It’s important to understand how to care for a pet before bringing them home. Many issues can be avoided with just a bit of reading, and you want your axolotl to be healthy and happy. Caring for an axolotl is harder than a goldfish but easier than caring for salt water fish.
You might also want to check out our article about axolotls.
Getting Setup for Axolotl Care
Axolotl price is a small factor when we consider the rest of an axolotl owner to be shopping list!
- Axolotl Tank
- Aquarium water parameters test kit
- Filter ( preferably a low flow filter )
- Aquarium thermometer
- Turkey baster ( for removing excrement from tank )
- Food: see below to learn what axolotls eat
- Hide, a little cave like a terracotta pot
- Plants and tank decor
- Chiller ( optional )
Before you put your axololt in your aquarium make sure to cycle the tank. This can’t be stressed enough. A non-cycled tank is likely to kill an axolotl. When you start your tank, and when doing water changes, if using tap water make sure de-chlorinate it. You can do this with the product ‘Prime’ ( widely available ) or by letting the water sit out overnight.
Axolotls are carnivorous. They don’t care for vegetation, they want to devour other creatures. Infant and juvenile axolotls commonly eat each other if left in the same tank ( the cannibalistic stage should cease when the axolotl is six inches long ). Let’s talk about what to feed your axolotl.
For convenience most people feed their axolotl a consistent diet of Axolotl Pellets, such as Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets.. This is the easiest way to get started. Axolotl pellets can be purchased at pet stores.
For an occasional treat you can give your axolotl a small bit of lean meats like cooked chicken or cow. But usually you’ll want to feed them the types of creatures that are found naturally in water.
Waxworms, maggots, blackworks, bloodworms, butter worms, and fly larvae also make great treats but only once per week. You can also feed your axolotl mosquitoes, crickets, daphnia, and frozen brine shrimp.
Axolotl can live on a straight diet of night crawlers without developing vitamin or mineral deficiencies. You can start a worm farm in your backyard, and thus turn kitchen scraps and other compost into axolotl food.
How often to feed an axolotl – Feed your axolotl roughly twice per week, or once per three days. Timing is not an exact science, axolotls have been known to live without food for up to two weeks ( don’t push it ).
If you feed too often, you risk raising the ammonia level of the tank due to excess decomposing organic matter. Make sure you scoop out any uneaten food. Overfeeding can also cause your axolotl to become constipated, which in turn can cause bowel obstruction, often resulting in their death. So don’t overfeed!
After a short amount of time caring for your axolotl, you will get a feel for timing of feedings.
Young and growing axolotls require feeding once daily until they attain adult size.
Axolotls will some times not be interested in eating. Don’t worry unless this behavior continues.
Because of the decomposition of organic matter in the tank ( axolotl feces, food leftovers, etc ) harmful bacteria build up in the tank. Yes a properly cycled tank helps mitigate this, but we still need to do water changes one per week. Pull out about twenty percent of the water and replace it with fresh de-chlorinated water. Once per month do the same process but for about half of the water.
Some people choose to remove their axolotl from the tank when doing water changes. Whether you decide to take yours out or leave it in, watch closely for signs of stress. If your axolotl gets stressed when you take it out of the tank, try leaving it in and vise versa. To remove your axolotl from the tank, use a tub which has only ever been used for this purpose, and has never been washed with soap ( residue can hurt your axolotl ). Just gently scoop your axolotl into the tub and make sure the tub has water from the aquarium and sits in a safe place while you’re changing the water.
If you care to know the gender of your axolotl, you may need to wait until the axolotl is eighteen months old. If it’s a male though, he could show much sooner than that, as soon as eight months.
Females tend to have wider body shape than males, though this is not always an accurate way to know. Males will have a large bulge ( cloaca ) behind their back legs while females do not have a bulge there.
A cloaca is a sac that some animals have which has one opening; for poop, urine, and reproductive fluids. Most animals have an opening for each, but some animals ( especially birds and reptiles ) have a cloaca.
If you have two axolotls, and you find that one is male and the other is female, put them in separate tanks ( dividers won’t work ) unless you want to care for thousands of axolotl babies. And if you do want to care for thousands of axolotl babies, make sure to mate two that are from different families.
We all get it, axolotls are cute and thus it’s tempting to want to pet them and handle them, but don’t! Axolotl have sensitive skin and are very delicate. Don’t ever take your axolotl out of water, unless it is for a brief moment to give them a tea or salt bath.
Axolotl do have lungs, but their gills are designed for them to breath in water and not out of water. If you accidentally forget to close the lid on your tank and your pet jumps out, gently pick them up and get them back into the water asap.
If you’re wanting a pet you can handle maybe consider a kitty or a snake instead! Axolotl do interact, but from within their tank. Take care of your axolotl.
Potential health issues
Stress – Stress is one of the most common causes of disease in axolotls. There are many stress factors such as strong water current, nippy tank mates, untreated water, warm water, etc. If stressed, axolotls may lose their appetite, you may notice their tails curling, and their gills are turning forward. Reducing stress involves understanding what’s causing it and making the appropriate adjustments.
Ammonia poisoning – If your tank has too much ammonia your axolotl will suffer any or all of the following symptoms; gills curling and whitening or even falling off, red areas of skin, not wanting to eat, erosion of tip of tail and fingertips, lethargy, hemorrhages and even death. You should be checking your axolotl tank parameters regularly, and thus catch any rising ammonia levels before it gets to this point, but if these symptoms occur and you verify there’s too much ammonia in the tank all is not lost. Do a fifty percent water change, maybe even do that each day until resolved. You can reduce the ammonia by promptly removing your axolotls excrement, temporarily reducing the frequency of feedings, or with chemical.
Saprolegnia is a fungus that exists in most water sources and may effect axolotl that have a compromised immune system. Look for grey, white, or brown fuzzy growth on the gills or head and partial loss of gills. This fungus effects axolotls inside their body, so if you suspect a saprolegnia infection have a vet test and treat it. You can treat the infection by giving your axolotl salt or tea baths, and by adding potassium permanganate to the tank. Remedy any environmental issues that may be causing your axolotl undue stress. Someone has recommended Indian almond leaf tea baths daily. Do daily water changes in the tank until issue is resolved.
Impaction – A term which here means your axolotl swallowed something they shouldn’t have, such as gravel, and it’s jamming up their digestive system. Bowel obstruction can happen if axolotls ingest gravel, which will then cause obstruction in their GI tract. Constipation can also cause obstruction, and this is the reason why you should only feed them every 2-3 days.If your axolotl is refusing to eat for multiple days, is bloated, and has a low waste production, the cause is very likely an obstruction. Fridging your axolotl can help eliminate the cause of obstruction and help your axolotls recover faster.
Floating at the top of the tank is potentially a sign of constipation or bloating ( not always, axolotls sometimes do float just for fun). If floating because of constipation or indigestion, the axolotl may struggle to try to swim to the floor, but will return to the floor of the tank once the gas passes from their body ( the gas in their body makes them float ). Gas may take a few days to pass, you may want to bring your axolotl to a vet if floating continues more than 2-3 days.
Frantic swimming: could be a sign of impaction ( axolotl swallowed something it shouldn’t have ). Other signs of impaction include inability to eat and floating. Your axolotl may end up regurgitating the object it swallowed. If it needs to be removed by a vet the axolotl will be given anesthesia and the item will be removed with alligator forceps.
Injury – Axolotls can regenerate ( grow back ) most body parts, however infections still may occur. Take care to keep the tank clean to help reduce the risk of infection.
Can my kid do it?
Many parents have children that want to get a pet axolotl, and naturally a parent may think this could be an opportunity to teach kids about responsibility, and maybe even chores. How much of the care for the axolotl you may be able to have your child take care of is going to fluctuate a lot depending on age, personality, and a host of other factors. The bottom line though is that if you care that your axolotl stays alive and happy and healthy ( here’s hoping you do! ) you’re going to need to be the adult and stay on top of making sure your pet gets the care it needs.
One woman responded “I got an axolotl for my ten year old kid and sure enough ended up taking care of it pretty much entirely. Then you know what I did? I got two more!!”
If you get an axolotl for your child, be prepared for the possibility that you may need to provide all the feeding and care yourself. Teach your child though!, it’s a great way to connect and have fun together.