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How To Help a Stressed Axolotl

Axolotls are anxious creatures that are known to stress easily. They are sensitive to water quality and the environment that they live in, which often causes them unnecessary stress. 

While this stress might be rubbing off on you, there’s no need to worry. Even though the signs of stress and illness are similar, there are many things you can do to help your axolotl. Read on to find out more.

5 reasons for a stressed axolotl

5 reasons for a stressed axolotl

#1 Bad water quality

As mentioned, axolotls are very sensitive to their environment and water quality. 

As a result, water quality is a common source of stress for your pet, making it even more crucial to ensure that the water is proper and clean.

After all, even low levels of ammonia and nitrite are known to be toxic. When a high pH is present with warm temperatures, it causes unnecessary stress to your axolotl while also making any present ammonia more dangerous. 

Make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 22 °C by using fans and chillers to keep temperatures comfortable for your axolotl.  

Change the water regularly and consider getting a water test kit (strips or drops) to help confirm your water quality is proper or find any possible issues.

The table below is a quick list of parameters to ensure the ideal water condition for your axolotl.

Best Parameters
Gallons per Adult10
Water Temp15-18°C
TAN0 mg/L
Nitrite0 mg/L
Nitrate20 to 60 ppm
pHAround or above 7
Oxygen Saturation70-100%
Salinity0 g/L

Partial resource:

#2 Bad tank set up

There could also be some underlying issues with your tank setup that cause your axolotl to feel stressed.

There could be numerous stressors in your tank’s setup, such as:

  • too many or too few decorations, 
  • an improper substrate
  • a lack of a proper hide
  • a tank that is too small
  • your lights are too bright
  • the current is just too fast

 These are all simple fixes, and if your tank’s current is too fast, consider using a sponge filter to reduce it.

#3 Overhandling

Handling your axolotl should be avoided at all costs to prevent injuring or suffocating them. 

They’re delicate animals, and it’s best not to stress them out by taking them out or simply chasing them around the tank with a net (I know some kids do that a lot, so please keep an eye if you have kids at home).

#4 Tank bullies

While axolotls are known to be friendly tank mates, they don’t always get along, and a smaller axolotl will appear more like a snack to a larger one.

That is why it is critical to understand the difference between positive and negative interactions and to avoid keeping different-sized axolotls together. 

Some axolotls are generally mean and are more likely to attack others.

#5 Sickness 

Many of the symptoms associated with stress can also be symptoms of illness. It’s always a good idea to rule out any other potential stressors and see what happens. 

If not, take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis as there are likely underlying issues other than stress. Signs of sickness in axolotls include:

  • Change in behavior other than eating. 
  • Back deformities. 
  • Tumors that look like cotton-like tufts. 
  • Poor balance while swimming. 
  • Deterioration of gills. 
  • Jaundice.
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Signs of stress in axolotls

Signs of stress in axolotls

Gill deterioration. 

When you see this, it is usually due to high ammonia levels and potentially high nitrate and nitrite levels, which will exacerbate the problem. 

To ensure the best tank conditions for your axolotl and to prevent further deterioration, test the water quality and ensure proper and regular water changes, cleaning, and nitrogen cycle routines.

Chemical contamination is also possible, whether from the water used in the tank or an aquarium treatment. 

Make sure that neither of these is a possibility. If you believe you are doing something incorrectly or could benefit from some assistance, try to consult your veterinarian.

Curled gills

If you notice your axolotl’s gills curling forward, this is usually a sign of poor water quality and is one of the most common signs of stress in axolotls.

Check the temperature, or use a test kit to check the water quality and consider a water change. If they continue to curl, consult your veterinarian for further instructions.

Curled round Tail Tip. 

You should be on the lookout for this because it isn’t just a stress sign but usually indicates a different problem, such as illness.

If the water quality and nitrogen cycle look okay and yet your axolotl has a curled round tail tip, consider bringing your axolotl in for a check-up, as they could be ill.

Loss of appetite. 

If your axolotl is stressed, they are most likely also denying food. However, it is critical to make sure that they are still eating adequately, as this can lead to developmental problems and even body condition deterioration.

While they may not be hungry, it’s also important to know that an adult axolotl can go without food for up to 3 weeks as long as tank conditions are stable, though it’s generally safer not to let them go longer than one week. 

However, if they are still acclimating to their tank, it is generally safer to say three days, especially if they are new. 

Consider the table below to ensure your axolotl is eating well.

Life Stages (With Ages)Frequency of eating
Hatchling (~3 weeks)Twice per day
Baby (~3 months)Twice per day
Juvenile (~5 months)One per day
Sub-Adult (~1 year)Every other day
Adult (~3 years)Every 2 – 3 days

Sources (Adapted from): Why Is My Axolotl Not Eating

Frequent going up for air. 

As an amphibian, it’s perfectly normal for your axolotl to do this. 

However, if this becomes too prevalent, it could indicate that the water temperature is too high and that there is insufficient oxygen. Check the temperature and think about increasing the oxygen levels in the water.

Vomit or feeling nausea

They can throw up for many reasons other than stress, such as bright lights in their tank, overeating, or simply being cold. 

Even if it has been days since they overate, they could still eventually throw it up. 

To prevent this, avoid bright lights, lower temperatures, and ensure that your axolotl is eating a proper and healthy amount of food for its size.

Lack of responsiveness

When an axolotl is stressed, it prefers not to interact with the world. They may even appear to hide within the tank, perhaps not leaving their hide or a group of plants. 

That is generally a sign that something isn’t right, and it’s also why you should keep an eye on your axolotl’s behavior. Make an effort to identify and correct the source of your axolotl’s stress.

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Loss of pigmentation

It may affect their entire body or mostly around their gills, and it is usually caused by stress as long as there is no injury from which they may be bleeding. 

When they decide to rest, you may notice them turning a lighter and a darker shade; if this does not go away, consult your veterinarian.


While they may float around to relax, if they appear strange or more buoyant (literally) while doing so, they may have had some air enter their gastric system, which altered their buoyancy and ability to float normally. 

Be aware that an axolotl in the process of dying could start floating before it has fully passed away, though this possibility should be easy to rule out. 

This is usually an issue you should seek medical attention for since you’re generally unable to handle it yourself.

Frantic swimming

Generally, this response derives from stress caused by poor water quality and temperature. 

Your axolotl may be swimming around frantically because you are using contaminated water, tap water, or water that is too warm. 

To provide your axolotl with the best possible water, make sure that you conduct appropriate water tests. When necessary, try cooling the water in their aquarium with fans and chillers.

How to help a stressed axolotl?

How to help a stressed axolotl?

Improve tank conditions

This should come as a no-brainer! Try making simple changes to their tank setup to make your axolotl happier and more relaxed. 

To make them feel more secure, try giving them a brand-new hide or removing the bright light that has glared into their eyes every day above their tank. You could also try replacing it with something less bright.

 If you think the water is moving too fast, try using a sponge filter to reduce the current and make it a more peaceful place to swim.

Relocate tank bullies

If you’ve determined that the stress is being caused by other axolotls, find the aggressive ones and place them into their own tanks. You could keep some together as long as they’re similar in size.

Remember that after relocating, a few or even all of the axolotls involved in the relocation may become stressed after the commotion. 

Don’t worry; they will get over it soon; they just need time to re-acclimate.

Bring them to the vet

When determining the source of your axolotl’s stress, it’s good to keep in mind that there is always a possibility that they may be sick. 

Therefore, if you happen to observe any sign of discomfort that your pet is experiencing, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Bring them to a professional to have that ruled out.

Is stress coat safe for axolotls? 

Although stress coat is typically not advised, it is known to be safe when used at the recommended dosage during regular water changes. 

A good rule of thumb is the fewer chemicals in the tank, the better.

Stress Coat+ essentially does nothing more than aid in the dechlorination of tap water and contains extra aloe to promote a healthier slime coat. 

The decision to put this product in their tank ultimately rests with you, the owner, who may or may not feel comfortable doing so or even find it necessary.

Can axolotls die from stress?

Can axolotls die from stress?

Yes, axolotls, like humans and other animals, can and do die as a result of stress. 

However, it is also important to note that it could be due to underlying illnesses that caused the stress in the first place, which is why you should always try to keep your pet axolotl happy and healthy.

You’ll also want to ensure that they’re eating enough and aren’t dying from starvation, as they frequently reject food when sick or stressed.