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. In our experience, these tetras are just as hardy as other danios and rasboras, but there are several factors that may weaken their immunity and make them more inclined to catch illnesses. Let’s discuss why neon tetras get sick, what is neon tetra disease, and how to prevent it.

Why Do Neon Tetras Get Sick?

The first reason why neon tetras may seem sickly is because they are kept in large numbers. Because they are always in high demand, fish farms raise them in huge numbers. 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. When you keep tons of fish together, there is an increased risk that at least one of them is sick and will pass on their disease to others.

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. One hundred tetras might only receive a handful of fish flakes per tank, so not all fish get to eat. While this is a good practice for most fish, it can cause problems in the long-term. Neon tetras are often kept in stressful, overcrowded environments that lead to diseases such as ich, fungal infections or neon tetra illness.

Neon tetras can be kept in large numbers, with very little food and underoptimal 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. People would be more cautious and educated if neon tetras cost $10 per each. Neon tetras aren’t necessarily more sensitive than fish. They just get kept in potentially less favorable conditions throughout their supply chain.

How to Get Healthier Neon Tetras

If possible, try to buy the biggest neon tetras you can. Sometimes they are sold as jumbo, XL, or large neon tetras. They are more expensive, but they are worth it. Fish farms have to feed these tetras more food in order to grow 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 can be too big for small juveniles. Instead, give them baby brine shrimps, daphnias, cyclops and crushed up flakes. You can also give them small meals throughout your day to maximize their effectiveness.

What is Neon Tetra Disease (NTD)?

NTD is the most common misdiagnosed disease in the hobby. Just because a neon tetra is sick doesn’t automatically mean that it has neon tetra disease. If your tetra has white spots, it probably has ich. If your tetra has a white patch, it could be symptom of NTD, but it could also be a symptom of many other illnesses. The possibility of NTD is rare so the white patches could be caused by a fungal or 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. If the disease doesn’t disappear or is slowly affecting fish, you may have NTD.

This neon tetra is marked by a small white spot on its body. Without proper training and equipment, it can be difficult to diagnose accurately.

NTD can be caused by a mycobacterium which is sometimes misidentified with fish tuberculosis. It thrives when it is exposed to warm water, low levels of dissolved oxygen, low pH, or 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

NTD cannot be curable at the moment and can spread quickly. 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. You can also use the quarantine tank as a place to assist them in recovering from their stressful trip from the fish farm. Keep the water at 74-76 degrees F (23-24degC), and don’t add any territorial tank mates. You can also add an air filter or sponge filter for more oxygenation. You may have to euthanize a neon tetra that is sick or does not respond to your minstrations if it is a likely case of NTD.

Neon Tetras have curved spines.

NTD is commonly referred to as a sign of a bent spine or twisted body. However, we believe malformed neon Tetras are a breeding problem. Fish farms have a lot of nano fish, and they don’t have the time or resources to sort through them all. In fact, instead of individually counting them, they weigh the neon tetras to approximate their numbers for shipping. It’s only once they land at the fish store that employees might have time to scoop out the defective fish because they don’t want the shop to look bad. If you buy neon tetras when they are really small, it can be hard to tell which ones have bad spines, and the problem won’t be apparent until they get older and 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 of neon tetras or neon tetra disease. 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: