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Why is my axolotl not eating?

1. Moving stress

It’s not uncommon for axolotls to refuse food for a few days when they first arrive in a new home. Keep in mind, s/he is trying to adjust to a whole new environment, including a new owner, and possibly different food and feeding methods. Be patient! S/he will warm up to you once s/he realizes that there is nothing to be afraid of.

2. Problems with the food

Axolotls may ignore or spit food out when it’s too big, too hard, or it just has a nasty taste. Try cutting overlarge food in half. You can use scissors to cut up large earthworms, or a pill cutter to cut overlage pellets. Choose a pellet that softens rapidly in water. Avoid worms that taste bitter, such as red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). To avoid spoilage, don’t buy larger quantities of dry food than your axolotl can consume in approximately one month, and try to reseal the package properly after use. Don’t allow frozen food to thaw and then re-freeze.

3. Ammonia issues

Ammonia makes axolotls queasy, so they may refuse food or even throw up. If you’re keeping your axolotl in a tank, make sure your filter is properly cycled. In a tub, remember to do a full water change every day!

4. Aggressive tankmates

If your axolotl is moving away from food or staying hidden at feeding times, they may be afraid that moving towards the food will draw in their neighbor’s wrath — especially if they’ve gotten nipped at before. The solution is to feed the more aggressive axolotl in a separate container. If you’re worried about nipping at other times, it’s best to rehome the aggressive axolotl to another tank entirely.

5. Impaction

If your axolotl refuses to eat for several days in a row, they may have swallowed something that caused a blockage. I will be writing a separate article on the issue [coming soon!], but in the meantime, feel free to email me if you need help with this issue.

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How do I train my axolotl to eat pellets?

1. Make sure the pellet is small enough for your axolotl’s mouth.

2. Wait until they are hungry!

3. If they are used to feeding from tongs or fingers, try this method first.

4. Try dropping the pellets one by one just above their nose, so that they are tempted to snap.

5. It’s normal for your axolotl to hesitate at first, and maybe even spit the pellet out. Even if they don’t go for it right away, leave one or two pellets in the water overnight. A good quality pellet will entice them by smell, and will usually be gone by morning.

6. If your axolotl still won’t try the pellets, don’t feed them their usual food until the next day — you don’t want to create a “if I ignore the pellet I will get my favorite treat” association!

7. Don’t try introducing pellets several days in a row. You should alternate with normal feedings, to make sure that your axolotl stays healthy and that their refusal to eat is not due to a different stressor, such as water quality issues.

8. If your axolotl still won’t touch the pellets on your third try, and they have no trouble eating other foods… Use a better pellet!

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Axolotl sizes: what is the difference between a mini, dwarf and short toes axolotl?

Dwarfism

MissPiggy, a four-month-old dwarf axolotl. Photo: Briitney Alyssah Darlene Long
This picture of Tadpole, a dwarf axolotl, shows the added strain that the condition puts on female axolotls’ bodies when gravid. Photo: Patricia’s Gill Babies

 

Dwarfism is a genetic condition which causes a foreshortening of the chest area and a smaller than usual adult size. Limbs may also appear shorter than usual, although the axolotl’s fingers and toes keep a normal appearance. Dwarfism can lead to health issues and shortened lifespans, particularly in females, due to the large number of eggs they carry. Dwarf axolotls should never be allowed to breed, and may need to be housed separately to avoid getting picked on by larger adults.

‘Mini’ features

Ravyn the mini axolotl measures only reached an adult size of six inches. Photo: Patricia’s Gill Babies

 

A mini axolotl is one whose growth stops before reaching adult size, which can be the result of genetic issues (often due to inbreeding) or stunting due to poor husbandry. Minis may be normally proportioned, or have a somewhat smaller than average tail, with normal chest and limbs. Just like dwarves, minis may require separate housing, and it is preferable not to breed them.

Short toes syndrome

Axolotl suffering from short toes syndrome. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous breeders take advantage of this painful and deadly condition by marketing the afflicted animals as “dwarf axolotls”. Buyers beware! Photo: Amanda Gomes

 

Axolotls with short toes syndrome look similar to dwarves, but they have short fingers and toes that give their hands and feet a padded appearance. Over time, they develop a pudgy appearance due to oedema, an accumulation of interstitial fluid within the body tissues, which causes bloating of the entire body (pictured above). Short toes syndrome is a very serious and irreversible condition which invariably leads to painful oedema, hemorrhages and organ failure. To prevent unnecessary suffering, axolotls affected by this condition should be euthanized as soon as the condition is detected.

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Is it legal to buy/sell/own axolotls in Canada?

Since axolotls are critically endangered in the wild, it takes a special permit to import/export them in and out of Canada. Obviously, it’s also illegal to catch them in the wild (assuming there are any left!) But luckily for the survival of the species, there are no laws against breeding them in captivity. Selling, buying and owning axolotls is also legal through most of Canada — the notable exceptions are British Columbia and Prince-Edward-Island, due to BC’s erroneous classification of axolotls as wildlife, and PEI’s blanket prohibition of all amphibians (and erroneous perception of axolotls as tiger salamanders, which are a different genus!) If you live in those areas, I urge you to get involved in local politics! ; )

Aside from this, you should check your city’s regulations before purchasing an axolotl. Some cities have weird pet regulations. Luckily, here in Montréal, all non-poisonous amphibians are allowed. Strangely enough, we need a permit to keep a cat or a dog!

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Can I house two axolotls together? Will they fight?

Axolotls are not a social species, so they don’t need a friend to be entertained. That being said, it is perfectly ok to house axolotls together, as long as they are roughly the same size. If one axolotl easily fits into the other’s mouth, chances are it will end up as a snack. Usually, axolotls grow out of their cannibalistic phase once all four limbs are formed, but some unfortunately retain those instincts. If space is very limited, you might see some snapping behavior at feeding time, which can lead to injuries. In addition, if your axolotls are not adequately fed, they may eat each other’s limbs for extra nutrition. Those limbs will grow back, but do your best to limit altercations by feeding them a nutritious diet and keeping them in proper housing conditions.

Keep in mind that if you house a male and a female together, they will most likely end up breeding. The young larvae are not that easy to care for, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you choose to attempt it!

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Are axolotls difficult to care for?

Axolotls are very easy to care for if you have the right setup. Given proper housing conditions, all you need to do to keep your axolotl happy is to feed it and keep its water clean.

Feeding
An adult axolotl only needs to eat one live earthworm every other day (the kind used as fishing bait all over the country). The axolotls I sell are also trained to accept pellets. Those are a convenient backup, but I still recommend feeding earthworms if you can, as they don’t get the water dirty the way pellets tend to.

Spot cleaning
Whatever you choose to feed your axolotl, within a day or so it will all come back out as one big solid poop, which is easily picked up using a turkey baster. I do recommend picking up the poop as soon as you spot it, since axolotls are silly creatures who will put anything in their mouth. If they eat their own poop by mistake, they will do a spit take and scatter bits of poop everywhere!

Weekly maintenance
Whether your axolotl makes poop rain or not, you will need to do weekly water changes. Use a siphon to remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the water, and refill with dechlorinated water (or water from the tap, with some conditioner added).

That’s it! As far as pets go, they are not very demanding at all, but you do need to be consistent about these three things.

 

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How do I know if axolotls are the right pet for me and my family?

Do you want a pet that is very active?
Axolotls are sit-and-wait hunters. They don’t typically spend a lot of time swimming around. Mostly, they’ll walk around the tank, climb the decor, or use it as a flotation device. Their goofy poses can be entertaining, but if you want an aquatic pet that moves around a lot, it’s best to stick to fish. On the bright side, their tendency to stay still or move slowly makes them ideal photography subjects!

Are you able to keep their water cold?
Axolotls do best at temperatures between 15 and 18°C.  They can tolerate a range of 4 to 23°C, but at 24°C and above, they could get sick or even die. If your house gets very warm in the summer, it may be necessary to cool the water with air conditioning, fans or an aquarium chiller.

Do you understand the nitrogen cycle?
Before getting any aquatic pet, it’s important to understand the basics of keeping them alive in an aquarium. Please take a moment to read about the nitrogen cycle, its relation to new tank syndrome, and the proper way to cycle your filter before bringing an axolotl home.

Can you make a 10 year commitment?
Given proper housing conditions and care, axolotls can be expected to live 10 to 12 years in captivity. If you are buying an axolotl as a pet for your child, please make sure you are prepared to care for it as well!