Guppy Gill Color: What Does It Mean?

why are my guppies gills red

Guppies are hardy fish and can live in a wide range of water conditions. However, they can suffer from various issues, one of which is red gills. Red gills on guppies are usually caused by high levels of ammonia, nitrate, or carbonate poisoning. Ammonia and carbonates are highly dangerous toxins that can find their way into the aquarium from decomposing fish food, chemicals used in water treatment, organic matter, and food waste. Carbonates can also be found in different rocks and substrates that might be used as pebbles in the aquarium.

Guppies, like other fish, breathe by taking water through their mouths and releasing it through their gills. Their gills are normally reddish because they are engorged with blood. However, if the redness is particularly intense, or if the fish is gasping for air at the water surface, it could be a sign of ammonia poisoning. Ammonia poisoning affects the gills, fins, and the body of the guppy. It can cause the gills to become swollen and red or purple. Other symptoms of ammonia poisoning include loss of appetite, lethargy, gasping for air, lying at the bottom of the tank, and red patches on the body.

To treat ammonia poisoning, it is important to act quickly as it can be fatal for guppies. Place the affected fish in a hospital tank and treat them with antibiotics to heal ammonia burns. Ensure regular water changes and avoid overcrowding and overfeeding to prevent ammonia spikes. It is also recommended to test the water conditions with an aquarium water testing kit to monitor ammonia, nitrate, and carbonate levels.

Characteristics Values
Gills colour Red/Intense Red
Gills appearance Swollen
Guppy behaviour Gasping for air at the water surface
Cause Ammonia, nitrate or carbonate poisoning
Guppy appetite Loss of appetite
Guppy movement Lethargic
Guppy position Lying at the bottom of the tank
Guppy body Development of red patches


Ammonia poisoning

Symptoms of Ammonia Poisoning:

  • Gasping for air at the surface of the water
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Red or purple gills and bloody patches on the body
  • Laying at the bottom of the tank with clamped fins
  • Bloody patches on the body
  • Internal and external haemorrhaging

Treatment and Prevention:

  • If ammonia levels are above 1 ppm, take immediate action by lowering the pH of the water and performing a 50% water change, ensuring the new water is the same temperature as the tank.
  • In severe cases, use a chemical pH control product to neutralise the ammonia.
  • Restrict feedings to reduce waste.
  • Do not add new fish until ammonia and nitrite levels have fallen to zero.
  • If fish have ammonia burns, place them in a quarantine tank and treat with antibiotics.
  • Regularly test for ammonia and perform water changes at least twice a month.
  • Avoid overfeeding and overcrowding the tank.
  • Create good bacteria by adding gravel from an established aquarium to help complete the nitrogen cycle.
  • Clean and change the water regularly, removing dead plants and other debris.


Carbonate poisoning

Guppies are susceptible to carbonate poisoning, which can be caused by high levels of carbonate in the water. Carbonates can be found in rocks and substrates used in aquariums, as well as from decomposing fish food, water treatment chemicals, and organic matter and waste.

To treat carbonate poisoning, it is important to test the water conditions and address any issues. This may include reducing the pH of the water, performing water changes, and ensuring proper filtration and water flow to support gill health.

To prevent carbonate poisoning, regular water changes, proper filtration, and avoiding the use of certain rocks or substrates that may contain high levels of carbonates are recommended.

It is important to note that slightly red gills can be normal for guppies, but when the redness becomes intense, it may indicate a problem with water quality or the presence of toxins such as ammonia or carbonates.


High nitrate levels

Nitrate levels in a fish tank should be kept below 40ppm, and ideally below 20ppm. If nitrate levels exceed 40ppm, it is important to take immediate action to reduce the levels. This can be done by performing partial water changes, increasing the frequency of water changes, and ensuring that the water is properly treated to remove any contaminants.

In addition to maintaining optimal nitrate levels, it is important to provide proper water quality and living conditions for your guppies. This includes regular water changes, avoiding overfeeding, and providing a spacious tank to prevent overcrowding. Overcrowding can lead to increased waste production, which can contribute to higher nitrate levels and a contaminated tank environment.

It is also important to test the water regularly for nitrate levels, as well as ammonia and nitrite levels, to ensure that your guppies are living in a healthy environment. By taking proactive measures and maintaining optimal water conditions, you can help prevent nitrate poisoning and ensure the well-being of your guppies.

While nitrate poisoning is a potential cause of red gills in guppies, it is important to consider other factors as well. Ammonia poisoning, bacterial gill disease, and gill flukes (parasites) are also known to cause gill discolouration. Therefore, if you notice any other symptoms or changes in your guppies' behaviour, it is recommended to consult a veterinarian or a fish specialist for further advice and treatment options.


Gill damage

To treat gill damage caused by ammonia poisoning, it is important to act quickly. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Perform a large water change (50% or more) to dilute the ammonia levels.
  • Stop feeding the guppies for a few days to control ammonia buildup.
  • Test ammonia levels regularly for the next few days to ensure they decrease.
  • Add nitrifying bacteria to the tank to help control ammonia levels.
  • Improve aeration in the tank by using an airstone or increasing surface agitation.
  • Quarantine new fish and plants to prevent the introduction of ammonia-producing bacteria.
  • Maintain good water quality by regularly cleaning the tank, filtering the water, and vacuuming the substrate to remove waste.
  • Avoid overfeeding and remove any uneaten food to prevent decomposition and ammonia spikes.
  • Use an aquarium water testing kit to monitor water parameters such as pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels.
  • Consider using a chemical pH control product if the water conditions are already affected.

It is important to note that gill damage can also be caused by other factors, such as bacterial or fungal infections, parasites, or water quality issues. If the gills appear inflamed or irritated, it may be a sign of an infection or parasite infestation. In such cases, it is recommended to consult a veterinarian or experienced aquarium owner for advice on treatment options, which may include antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications.

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Gill flukes

Symptoms of gill flukes include:

  • Red gills: The gills will usually become reddened and inflamed, with excess mucus production.
  • Difficulty breathing: When the flukes feed on the blood on the gills, the oxygen supply is affected, and the fish may gasp for air at the surface of the water.
  • Excess mucus: Large amounts of mucus are produced by the gills and some may be seen on the body.
  • Faded colours: The colours of the fish may appear faded in patches, giving it a mottled appearance.

It is important to note that gill flukes cannot be seen with the naked eye, and a microscope analysis is required for a definitive diagnosis. Treatment for gill flukes includes medications such as Praziquantel, which is absorbed by the fish's gut and expressed in the mucus coat, killing the flukes. It is important to treat for flukes before administering antibacterial or antifungal medications.

To prevent gill flukes, it is crucial to maintain good water quality, control waste levels, and reduce stress in fish. This includes providing a nutritious diet, regular water changes, and adhering to quarantine protocols for new additions to the tank.

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Frequently asked questions

Red gills on guppies are usually caused by ammonia, nitrate or carbonate poisoning. Ammonia is a highly dangerous toxin that can find its way into the aquarium from decomposing fish food, chemicals used in water treatment, organic matter and food waste.

A healthy guppy's gills should be a pinkish-red colour. If you notice that their gills are brown or silver, this indicates an infection.

Obvious signs of ammonia poisoning include gasping for breath at the surface of the water, lying at the bottom of the tank, loss of appetite, lethargy and gill discolouration.

To treat ammonia poisoning, perform a water change of at least 50% and reduce the pH of the water. Avoid overfeeding and regularly test the ammonia levels in your tank.

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