10 Sure Signs of a Dying Molly Fish and How to Save It

As a molly parent, it can be heartbreaking watching your pet die sooner than you expected. Mollies can live up to 5 years, but like any other living organism, they can get stressed, fall ill, and die early. As such, knowing the signs of a dying molly fish will help you take the necessary steps to save it.

The signs of a dying molly fish include lethargic behavior, decreased appetite, clamped fins, heavy breathing, discoloration, abnormal swimming, etc. Maintaining good water conditions, consulting a vet, and conducting preventive care such as regular tank cleaning will help save a dying fish.

Keep reading this article as I discuss the signs of a dying molly fish. I’ll also dive deep into ways of saving it. Let’s begin!

10 Signs of a Dying Molly Fish

Mollies are a staple of many aquariums. They’re a go-to species for most beginners and seasoned aquarists.

Why? You may wonder.

They’re incredibly hardy animals, require low maintenance, and can adapt to most aquarium setups. 

Unfortunately, this may be a disadvantage since some aquarium hobbyists, particularly beginners, tend to pay little attention to their basic maintenance. This ignorance often results in the sudden death of molly fish.

Hence, the pertinent question is, how can you tell the signs of a dying molly fish? Let’s have a look at some of them.

1. Lack of Interest in Food

Do you observe that your molly fish isn’t swimming to the surface to feed, even when you offer its favorite food? If yes, then it may be dying soon.

Lack of appetite is among the significant indicators of a dying fish. It is also a dangerous symptom that can quickly lead to your molly’s death. 

A fish can cease to feed entirely due to several reasons, including.

  • Prolonged sickness 
  • Environmental stress 
  • Old age

It’s crucial to immediately investigate the cause of the drop in appetite and manage it to save your molly fish from dying. You may need to adjust the water parameters or check in with a vet.

Find Out: How to Save Dying Fish After Water Change

2. Bulging Eyes

Molly fish bulging eye

Molly fish eye bulging, also known as pop-eye disease (exophthalmia) is mainly caused by bacterial infections or high nitrogen concentrations in water. It is indicated by abnormally protruding eyes with fluid discharge. 

The condition may progress, leading to the cornea rupturing and the eyes appearing cloudy, bloody, or discolored.

By the time you notice the bulging eyes on your pet fish, the problem has usually advanced and may be challenging to reverse. All in all, you should consult a vet immediately to salvage the fish.

3. Lethargic Behavior

Lethargy is another behavioral symptom in a fish on the verge of dying. 

Mollies are generally social and vibrant when healthy. If they show less activity or interest in socializing, it may imply they are sick or dying. 

Multiple factors, including the following, may cause lethargy in fish:

  • Inadequate oxygen in the tank
  • Extreme water temperatures
  • Parasitic and bacterial infections 
  • Problems with the gills

You can check for the following signs of lethargic behavior in your molly fish.

  • Less swimming
  • Sluggish appearance
  • Hiding more than usual
  • Lying at the bottom of the aquarium with little or no movement

Lethargic fish will also find areas in the tank with a slight current to avoid being pushed about and having to swim.  

4. Erratic Swimming

If your molly fish is floating at the top, rolling, swimming spirally, sideways, upside down, or in unpredictable patterns, they may be dying. The inability to maintain buoyancy is often associated with swim bladder disorders, which can be fatal when severe. 

Multiple contributing factors can lead to swim bladder disease, including pathogens. However, we often overlook one major component – water chemistry. 

Exposure to toxic chemicals like chlorine or low oxygen levels can cause sudden and chronic stress in fish. In turn, the stress disrupts the body’s normal functioning, resulting in buoyancy issues. 

As such, you should always ensure the water quality in your aquarium is right. And if your molly fish exhibits a buoyancy disorder, check the water chemistry immediately and correct it if required.

5. Clamped or Falling Fins

Molly fish clamped fins

Clamped fins are another sign of a sick or dying molly fish. It is one of the early indications that the fish is under stress and needs urgent attention. 

Many factors can cause your pet fish to clasp its fins tightly to its body. These include large fluctuations in water temperatures, poor water quality, malnutrition, and parasitic infections such as ich and velvet disease. 

Advance infection can result in the fins rotting and falling off. Eroding fins appear shredded or chewed with black and red patches.

6. Labored Breathing

Is your molly fish breathing heavily or gasping for air at the surface of the tank? That’s a sign that it is not getting enough oxygen in the water or there’s something wrong with its respiratory system. 

There are many reasons why your fish does not get enough oxygen. Some are:

  • The filtration system is working improperly
  • Overcrowding in the aquarium
  • New tank syndrome 
  • Brown blood disease due to nitrite toxicity
  • Gill damage

This warrants a detailed inspection of the fish body, the tank’s water chemistry, and the aeration system. The sooner you figure out the root cause, the less likely your molly will die.

7. Inflamed Gills

Another sign of a dying molly fish is reddened or swollen gills. The inflammation can result from physical injuries, poor water quality, or infections by parasites (gill flukes), bacteria, or fungi. 

This condition is usually fatal if not resolved early. 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to spot early changes in gills, as the symptoms can be subtle. You may need to handle the fish and open the flappy covering to evaluate the gills. 

Inflamed gills appear swollen at the surface, are dark red, and don’t close completely. They also tend to open and close quickly to compensate for the inadequate oxygen. 

If the gills appear brown, it means there are high nitrite levels in the water.  

8. White Spots on Molly Fish Skin

A fish covered in white specks that resemble salt is a sign that it has ich, a highly contagious parasitic infection that can be fatal if not addressed quickly. 

Progression of the infection causes a suppressed immune system, respiratory issues, body lesions due to severe scratching, and loss of appetite.

Ich attacks stressed fish subjected to waters with fluctuating temperatures and PH, toxic ammonia and nitrate levels, insufficient oxygen content, and poor hygiene and maintenance. 

9. Discoloration

A sick or dying fish will fade color and look duller than usual, indicating something is wrong. Several factors, including stress, predators, chemicals, and illnesses, can result in discoloration. 

In case of temporary stress, the color will return when it is removed. Persistent discoloration, however, is often associated with skin thickening due to parasitic infections or poisonous chemicals. The most severe cause of skin discoloration in molly fish is the deadly viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

You should, therefore, act immediately if you notice any signs of discoloration on your pet fish. 

10. Heavy Scratching

Suppose your molly fish is increasingly scratching itself on structures; it’s an indication that it has skin irritation. This can be due to a parasitic infection or increased ammonia or chemical levels in water. 

Heavy scratching may create cuts on the skin and risk secondary infections that can form bleeding wounds. 

How to Save a Dying Molly Fish: 4 Ways

You can try several things to boost the survival rate of an ill or dying molly fish. There’s no assurance, however, that these methods will work, as it’s usually pretty late once the symptoms begin to show. 

But it doesn’t hurt anything to try.

You’ll want to start by testing the water chemistry: temperature, PH, oxygen concentration, and presence of chemicals like chlorine, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. 

In most cases, poor water quality is the culprit behind fish stress and sudden death. So, testing these parameters will enable you to determine the exact cause and how to correct it. 

That said, here are ways to save a dying molly fish.

1. Adjust the Water Chemistry

As mentioned, checking the parameters of your aquarium is essential in determining the reason for your fish’s dying state. Poor water quality is the number one cause of fish deaths. 

The test readings for a safe aquatic environment for mollies should be as follows.

Temperature75°-80°F (24°-26.7°C)
PH7.5 -8.5
Ammonia0 parts per million 
Nitrites0 parts per million
Nitrates<30 parts per million
Safe aquatic environmental conditions for mollies

The best way to save your dying fish due to ammonia, nitrites, and nitrate poisoning is by conducting a partial water change. 

Experts recommend 25% water change for ammonia levels between 0.5-1.0 mg/l (ppm) and 50% water change for levels beyond 1.0 mg/l (ppm)

The water change should be conducted in portions and at one-hour intervals to allow the fish to adjust to the changing water conditions without undergoing further stress. 

After performing the water change, adding a beneficial bacteria starter in the tank is best to break down the remaining ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates into harmless substances. 

If you suspect your molly is dying from chlorine or chloramine contamination, add a stress coat water conditioner to the tank. Chlorine poisoning mainly occurs when you add tap water to the aquarium. 

The conditioner neutralizes the chemicals, making the water safe for fish. 

Lastly, if your molly is dying due to drastic temperature changes, adjust the aquarium heater and ensure the temperature is always optimum. Investing in water heating equipment with sensors to regulate water temperature automatically is a good idea. 

2. Improve Water Aeration

Increasing water aeration is best if your pet fish shows signs of suffocation due to low oxygen levels. 

Aeration involves adding oxygen to water and increasing the water flow. You can achieve it by:

  • Stirring the water manually
  • Repeatedly pouring water into the tank slowly from a height using a cup
  • Putting a reliable filtering system into the tank. You can attach the filter with an air pump to increase the oxygen concentration
  • Connecting a spray bar to the tank

If the tank is overcrowded, consider transferring some fish to a different tank or using a larger tank to accommodate the population. Larger tanks also have a larger surface area, increasing the contact of water and atmospheric oxygen. 

You can add a few live plants to the tank as a long-term strategy to increase air circulation. 

3. Avoid Feeding Your Molly

If your molly is dying,  you’ll want to stop feeding it for a while for two reasons.

First, the metabolism of a dying fish generally slows down before shutting up. This includes its digestive system. So, your molly might not digest food sufficiently, leading to bloating, constipation, and, even worse, compaction.

Secondly, putting food in the tank, even after your pet fish stops feeding due to loss of appetite, will only lead to decay. Decomposing food spikes ammonia levels in the tank, worsening the water quality further.

Therefore, it’s best to remove uneaten food from the tank and let your molly fast for a while to allow recovery time.

4. Consult a Vet

If you suspect your pet fish is dying from a disease, immediately consult a vet. They can diagnose the underlying problem and offer the most suitable treatment. 

Final Words

It is essential to closely monitor your molly fish to detect any behavioral or physical changes early. 

Signs such as lethargy, decreased appetite, discoloration, clamped fins, and labored breathing should prompt you to take immediate action. 

First, check the water parameters and correct them if necessary. Consider applying the strategies discussed in this post to stabilize your fish behavior. 

Going forward, maintain an ideal aquatic environment by cleaning the tank often and performing regular partial water changes. This way, your molly fish will stay healthy and alive for as long as possible. 

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