Today, let's talk water conditioners and dechlorinators.
I want to clear up some misconceptions and hopefully help you decide which is the best route to go for your axolotl's water care.
Let's dig into it!
What Harmful Chemicals (to Axolotls) are in Our Water?
Most people use tap water that has chlorine and chloramines.
Well, what is chlorine and chloramine?
Chlorine is added to the water as a disinfectant.
Those with aquariums know its lethal effects on fish.
Chloramines are created when ammonia is added to the water with chlorine as a disinfectant (source).
We all know how bad ammonia is for axolotls - and chloramines are harmful as well.
Chlorine and chloromines BURN the delicate gill filaments of the axolotl, just like they do burn the delicate gill filaments of the fish.
Just because the axolotl's gills are external does not change this.
The higher the levels are in your tap water, the worse the effects will be.
This brings me to my next point...
Do I Have to use Water Conditioner?
Depending on your water source...
... Not always.
But most of the time you will want it.
If you have well water that is not treated with chlorine and chloramines, you may be able to get away with avoiding water conditioner.
If that is the case, good for you.
Another reason you may not have to use it, is if the chlorine/chloramine levels in your water source happen to be exceptionally low.
This can vary from state to state, and it is always worth checking the water report for your local area to see exactly how your water is being treated before you decide to skip over the conditioner.
Why Is Water Conditioner Needed for Axolotl Tanks?
So some folks with well water may not need a water conditioner for their Mexican water dragon and are fine with using it straight from the water source.
Others have the benefit of water that is not heavily treated with chemicals.
Most of us just have pretty chlorinated tap water (much of which we people wouldn't want to drink without filtering first).
To make matters worse, some tap water contains not only chlorine and chloramines, but ammonia in it right off the bat!
The right water conditioner neutralizes those toxic, harmful chemicals so they can't burn our beloved pets.
Without it, we are basically frying our poor axolotl.
Water conditioner makes the water safe and comfortable for our axolotl to breathe properly and grow its lovely gill filaments, as well as ensure proper skin health.
Aside from how it affects our lotls directly...
... Chlorine and chloromine destroy good bacteria in the aquarium filter.
This means you will never properly cycle the tank with the presence of those chemicals.
So that is one more important reason not to overlook this ingredient in axolotl husbandry.
What Water Conditioner Brand is Best?
There are many water conditioners on the market that work quite well.
My first choice for all-purpose water conditioner is Seachem Prime, because not only does it remove chlorine and chloromines, it detoxifies ammonia and nitrite.
It also gets rid of nasty heavy metals in the water.
It's also useful during the cycling period when you get a new axolotl and the filter isn't established yet.
Especially useful when tubbing, too.
Now, the thing about Prime that's a bit of a turnoff for me is that if you're trying to get your tank to have lower nitrates naturally, it can stop that from happening.
So I use Seachem Prime in setups where I don't care about nitrate limitation.
Objections to Using Water Conditioners
There are some sources out there claiming that axolotls do not ever need water conditioner.
They even go so far as to say the chlorine and chloramines in the water are beneficial for the animal's health!
Is this true?
Here are the arguments they use.
Argument 1: Axolotls Have Lungs, so they Don't Need Gill Filaments
It is sometimes pointed out that axolotls over 3" have a pair of rudimentary lungs that they use to breathe, whereas most aquarium fish rely solely on their gills for oxygen uptake.
That part is true...
... But what is NOT true is that the axolotl does not need its gills at all, or that the gills are not harmed by the presence of chlorine and chloramines in the water source.
The logic goes that because the animal can breathe from its lungs, it doesn't matter if its gills are functional.
This simply isn't true.
While an axolotl can live without gill filaments, it is placed in a weaker state.
This is because the axolotl relies heavily on its gills for oxygen uptake.
You will notice a normal axolotl swishes its gills back and forth in the water very regularly - far more regularly than it goes up to the surface and gulps air.
Though it can survive without these filaments, its health is compromised.
The animal was intended to have and use these gills!
It is also a fact that axolotls, like other salamanders, breathe through their skin.
So it is even more important to ensure the best of water conditions for their overall health.
Argument 2: Chlorine and Chloramine Prevents Fungus and Bad Bacteria from Hurting the Axolotl
While it is true that these chemicals inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria (which is what they were designed to do)...
... They also inhibit the animal's protective slime coat and burn the sensitive gill filaments, leading to stress.
It is too harsh!
An axolotl that is exposed to water that has not been properly dechlorinated usually shows some or all of the following symptoms of chlorine poisoning:
- "Coughing" by shaking its gills and opening its mouth
- Erratic swimming
- Excess slime production
- Gill filament degeneration
How to help an axolotl with chlorine poisoning?
The first thing to do is remove the axolotl to properly conditioned, cool water.
Gill filaments can take 2-4 weeks to grow back after being burned off, sometimes more.
I'm not against adding things to the water that are useful to inhibit fungus and bacteria.
But there are gentler alternatives to the abrasive chlorine and chloramines in tap water.
Think about this for a second:
In nature, axolotls do not live in chlorinated water.
And as I've said before in this and other posts, the animal is most likely to thrive when its environmental conditions are most like what they are in nature.
As you can see, a water conditioner is in almost all situations an essential to axolotl keeping.
I hope this post helps protect your pet from the harmful effects of dangerous chemicals in their water.
Thanks for reading!