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Understanding Ammonia Stress in a Fish Aquarium

Ammonia Stress Signs in Fish Tank San Diego, CA

Fishkeeping is an activity that dates back more than three millennia. The Sumerians likely kept fish in ponds for both aquaculture farming and worship, something the Ancient Egyptians also practiced. The Greeks and Romans had a more scientific purpose to keeping fish, but ornamental fishkeeping started with the Sung dynasty of China in the 10th century. Glass aquariums complete with gravel, plants, and symbiotic species such as shrimp and snails were first envisioned in England during the mid-1850s, but it took about another century before full chemical testing of the water was introduced to the hobby, and this is when the importance of keeping ammonia levels close to zero came about, because ammonia can cause severe problems for fish.

The expert staff at Aquatic Warehouse, a leading provider of high-quality fish tank supplies, would like to share some information on ammonia stress in fish and what to do about it.

Ammonia in Tap Water

Since the 20th century, ammonia has been used as a one of the chemical substances added to water at treatment facilities around the world. Ammonia is never used by itself. It’s an enhancer additive that makes chlorine safer and more effective. Very high concentrations of ammonia in tap water can irritate humans but won’t expose them to dangerous toxicity. However, this substance can be deadly to virtually all aquatic species with a couple of exceptions.

Reducing Ammonia Levels

Keeping a tank filled with water with zero ammonia readings is a badge of pride for aquarists. All your water testing readings should be as close to zero parts per million (ppm) as possible. For example, a reading of 0.9 ppm would be a concern because it’s the start of being stressful, but it can still be managed if the tank isn’t overflowing with fish.

Ammonia Poisoning

Beginners who miss a step in the nitrogen cycle or fail to establish an ecosystem before adding fish may run into ammonia poisoning situations that could kill species. Fish release ammonia as their natural waste. Ammonia is produced by feeding on proteins, but it can be kept under control by Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter microorganisms that dwell in the biological filters. For this reason, adding beneficial bacteria or borrowing water from established tanks is highly recommended when setting up new aquariums.

Signs and Symptoms of Ammonia Stress

Although ammonia poisoning and ammonia stress are essentially the same condition, the former term is more often used to describe a deadly situation. Aquarists should get used to observing their tanks with a critical eye. Some signs of elevated ammonia levels include gills turning a reddish shade, fish swimming very close to the surface for the purpose of getting oxygen, lethargic behavior, and a marked lack of appetite. As a fish keeper, you’re in control of the ecosystem, and you should immediately test the water and change up to 50 percent of the tank’s water if the ammonia reading is higher than 1 ppm. You may want to establish another tank and transfer half of the population until the levels are safe, and you should pause feedings during this time and of course add liquid fresh bacteria like Microbe-Lift:


In addition to keeping ammonia levels down, there are several other steps you need to take to properly maintain an aquarium, which requires acquiring all the essential supplies. Whether you need a dosing pump, testing kits, LED lighting, nutritious food, or other key aquarium supplies, Aquatic Warehouse has got you covered. Stop by our store in Kearny Mesa, check out our selection on our website, or give us a call at 858-467-9297 to speak with one of our aquatic experts.

Contact Information

  • Address: 5466 Complex Street Suite 204
    San Diego, CA 92123
  • Phone: (858) 467-9297
  • Email: sales@aquaticwarehouse.com
  • Working Days/Hours: Mon - Fri / 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
    Saturday / 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
    Sunday / 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM


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