Axolotl care

Axolotl Gills: Forwarding the Floof

Axolotl Gills: Forwarding the Floof

For many axolotl enthusiasts, full, fluffy gills are not just a visual indication of a healthy animal - they make their hearts thump.

Are your axolotl's gills small (or maybe even non existent)?

Axolotl gills not fluffy?


The question is:

What can we do to promote gill growth?

Let's explore that in today's post.

Factors that Influence Gill Growth

Those coveted full, fluffy gills are the result of multiple contributing influences.

Many of these are environmental and can be manipulated by the pet owner to help make the axolotl's gills fluffy.

Others... are simply out of our control.

The good news is we can generally do a lot to help improve the appearance of our axolotl's gills.

Let's review the factors that contribute to gill size.

1. Genetics

That's right...

Genetics play an important role in gill size, especially the final length of the gill stalks themselves.

This means you can only "control" things up to a certain point.

When you've done all you can do, it will come down to that axie's lineage.

That said:

There are many things we can do to maximize the floofiness of our water dragons.

2. Water Quality

Exposure to poor water quality burns the gill filaments.

Ammonia and nitrite are especially harmful.

These are byproducts of waste in the tank (uneaten food, poop, etc.) that should be kept at bay by good filtration or water changes.

These things corrode the delicate gills and cause them to shrink.

Not only does this make the animal look rather pathetic, it isn't good for them.

They need their gills!

The gills are not just a decoration on our axolotl - they are an organ.

That fluffy stuff?

It's how they breathe (primarily).

While they may be able to survive without gills, it compromises their health and makes them prone to complications from other stressors.

So if you want your axie to have good gill health, keeping their water in good shape is essential.

(Note: a higher pH than 8 can make ammonia more toxic and do more damage in a lower quantity.)

To recap:

  1. Removing uneaten food and waste regularly
  2. Monitoring water quality through frequent testing
  3. Using good filtration

... All help to promote full floofs.

3. Diet

Ah, diet is an important one.

The secret ingredient of amazing gills (when it comes to food, anyway) is feeding high quality, high protein foods.

One great option is worms.

Worms like blackworms, earthworms, frozen bloodworms, red wigglers, etc. are fantastic for promoting longer, denser gill filaments.

Many axolotl owners report that their axies developed fuller gills in response to feeding a high quality pellet food.

(We have also found this to be the case here at Fantaxies.)

For most owners, it will probably be a balancing act between live and processed foods.

After incorporating worms into the diet of a group of axolotls, I noticed rapid improvement in gill size within just 3 weeks.

The good quality protein really seems to give that additional thrust.

4. Age

Sometimes juveniles will show longer gills that end up receding more as the animal grows.

This can be despite good water quality and a healthy diet.

Again, this circles back to the whole genetics thing.

But that's not to say changes in environmental factors may also be the cause of the gills becoming smaller in size.

It's easier to suspect age if you've ruled out everything else by providing clean water and a good diet.

What About Dissolved Oxygen?

There are some thoughts floating around that low dissolved oxygen levels promote longer gills in axies.

The reasoning goes that the animal will try to get more oxygen by growing more gill filaments.

It appears that dissolved oxygen does not produce a direct effect on gill size (source).

Some anecdotal reports are that adding a bubble stone actually helps to improve gill size.

Axolotl Gill Health Problems

Here are some common issues folks experience with their axies' gills:

1. Fungus

The gills are prone to fungus.

Cottony, fuzzy white on gills is the usual sign of this disease.

We talked about how to treat fungus on this other post.

2. Curled Forward

Gills turned forward is often an indication of stress.


Some axolotls have long gills that fold forward when they are perfectly fine.

Usually the way to tell is to see if the curling forward is accompanied with other changes, such as a curled tail or mouth open.

3. Pale

Gills turning white or pale can indicate anemia.

It may also be a sign that the water is remaining too cold.

It can also happen for harmless reasons, such as when the animal is not moving much for a period of time, (when they are sleeping).

4. Damaged gills

Gills can be damaged by exposure to ammonia or other caustic substances.

Can axolotls regrow their gills?

Yes, though there is a caveat.

If the gills are continually damaged time after time again, there can come a point of no reversal.

If the axolotl's gills are continually burned off by bad water quality or disease, at some point the damage becomes permanent.

However if it has only happened once or twice, there is a good chance it can fully or mostly regrow the gills and regain the floof!

After all:

Axolotls are masters at regeneration.

(The younger they are, the easier this will generally be.)

A good diet, clean water and fungus prevention can go a long way in helping the water dragon recover from the damage.


I hope you found today's post helpful, and maybe got some tips on how to help your axie become a floofy beast.

Thanks for reading!

Reading next

Water Changes for Axolotls (Hint: You're Doing it Wrong)
Axolotl Water Temperature: Ideal Range & Limitations

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.