Why Are My Pearl Gouramis Dying (and how to stop them from dying)?

Pearl Gouramis are one of the most underrated fish in the hobby. These peaceful, graceful fish have the most amazing color when fully grown. As they swim back and forth across the tank, the light catches them at just the right angle and they display the most amazing, pearl coloration from head to tail.

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

Peral Gouramis are hardy fish that should live for between 5 and 7 years in the home aquarium. It is not normal for them to die unexpectedly. If they do it can be incredibly frustrating. In this article, I will look at the reasons Pearl Gouramis might die suddenly, and how we can prevent them from dying.

We Are My Pearl Gouramis Dying?

I have been keeping and breeding Pearl Gouramis for a number of years and I have several aquariums in my fish room dedicated to these stunning fish. I still have my original breeding pair which I acquired in 2015.

There are essentially 3 main reasons Pearl Gourami die unexpectedly. These are poor water quality, low oxygen levels, and disease. Pearl Gourami may also die suddenly due to high or low water temperatures following a heater failure.

Although these reasons are the most likely causes of Pearl Gourami’s death, they are not the only ones and they will not be applicable in all aquariums. Below I have listed what is in my experience the 10 most likely reasons Pearl Gouramis die suddenly.

Main Reasons Pearl Gourami May Die Suddenly

  • Ammonia Spike
  • Stress
  • Poor Water Quality
  • Disease
  • Oxygen Levels
  • Aquarium Cycling Issues
  • Overstocking
  • Water Temperature
  • Overfeeding
  • Poor Quality Diet


Ammonia Spike

When our fish go to the bathroom, their waste is high in ammonia, and ammonia is highly toxic to fish. Even in small quantities, ammonia can burns the gills of fish and kill them very quickly.

Fortunately, the naturally occurring bacteria in our filters convert the ammonia, first to the less toxic nitrite, then the less toxic still nitrate. This process is known as the nitrogen cycle. Sadly, sometimes this process goes wrong and ammonia levels in the aquarium can spike.

The most common cause of an ammonia spike is overfeeding of the fish. This can occur when a friend or neighbor is feeding whilst you are on vacation or, if like me once, you accidentally tip too much food into the aquarium when the lid falls off!

Another common cause of an ammonia spike is when a fish dies, and perhaps the fish keeper does not notice, maybe because the body has fallen behind some plants, or more commonly behind the filter. The dead fish’s body will quickly decay in the aquarium, and as it does it releases ammonia into the water.

The real danger to our fish comes when the ammonia released from the first body causes a second fish to die, leading to further decay and more ammonia being released into the water. This domino effect can trigger an ammonia spike.

The best solution to an ammonia spike is to carry out a large, partial water change. In my own fish room, if I believe one of my tanks is being affected by an ammonia spike, I will usually carry out a 50% to 75% water change immediately.

This water change will bring the ammonia levels down straight away. I will often then follow up a day or two later with a further 25% to 50% water change, just to get the ammonia levels as low as I reasonably can.



Stress

Fish keepers often underestimate the effect stress can have on their Pearl Gouramis. Stress can kill fish very quickly, and although Pearl Gouramis are hardy fish, they have their limits.

A number of different factors can cause stress. If the water is too hot or too cold it can be stressful, as can living with tank mates that are too boisterous or food aggressive. A large school of Zebra Danios for example can polish off a good pinch of fish food before the Pearl Gouramis have a chance to eat any. This can be stressful for the Pearl Gouramis.

External factors like children banging on the aquarium glass or a loud, flashing TV can also create a stressful environment.

If you believe your Pearl Gouramis may be dying due to stress, take some time to try and work out the source of the stress, and address the issue.


Poor Water Quality

Poor water quality is probably the biggest killer of fish in the hobby. The problem is that the aquarium water can look perfectly clean because the water is crystal clear, but it can be poor chemically.

Most species of fish have evolved to live in water where the quality remains fairly constant, but in our relatively small aquariums, the quality can vary if we are not careful.

When we say poor water quality we generally mean the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. When our fish go to the bathroom, their waste is high in ammonia, and ammonia is highly toxic to fish. Fortunately, bacteria that live in our filters (so call beneficial bacteria), convert the ammonia in the water firstly to nitrite, then to nitrate. This process is known as the Nitrogen Cycle.

Nitrate is still harmful to fish, but typically the fish can stand relatively high levels of nitrate.

If an aquarium has high levels of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate, it is often described as being of poor quality.

How Do You Know Your Aquarium Water Quality Is Poor?

There is no way to tell how good your aquarium water is just by looking at it. Aquarium water can be crystal clear, yet still, be chemically poor. The only way we can know how good our aquarium water is is by testing it.

There are two ways we can test our aquarium water, either with a liquid test kit or by using test strips. I have spent some time reviewing which aquarium tests are the best, and you can find out more in this article titled Best Aquarium Test Kits (tried and tested).

A test kit will give you an instant result and for most kits, you can test for Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, pH, and sometimes chlorine levels. With test strips, you just dip the strip in the aquarium water for a second or two, then wait for about 60 seconds before comparing the results on the test strip to the color card provided.

With liquid test kits, it tends to take a little longer to test the water, but the results do tend to be more accurate. I use both liquid test kits and test strips in my fish room. Both have their uses.

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How to fix poor water quality

If after testing you discover you have poor water quality, you need to take action quickly to prevent further Pearl Gouramis from dying.

The best way to fix poor water quality is to carry out a partial water change. Typically, I will change between 25% and 50% of the water in my aquariums, replacing the water with fresh trap water, using a dechlorinator if required.

Acting quickly will reduce the number of fish that die due to poor water quality.



Disease

Another common cause of Pearl Gourami’s death is disease. Diseases can be introduced into the aquarium when new fish are added or when equipment or decorations are transferred from one aquarium to another. Many diseases can be transferred in a single drop of water.

If you believe your Pearl Gouramis may be dying due to disease, early identification of the disease is the best way to prevent further deaths.

The most common pests and diseases that affect Pearl Gouramis are;

Whilst there are many other diseases that affect our Pearl Gouramis, in my experience, these 4 are the most frequently seen.


Oxygen Levels

Much like us, Pearl Gouramis need to breathe oxygen. However, unlike us, they draw their oxygen directly from the water using their gills. Occasionally, oxygen levels in the water can drop so low your Peral Gouramis may start to die.

Pearl Gouramis belong to a family of fish known as Anabantoidei. These fish have the ability to breathe air directly from above the water surface. This however is a rudimentary way of breathing, designed to keep them alive rather than a permanent way to breathe.

If your Pearl Gouramis appear to be gasping at the water surface, the chances are it is because the oxygen levels in the water are too low.

As with so many problems in the aquarium, I would recommend starting by carrying out a large partial water change. Changing 25% to 50% of the water will make an immediate improvement to the amount of available oxygen.

Next, double-check the temperature of the aquarium. Warm water holds less oxygen than cool water, so if your water is too hot, the amount of oxygen available for your Pearl Gouramis may be too low.

Finally, if you don’t have one already, consider adding an air stone attached to an air pump. Bubbles rising from an airstone agitate the water surface, releasing carbon dioxide from the water and adding oxygen.



Aquarium Cycling Issues

If your Pearl Gouramis are dying shortly after being added to a new aquarium, it may be due to cycling issues. When we first start a new aquarium, it takes time for the beneficial bacteria that process the fish waste to form in sufficient numbers. This process is called cycling the aquarium.

Sometimes, if we add our fish too quickly, the amount of waste produced by the fish outweighs the amount of waste the bacteria can process. This can cause our Pearl Gouramis to die.

Once again, the solution to Pearl Gouramis dying because of cycling issues is carrying out a water change. A water change will reduce the ammonia and nitrite in the water, making the aquarium safer for the fish until the filter bacteria can increase in number.


Overstocking

If there is one mistake I think we are all guilty of making, it’s overstocking our aquariums. Typically we cram far too many fish into our aquariums. I do this all the time. You could probably say almost every aquarium in my fish room is overstocked.

Sometimes, the overstocking gets to the point whereby the quality of the water and the oxygen levels cause our Pearl Gouramis to die.

The only way to solve a problem like overstocking is to reduce the number of fish in your aquarium or change your tank for a larger one.



Water Temperature

Pearl Gouramis are fairly hardy fish, and they can tolerate a pretty wide range of water parameters. Despite this, one reason people find their Pearl Gouramis are dying suddenly is due to the water temperature.

In an ideal setup, Pearl Gouramis want their water temperature to be between 77°F and 82°F (25°C and 28°C). If the water is too much hotter or cooler than this, Pearl Gouramis can die surprisingly quickly.

The most likely cause of water temperatures fluctuating is heater failure. Sometimes heaters stick in the ‘on’ position and raise the temperature so hot either the Pearl Gouramis slowly cook, or more likely the oxygen levels in the aquarium drop due to warm water’s inability to hold the same amount of oxygen as colder water. Equally, if the heater gets stuck in the ‘off’ position, usually due to total failure, the water temperature can drop so low the Pearl Gouramis become susceptible to stress or diseases like Ich.

Fitting a good quality digital thermometer into your aquarium is the best way to measure water temperature and ensure your Pearl Gouramis aren’t living in water that is too hot or too cold.


Overfeeding

If you are anything like me, feeding your fish is the best part of the hobby. I love feeding time in my fish room. The problem comes when we put too much food into our Pearl Gourami aquarium. Any food that sneaks past the fish may well land in the plants or behind rocks and decorations.

Sadly, this uneaten food will quickly start to rot, and rotting food releases a lot of ammonia. As discussed above, an ammonia spike can prove fatal to Pearl Gouramis very quickly.

To prevent overfeeding, only add about as much food as your fish will consume within 1 to 2 minutes. It is better to add a small pinch, wait for the fish to eat it, then add another small pinch than it is to drop a great fistful in all in one go.

Another way to prevent overfeeding is to build your fish up in layers. In all my display tanks I like to include one group of fish that feed from the surface (like Pearl Gouramis), One group that feed mid-water (like Neon Tetras), and one group that feeds off the bottom (like Pygmy Corydoras).


Poor Quality Diet

In my experience, one major reason Pearl Gourami die is due to being fed a poor quality diet. Pearl Gouamris are omnivores, which means they need a diet made up of both meat and vegetable matter.

In the wild, Pearl Gouramis would eat flys and bugs that land in their water as well as waterborne crustaceans, worms, and baby fish plus small pieces of algae and leaf matter. In our aquariums, we need to try to recreate this varied diet as much as possible to ensure our Pearl Gouramis get a variety of vitamins and minerals.

The best way to give Pearl Gouramis a varied diet is to feed them good-quality dried food. I favor either Bug Bites, which is made by Fluval and has Black Soldier Fly Larvae as the main ingredient, or Xtreme Flake Food, which is based around Krill.

With my own Pearl Gouramis, I also feed them lots of live or frozen foods including bloodworms, daphnia, and mosquito larvae.

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How to Keep Your Pearl Gouramis Healthy

Now we know what some of the issues can be that cause our Pearl Gouramis to die unexpectedly, let’s look at some ways we can make sure we keep them healthy and thriving.

  • Regular water changes
  • Feeding a balanced diet
  • Maintaining the aquarium
  • Disease prevention and treatment

Regular Water Changes

As discussed above, fish are stuck in the water we provide them. They have no chance to get away when water quality slips. To prevent your Pearl Gouramis from dying due to poor water quality, try to get into a routine of changing water on a regular basis.

Draining your tank down by 25% each week and topping it up with fresh, dechlorinated water is undoubtedly one of the best things you can do for your fish. Water changes not only reduce nitrates in the water but by interacting with your tank every week, there is a greater chance you will spot issues before they become major problems.

Feeding A Balanced Diet

Pearl Gouramis are omnivores. They need a wide variety of foods. For the biggest, strongest, healthiest fish, you need to feed them a balanced diet.

A good mix of dried foods, live foods, and frozen foods will help give your Pearl Gouramis all the vitamins and minerals they need to be active and colorful.

My article Pearl Gourami Ultimate Care Guide has good information about keeping, feeding, and breeding Pearl Gouramis.

Maintaining The Aquarium

Along with regular water changes, keeping up with your general aquarium maintenance will go a long way to stopping your Pearl Gouramis from dying. Cleaning your filters, vacuuming the gravel, and trimming plants are all jobs that help keep an aquarium system running and your fish thriving.

Preventing And Treating Disease

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to fish diseases. The number one way disease makes it into your aquarium is by being introduced through new fish.

Without any doubt, quarantining your new fish is a must.



In Conclusion

Pearl Gouramis are essentially hardy fish. They should live for 5 to 7 years without any special effort on behalf of the fish keeper.

If your Pearl Gouramis are dying unexpectedly, take time to work through all the suggestions above to see if you can identify the cause of the deaths. Whatever the problem is, work fast to rectify it so you don’t lose any more fish.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

Article Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabantoidei