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Methylene Blue as a Treatment Option for Fungal, Protozoan and Bacterial Infections in Frogs and Salamanders: Amphibian Health

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

A common drawback in dealing with pathogen outbreaks among captive amphibians is the great sensitivity of most species to available medications.  Drugs formulated for fish, used as a soak or bath, have great potential.  However, amphibians absorb liquids over a much greater surface area than do fishes – in some cases with the entire skin surface – and it is therefore difficult to ascertain proper dosages.  Dose reduction is largely a hit-and-miss prospect, as each amphibian differs in absorption ability – medication failure and patient death are all too frequent.

A Malaria Medicine Rescues Stranded Tadpoles

Methylene Blue, a compound that found favor in 1891 as a human anti-malarial agent (and subsequently lost favor due to its propensity to turn the urine green and the whites of the eyes blue!) is one of the safest medications to use with amphibians.  It is widely used as a fish medication, but often overlooked by those working with amphibians.  I was first impressed by its benign nature when called to rescue several hundred American bullfrog tadpoles from the bottom of a recently drained pond in NYC.  The tadpoles had been flopping about for over an hour by the time I arrived, and were all cut up and bleeding.

Without much hope of success, I transferred the tadpoles to several plastic garbage cans and added Methylene Blue at a concentration a bit higher than recommended for fish.  Normal procedure would have been to use ½ fish strength and gradually increase the dosage while observing the tadpoles’ reactions, but such takes time and these fellows had little of that.  I was surprised to see no signs of stress, and astonished the next morning when most looked quite well.  Eventually, a great many recovered.

Use Methylene Blue

I have since used Methylene Blue in private and public collections for a range of amphibians, including Argentine horned frogs, spotted salamanders and Surinam toads.  It has been successful against fungus (most likely Saprolegnia) and certain bacteria associated with wounds and “red leg”.  I’ve had mixed success in using it to combat fungus on amphibian eggs (smoky jungle frog, bell frogs, poison frogs) – the results likely depend upon the species of fungus involved.  I begin with ½ the fish dose and a soak time of approximately 1 hour – gradually increasing both if necessary.  For eggs, I dilute the Methylene Blue in water and then use an eye dropper to place it on the eggs (approximately 1 drop per 2 inch square of egg mass).

Treated amphibians will be stained blue for awhile (as will your hands if you do not wear gloves), but results have been very good.  Where the compound has not worked, it at least caused no harm, and therefore lent the option of using alternative medications. 

Amphibian medicine is, in many ways, in its infancy. This is one area where hobbyists can make real contributions to our knowledge base.  Your own notes, thoughts and questions would be most welcome.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Drug resistant strains of malaria have researchers once again investigating the use of Methylene Blue as a treatment option for people.  An interesting article regarding this is posted at:

http://www.malariajournal.com/content/4/1/45

36 comments

  1. avatar

    ok frank -
    the m blue came in today-going to try it out-
    thanx again mark

  2. avatar

    Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

    I hope all goes well; results vary – we have a great deal to learn, so please let me know your results.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    ok frank-
    after one day of 1/2 fish dose the aliment on the males foot has improved greatly i would say in 3 days it will be healed

  4. avatar

    Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for taking the time to write in. Such a quick response is promising news indeed, and not all that common.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    hello frank-after weeks of treament im sorry to inform you that my toad did not make it-the diease must have gotten the better of him -howveer the female is doing absolutly great
    thanks mark

  6. avatar

    Hello Mark,

    Thanks for the update and sorry for the bad news. The initial improvement that you saw involved the external infection. However, the infection no doubt had become septic and was being spread internally. When this happens, injectible antibiotics are the only effective treatment option, and even these fail if not given early on. Unfortunately, most Surinam toads in the trade are wild caught…problems such as that suffered by your animal are not uncommon.

    Good luck with the female and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    I have amphibians eggs, that always die with hollow bellies at larvae or white spots. I am sure they are fungi, can anyone recommended a centration of methylene blue to protect eggs??/ THanks

  8. avatar

    Hello Martin, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. There really are no clear guidelines yet – what works seems to depend on the type of fungus and the species (please write back and let me know what species are involved). I usually start at ½ the fish dose, but most eggs can take the full dose recommended for fishes. I’ve gone as high as a full drop per Poison Frog egg mass.

    Fungus on larvae may not be related to egg fungus, as when eggs are infected the larvae usually do not hatch; worth looking into, however.

    Good luck and please let me k now how it goes,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio

  9. avatar

    I need help..urgent..how to cure american bullfrog white eyes n red legs diseases…???n what is the main reason for this diseases???

  10. avatar

    Hello Elis, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and sorry to hear about your frog. Red leg is a general term for a bacterial infection. It often takes hold when ammonia levels (from the frog’s waste products) are allowed to rise in the tank. Also a skin injury can leave an opening for bacteria, which are always present, to attack. You can try the methylene blue treatment outlined in the article, but the fact that white eyes are present indicates a very serious problem; fungus may have taken hold as well. Your best option would be a vet visit – please let me know if you need help in locating a vet in your area.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

  11. avatar

    thanks frank..i am from sabah,malaysia,,where can i find this methylene blue treatment??i do visit vet but here they dont have medication for that..

  12. avatar

    Hello Elis, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Perhaps tropical fish medications are easier to find? Methylene blue is a common ingredient in several, and is also sold in pure form for tropical fish. Also, other types of fish medication are worth trying, i.e. a general anti-bacterial/anti-fungal. Start with ½ the recommended dose for fish, since frogs absorb the medication over a greater surface area than do fish. In the meantime, keep the water clean, and a cooler location is better than warmer. Labs sometimes cure redleg by keeping frogs in refrigerators at 38-40F. The frog’s immune systems work (temperate species such as Am. Bullfrogs) well at that temperature, and the bacteria sometimes die-off. Fish meds and refrigeration are risky, but the frog will not survive without treatment so worthwhile in my opinion.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    thanks frank,what should i do with my frogs that infected with white eyes already???n can this diseases spread to other frogs also..??

  14. avatar

    Hello Elis, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Yes, any fugal/bacterial disease is highly contagious. It’s possible that some of the medications mentioned earlier may help the eye problem, but without a determination of the type of fungus involved its not really possible to be certain.

    Most of the American Bullfrogs that arrive in Malaysia come in through the food trade and are bred under crowded conditions that encourage red leg and similar diseases; same true of food trade here in the US….unfortunately, it’s difficult to obtain healthy animals if they originated in the food trade.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  15. avatar

    I have several captive axolotls, who have been diagnosed with a protozoan infection that looks like white cotton balls on their body. Do you think it would be safe to treat them with this product and do you think it will help?

  16. avatar

    Hello Kim, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. I have used methylene blue on axolotls with success. I stayed with ½ the fish dosage and did not increase over time as aquatic amphibians absorb medications over such a large area.

    It does not work on all protozoan species, and if the infection is also internal then success is less likely. I’m assuming the diagnosis was made by a veterinarian?…if so, I would first check back with the doctor as to treatment, as there are other options. I should be able to put her/him in touch with a vet who is an amphibian specialist if that might be helpful.

    Good luck and please let me know how all goes…it is very useful to have feedback on amphibian medical cases.

    Happy Holidays, Frank Indiviglio.

  17. avatar

    Hi Frank ,
    Your websites conscerning Pipa pipas are great ! I got in 4.3 group of Pipa pipa . I have them in a 65 gallon Cube/Breeder tank , 76F , 6.5PH , and they all seem to be happy thus so far . I got the group in this past thursday. I’ve noticed on a couple of the specimens , there is a white patch , not really fungus like , no fuzzy or hairy , but more of a rub spot . There’s only a couple of these spots on these particular animals. Could these spots be from international shipping ? Or could you describe these particular fungus white spots Pipas get ? Thanks for your help!
    Reg

  18. avatar

    Hello Reg

    I appreciate the kind words, thank you. If the spots seem not to be fungus, or red, then they are likely abrasions as you suggest. Keep an eye on them, however, as things can progress quickly. Stress-Coat and similar products designed to replace the slime coat on tropical fishes may be useful.

    I’m a little concerned about the number of animals…7 adults in a 65 gallon tank is risky. Like most aquatic amphibs, they excrete wastes in a highly toxic state, and ammonia levels build very quickly, especially given the volume of food they’ll be eating… however, you will not notice an odor or discoloration. Use a very good filter but even so, I’d suggest at least a 50% water change weekly. I had a great deal of trouble with highly contagious bacterial skin infections/septicemia when I kept groups, even in larger tanks than the one you’re using now.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  19. avatar

    Ok awesome responce …. How many adults could I safely keep in a tank at that size ? I do have a 40 gallon breeder tank but i believe it’s only about 1.5 foot tall , if I have to , I could seperate some adults and put them in the 40 breeder tank .

  20. avatar

    Hello Reg

    Thanks for the feedback. Perhaps try 4 in the 65, 3 in the other. Stay with same water change and use ammo-chips plus carbon if filter allows. Keep an ammonia test kit handy, but bear in mind that ammonia is not the whole story. Most Pipa pipa in the trade are wild caught, and thus will be harboring parasites. Water changes and ample water volume helps keep some of these in control.

    One commercial Xenopus breeder uses Nutrafin Cycle as a safety measure…would be worth a try for you, I believe. Please see here for more info, and please let me know how all goes…

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  21. avatar

    Yes , I keep central american and south american cichlids , along with Mata mata turtles fort. ( thus so far ) with success . I have the water testing kit and a KH tester kit as well I use for my fishes and turtles. I am appoarching keeping Pipa pipa in the same manner as keeping Mata mata as they reside in the same river and locale. I will take your advice and seperate tommorrow the group tommorrow. Thanks a million for your help !!

  22. avatar

    Hello Reg

    Great…I think there is some overlap; I was lucky enough to work in mata matas habitat (Venezuela) for a time – black water teeming with a mind-blowing array of fishes. Unfortunately, never turned up a Pipa at the time…

    In case of interest, here’s an article on matas and goldfish, along with a photo of a large specimen that turned up in a food market.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  23. avatar

    Frank ,
    Oh man that’s a really interesting article . I’ve always heard of problems with goldfish thus I’ve always stayed away from them as feeders , I only keep the fancy goldies as pets. I feed my south american leaf fishes , mata matas , and ( now ) Pipa pipas a variety , ie Feeder Guppies , Platy , and other live bearers. I will be feeding the Pipa pipa nightcrawlers and maybe try Ghost shrimps on occassion . Talk soon ! , Reg

  24. avatar

    Hello Reg

    Glad to see you have wide interests…we generalists are a dying breed. Leaf fishes are great favorites of mine, and I enjoy goldfishes and koi as well.

    The diet you describe is perfect. Wish we knew more about the goldfish problem, but the evidence seems clear, so best to play it safe.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  25. avatar

    I am pretty new to the African Clawed frog scene…..I purchased 2 of them at a pet store about a year ago, one dyed green and one orange, they were barely larger than my thumb. (I think it is horrible to “dye” them, but they were the only kind available in my area). The Green one died within a few days, but the orange one was strong and has been thriving Very well since……on to my question……I have recently added two black moore goldfish to her tank (I found out that she is a female because I have noticed that she has been laying eggs everywhere :} I put the Fish in last week and have noticed that one has what looks like Ick on it’s side. I was wondering if I should treat the tank with Methylene Blue and quarantine the fish in another tank and treat them too, and wait until the “Fungus” goes away before I re-introduce them into the tank with the frog. That way I can do the 1/2 dose on the frog tank and a full dose on the quarantine tank to make sure the fish get all of the medicine that they need, and as a precaution dose for the frog so she will not get infected. Or, can I keep the frog and fish together and safely do a Full dose on the whole tank……Oops….almost forgot, there is a Placo in her tank also……and will she turn Blue??????? (the frog, because she is albino) Not that a Blue frog is bad. She is a very valued member of our family, so I want to do all possible things to keep her healthy. (also, should I remove the crabon filter while I do this?
    Thanks!
    Darlene

  26. avatar

    Hi Darlene,

    Interesting to hear that the frog survived…I’ve not had much feedback from people with dyed frogs. Is it still orange?

    Ick is actually a parasitic infection…best to use a specific ick medication; if you are not sure that it is ick, then a broad-spectrum medication would be best. Frogs can catch it, but rarely do. Better to remove the frog and treat the tank, since there may be free-swimming parasites in the tank as well as on the fish. Plecos are sensitive to some medications (lack the complete scale protection of other fishes)…the instructions of the med you use will specify if dosage needs to be modified for catfishes.

    Clawed frogs are very hardy, but sensitive to ammonia poisoning (plecos as well, goldfish less so)…be sure to do regular partial water changes, and maintain your filter properly; as the frog grows, it produce more ammonia, so you’ll need to keep up with that. The frog may also harass the fish. Fish add quite a bit of ammonia etc to the tank…may be best to limit numbers or consider a separate or larger aquarium as they grow.

    Below are links to articles on African Clawed Frogs..please keep me posted and let me know if you need anything, Best Frank
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2011/11/29/feeding-african-clawed-frogs-the-two-best-diets/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2013/01/17/the-best-filters-for-axolotls-clawed-frogs-newts-and-other-amphibians/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2010/04/07/a-readers-diet-for-the-filter-feeding-tadpoles-of-the-african-clawed-frog/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2011/08/09/breeding-the-african-clawed-frog/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/06/03/african-clawed-frog-xenopus-laevis-behavior-%E2%80%93-has-anyone-else-observed-this/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2011/12/23/amphibian-abuse-neon-dyed-frogs-wildly-popular-in-chinese-pet-stores/

  27. avatar

    Frank,
    Thanks for the quick response…..She is no longer orange, and I must admit, she looks a lot better in her natural Albino skin. :-)

    I do partial water changes (1/2 – 3/4) each week, but the water stays a bit cloudy…..I have a small hex tank that she grew up in, so I will transfer her to that tank when I treat the big tank.

    Thanks for the advise, and I will keep you posted.

    Darlene

  28. avatar

    Thanks for the update, Darlene.

    Good luck and please let me know if you need anything, Frank

  29. avatar

    Hello Frank!

    I just started taking care of an ailing gulf coast toad (I. nebulifer) for a friend that will be away for the holidays. For the past two weeks or so the toad has been lethargic and hasn’t had an appetite. It has developed dark, somewhat reddish patches of skin on its ventral surfaces (lower belly and hind limbs), and does not sit or move as toads typically do (i.e., sits with legs splayed, not underneath it; doesn’t respond to stimuli). I’ve kept multiple species of amphibians for a few years now, but have never had a frog or toad exhibit these symptoms, so I’m hoping that you might be able to give me some advice. My friend has asked me to take whatever medical actions that I think might help while he is away.

    I read earlier comments about Methylene Blue, but I’m concerned that the red patches indicate a systemic issue that MB wont be able to solve. We don’t have a local vet that has experience with amphibians. I just received the toad today, and plan on isolating it in a separate room from my amphibians, as well as moving it in to a more sterile set up. What else might you suggest that I do for this toad?

    Also, I’m generally concerned because my friend has been keeping multiple toads and has had a few individuals die after exhibiting all of the aforementioned symptoms, except for the reddish patches of skin. Only one individual had edema, but each toad eventually wound up dying with splayed hind legs. He makes an effort to feed his toads a varied diet of wild caught insects and invertebrates (including a lot of worms), but has not been using any kind of calcium or vitamin supplement. I’m wondering if he might have a general bacterial issue, and wanted to know if I should suggest that he give his tanks a thorough clean and that he houses the toads at lower densities (I think there are currently 4-6 approximatley 2 inch [snout to vent length] toads in a 10 gal tank). How many southern toads would you suggest housing in a 10 gallon tank? The remaining toads currently seem healthy.

    Thanks for any advice that you can give me.

  30. avatar

    Hello Jen,

    It does sound like what we commonly term red leg; unfortunately when as far advanced as you describe, the infection is likely systemic and would not be helped much by methylene blue. Refrigeration at 40 F or so has helped with leopard frogs and some others, but it may be too late at this point. If a vet is not available (let me know if you need lists) then methylene blue might be worth a try.

    Multiple animals with these symptoms usually indicates that the tanks are not being cleaned well. Troublesome bacteria are always present, and buildup to dangerous densities very quickly. Also, ammonia from the toads’ waste products that accumulates in substrate or water can cause tiny breaks in the skin and other injuries, allowing for quicker colonization by bacteria, fungi. How many animals one can keep depends somewhat on cleaning schedule, depth and type of substrate, etc, but I would not house more than 2 in a 10 gallon.

    Dietary variety is important, and earthworms are an ideal food source (please linked articles) but supplements are usually necessary as well. I favor ReptiCalcium and Reptivite.
    http://bit.ly/eyRJ2E
    http://bit.ly/asjzz2
    Please let me know if you need further info., b est, Frank

  31. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Thank you for your prompt reply. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say that the gulf coast toad died last night soon after I brought it home. I’ll stress to my friend that more cleaning and lower densities are necessary.

  32. avatar

    Hi Jen,

    Even with vet attention, they rarely survive once at that stage. Let me know if you need anything, or feel free to have your friend be in contact, best, Frank

  33. avatar

    Hi Frank

    I am currently trying the method on my 2.2 T verrucosus group. I had noticed an open wound on the “tip of the nose” of one of my newt, but assumed it came from a bite form a tank mate during feeding (they are ferocious), but noticed that a couple of them have become semi lethargic and stopped feeding, and sadly, one of my males died a couple of day after I noticed this.

    I have started the methylene blue treatment three days ago, and while the open wound on my remaining male show no change, he still appears energetic and feeds well; the two females are more alert, and less aqua-phobic, and one even took a small earthworm from the tweezers yesterday.

    My question is, how long would you continue treatment? How do you decide when to stop?

    Regards.

    J.

  34. avatar

    Hello J,

    Unfortunately there aren’t many set guidelines. I and others have had to experiment and change with each situation. I’d say to give them a break for a day or 2 now; repeat 1x if seems prudent after that. Always good to consider that something else may be going on…all would not likely change behavior etc so quickly due to an infection in a single animal. You’d see changes in the one animal, perhaps nothing in others or if a skin infection were involved then signs of fungus, ulcers etc. Might be a good idea to have vet check fecal samples for parasites.

    Please keep me posted, best, Frank

  35. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Just a quick update, I have followed your advice and gave them 3 days rest, and yesterday gave them one final dosing f one hour at the full concentration advised for fish. My surviving male and one female seemed to have reacted very well, taking offered earthworm and being relatively active round the tank, but one female still worried me, having no interest in food, and whilst not totally hydrophobic, spending much time on the haul-out root…

    Today, that last female entered the water and took a couple of small earthworms! I am not declaring victory just now, but consider myself cautionously optimistic… which I was not until now as I have seen similar condition tare through and annihilate amphibian groups in the past.

    Thank you very much for your advise, I’ll let you know how things are doing in a week or two, fingers crossed.

    J.

  36. avatar

    Hello,

    Thanks for the update…just checking back, I hope all is going well, Best, Frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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