Platy fish are commonly chosen by aquarists that are new to the hobby since platies are often marketed as peaceful and easy to care for fish that are hardier than most. While all that may be true, platies do require proper keeping conditions just like any other fish.
Many beginner aquarists will make the mistake of being less observing of platy keeping requirements, which often has the unintended consequence of platies unexpectedly dying in a short amount of time for no apparent reason.
If you’re a beginner that is struggling to find the cause of unexpected platy fish deaths, my article will help shed light on the possible causes and help you better manage your platy aquarium to prevent diseases and deaths.
Reasons Why Your Platies are Dying
For the most part, improper tank conditions can cause several issues that will lead to the death of your fish. But as you will see in what follows, sometimes tank conditions are not to blame.
Here’s why platy fish may die unexpectedly or for no apparent reason:
1. Aquarium is Not Properly Cycled
An aquarium that hasn’t gone through the nitrogen cycle is problematic for your fish. That’s because the purpose of the nitrogen cycle is to establish a colony of bacteria that will consume ammonia and nitrites and transform these substances into less harmful ones.
If the nitrogen cycle is not completed or not properly carried out, ammonia and nitrate levels can wreak havoc in the aquarium and kill your fish as these are highly toxic substances for them.
Depending on the size of your aquarium, the nitrogen cycle can take 2-8 weeks to complete, so arm yourself with patience and carry it through properly, because if you don’t take the time to do it now, you’ll face its unpleasant consequences later.
Some will choose to speed up the nitrogen cycle by adding nitrifying bacteria into the aquarium. While this is an option too, I’d recommend not using this method and learn to do it without adding anything to speed up the process.
In a nutshell, the steps of the nitrogen cycle are as follows:
- Setting up the aquarium with de-chlorinated water;
- Start adding small amount of fish flakes every day;
- Start measuring for ammonia;
- Continue “feeding the aquarium” and wait for ammonia levels to spike;
- Continue adding fish flakes and start measuring for nitrites too;
- Wait for nitrites to spike and ammonia levels to drop (continue with the feedings);
- Start measuring for nitrates and wait for ammonia and nitrite levels to drop to 0 ppm.
Low values of nitrates in the aquarium are fine, but levels should stay below 10 ppm. With nitrites and ammonia at 0 ppm and nitrates below 10 ppm, you can start adding fish to the aquarium one by one.
This whole process may take up to 8 weeks and it should be carried out before adding fish to your aquarium. Plants can be added into the tank at the beginning of the cycle as they may even help speed it up.
2. Bad Water Parameters
Whatever fish you’re planning to keep, make sure you familiarize yourself with the water parameters required for them. That includes temperature, pH, and water hardness.
For platies, optimal water parameters are as follows:
- Water temperature: 72°F- 78°F
- Water pH: 7.0-8.3
- Water hardness: 4 – 12 dGH
- Other parameters: 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrites, maximum 10 ppm nitrates
Any fluctuation or change in these parameters can easily cause diseases or even death.
While temperature can be regulated by installing a water heater, other parameters should be monitored and maintained through regular water changes and cleaning.
3. Spikes in Toxin Levels
Even if you’ve perfectly completed the nitrogen cycle, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of the woods when it comes to the accumulation of toxins in the aquarium.
Unless water in the aquarium is filtered and you perform regular water changes, toxin levels accumulate, oxygen levels drop, and your fish will suffer the consequences.
Toxin levels can spike because of uneaten food left to decay, decaying plants left in the aquarium, or dead fish left to decompose in the aquarium. All these should be removed ASAP every time you notice them.
A filter that hasn’t been cleaned in a while can also become a source of ammonia in the aquarium.
4. Overstocked Aquarium
An overstocked aquarium is another issue that could cause premature platy fish deaths. When there are too many fish in the aquarium, waste production increases, oxygen levels drop, and ammonia levels increase. Ammonia poisoning in fish is a serious matter and can result in instant death.
Other than adding too many fish to the tank, adding too many males to a mixed-gender aquarium is another thing that could lead to overstocking issues as platies breed very fast and produce lots of fry.
Keep platy fish populations under control by limiting the number of males to one for every two-three females or avoid mixing genders altogether.
It’s very easy to fall into the overfeeding trap. Just like overstocking, overfeeding can also cause increased waste production and increased ammonia levels.
Don’t feed your platy fish more food that they’ll consume in a minute or so and feed them once or twice per day. Always remove any uneaten food from the aquarium.
Overfeeding can also cause digestive issues like constipation, which can also kill your fish if it’s not treated successfully.
6. Sudden Temperature Changes
Platies require water in the 72°F- 78°F temperature range, which can be maintained with the help of an aquarium heater.
Temperatures that drop suddenly can weaken the immune system of your fish and cause infections, diseases and death.
7. Bad Genetics
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you meet all keeping and feeding conditions for your platies if your platies are predisposed to diseases.
To avoid having your platy fish die because of bad genetics, make sure you buy them from a reputable and trustworthy breeder.
Platies with deformities and known health issues should not be allowed to breed so that they won’t pass these diseases to their offspring.
8. Diseases, Infections & Parasites
Bad water conditions can lead to diseases. Sometimes, however, the source of the disease cannot be explained by pointing to water conditions.
Even with stellar water parameters and regular tank maintenance, opportunistic parasites can get into the aquarium and cause infections and diseases that can result in death if not caught in time.
When you introduce new fish to the aquarium, new plants, decorations, or even when you feed your fish with live foods, you may unknowingly introduce diseases and parasites into the tank.
Therefore, be very circumspect with plants and live foods (source them from reputable places or make your own cultures), and always quarantine new fish before introducing them into the aquarium.
How to Keep Platies Healthy?
So far, I’ve discussed the potential causes of platy deaths in your aquarium. Let’s see what you can do to prevent unexpected loss of platies:
1. Feed Them a Varied Diet
A healthy immune system starts with a good diet that meets the needs of your platy fish. Remember that platies are omnivores that require both vegetable matter and meaty foods.
You can find flakes with vegetable content or you can add spirulina tabs, veggie pellets, and even boiled vegetables to their diet.
Avoid overfeeding your fish not only to keep the aquarium clean but also to avoid digestive problems that appear because of overfeeding.
2. Be Up-to-Date with Tank Maintenance
Tank maintenance includes performing regular water changes on a weekly or biweekly basis at a 20-30% rate, cleaning the filter and siphoning the substrate.
Failing to carry out these tasks will cause problems in your aquarium such as the accumulation of waste and debris, rise in toxin levels, all which will eventually lead to diseases and, eventually, unexpected deaths.
3. Familiarize Yourself with Platy Fish Diseases
Make sure to research freshwater fish diseases, symptoms and remedies to know how to spot the signs of a disease and what treatment to apply.
In some cases, if you don’t know the symptoms of a disease, and the disease is left to progress, it may already be too late before you notice that anything is wrong with your fish.
Therefore, monitor your fish for signs of diseases, never add new fish to the aquarium without quarantining them first. Also, be very careful with live foods, plants and decorations that you place into the aquarium.
When keeping pets, you must familiarize yourself with their feeding and keeping requirements, and this holds true to fish too.
Platies are otherwise relatively hardy and resilient fish, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to offer them the best care possible.
I hope this article has given you answers to the causes of unexpected platy deaths and will encourage you to pay better attention to tank maintenance, feeding, and disease prevention.