, caves, etc

Nervous System Disorder

The last cause for axolotl thrashing that we are looking at is neurological problems. Although, these types of problems can occur, there isn’t much information or research on the topic.

The best you can do is work your way through the all the other possible causes we discussed in this article and use the system of elimination. If none of the other causes fit, axolotl thrashing can be a symptom of a neurological problem. In that case, your best bet is to take your axolotl to the vet where they can do further testing.

Final Thoughts

To summarise, axolotl thrashing is a common behavior that is often a sign of discomfort such as gills irritation, digestive issues, constipation, injury or poor water quality.

The first thing to do if your axolotl is sick is to check the water conditions. If all the water perimeters are up to a standard, then you can start exploring other possible causes. We say this because most axolotl health problems are caused by problems with the water conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions FQA

What Are Common Axolotl Skin Problems?

Axolotls often suffer with skin problems. This can include lumps, bumps, warts, lesions and redness.

In most cases, the cause for these conditions is poor water conditions. However, it depends on the accompanying symptoms.

To read more about axolotl bumps and lumps and how to treat it, head over here Axolotl Bumpy Skin – Bumps, Lumps, Warts, Lesions? When To Worry?

Why Is My Axolotl Turning Red?

The most common cause for your axolotl’s skin turning red is spike in the ammonia levels in the tank.

Normally, this is easily fixed once the water perimeters are brought back to the correct levels.

To learn how to do that, head over here Why Is My Axolotl Turning Red? Is Red Axolotl Skin A Concern?



My name is Iliyana and I'm a passionate animal lover and pet owner. As there is significantly less information online about unusual and exotic pets, I decided to found this website and recruit expert writers to help pet owners.

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