It’s unfortunate that our fish get sick but it happens and sometimes for no explainable reason. The number of unexplainable questions that arise when you discover you have a sick fish can get stressful. In addition, the diagnosis of disease can, for some ailments, be difficult or wrong. Then a misdiagnosed disease and its subsequent treatment can exacerbate the problem your wildlife is experiencing. This can all be a stressful situation!
Be involved, observant, and record changes often, mentally or in a notebook. Disease diagnosis and effective treatment can be very frustrating for an aquarium or pond owner. If you look at these features as often as I find myself looking at mine, your observation should allow you to see problems before they manifest into something more severe. Once you think you have spotted something then take notes on what you observe. Take pictures, if possible, and then share those things with your local pet store employee, social media forum, fish veterinarian, or fellow hobbyists.
The key to a successful, disease free, and happy aquarium is to have constant and ongoing maintenance.
It is essential to maintain regular water changes:
Freshwater aquariums: 20% to 30% every two weeks.
Saltwater aquariums: 10% to 15% every week.
Ponds: 50% to 60% every four months; however, if you have the time, it is better to do 10% to 15% changes over the course of a month.
Smaller and more frequent water changes are better overall for any water feature. These water changes will help keep your nitrate concentration down and keep the necessary trace nutrients at healthy levels. The issue of high nitrate concentration can, in the long term, create prime conditions for pathogens to infect your wildlife. This leads into my next point.
Maintain your nitrate levels:
Freshwater aquariums: below 30 ppm (parts per million).
Saltwater aquariums: below 15 ppm.
Ponds: below 60 ppm.
However, lower concentrations than what is stated above, if possible, will always be better. This can be accomplished through a number of ways, many of which can be combined. Below are a series of tips that will help in preventing disease within your aquatic setting. These tips are not necessarily in order of preference or importance but more or less in order of cost saving.
1) Don’t over feed or over stock. Over feeding can directly cause the death of your fish within 24 hrs. Overstocking will greatly increase the water column nutrients faster than water changes can reduce their build up. The higher the nitrate level the more stress the fish feel and the less skin slime they produce. Skin slime is a key to their immune system and thus their health.
For fresh or saltwater aquariums, use this additive to help replenish the fish’s slime coating.
Amazon link to Kordon NovAqua Plus Water Conditioner, 16oz. & 4oz..
Amazon link to Kordon NovAqua Plus Water Conditioner, 8oz..
Amazon link to Kordon NovAqua Plus Water Conditioner, 1-gallon.
Amazon link to Kordon NovAqua Plus Water Conditioner, 5-gallon.
For pond fish use the link below:
2) Perform a water change. By removing water physically, this removes nitrate from the water column in significant amounts. Nitrate in high concentrations can stress fish, weaken their immune system; alter water chemistry, all of which can cause them to get sick. This step and the next are typically performed at the same time. Both combined together are probably the most effective at reducing unwanted environments that easily breed pathogens.
3) Gravel vacuum the substrate (ponds and freshwater aquariums only). This removes the detritus out of the substrate before it begins to harvest pathogens.
4) Temperature change. Many fish have a threshold of temperature range they can withstand without being adversely effected. Whereas parasites, bacteria, and fungi have a similar threshold, which for some is not within the same upper or lower temperature limit a fish can withstand.
This is particularly true when it comes to Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, white spot disease). This protozoa’s transmission stage of its life cycle cannot live very long in water that is 89.5 degrees Fahrenheit (31.9 degrees Celcius), and are less likely to attach to a fish before the Ich dies. Check the threshold your fish can take and think about increasing the temperature. You may not want to go to the fish’s maximum but a small temperature increase in addition to other remedies can help quicken recovery. Although there is no way to directly control the temperature in a pond, planting lilies or surface plants can shade the water keeping it cooler then if it were in direct sunlight.
5) Add rock salt, non-iodized table salt (freshwater aquariums & ponds only). I must stress first that you make sure your salt doesn’t have anything added to it such as iodine or that you are not using solar or evaporated salt, it must be pure sodium chloride (NaCl). Adding salt to the water can be harsh on pathogenic organisms such as bacteria, fungus or parasites. This method typically tends to dehydrate the pests thus killing them. It is also a mild non-invasive stimulant to the fish to produce extra slime. The slime layer on a fish is its primary immune system. A fish with a thicker slime coat will be harder to infect.
I have found that the minimum amount of salt that will have the least impact on the rest of your aquarium or pond is 1 tsp. per gallon. The maximum amount I have experimented with is 1 tbsp. per gallon. The lower end of this range will have little effect on most plants. However, if you were adding salt to a planted aquarium or pond for treatment purposes only I would discontinue its use after your fish has recovered.
6) Add live plants to your water feature. The lighting requirements for plants tend to be much higher than what comes with standard aquarium set-ups. Investing a little to upgrade your lighting will be worth it in the long run. Not only do the plants remove nitrate from the water column they will also help stabilize certain water chemistry aspects. In a saltwater situation coral or macro-algae would be the “plants” for your aquarium. In ponds, make sure you purchase plants that will live year round regardless of the season. Seasonal plants are likely to die off in the winter and add back the nutrients they were removing in the first place. In general, plants will make for much happier conditions for wildlife.
7) Use a chemical treatment. There are many of these on the market and some are made to be a general spectrum remedy, while others attack a specific infestation. Research these products wisely as some will negatively effect your biological filtration system. Typically these cause chemistry issues, specifically ammonia and nitrite spikes, which are extremely toxic to fish. On the other hand, technology advances have seen an increase in biologically safe disease treatment products that will leave the beneficial bacterial safely intact. I would recommend starting with the biologically safer products. It will be less damaging to your system in general and less for you to have to pay attention to while working to heal your sick wildlife. Finally, regardless of what type of remedy you choose, be sure to follow the instructions exactly. This includes continuing the treatment, even if there are no visible signs of sickness, even for several more days.
8) Install an ultraviolet sterilizer. Many of the pests that sicken our fish have some part of their life cycle that moves them around the water column until they can find a host to attack. Many of these pests cannot withstand a barrage of UV light. Keep in mind though if the pest has already attacked your fish and is no longer free floating in the water column the UV sterilizer will do no good. You may have to treat your fish through other means first and then add a UV Sterilizer to avoid sickness in the future. In some situations you may not want to use one at all. The UV is indiscriminate and can be fatal to organisms such as brine shrimp, nauplii, copepods, eggs, infusoria, etc. These organisms are ones that saltwater environments find useful in keeping a healthy system. Also keep in mind UV sterilizers have a light bulb or tube that will need replacing on a 12 to 18 month basis depending on consistency of usage.
9) Set up a hospital tank to quarantine sick fish.
These can be immensely useful for two major reasons:
- If it comes down to having to use a treatment that will cause a die off of your beneficial nitrifying bacteria and you don’t want to expose your non-sick fish to the stresses of such a treatment, then hospitalize the sick fish in a separate tank set-up specifically for disease treatment.
- Even non-biological effecting remedies can be stressful on the system in general. For example… many crustaceans, numerous types of scaleless fish, and even some plants… won’t fare well with these treatments.
So again, a hospital tank becomes very useful under these circumstances. Another use for a hospital tank is the quarantine of new fish, specifically for saltwater setups. The reason for this is much of the current saltwater wildlife supply is taken straight from the ocean and carries pathogens you don’t want in your well-established saltwater setup.