Discus Part 3 – Diet and Diseases

Diet and Diseases

Welcome to the final part of this Discus series. I hope that the previous two instalments have been of assistance to existing devotees of this wonderful cichlid and, more to the point, that they have encouraged some of you to take up the challenge!

Now that you have acquired your potential breeders, what is the best possible diet you can provide for them? Initially, let us paradoxically discuss what not to feed – live food!

“What?” I can almost hear you say, “Surely live food is the best possible diet available?” Certainly, most general aquatic literature advocates the use of live Daphnia, bloodworm and tubifex for feeding to the majority of fish available to the hobbyist. But I would strongly advise you not to feed these foods to your Discus. As I have made such a categorical statement, I will now justify myself.

All live foods from an aquatic source are fraught with potential danger. Every time you feed, you risk the introduction of pathogens and parasites, plus unwanted visitors like planaria and hydra. Tubifex, in particular, is a definite hazard!

What, then, can we feed our Discus? Flake foods are of limited use to us, as they are usually only accepted by very young Discus. Adults generally ignore it. I am afraid I have nothing profound to say about the staple diet that I recommend. It just has to be beef heart. This is the food recommended, as you are probably aware, by most Discus breeders, and I am no exception. However, here is my own “secret formula”.

Ask your butcher to get you a nice fresh beef heart. Now for the worst bit. Using preferably a scalpel (a one-sided razor blade will suffice) all the fat, tubing and gristle must be removed, so that only lean meat remains.

Younger aquarists would do well to enlist the help of a parent for the preparation of the heart. Now that you have discarded the waste, you should be left with the meat itself. The following “recipe” is given in quantities to be used with each pound of meat and should be adjusted ‘pro rata’ to match the amount of prepared heart available: –

* 1lb prepared lean Beef Heart,
* 30ml (one capful) TAP Vitamin Booster,
* 1 envelope of Gelatin,
* Frozen Spinach, Bloodworm and Mysis Shrimp to taste.

Place the heart in a food processor or blender, together with the Vitamin Booster, and reduce to a fine paste consistency. Divide the resulting mixture into three equal portions. To make the food more interesting and complete for your Discus, add some frozen spinach to one portion, frozen bloodworm to the second and finally frozen mysis shrimp to the third.

Return each portion to the blender, together with the gelatin, and then freeze the resulting “super” food down as soon as possible to avoid bacterial development. I freeze the mixture in ice cube trays, but if it is placed in a plastic bag and rolled out thinly, it will still be just as convenient to break off and administer to your fish. Be sure to label each variety clearly.

To further vary the diet, a good quality flake food may be added to the “mix” on occasion, and this experimentation is all part of the fun of creating your own formula for a successful food. Do not leave out the Vitamin Booster, however, as this is vital to the fishes health and development.

This excellent, highly nutritional food thus becomes the basis of your Discus diet. Supplement your feeding with frozen bloodworm and mysis shrimp. These foods are quite safe to use, as all pathogens have been eliminated by the use of gamma irradiation. ‘Feed little and often’ is still the golden rule, remove any uneaten food after thirty minutes, again to avoid the possibility of a bacterial loading. This chore is obviously much easier if you are using the hygienic system as preferred by myself.

If you have been following this series I am sure that you are now wondering what all the fuss is about keeping Discus – it all sounds so easy. I insist that it is, providing that above all, ideal water conditions are maintained. If you are not prepared to take the time and trouble required doing this then do not keep Discus for their sakes, as you will kill them. Most of the problems encountered with Discus are brought about by stress created by adverse water conditions.

If your Discus show signs of trouble, i.e. clamped or flicking fins and a darkening colouration, the first thing to reach for is not the medication bottle. Indiscriminate use of medications will merely compound the problem. Check all the parameters of your water chemistry, have as part of your armoury the following test kits: pH and Nitrite as a minimum. Other test kits can be purchased, as your pocket will allow. Do not make the mistake, as a lot of marine aquarists do, of spending a fortune on fish without being prepared to also spend some money on good quality test kits to protect your investment.

Thoroughly check all the parameters discussed in the first part of this series, and if everything appears to be as it should, then the proper use of medications can be contemplated. I would again stress, do not use medications indiscriminately, try and diagnose the problem by careful observation.

Newly imported, wild-caught Discus nearly always arrive obviously suffering from many stress related problems. It is best to first treat the bacterial symptoms, i.e. fin and body rot, and also take care of any lesions and missing scales where infection could set in. For this treatment Broad Spectrum Bactericide (TAP) is strongly recommended.

Once the course of treatment with “BSB” is finished, it is time to treat your fish with Paracure (TAP). This product will deal with most parasitic infestations like gill and body flukes, and at the same time will take care of most worms present in the gut and intestines.

It is usual, at times of intense stress caused by importation and/or intolerable water conditions, that the feared disease “Hole in the Head” manifests itself. The visible symptoms are usually holes around the head of the fish, often with a pus discharge. The disease itself is caused by a flagellate known as Hexamita, which enters the gut and eventually leaves via the holes in the head. These are then infected by bacteria, which if left untreated cause them to enlarge.

There is no proprietary product for sale on the UK market that will treat this disease. You will have to visit your local veterinary surgery, explain your predicament and request a drug called ‘Flagyl’. Advise your vet that the dose rate is 250mg per cubic foot of water and remember that if your Discus is still eating, a further 250mg is required to add to each pound of beef heart.

The vet will probably verify that you are giving him correct information by referring to a manual he will have relating to the diseases of exotic pets. Surprisingly the information is detailed exactly and I am sure that you will find your vet to be extremely helpful.

Dissolve the correct number of tablets in a little of your aquarium water and then add this mixture directly to your tank. If your Discus are still eating, prepare 1lb of beef heart as before, but add 250mg Flagyl dissolved in a little previously boiled water.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this treatment is that the filter bacteria are likely to be affected. So during this treatment it is vital to monitor nitrite (NOČ) levels closely. Should the nitrite (NOČ) level start to rise, it will be necessary to effect a water change, adding further Flagyl as required to maintain the correct dosage.

After two weeks the treatment should be complete. A good quality activated carbon should then be used to remove the antibiotic from your system. It is now time to resume your normal water change regime, paying particular attention to the nitrite (NOČ) levels as your filter bed regenerates. This should not take too long if you used ‘Establish’ to mature your system, as I recommended in part one of this series.

Good luck and above all enjoy your Discus.

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