What is Neon Tetra Disease and how can it be Prevented?


What is Neon Tetra Disease (or Neon Tetra Disease)?

Neon tetras are a popular nano fish known for their beautiful, red and blue stripes, but sometimes they get a bad reputation for being a “sensitive” fish that is prone to dying. We have found that these tetras are as tough as other danios as rasboras. But there are many factors that could weaken their immunity or make them more susceptible to illness. Let’s look at why neonate tetras can get sick and what neon tetra disease is, as well as how to prevent it.

Why Do Neon Tetras Get Sick?

Because neon tetras are kept in large numbers, the first reason they may appear sickly is that they are often kept in high numbers. Fish farms know they are always in demand and therefore breed them in massive quantities. Wholesalers procure thousands of them at a time, large batches get sent to your local pet store, and then the retail employee mixes the latest shipment of tetras with an existing group that hasn’t sold yet. There is a greater chance that one fish will become sick if you have a lot of them.

Neon tetras also tend to be underfed at the various facilities they are kept in. Wholesalers and pet shops all aim to spend as little time and food with fish as possible in order to keep their businesses afloat. A whole tank of 100 tetras may only get a few pinches of fish flakes, which means not every fish gets a bite. For most fish, this practice works okay in the short term, but for neon tetras being kept in high-stress, overcrowded environments, you start to see diseases like ich, fungal infections, or even neon tetra disease.

Neon tetras are frequently kept in large numbers with little food and suboptimal conditions.

Finally, many beginners tend to buy neon tetras because they are colorful and cheap. Oftentimes, they don’t spend a lot of time looking up the care requirements and may buy a large bag of them to put in a tiny aquarium with poor water quality and aggressive tank mates. Neon tetras would have been more expensive at $10 each so people would be more careful about taking care of them. Neon tetras aren’t necessarily more sensitive than fish. They just get kept in potentially less favorable conditions throughout their supply chain.

How to Make Your Neon Tetras Healthier

If possible, try to buy the biggest neon tetras you can. They may be sold as large, jumbo, or XL neon tetras. While they usually cost more, it’s well-worth the price because fish farms must feed more food to these tetras in order to raise them to a certain size. At Aquarium Co-Op, we try to order the bigger, full-grown neon tetras, put them in quarantine, treatwith preventative medications, and feed them well. These best practices help our customers be more successful with their neon tetras and ultimately more satisfied with our store.

After you take your neon tetras home, help them to reach a healthy weight by feeding a wide variety of tiny foods. Frozen bloodworms may be too large for little juveniles, so instead try baby brine shrimp, daphnia, cyclops, crushed up flakes, and micro pellets. Also, they like to eat while the food is slowly sinking in the middle of the water (rather than off the ground), so give them several small meals throughout the day for maximum effectiveness.

What is Neon Tetra Disease (NTD)?

NTD is the most common misdiagnosed disease in the hobby. A neon tetra that is sick does not automatically mean it has neonatal disease. Your tetra may have ich if it has white spots. It could be a sign that your tetra is suffering from NTD. But, it could also indicate other conditions. NTD is very rare. The white patches are more likely to be due to a fungal or common bacterial infection. The quarantine medication trio, which treats bacteria, yeast, and parasites, is recommended. Also, we recommend feeding fresh, healthy foods to the fish and providing good care. NTD is a condition where the disease continues to affect fish and kills them over time.

The neon tetra’s body has a tiny white area that can be hard to identify without proper training.

NTD is often caused by mycobacterium, which is sometimes mistakenly called fish tuberculosis. It thrives in environments with warm water, low dissolved oxygen, low pH, and organically rich environments. These conditions are often found in tanks that contain neon tetras. In her publication on Mycobacterial Infections of Fish, Dr. Ruth Francis-Floyd states, “Poor husbandry, chronic stress, or anything else that impairs the immune function of the fish will increase the likelihood that infection will develop.”

How to Prevent Neon Tetra Disease

Unfortunately, NTD currently cannot be cured and is highly contagious. Prevention and minimizing the spread of NTD is the best way to go. You should quarantine any new fish for several weeks in a separate container to monitor their health and to prevent them from being exposed to your animals. The quarantine tank can also be used to help the fish recover from their stressful journey from the farm. Keep the water a little cooler at 74-76degF (23-24degC), don’t include any territorial tank mates, add an air stone or sponge filter for increased oxygenation, and feed a good mixture of healthy foods. If you spot a sick neon tetra that likely has NTD and does not respond to your ministrations, you may need to consider euthanizing it to save the rest of the school.

Neon Tetras get curved spines because of this:

A curved spine or twisted body is often touted as a symptom of NTD, but we believe malformed neon tetras tend to be a breeding issue. Fish farms have a lot of nano fish, and they don’t have the time or resources to sort through them all. To approximate the numbers of neon tetras for shipping, rather than counting them individually, they weigh them. The fish shop employees may not have the time to remove the defective fish until they arrive at the store. They don’t want to make the shop look bad. It can be difficult to spot a neon tetra’s bad spines if they are small. The problem will only become apparent as they age and get bigger.

A crooked spine is not a usual symptom of mycobacterium and instead may be caused by a birth defect or injury.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid about neon tetras and neon tetra diseases. Our fish store has seen many thousands and even thousands of fish over the years. While we have had to lose a few fish to mycobacterium, NTD has never been seen in a large number of neon tetras. They are just as resilient as other schooling nano fish, and we believe they’re one of the best fish you can get for a beautiful display aquarium. Check out our preferred online fish vendors to get your own neon tetras today: