"What's wrong with my axolotl??" you ask.
"It won't eat!"
That is a sign something can be going on, and one that shouldn't go ignored.
An axolotl's appetite is a major indication of their health, so it can be worrisome if they don't eat.
That said, not all the time it's a sign of a problem.
But how do you figure out the cause to know if there's a problem, and what to do about it?
Keep reading to learn more!
1. Water Quality Problem
If you notice your axolotl doesn't want to eat, the first step is to check the water.
You will need a complete test kit for this - the strip kind are perfectly suitable, but you can get fancy with the liquid kind if you'd rather.
Test specifically for ammonia and nitrite (those are the biggies).
If either of those are present - even in low amounts - it can make the axolotl go off its feed.
Both of these are very toxic, and if they are present in your tank, require an immediate water change to help reduce it (generally of at least 50% of the volume of water).
This is a warning sign that your tank isn't properly cycled, or that your filter or water change schedule is not strong enough to keep up with the bioload of the aquarium.
Once these get under control (meaning, totally eliminated, not just lower), the axolotl normally resumes feeding (unless there is another problem; keep reading for that!).
There are other parameters you need to check as well.
Check that the pH is not too low.
A saggy pH is dangerous.
It can also cause the axolotl to refuse food when it dips too low.
You want that pH to be close to 7 or above.
If the water is softer, the lower the pH is, the more dangerous the situation is.
That's why it's a good idea to also check that your KH and GH are in check.
Axolotls don't take kindly to stress, and one of the first symptoms of stress is a loss of appetite.
Stress can be from several causes, so you need to address what that is to know how to deal with that.
If your axolotl was recently shipped to you, it is possible for them to stop eating for a couple days as they settle into their new environment.
This is generally more common with larger animals, but it can happen with smaller ones too.
If that's the case, time and patience are the key.
On the other hand...
Sometimes something about their environment is stressing them out.
- Nippy tank mates
- Bright lights and no where to escape
- Lack of comfortable surroundings like hides, plants and decorations
- Too strong of a water current
- Picking them up/chasing them/handling them too much
But if the inappetance continues, it's a sign there could be something else causing the stress.
So keep reading :)
3. Not the Right Food
Axolotls can be pretty picky eaters.
They really don't see well and they don't always understand things that don't wiggle can be edible.
If their food was suddenly switched, that can throw them for a loop for a while.
And if you are feeding something they don't want, forget about it.
To test if it's the type of food that is the issue, the simple trick is to offer some live blackworms.
Those are the most readily accepted food by axolotls of all sizes, from juveniles to adults.
Sometimes, axolotls that have only eaten non-living foods from tongs will not understand blackworms, but simply try feeding them with tongs if they have never had them before.
If they won't eat the blackworms, it's probably not a food issue at all.
If you don't have blackworms, you can try feeding some frozen bloodworms from tongs wiggled on their nose.
If you are trying to feed earthworms, make sure they are cut up small enough. Try going smaller than you think you need to.
Some younger lotls take a while before they will eat even small pieces of earthworms, but you can keep trying if you are trying to train them.
Here are some things they probably won't eat right away if they were used to eating live foods:
- Freeze dried foods
- Fish flakes
- Mealworms or Waxworms
- Red wiggler worms
(Some of these aren't the best for them anyway.)
If you've checked the box that the food is not the problem, you can consider the next possibility.
Bacterial or fungal issues can cause an axolotl to lose their appetite.
A sick axolotl almost always refuses food.
Until they are healed up, they probably will only continue to refuse food, and can lose weight, which can be dangerous.
Sometimes, inappetance is one of the first clues you will get that the axolotl has a fungal infection. Then you check the gills and see they've got fungus. Bummer.
If you are concerned your axolotl has a fungal or bacterial issue, we recommend giving them a treatment of Axie Aid, as that is effective against external bacterial and fungal issues.
If it's an internal bacterial infection, that is more serious.
Usually with those, you see severe weight loss and loose stool, and sometimes they are untreatable.
In that case it might be time to pull out the antibiotics, but check that the medication is safe first.
5. Extreme Water Temperatures
Too hot or too cold, and your axolotl may say no to breakfast.
Temperatures under 55 result in the axolotl preparing for hibernation, so they void their intestines and stop their nutritional intake.
Hot temperatures are stressful to axolotls (temperatures above around 72F). They tend to take warmer temps better if there is a cool-down at night, but if the temperatures are consistently high, they will almost surely stop eating.
High temperatures tend to bring underlying health issues to the surface.
Fans or chillers can be used to keep the temperature from getting too toasty (see more tips for that here).
6. Reabsorbing Eggs
This is a female axolotl specific issue.
Unless there are males present, female axolotls go through periods of egg production and egg reabsorption.
When they reabsorb their eggs, they often won't eat for a long time, sometimes up to a month.
Very gravid females sometimes have difficulty absorbing the eggs and can actually be at a higher risk for internal infection.
7. Just Not Hungry
Sometimes their lack of hunger is not a sign that something is wrong.
Trying to feed them too often, they will turn up their nose.
Axolotls have their own schedule of when they want to eat and how much at a time. That schedule usually changes to some degree with age.
Older animals often end up eating once a day or every other day, whereas babies usually want food twice a day.
If you keep offering food when they aren't hungry, they are obviously not going to eat.
The solution is just to wait until they want to eat again.
Parasite problems - either external or internal, but especially internal - can cause loss of appetite in lotls.
Axies with intestinal parasites may eat ravenously and not gain weight, then stop eating as they go downhill.
If your axolotl has ever been fed feeder fish or lived in a tank with fish that were not properly quarantined, this can cause them to get wormy, even months later.
External parasites irritate the axolotl and, as said before, a sick axolotl is usually not a hungry axolotl.
If the axolotl has swallowed something that is too large for them to pass, such as a marble or large rock, they will most likely not want to eat because their blockage is prohibiting space for food to enter and exit (pretty straightforward there).
While axolotls may swallow sand and fine gravel that is small enough to pass through without issue, a veterinarian should be consulted in the case of a true blockage.
Through process of elimination, hopefully this article helped you to figure out why your axolotl isn't hungry and how to correct the situation.
We all want our pets to have a good, hearty appetite!
Thanks for reading.