Fridging is a fantastic weapon we axolotl owners have at our disposal.
In this post, I hope to clear up some ideas about fridging and provide a guide on how to properly fridge your lotl if you need to.
Let's dive in!
Considerations Before Fridging
Fridging is not a cure-all treatment, nor should it be used in every single case of axolotl sickness.
Axolotls that are kept below 50F may lose interest in food, so this should be kept in mind, especially if the axolotl is underweight to start with.
The cold also slows weight loss, so it tends to have an equalizing effect.
The lights in the refrigerator coming on can startle the axolotl, compounding stress, so to minimize this (as well as prevent jumping out) it is a good idea to keep a lid on the top of the container.
(You don't need to worry about air holes in the lid, as cold water is much higher in oxygen.)
You can also place the container in a box or under a towel to help block out more light.
Benefits of Fridging
Fridging can have multiple benefits:
- It slows down the growth of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi
- As an appetite suppressant, the reduced need for food slows ammonia buildup associated with tubbing
- The immune system of the axolotl is able to work more efficiently in colder temperatures
- By reducing metabolism, it allows more time for medication to work and for the owner to deduce the underlying cause of an illness
Cold therapy can be used as an alternative to fridging specifically, in the right conditions.
If you have a cold basement or garage where temperatures sit between 40-55F, this can provide similar benefits to fridging - possibly without getting the axolotl quite as cold.
Another way to get the temperature lower is to place a fan over the tub.
The area where you perform cold therapy for your axolotl should be kept mostly dark and undisturbed.
When Should You Consider This Treatment?
Again, fridging is not a solution for every problem, and must be used only when actually necessary to avoid compounding stress on the animal.
So, what are some conditions where fridging may be useful?
- Axolotls who are suffering from mild infections
- Axolotls suffering from the effects of physical damage and stress from exposure to poor water quality (which often causes secondary infections)
- Axolotls who are suffering from extreme constipation/impaction (the cold prompts them to void their digestive system)
- Axolotls who are going downhill fast
- Axolotls who are in critical condition
It is commonly reported around the internet that fridging should only be reserved for a life-or-death scenario, basically as a last resort if all else has failed.
This is because if refrigeration is not done properly, it can go wrong and compound the animal's stress.
I believe that when axolotls are properly fridged, it is a perfectly safe treatment for a variety of ailments, from mild to more severe.
But don't take it from me:
"We know from experience that refrigeration has saved animals that would have otherwise died. It could just be because it lowers the level of stress that the animal is experiencing. It could be because there is more oxygen dissolved in the water. It could be because it creates conditions unfavorable to the bacteria in the axolotl’s environment. Whatever the reason may be, cooling the animal is the best and easiest way to give your axolotl a chance. Here at the Axolotl Colony, refrigeration for every axolotl illness and injury is a very practical solution because we have a refrigerator dedicated to axolotls and their embryos." - Excerpt from Practical Axolotl by the IU Axolotl Colony
How to Properly Fridge an Axolotl
- Place the axolotl in a tub (a plastic shoebox works well) of cool, dechlorinated water (Prime is a good conditioner). The tub should ideally be filled to 1" or so from the top. The axolotl needs enough water to completely turn around and not be sticking out of the water, but not so much that picking up the tub water sloshes out easily when transported. Bonus points for adding a plastic plant for comfort.
- Set the fridge temperature to the warmest setting to prevent the axolotl from getting too cold. Please keep in mind that some food does not store as well at this temperature. The ideal temperature for this treatment is between 42-54F.
- Put the tub in the fridge. To fridge an axolotl, they should be placed in the warmest part of the fridge near the crispers.
- Check it daily to feed & keep clean. Test the ammonia level to determine if a water change is needed. It can be useful to have 2 tubs of water. One tub is filled with clean dechlorinated water (with medicine, if necessary) and left in the fridge to reach the same temperature of the tub the axolotl is in. When it is time for a water change, the axolotl can be carefully transferred to the clean tub, the old tub water disposed of and replaced with clean water that has been dechlorinated (and medicated if needed). Due to the lowered output of ammonia at cold temperatures, as well as the axolotl possibly going off food, a full water change may be required anywhere from daily to every 3 days. A turkey baster can be used to remove solid waste or uneaten food. Food should be offered daily. If the axolotl does not eat the food, it should be removed within 20 minutes and not left to rot under any circumstance.
- Leave the tub in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Generally, 7 days is sufficient to determine if tubbing is benefiting the axolotl. In most cases, axolotls should not be fridged beyond 3 weeks, as they begin to shut down important physiological processes such as digestion.
- Remove the tub from the fridge when the lotl has improved. The water should slowly be acclimated to room temperature before returning the axolotl to its aquarium. It can be useful to place the tub in a cooler area first for a while to adjust slowly. Rapid fluctuations in temperature - especially going from cold to warm - should be avoided if possible.
While in the fridge, the axolotl's body prepares for hibernation. It shuts down many biological processes to prepare for winter.
Hence, loss of appetite is normal.
(Their appetites return to normal after a while of being at normal temperature.)
They also become very still, not moving much at all.
It is normal for the axolotl to void its waste quite a bit during the period of fridging as part of the hibernation preparation.
Just be sure to clean up after it and it is not a problem for the fridging process :)
I hope this post helped clear up some of the ideas about fridging, and pointed you in the right direction if your axolotl is not doing well.
Thanks for reading!