Itchy Axolotl? Why Is Your Axolotl Scratching And How To Stop It
One common problem that owners come across is their axolotl scratching. An itchy axolotl can be a sign of a health problem such as poor water conditions, injury or fungal infection. It’s important to never ignore unusual behavior from your pets.
This article will help you establish the reason for your axolotl scratching and recommend ways to treat each cause.
Itchy Axolotl Causes
If your axolotl is scratching its gills with the back legs, like a dog would, it means your axolotl is itchy. As axolotls don’t normally scratch without a reason, it’s important to investigate what’s causing this behavior.
The two most common causes for itchy axolotl are:
- The water is too warm
- Ammonia burn
Other possible causes include:
- The water is too warm
- Fungal infection
Always check for other accompanying symptoms as well as scratching. Taking all symptoms into account will help you get to the bottom of the problem.
The Water Is Too Warm
Axolotls thrive in cold waters. Ideally, these animals should be kept at 60 °F -64°F. Anything higher than that can cause them stress and result in a very itchy axolotl.
How To Fix It?
As already mentioned, axolotls like cold water. Therefore, if the tank water is anything higher than 64°F, should be immediately fixed. To do this, try the following methods:
- Use a chiller. A chiller is recommended only if it has a good temperature adjustment feature that is very accurate. If not – you could end up making the axolotl tank too cold
- Get fans. This is also the cheaper alternative to a chiller. You want a fan that blows a good amount of wind hitting the water’s surface as much as possible
- Frequent cold-water changes
- Add ice cubes to the water (only a few will be fine)
- Place a frozen water bottle inside the tank. Ideally, the bottle should be placed in the corner of the tank. Keep an eye and once the water in the bottle has melted, you need to put a new one right away to maintain the same temperature
- Air con in the room where the axolotl tank is kept in
As it’s essential to maintain the same temperature in the water, you need to ensure that the method you choose can be sustained over a long period of time.
By cooling down the water, your itchy axolotl should be relieved. However, if that doesn’t improve your axolotl scratching, it means the cause is something else.
How To Prevent It?
To prevent the water temperature in your axolotl tank being too hight in the first place, follow these steps:
- Purchase a reliable thermometer for inside the tank and the room you’re keeping your axolotl’s tank
- Location of the tank. Keep the tank in a cool place. Avoid floors in your house that are higher up and think basement where it’s cool
- Keep the tank away from any electronics such as TV, computers, etc as they emit heat
- Tank electronics such as filtration units can also emit heat as they consume a lot of power. Therefore, that is also something to keep an eye on
- Lights. Although, it’s important for your axolotl to have access to light, too much light can raise the water temperature. It’s recommended to get a lamp that doesn’t emit a lot of heat
The other most common reason for an itchy axolotl is ammonia burn. This is similar to a sun burn in people. The good thing about this you can quickly spot it and treat it you’re your axolotl should be back to normal in a few days.
The other signs of ammonia burn besides your axolotl scratching themselves include:
- Loss of appetite
- Floating and not able to stay on the bottom for long
- Gills deteriorating
- Curled tail at the end
- Frantic swimming
- Red skin
To be completely sure if it’s ammonia burn, you must test the water immediately using a water test kit which you can purchase from here. However, one thing to be aware of is that often there is a result of .25 ammonia which can be a false positive. This is a common issue with the API test kits.
How To Fix It?
The ammonia in your axolotl’s tank should be 0 ppm. Even a small spike in the ammonia level can make your axolotl suffer with burns.
It’s important to note that the ammonia burns won’t heal unless you treat the actual cause which is the water in the tank. If not treated immediately, the ammonia burns can result in infections, reduced life expectancy, and lowered immune system.
To treat ammonia burns, follow these steps:
- Place your axolotl in a separate tub, tank or container
- The tub should have water that is dechlorinated
- Place the axolotl and tub in the fridge at 46.4°F
- Feeding should be kept at minimum and re-introduced gradually
For the contaminated tank, follow these steps:
- Cycle the contaminated tank by doing water changes of 70%-100% once or twice daily
- The added water in the tank should be maintained at the same temperature. If it’s too warm use ice cubes or a chiller to make sure it stays in the range of 60 °F -64°F
- Use a thermometer to track the water temperature
- Monitor the water conditions such as ammonia levels and nitrate by using a water test kit
- Tea bath. If the axolotl still hasn’t healed, you can use tea bath with almond leaves
- Only place your axolotl back in the tank once they have healed
Poor Water Quality
The first thing to do if you have an itchy axolotl is to perform a water test and make sure everything is up to a standard. You need to check the following:
- Ammonia levels. It should be 0
- pH levels. The ideal pH is 7.4-7.6
- Nitrite levels. It should be 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
How To Fix It?
Cycling your axolotl’s tank ensures the water quality stays up to a standard and is also essential for your axolotl’s health. Cycling the water is especially important as particles of poop and dirt can affect the water quality and make your axolotl itchy and really sick.
Even if you’re already doing cycles, these can easily be disrupted and fail because of a worm getting in the way and rotting or poop hiding somewhere in the tank.
To fix water quality issues, you will need to remove your axolotl from their tank and fridge them. Follow the same steps outlined in the previous section. Once your axolotl is back in their tank, keep changing 10-20% of the water every week (this can slightly vary depending on the filter system of the tank).
Injury & Infection
Axolotl injuries often lead to infections due to the damaged slime layer. One of the symptoms of those infections is itchiness and scratching.
How To Fix It?
If your axolotl is nursing an injury, it’s essential for the water to be clean and the temperature lower than usual at 41°F – 59°F. This way you’ll be avoiding the risk of infection. However, if you’re axolotl has already developed an infection, place it in a tub with fresh cool dechlorinated water and do daily 100% water changes. The axolotl should heal on its own as long as the water conditions are excellent.
If the steps above are not providing results, you can include almond tea leave bath. The tea bath has antibacterial qualities and will soothe the skin.
One of the signs of a fungal infection is an itchy axolotl. Axolotls kept in captivity tend to develop fungal infections more than axolotls in the wild.
The most common fungal infections include saprolegni and columnaris and they thrive in cooler waters rather than warm.
Signs of a fungus infection in axolotl include:
- Fluffy, cotton-like growth on the axolotl’s body. This can include the gills or on the site of a wound
- Gill fungus appear with white and cloudy tips. In extreme cases, it can result in gills degeneration
- Axolotl scratching and itching
Axolotl fungus causes include:
- Injury or abrasion can develop fungus
- Poor water conditions such as lack or incorrect water cycles
- Tank set up being bare bottom or sand only
- Stress from improper care can weaken the axolotl’s immune system which can lead to fungus growth
How To Fix It?
Once your axolotl has fungus, it’s quite difficult to get rid of with owners often complaining that the fungus keeps coming back.
Let’s take a look at the steps that you can take to help your itchy axolotl beat fungus:
- Salt baths are popular treatment for axolotl fungus.
- Tea baths from Indian almond leaves have antibacterial properties and is soothing for the skin. This is not an aggressive treatment and is recommended for lighter cases
- Columnar is in conjunction with the oxidizing agent MinnFinn. This can be used for 1 hour bath and repeat 1 to 3 times. This can be used at regular strength. However, it depends on the hardness of the water. The harder the water, the stronger solution needed
- Himalayan pink salt added to the tank water at a ratio of 3 tablespoons per 5 gallons of water. The salt can be used in conjunction with every other day MinnFinn baths
Preventing itchy axolotl as a result of fungus infection is much easier than treating it. Even if your axolotl has already had fungus, it can easily come back, so it’s good to put some preventative measures in place:
- Good tank flora will help prevent the growth of bad organisms such us fungus. It’s recommended to go for Walstad-style substrate that will maintain the tank’s ecology in balance. You can purchase one from here
- Himalayan pink salt added to the water. Make sure that you keep monitoring the parameters of the tank as axolotl’s don’t like sudden changes, so it needs to be very gradual
- UV rays are an effective way to treat and prevent fungus in the water You can purchase one from here
- Regular water changes
To read the full guide on axolotl fungus, head over here White Cotton Like Fuzz On Axolotl? Axolotl Fungus – Causes And Treatment
An itchy axolotl that is constantly scratching can be caused by water being too warm, ammonia burn, poor water quality and fungal infection.
Most of the causes mentioned are treated in similar way which involves placing your axolotl in a separate tub, fridging and decontaminating the tank.
To prevent issues reoccurring is essential to keep the axolotl’s tank perimeters up to a high standard. This includes:
- Ammonia levels should be 0
- The ideal pH is 7.4-7.6
- Nitrite levels should be 0
- Dechlorinated water
- Correct water hardness
Frequently Asked Questions Q&A
Why Is My Axolotl Turning Red?
If your axolotl is turning red, it can be a health problem or just normal behavior. How to tell the difference?
If your axolotl’s gills turn bright red and their tail pink-ish color when being active, it’s just normal behavior. As axolotl’s have translucent skin, you can see the blood rushing through them when being active.
On the other hand, red skin patches on the body or red tail can be a sign of a health problem.
To learn more about what causes axolotl turning red, read the full guide here Why Is My Axolotl Turning Red? Is Red Axolotl Skin A Concern?
Why Is My Scratching Its Gills Like A Dog?
Your axolotl scratching its gills is not normal behavior. This is usually a symptom of a problem that you need to address. We scratch ourselves when something is irritating our skin. The axolotl is no different! It means something in its environment or food is causing irritation.
To learn all about axolotl gills and all the possible health problems that can arise, head over to the full guide here Guide On Axolotl Gills Problems – Healthy vs Unhealthy (with Pics)