Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #1

The #1 Mistake – Not Asking for Help

We’ve made it all the way to our #1 mistake new fish owners make: not asking for help when you’re over your head. A new hobby can be very challenging and there’s no shame in getting assistance if you’re overwhelmed.

But, as we covered with mistake #3, not all sources of help should be treated equally. Just because somebody wrote it on the internet, does NOT make it true. Cause and effect can be misinterpreted and hobbyists are known for corroborating evidence that is not connected. Here is a common example:

Owner A buys medication from store B, which claims it can cure their fish of disease C. The medication, be it anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial or anti-fungal, requires multiple doses with multiple water changes in between. Owner A uses medication as prescribed and the fish gets better. Since 90% of our clinical cases are secondary to poor water quality, it is more likely the increased water changes cured the fish, NOT THE “MEDICATION.”

But, you see this on the internet and think it must work for your fish with the same issue. But your water might be different with a different species of fish and a different pathogen (bacterial, parasite, fungus). All that you can see is how your fish is behaving, which sounds similar to Owner A.

Too many owners reach straight for the treatment without a diagnosis. You just want to make your fish healthy – NOW. Your water looks fine, so it can’t be the water. And this is where many fish owners fall out of the hobby. They try X number of medications, read all they can on the internet, but without a diagnosis, the fish will eventually perish.

What about calling your aquatic veterinarian?

We understand it is a foreign concept for many. One of our colleagues starts many of his professional talks by asking the following question:

If you walk up to 100 random people on the street and ask them, “my fish is sick. What do I do?” What are the top 3 responses?


A. David Scarfe PhD, DVM, MRSSAf, CertAqV
  1. Dr. Google
  2. The pet store
  3. Flush it

No where in that list is “call your veterinarian.” Well, it’s time to not only add it to the list, but make it the ONLY response. If you need help with your fish, CALL AN AQUATIC VETERINARIAN. (Click link for a vet near you.) If you have a veterinarian for your cat/dog/horse/etc, see if they are interested in helping. They can directly consult with an out-of-state aquatic veterinarian to help your fish. Have them call us! If you are in California or Nevada, CALL US and we will help you! If you want to pay for our veterinarian’s license in a state we do not cover, CALL US. If you are not in your state and need help, CALL US. We cannot guarantee we’ll be able to give you more than basic husbandry help, but WE WILL HELP YOU AS BEST WE CAN.

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Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #3

The #3 Mistake – Relying Too Much on Internet Searches

The internet is a wonderful, magical place. Because if it’s published on the internet, it must be true, right? Sorry to tell you, but Dr. Google does not have any sort of medical degree. Have you read all about the magic of tiny green peas and the dreaded dropsy disease? Sorry to tell you, but these are just internet fabrications. The veterinary community is partly at fault, having ignored the plight of fish owners for far too long.

Enter Aquatic Veterinary Services! **Wearing a cape, if a business could.** Our mission is to give you the straight, well-researched facts about all things fishy. Does it cost you anything? NOPE! We have over 200 articles on different fish species, diseases, physiology, water quality, surgery and beyond in our Fish Health 101 section. We have a YouTube channel dedicated to more in-depth information and monthly free webinars open to all. Need to waste 10-20 minutes and want to learn something about fish? Pick out a topic here.

There is some good help on the internet, but always consider the source. What worked for one fish under certain conditions does not work for every fish. Disease does not progress the same in every situation. Over the counter medications are not always what they say they are. There are NO regulators checking up on fish medications on pet store shelves.

If you need more help than our website can provide, call your local fish veterinarian. NEVER attempt treating or performing surgery on your fish or your friends/family pet fish. Visit the American Association of Fish Veterinarians to find a vet near you. If you are in California or Nevada, we’re here to help you directly. Call us at (831) 728-7000.

The Dreaded White Spot Disease

The Dreaded White Spot Disease

Ich, white spot disease or more formally Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, is one of the most common freshwater parasites. It is a protozoan parasite and can cause 100% mortality if not treated quickly. Unlike some other parasites, only one of these can cause a major problem. As a fish veterinarian, I perform skin and gill biopsies commonly. If I were to see a few Trichodina or monogenean treamatodes (flukes), it is not concerning and does not warrant treatment. However, just one ich parasite can produce over 1000 offspring! This rapid reproduction can overwhelm a system and its inhabitants very quickly. Infections most commonly occur when a new individual is added to a tank/pond and not properly quarantined. Remember, you will save a lot of time, money and lives by quarantining all new fish for 4-6 weeks before adding them to your existing system.

Ich reproduces through a complex lifecycle. Starting as a trophozoite, the protozoan feeds on epithelial cells of the skin and gills. When it has eaten enough energy, it moves onto an encapsulated phase, called the tomont. This stage is protected by a capsule that adheres to fish, plants, substrate, or anything in your pond. Within the capsule, the tomont divides by binary fission until there are over 1000 theronts, which then break out and become the feeding trophozoites.

When treating for Ich, you must take its complex life cycle into consideration. Most treatments specific to Ich only treat the free, feeding stage (trophozoite), not the encapsulated form where the parasite divides. Therefore, a two-step or prolonged treatment is required, the length of which depends on the temperature of your system. In 77⁰F water, it takes only 3-6 days for one trophozoite to produce its 1000 offspring. However, at 59⁰F, it takes up to 10 days. The length of time for the life cycle to complete increases the colder the water gets. Keep this in mind while trying to gauge how far to spread apart your Ich treatments.

Most commonly, outbreaks of Ich occur in the spring was the weather starts to warm. Fish stocked at higher densities will develop outbreaks faster since there is more tissue for the trophozoites to feed upon. Clinical signs of Ich are most commonly white spots on the skin and/or gills. Sick fish may show general signs of illness which include sitting on the bottom of their tank, lack of appetite or reddening of the fins. Definitive diagnosis is made by observing the encapsulated form whirling under a microscope. Fish may show signs of flashing (scratching their bodies on objects in their tank) with some bruising along their sides.

There are a few different treatments available, but make sure to remember to treat at least twice or continue treatment for the length of at least 1.5 life cycles. Possible treatments should include formalin, formalin/malachite green, copper or salt. There are many commercial products available to treat Ich specifically. Make sure to check the ingredients so you know what you are adding to your tank. Remember that copper is toxic to ALL invertebrates and salt can kill freshwater plants. For more information on how to diagnose and treat Ich, please contact our hospital.