How to Clean a Fish Tank

Sounds simple? Do it right and keep your stress minimal!

Cleaning the glass
  1. Wash your hands and arms to your elbows.
  2. Unplug filter and lights. If you have any UV lights, unplug those too. Close any valves if you have a sump so it doesn’t overflow.
  3. Remove any synthetic decor and scrub it with hot water and a designated toothbrush.
  4. Clean the glass with an appropriate acrylic-safe or glass scrub.
  5. Use a gravel vacuum to get into the substrate crevices. Do not remove more than 50% of the tank water at a time. Your fish can stay in the tank, just don’t suck them up!

    Scrubbing decor separately using hot water and toothbrush
  6. Remove filter media and rinse gently or squeeze in collected bucket of waste water. Do NOT use tap water. The chlorine can kill your good bacteria. Your filter media does NOT have to be pristine and sparkling. Again, super clean media will reset your biologic filter to ZERO. You do NOT have to replace your filter media every month. If your filter media is falling apart, do not replace more than 1/4-1/3 of the total media at a time. We recommend using sturdy sponges over floss.
  7. Use your waste water to feed your plants. The nitrates make great fertilizer!

    Using a gravel siphon to clean substrate
  8. Re-fill your bucket with tap water. Bottled water can be missing buffers and/or minerals. Make sure it is the same temperature as your tank! An infrared thermometer is great for quickly comparing two temperatures.
  9. Add dechlorinator to your bucket of water and decor that treats chlorine AND chloramine. Chloramine is a more stable form of chlorine mixed with ammonia! Allow a few minutes for the dechlor to do its job.
  10. Replace your decor back in your tank and pour in your treated water. You may need to adjust your decor after adding the water.
  11. Prime your filtration by pouring some tank water into the filter base. Plug in and adjust flow accordingly. Open any valves you previously closed.

    Gently rinse filter media in waste water
  12. Turn on your lights and replace any covers. Watch your tank for a few minutes to make sure everything is working properly.
  13. Wash your hands and arms!

Watch this video for the entire process.

 

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Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make

Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make

Keeping fish couldn’t be simpler! Get tank, add water and then add fish, right? Well, I’m sorry to say it just isn’t that easy. Here are the 10 top mistakes that all new fish owners make.

  • Not learning about fish prior to getting them.
    • You wouldn’t get a dog or a cat without some prior knowledge about what to expect, would you? Well, maybe you would, but it is not recommended. Just like adding a furry member to the family, do your research about your fish way before you purchase a tank. Once you know what kind of fish you want and how much maintenance you’re willing to do on a regular basis, you’ll know what size tank to get and what features you’ll need. Read up on what your fish will need to eat, how often and if all the fish you want will even get along in the same system.
  • Adding fish too early.
    • When you first start your system, it’s a clean slate. Brand new from the pet store, you excitedly want to fill it to the brim with fish. Do this, and your fish are guaranteed to die. New tanks need to cycle for a few days without anything in them to make sure that all the decor has been rinsed. Then, it’s time to start culturing your biologic filtration. Your biologic filtration is made up of millions of tiny bacteria living on your filter media pads, substrate and many other nooks and crevices. Best part is, they’re free! Your fish bring them with you when you add them; the trick is to start with a very low load of fish to get things started first. You can try adding bacterial starter, but with few exceptions, these are just a waste of money. Unless you are starting with pre-started media from another system, it will take 4-6 weeks to establish your filters.
  • Feeding too much.
    • All pet owners feed their pets their love. Cats, dogs and even fish can become obese very easily. It is harder for fish, since they use energy constantly to swim, but can happen all the same. If you are concerned about the amount of food your fish are getting, you can try to estimate the total weight of your fish and calculate an exact dose, or just feed slowly over a few minutes until they stop eating. Unlike your Labrador retriever, they will stop when they’re full.
  • Not testing your water.
    • Especially in the beginning, testing your water can be a frightening experience. Your ammonia will shoot up and keep climbing until your biologic filters are established. Regular water changes will help this from getting out of hand. Even if your tank is established, testing your water regularly will be a good indicator of how well you are maintaining your system. You should be testing the following parameters regularly: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, kH and temperature. Salinity is a must for any marine or brackish system. If you’d like more information about water quality, check out this quick reference sheet or our recorded webinar.
  • Not doing regular tank maintenance.
    • You didn’t think a fish tank would be any work? Sorry to tell you, but it’s just as much work as a fluffy pet. You need to take care of your system regularly by vacuuming up poop and debris, rinsing your filters to achieve adequate flow and changing out a percentage of the water. Here’s a helpful checklist of everything you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly schedule.
  • Not storing your food properly.
    • Fish food loses a significant amount of nutritional value if stored improperly. Keep it in an airtight container out of the sun at room temperature. Toss any remaining food after 6 months, since after that time, most of the good water-soluble vitamins are gone. It does not make sense to buy food in bulk unless you are able to repackage it in a vacuum bag. Learn more about fish food in our awesome webinar.
  • Not understanding filtration.
    • In the fish world, some bacteria are good. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in your biological filtration (sponges/matting) help your fish live happy lives. So why would you throw out your filter media every month? The box told you to? Well, ignore the box. By tossing your filter media every month, you are only causing more problems and making more profit for filtration companies. Yes, they may look dirty, but it’s OKAY!! By making your filters pristine once a month, you are doing more harm than good.
  • Worrying too much about algae.
    • Fish tank = algae. Sorry, but there’s just no better home for algae than in a fish tank. Over time, your algae colonies will change depending on what your system behaves. As long as your tank doesn’t look like a giant hairball, your fish are probably fine. A quick, daily scrub will take care of most of it, but without a UV filter, it will just settle somewhere else. If you have a LOT of algae, try to cut down on its food source by feeding your fish less (see point above) or doing more water changes. Maybe try some aquatic plants to put those nutrients somewhere else? Algae will use the light to breathe during the day, but at night, it can suck the oxygen out of your water! Make sure to have adequate aeration so your fish don’t have to compete.
  • Rely too much on internet searches.
    • If it’s on the internet, it must be true, right? Well, sorry to tell all those two-headed alien babies that not everything you read on the internet is true. I’m sure everyone is looking out for your best interests, but a lot of these “home remedies” are untested with only one subject. Even in the same species, not all fish act the same and “normal” can vary widely across the 30,000+ species in the fish kingdom. Many of these quick fixes will help with the visual issue, but do not treat anything underlying that cannot be seen, such as husbandry and water quality. Always approach “miracle” cures on the internet with some skepticism.
  • Not asking for help when you’re in over your head.
    • No matter where you live, there is a professional who can help. Be they an expert hobbyist, maintenance company or veterinarian, there is someone who can help you! Don’t give up and throw in the towel! Our office covers California and Nevada, but there are fish veterinarians all over the world, ready to help you! If you think it’s a stupid question, I guarantee we’ve heard it before. We are just here to help! Call now! (831) 728-7000

 

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Everyone always wants to know how to keep their fish system from becoming infested with some horrible disease that puts all their fish at risk. Well, it’s a lot simpler than you think!

  1. Quarantine. Quarantine. Quarantine. This includes plants and ALL NEW FISH. The stress of handling and transport is enough to make even the healthiest of fish turn on your tanks inhabitants. Fish cannot be sterilized and always have pathogens on them, including parasites, bacteria and fungi. Most problems occur when new fish, invertebrates or plants are added to an established system. Set up a separate hospital tank and have it at the ready whenever new fish are on their way in. 4-6 weeks is the MINIMUM requirement for all new additions. For more information, be sure to watch our Quarantine Practices webinar!
  2. Maintain your water quality through consistent maintenance, proper feeding and adequate filtration. Water quality is the #1 thing owners can do to keep their fish healthy. Get a test kit, know how to use it and what normal parameters look like. Not all fish systems will be identical! Keep up with your maintenance. If everything is a bit discombobulated, use these handy checklists for tanks and ponds.
  3. Feed your fish a good quality diet that is species appropriate. Look for a food with appropriate levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We are happy to give consults on diet for FREE. If you want to learn more about fish diets, watch our webinar.
  4. Note any signs of disease early and take precautionary measures. You set up that hospital tank, right? Learn the physical and behavioral signs of disease in fish through our free webinar.
  5. If you think something is wrong, ASK NOW! Don’t wait until a small problem becomes big and hard to manage. Our job is to help you take care of your fish, plain and simple. We can work within your budget to make sure your fish get the care they need. Call us at (831) 346-6151 or email hospital@cafishvet.com.

Follow those rules and your fish will thank you! Being healthy and disease free is the way to be, no matter what your species!

The Truth About Aquatic Plants

The Truth About Aquatic Plants

To plant or not to plant? As is the dilemma facing most freshwater tank and pond owners. Live plants can add beauty and filtration, but come with their own set of issues. If you are interested in pursing adding live plants to your system, be sure to read through the following points.

WAIT! I was told you can’t have plants in koi ponds! No matter what the purists say, you can absolutely have plants and koi together. You can also mix koi and goldfish, but that’s another article.

  • Your system needs to be producing nitrate in order for plants to thrive. If you constantly use an ammonia-binding additive or have a brand new tank, hold off on adding any plant life. Buy yourself a test kit and make sure your nitrogen cycle is established prior to getting those plants in there.
  • Plants can carry pathogens, especially if they were previously housed with fish. That means they need to be quarantined too! Set them up in your quarantine with a few fish to signal if there are any issues. You can also do a hydrogen peroxide dip that will take care of most bugs.
  • You will need to trim your plants regularly as parts die off. If you leave the rotting bits in your tank, you’re only making your ammonia levels worse. Make trimming your plants a regular part of your weekly maintenance and your system will thank you.
  • Fish will try to eat your plants. It doesn’t matter if you feed them the most awesome food on the planet, they will harass your plants if they’re simply bored. Don’t get too attached. You can try to create a buffer zone between plants and fish using mesh or netting. But, be prepared for some losses.
  • If you’re expecting a few plants to significantly decrease your nitrate levels, you will be sadly mistaken. The amount of plants you need to make a dent in your water quality is immense. If you want to use plants for filtration, consider adding a bog filter for ponds or an aquaponic system. Don’t expect those three fronds of anacharis to do the trick.
  • Any medications or treatments you add to the tank or pond will affect the plants. Salt treatments in particular can kill plants. However, if there is a disease in your system, the plants could be harboring pathogens. If you have a disease that could be hiding in your plants, make sure you treat the entire system appropriately. With some diseases, replacing the plants entirely may be the best option.

If you have any interest in adding plants to your system, but aren’t quite sure what to add, please call The Fish Vet Store at 831-728-7003

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle

As you may well know, water quality is a significant aspect of pet fish health. Like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in is directly linked to their overall health. As a fish veterinarian, we routinely test the water our patients swim in for various parameters. We discussed pH and kH previous, so today, let’s look at the nitrogen cycle.

As you may notice, the traditional nitrobacter and nitrosomas bacteria species have been omitted from this diagram. This is due to the fact that there are just SO MANY different bacteria species involved in nitrogen-fixation, that we cannot simply define them in these two genuses.

In a fish tank, a fish’s primary waste is ammonia. Ammonia is produced by the breakdown of protein, the main staple of most fishes’ diets. Ammonia is excreted out through the urinary tract and gills. Ammonia is highly toxic to fish, causing death and increased secondary illness, so it is converted, through nitrogen-fixing bacteria, into nitrite. Now, nitrite can be just as bad as ammonia. Methemoglobinemia, or “Brown Blood Disease,” is caused by a build-up of nitrite. Nitrite can bind to hemoglobin in the blood and outcompete oxygen. This causes a brown coloration and the fish will asphyxiate from lack of oxygen. Thankfully, more nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert nitrite into the final nitrate. Nitrate is safe for fish at low levels, but at higher levels, and depending on the fish species’ tolerance, can cause the same issues as high ammonia. Nitrate is removed from the system by aquatic plants or water changes.

In established systems (over 2 months old with no new fish or equipment), your ammonia should be ZERO. Most low readings indicate your filtration capacity is inadequate or secondary to overfeeding. The highest reading acceptable on our test kit is 0.1 mg/L. The traditional API freshwater master test kit ranges between 0-0.25, so attaining a 0.1 reading will not occur. Due to the broad range of values, a 0.25 reading may be a false positive (reporting a higher value than what is actually present).

There are many commercial additives for removing ammonia from your tank prior to the nitrogen cycle. Some can cause ammonia test kits to read falsely high. These additives are short-term solutions that should only be used with significant health issues. They are not a long term maintenance solution. You MUST establish your biological filtration (good bacteria) for long-term fish health. If you have persistent ammonia in your tank, consider the following solutions:

  • Is your filtration adequate? Tanks with higher bioloads (size and number of fish) will require more than standard filtration. When in doubt, always filter more than you should.
  • Are you feeding appropriately? Remember, ammonia is produced from breakdown of protein in a fish’s diet. More food = more ammonia. Check your protein levels! For more information on fish diets, read this.
  • Are you doing lots of water changes? If you are constantly removing ammonia, your nitrogen-fixing bacteria will never become established.
  • Is there ammonia in your source water? Check the level coming out of your tap or well to make sure! You may need to consider another water source.

There are also commercial additives that will “quick start” your nitrogen cycle. Sorry folks, but these are a complete scam. With the exception of one product that slightly shortened the establishment of your nitrogen cycle, it will take 4-6 weeks MINIMUM to get your tank properly cycled. By “cycled,” we mean the establishment of a complete nitrogen cycle with ammonia being converted all the way to nitrate. We recommend starting with very few fish and monitor your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels carefully!

If you have any more questions about fish and nitrogen cycles, please comment below.

Water Changes & Fish

Water Changes & Fish

Most fish kept as pets are maintained in artificial systems; tanks and ponds meant to replicate their “wild” environment. In a “wild” environment, water flushes into and out of a system through streams, rivers, brooks, rain or the ocean. In an artificial tank or pond, water will come in and out at the owner’s discretion, commonly called a water change. There are many ways to improve your system by getting it very close to a “wild” system, but it’ll never be the same. Let’s get started with some of the various claims our office has heard over the years.

“I never do water changes and all my fish are fine. The out break of (fill in your chosen disease here) has nothing to do with the water.”

In most of these systems, commonly referred to as “natural” systems, a lot of plant debris and sludge can usually be observed. All the nitrates produced by the fish waste is going into the plant growth. This is a fine way to manage your nitrates. But what about the fishes’ other wastes? How do you remove the hormones they produce? What exactly is living in the sludge from months or years of fish and plant waste? In a “wild” system, hormones and other metabolic wastes are diluted out with the influx and efflux of new water, so why aren’t you doing water changes? Yes, I know water is expensive, especially where we are in California, but you can manage a system very simply with small water changes. Water removed from fish systems should always be used to water plants. Fish health is tied directly to the water chemistry. If you’ve “never had a problem before,” I guarantee everything was building up until a tipping point was reached.

“I remove the fish from the tank and do a big water change every ___ months.”

When you take water from your hose and add it to a fishes’ environment, the metabolic activity of the fish changes the water chemistry over time. By the time you get to your water change, the chemistry in the tank could be significantly different than what you originally added from the tap. When you dump that fish from his tiny bowl into a freshly filled tank, the shock of the differing water parameters can stress them out and potentially kill them. I understand that sometimes, tanks and ponds get beyond your weekly/monthly maintenance and the only way to get in and get the job done properly is to remove the fish. In order to keep your fish from stressing out either from handling, confinement in a tiny tub during maintenance or water shock, keep them in the tank while you work and never remove more than 50% of the water at one time. As long as you aren’t chasing them with the vacuum or siphon, they won’t mind a bit. And yes, you do need to use a gravel siphon.

“It can’t be my filter, because I replace my filter media every month.”

Sorry consumers, but this is only to get you to buy more filter media. By removing your filter pads every month, you essentially set your nitrogen cycle back at zero. I know those flossy pads with carbon pellets tend to fall apart that fast, but switching to a firmer sponge, that could last for several years, will be the best investment you ever make. Your fish will be so much happier not having to go through the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate spikes every month.

If you have any questions about water changes or water quality, please contact our office or comment below.

New Location, Same Services

New Location, Same Services

Over the last few weeks, our staff has been undergoing the major task of relocating our hospital and sister store, The Fish Vet Store. This includes ALL of our veterinary equipment, tanks and, of course, fish! We are very excited to make the move to our new facility at 440 Airport Blvd in Watsonville, CA. Our new location has a great space for our hospital and holding tanks. Rather than scattering multiple tanks over 3 floors, we have everything in one room with easy access to all our new systems.

Even with our move, our services and store stock has not changed. The Fish Vet Store will still offer a wide variety of products for both tanks and ponds. If you can’t make it to our new location, we continue to offer FREE delivery within all of Santa Cruz County. Our veterinary services will continue to serve both California & Nevada.

Please help us in celebrating our new facility. We will be holding an open house event later this summer.

Best Fish for Beginners

Best Fish for Beginners

Interested in getting started in the fish hobby? GREAT! Don’t know what to start with? Do we have ideas for you!

Goldfish

The very traditional goldfish is traditional for a reason. These cyprinids are hardy species that can tolerate a lot of beginner mistakes. It is recommended to start with the comet variety of goldfish. Fancy goldfish are very pretty, but they usually have other health issues that come partnered with their pure-bred status. They are better for intermediate fish parents.

Betta

These beautiful fish are commonly won at conventions and parties. We see many that have a lot of secondary issues due to poor water quality. Bettas are not meant to be kept in stagnant bowls for long periods of time. They require a tank and filter like any other fish. For more information on bettas, see our betta page.

Tetras

The wide variety and small size of tetras make them great community fish. They come in lots of colors to match any decor. It is fun to have lots of fish that all school together and will not overload your filters. They also have a wide range of water quality tolerance for those of you not on top of your maintenance just yet.

Guppies/Mollies

Very similar to tetras in size and color variations, guppies and mollies are live bearers and will likely overpopulate your tank if you’re not careful. These brightly colored varieties also stay very small and like to be in groups. Learn how to differentiate boys from girls to keep your populations from overrunning your tank.

How to Be a Fish Vet

How to Be a Fish Vet

One of the most common questions I get as an aquatic veterinarian is, “how did you end up in this field?” Well, I got my start very early. I was one of those annoying kids who always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. (For more info on my background, check out our “Why a Fish Vet” post). To be a veterinarian, you have a very stringent list of events that must occur.

One of our very first patients

  1. You MUST get good grades in undergrad.
  2. You MUST go to veterinary school.
  3. You MUST find a job as a vet.

And that’s it. That’s how you become a veterinarian.

But what about an aquatic veterinarian? Is there a protocol for that? Well, if you want to be an aquarium veterinarian or work with mammals, there are a few extra steps.

4. Intern for 1 year in small or large animal medicine and surgery.

5. Intern for 1 year in an aquarium or zoo.

6. Receive one of the rare residencies in aquarium/zoo medicine and spend 3 years working.

7. Sit for and PASS the board certification in zoological veterinary medicine.

Again, a very straight forward process, but you MUST stand out among numerous applicants. If not, you’ll miss a step and then be out of luck.

At our first official office

And then there’s my little niche: private practice. Any veterinarian can go into private practice the day after they graduate veterinary school. This is very different from medical school where all students must specialize in some field. My sister went from medical school to a general surgery residency and is almost to her 5th and final year. But veterinarians can go straight to seeing patients without any additional training. Most students will do at least a one year internship to build up their confidence, and a majority of my veterinary class did just that. I, however, did not. I moved to California to get a taste of something other than New England living and started looking for a “normal” veterinary job. I figured I could build up someone else’s practice by adding my fish services to their own. Well, 6 months later after a few interviews and one very sad job offer, I started considering what to do next. I knew there was a lot of fish in the area and I had potentially unlimited clients since NO ONE saw fish unless you drove them to Davis. So, I found a bank, lawyer, accountant, applied for the proper licenses and started figuring out what to do. In doing basically what no other veterinarian had successfully done before, I am hopefully making it significantly easier for the next person to follow my lead. Learn from my mistakes!! I’ve made many in the last 5 years and will continue to do so. I know that in following a career path with no blueprint, I will stumble, I will fail spectacularly, and I will learn what not to do.

So here are the steps to becoming a fish vet:

  1. Get good grades in undergrad. Maybe try a major other than veterinary science or biology. (I had a B.S. in Marine Biology and minors in Computer Science and General Business. A GPA of

    Dr. Sanders working on her senior honors thesis at URI. Fun with vats of sea monkeys.

  2. 3.59 and graduated with honors magna cum laude.)
  3. Go to veterinary school. (I still think the only reason I got into Tufts is because I was the one weird fish kid. Diversity is your friend! Don’t be afraid to be weird!)
  4. Learn something about fish before you graduate. (A lot of veterinary programs do not teach much about fish. Tufts had two afternoon lectures, the second of which I skipped because I was so BORED!! You can get more fish learning in summer programs like AQUAVET and MARVET. Or just go to a school with an awesome fish program.)
  5. Start working with animals. (When you interview, tell your potential employer that you can bring in more clients by adding fish! It only takes a few extra supplies.)
  6. If no one wants to hire you, go to work anyway. (Don’t let your education go to waste! There are lots of fishy positions open in education, regulatory and government agencies. Be creative! Start your own private veterinary practice like I did. It is scary but worth it.)
  7. DON’T EVER GIVE UP.

My bright orange fish car, that has yet to cause an accident, and my AQUAVET mug.

Why Test My Water?

Why Test My Water?

As you have heard us say, time and time again, water quality is the #1 thing pet fish owners can do to take care of their fish. Why is this? Because, just like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in has a significant impact on its overall health. Poor water quality can cause severe problems with secondary bacteria or fungus, swim bladder disorders and even death. It may sound like a lot to undertake, but we’ll make it easy. We have several helpful guides around our website (here, here and here) and great brochures you can order. Want more? Check out our awesome Water Quality Webinar!

How do I test my water?

You’re going to need a test kit! Yes, there are convenient test strips available, and are better than nothing. Keep in mind, however, that we’ve tested these products and gotten conflicting results on different strips right out of the bottle! A liquid, drop-based test kit is a much better option and they are not too hard to use. Once you practice using them a few times, it will become very easy.

What parameters do I test?

When testing fish water, your nitrogen cycle parameters are the highest priority. These are your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. pH and kH are extremely important as well. And don’t forget your thermometer! Fish activity and metabolism is directly linked to water temperature. Unlike us endotherms, able to regulate our internal body temperature, fish are ectotherms and rely on the water temperature to dictate their activity.

How often do I test?

With fish systems that have been in place for at least 3 months and have no changes to equipment or inhabitants, monthly testing is highly recommended. With systems that have new fish or other animals or new equipment within the last 3 months, such as pumps or filters, weekly testing is recommended.

What results are within parameters?

For koi and goldfish, your pond or tank should be within the following parameters: (These readings are based on the ranges given by the API Freshwater Master Test kit)

Ammonia: less than 0.25 mg/L, Nitrite: 0 mg/L, Nitrate: less than 40 mg/L

pH: 7.0-8.5, kH: above 100 mg/L, Temperature will vary seasonally

Tropical fish will have species-specific tolerances for ammonia, nitrate, pH, and temperature. Most communal species will be within the same ranges as koi and goldfish, but the temperature must stay between 75-85F.

Betta fish have a higher tolerance of ammonia and nitrate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a clean tank. Temperatures must be kept at 78-82F for betta fish. (Want to learn more about bettas? Check out our Betta Page or Betta Basics Webinar).

Can you recommend a good test kit?

Absolutely! For most pond and tank owners, we recommend the API Freshwater Master Test Kit with kH and a thermometer. We have full kits available at our Fish Vet Store.