Axolotls are generally considered to be happy and calm creatures. They are known for their quirky appearance, calm behavior, and undemanding nature. These traits make the species a relatively low-maintenance and lovable companion for pet lovers in general and exotic pet enthusiasts in particular. However, owning an axolotl comes with its difficulties and challenges.
Indeed, axolotls do not express their emotions like other pets. Their behaviors can also be odd or hard to interpret. As a result, they can be more difficult to read than a dog or a cat, for example. In short, it’s often hard to know if you have a happy axolotl or a sad one.
If you’re wondering if your axolotl is happy, then you have come to the right place. In the following article, we will take a look at what makes axolotls happy, what makes them stressed and/or sick, and how to recognize the signs thereof. We have also collected some useful techniques to promote the peak physical and mental health of your axie.
So, if you want to make sure your pet amphibian is “as happy as can be”, continue reading below!
Table of Contents
- What Makes Axolotls Happy?
- How To Tell If Your Axolotl Is Stressed or Sick?
- How To Make Your Axolotl Happy?
- Final Thoughts
What Makes Axolotls Happy?
Axolotls have relatively low intelligence (NB: Please don’t hate me for stating this. It’s a fact…and I didn’t say they’re stupid!). As a result, they have relatively simple needs.
Generally speaking, the mental health of an axolotl will be a function of its physical health. In other words, if your axolotl is physically healthy, then there’s a high probability it’s also mentally healthy, in other words happy.
In turn, an axolotl’s physical well-being will itself largely dependent on the animal’s environment (Important: this is true most of the time, but not always…).
Factors such as tank size and layout (presence or absence of plants, decorations, or hiding places, etc.); water parameters (temperature; pH levels; ammonia levels; chlorine/chloramine levels; heavy metal levels, etc.); lighting intensity; food type, quantity, and feeding frequency; or presence of tank mates (such as other axolotls, fish, snails or even turtles for example) can all influence an axolotl’s health.
If your axolotl starts having physical health issues, then this will likely cause a knock-on effect on its mental health. In a sub-optimal habitat, your axolotl can become stressed or sick (stress itself could be considered a form of sickness, both sides of the same coin), which itself can manifest in a number of different ways.
Can Axolotls Smile?
Even though it may look like your axolotl has a huge grin on its face, it’s not what you think. In fact, your axolotl isn’t smiling at all. It simply just looks like it is. The characteristic axolotl smile on their faces is not an expression of happiness. Instead, it’s just the natural shape of their mouth.
Therefore, that smile on your axolotl’s face isn’t enough to tell if it’s happy. Your axolotl can look like it’s smiling even when it’s stressed, ill, or injured.
How To Tell If Your Axolotl Is Stressed or Sick?
In animals, stress tends to occur when they have to make extreme, sometimes prolonged behavioral and physiological adjustments in order to survive in their environment.
If your axolotl lives in a sub-optimal environment, then it will become stressed and/or sick and demonstrate this stress or sickness in different ways, either in the way it behaves or physically.
Behavioral Signs of Axolotl Stress or Sickness
Reduced Appetite / Axolotl Not Eating
Reduced appetite or loss of appetite is often an early indicator that something is stressing your axolotl out or that it’s sick.
However, it is important to note that an axolotl’s eating patterns can change with the temperature of the water in its tank.
A sudden drop in water temperature can result in your salamander eating less food than normal. This change in eating behavior is because the decreased temperature works to lower the creature’s metabolism, which means it will need less food to survive.
A drop in water temperature can of course happen when you change the tank water, but can also be caused by a drop in ambient air temperature.
Think twice about cranking up the heating in winter or the AC during the summer as large swings in ambient air temperature are likely to translate to the temperature of the water in your tank and potentially on the well-being of your axie.
It’s also important to note that if your axolotl loses its appetite after a change of food, then it’s most likely that the problem lies with the new type of food rather than the animal itself.
Just like humans, axolotls have their preferences when it comes to eating. If you replace their usual food with something new, something they’ve never had before, it might take them a while to get used to it. In certain cases, they will simply refuse to eat, and your best bet is to revert to what they were eating previously.
Unresponsiveness / Lethargy
Axolotls are known to be relatively calm and slow to begin with. Their baseline level of activity is relatively low when compared to other aquarium dwellers like fish, for example.
My axolotls tend to get giddy and excited when I approach the tank or at their usual feeding times. Therefore, I know that if one of them becomes unusually unresponsive or excessively lethargic – under circumstances when they would otherwise be more active than usual – it’s generally a bad sign.
If you have several axolotls sharing the same tank (or indeed an axolotl and other species), and most, if not all of them become unresponsive at the same time, it’s almost certain that something in their environment is off.
As a species, axolotls are usually born with four limbs (two front legs and two back legs).
Side note: Some would argue that their tail is also a limb, but most would consider it an appendage they use to propel themselves underwater or balance themselves when sitting, walking or floating.
The presence of these limbs predisposes axolotls – from birth – to walk, be it at the bottom of the lakes, ponds, or canals they have evolved in; or, indeed, on land.
This means axolotls do not tend to exclusively float or swim in their tanks. They will split their time up between sitting or crawling at the bottom of the tank, on plants or decorations, as well as swimming and floating.
So, if you notice that your axolotl has recently begun almost exclusively floating – or floating a lot more than it usually would – then this could mean that they are feeling uncomfortable or unwell.
In most cases, a floating axolotl will usually mean that it is suffering from indigestion or constipation, which means you will have to monitor its health for 24-48 hours.
However, if your floating axolotl is able to return to the bottom of its tank on a regular basis or starts to display a more “balanced” mix of sitting, crawling, swimming, and floating then this could mean that there is nothing to worry about.
Zoomies (Frantic Swimming)
Frantic swimming is also known as “zooming” or “doing zoomies”.
Zooming is when your axie swims around its aquarium in bursts and fits at high speed. It looks like they are darting around their tank to amuse themselves, chase something down, or escape a predator.
Axolotls tend to zoom around their tank on occasion, now and again. It requires a lot of energy, and axolotls tend to be rather calm, slow, and outright lazy!
So, if you notice that your axolotl is swimming franticly for prolonged periods of time, then know something must be up.
It is common for axolotls to return to the surface every now and then, to do what is known as buccal pumping. (Check out Why Is My Axolotl Blowing Bubbles? [+ 4 Odd Behaviors] for more information on buccal pumping).
However, this should not be happening all the time, as this could indicate that there is something wrong.
So if your axolotl is constantly gasping for air, this could mean that it is feeling stressed or uncomfortable in its environment.
Make sure to check the water parameters of your axolotl tank as temperature or ammonia levels might be reaching dangerously high levels.
Physical Signs of Axolotl Stress or Sickness
If you are concerned about your axolotl’s stress levels, then you can take a look at the creature’s gills to determine its emotional state.
Curled gills, overly tense or straight gills, or gills either pointing out straight in one direction or resting very close to the head for longer than normal can all be tell-tale signs of axolotl stress.
Another area of the axolotl’s body you can use as an indicator for stress is the axolotl’s tail. Indeed, if the tip of the tail appears to be curled up it could be a sign that your axolotl is unwell.
Think about it, when we humans have stomach pain, for example, we tend to curl up into the fetal position. This is so we don’t use as many muscles as possible and avoid putting our body under tension when it’s sore.
I can’t say for sure that the same conclusion applies to axolotls – or any other pet, for that matter – and there might be other reasons why a curled tail is a sign of stress. If you have ideas, please feel free to let me know.
It is also important to consider the condition of your axolotl’s skin, as skin conditions are often a clear sign of stress or disease.
White or Yellow Spots
For example, if your axolotl has developed white or yellow spots, then this could mean that they are suffering from a bacterial infection or virus.
If you notice these markings, then you will need to take your salamander to a vet for medical advice.
If you notice white fluffy balls that look like balls of cotton on your axolotl’s skin or gills, it’s likely suffering from a fungal infection.
Fungal infections are quite common but need to be treated rapidly. Take your axie to a vet or a professional axolotl breeder. They are likely to recommend a salt bath as the first line of treatment. Sometimes stronger antifungal or antibacterial treatments are required.
Fungal infections can cause your axolotl to shed its slime coat.
Peeling Slime Coat
If your axolotl’s skin looks like it’s peeling, it’s more than likely losing its slime coat.
Check out Why Is My Axolotl’s Skin Peeling? [Slime In Axolotl Tank] for a detailed write-up about this condition, including what can cause it and what to do about it.
Ammonia or Chemical Burns
High levels of certain chemicals in your axolotl’s water can cause burns. One such type of burn is ammonia burn, which is caused by excessively high concentrations of ammonia.
The symptoms of ammonia burns are a bright red or orange color and damaged gills. This condition is potentially fatal, and you should immediately seek veterinarian attention.
Injuries or Wounds
It’s quite frequent for axolotls to sustain injuries or wounds to their skin, limbs, or gills in their tank. These injuries can be caused by bites or attacks inflicted by tank mates such as other axolotls, fish, or even turtles. For example, small fish are known to mistake axolotl gills for worms and often nibble at them.
In these cases, your axolotl will likely benefit from being kept on its own in a separate thank. Axolotls can also injure themselves on the rocks or decorations in the tank. It’s therefore recommended to avoid placing objects with sharp edges or corners inside their habitat to mitigate that risk.
Luckily, axolotls have the extraordinary to regenerate missing limbs and are also known to be quick healers. So, once the root cause of the problem is removed, the odds are on your pet’s side to recover.
How To Make Your Axolotl Happy?
As highlighted above, an axolotl’s happiness is largely influenced by its physical well-being, which in turn is linked to its living conditions and environment. So, to make your axolotl happy, you need to ensure that it’s living in an optimal environment.
Here are a few tips to help you create the best possible conditions for your axolotl.
The minimum tank size for a single axolotl is 15 gallons (approx. 55 liters), although you should aim for at least 20 gallons (approx. 75 liters).
The general consensus is that you should add 10 gallons (approx. 38 liters) to this minimum tank size for each additional axolotl you intend to keep.
Check out How To Set Up An Axolotl Tank [Beginner’s Guide] for more information about axolotl tank selection.
Fine sand is preferred for the bottom of the tank over small gravel and rocks to avoid impaction.
Plants & Decorations
Axolotls like to hide in the shade, out of sight, and in direct sunlight. It’s recommended to place a number of leafy plants, logs, large rocks, and potentially a decoration or two in the tank.
Your tank needs to be placed in a cool and shady area. Axolotls do not enjoy warm temperatures or direct sunlight, it can negatively affect their rest and sleep.
The ideal water temperature for an axolotl tank usually ranges between 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit or 16-18 degrees Celsius.
Tip: Removing the tank lid can help keep the water temperature down. If your tank water is still too warm, consider purchasing a chiller.
The optimal pH level for the water in an axolotl tank is between 7.4 and 7.6.
You should aim for as close as possible to 0 ppm (parts per million).
You should aim to keep nitrate levels below 40 ppm (parts per million).
Axolotls evolved at the bottom of lakes and canals. They prefer relatively dark and shaded habitats over bright habitats.
Keep lighting rather dim, and indirect.
In the wild, axolotls will eat insects, worms, shrimp or small fish! When kept in captivity, you can feed them all of the above – which can either be bought live or frozen.
There is also a wide range of soft pellets available which are easier to store as they don’t need to be kept refrigerated.
Axolotls are solitary creatures, who enjoy their own company. If possible, try not to place them in an overcrowded tank.
In conclusion, an axolotl’s happiness is mainly determined by its physical well-being. In turn, its physical health is predominantly determined by its living conditions.
To determine whether or not your axolotl is happy, stressed or sick, you need to look out for a number of behavioral and physical signs.
By regularly checking for these signs and making sure that your axolotl is living in optimal conditions, you can help keep your axolotl happy and content.