Columnaris is commonly mistaken for a fungal problem, it is NOT a fungus, it is caused by Flexibacter bacteria. Columnaris can be particularly difficult to diagnose as there are many symptoms associated with it.
Symptoms can include:
White, gray or clear stringy-looking “fungus” hanging off the betta’s body or fins. Again, this is not actually fungus, but the Flexibacter bacteria.
White or gray patches that look like mold or a slime covering, usually on the body (and most commonly around the dorsal area).
White “pimples,” generally around the chin and mouth area.
White or gray tufts of “fungus” (often looks like cotton candy) anywhere on the body, but especially around the mouth, gills, or edges of scales.
Lesions anywhere on the body, generally beginning in the dorsal area. Redness and swelling are not uncommon.
In the later stages of infection, the bacteria will begin to eat away at the fish’s scales, often leaving behind a red or brown looking bloody area surrounded by fungusy-looking tufts of bacteria.
The Betta may also have clear, stringy feces and may be lacking appetite.
Columnaris is highly contagious. Any fish in a community setting showing signs of Columnaris should be removed to a hospital tank and treated seperately. A watchful eye should be kept on the fish remaining in the community for signs that they may be developing the disease.
“Rain” © EmmeyJade
“Rain” © EmmeyJade
Image © Rachel Hunt
Columnaris can be extremely difficult to treat, so it is recommended that medication be started as soon as the disease is properly diagnosed. As suggested above, remove the fish to a hospital/quarantine tank if it is normally kept with other fish. High temperatures will accelerate the course of the disease, so it is best to keep the affected fish at around 75-76 degrees F to slow the progression of the bacteria.
Columnaris is a gram-negative rod bacterium, and should be treated with an antibiotic that is effective against gram-negative bacteria or a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Kanacyn (Kanamycin sulfate), Spectrogram (Kanamycin sulfate and Nitrofurazone), Tetracycline, or Furan 2 (Nitrofurazone) are all good choices. I have also heard of people getting good results with medicated foods containing oxytetracycline, but if your fish is having problems with its mouth due to the infection, this may not be an option.
Columnaris is often a sign that your water conditions are not optimal for the fish. To keep water quality optimal and reduce the risk of your fish contracting Columnaris:
Avoid rapid, frequent temperature changes.
Do not overstock your tank. If you do overstock, be aware of what you’re doing and keep up with the tank maintenance.
Do not overfeed. Rotting food adds to tank pollution, if the fish don’t eat it, clean it up before it causes problems.
Feed the fish a variety of foods so that it does not have any nutritional deficiencies.
Always quarantine new fish for at least 2 weeks to reduce the chances of intruducing a disease to a healthy tank.
Water quality is the most important step in preventing Columnaris, tank maintenance is key.