We’ve already established that fish get sick, so how can you recognize when something is wrong? Signs of illness can be broken down into two categories: physical and behavioral.
These indicators of illness can be very easy to spot. Physical signs of disease include:
Changes in coloration
Asymmetrical body shape
Etc, etc etc
Most of the times, these changes are fairly obvious, but especially in the case of coelomic tumors, subtle changes can be very hard to spot. Here are some examples of physical signs of disease:
Behavioral signs of disease are harder to spot. If you don’t check your fish out every day, these signs can be very difficult to spot. A 5-minute fish viewing session twice a day is recommended at bare minimum. Behavioral signs of disease include:
Incorrect body position
Avoiding areas of tank/pond
Non-seasonal change in appetite/feeding behavior
In order to recognize “normal” behavior, you may need to look outside your home pond/tank. What may be “normal” in your pond may be very obviously not normal if you watch other fish of the same species in a different environment. Call up the neighbors and arrange a pond/tank social hour at a different home each week/month!
If you have a behavior that you cannot identify as normal or abnormal, CALL A PROFESSIONAL. Our office number is (831) 278-1081. It is better to be certain than let a unknown behavior slide for too long.
For more information on spotting sick fish, including some behavioral indicators, watch our webinar:
“Help! I have a sick fish. What do I do?” is the most common question we get asked. Regardless of the issue, there are some things you should always do:
Check your water chemistry. Low cost, reliable, at home test kits should be included in every new aquarium and pond setup. Make sure you use yours regularly and know how to properly read all the results. In a pinch, many pet fish stores offer free or low cost testing. Many issues that cause sick fish can be related to water quality. At the first sign of illness, test your water quality!
Look at your fishes’ diet. Just like the food we eat affects our overall health, so does your fishes’ food. Most fish foods will start to lose their vitamin content after only 90 days! Flake foods will lose their vitamins faster due to increased surface to mass ratio. If you have some questions about what diet is best for your fish, ask your local fish veterinarian or pet fish store for recommendations.
Check your other fish for signs of disease. There may be one susceptible fish in your tank or several. The number of fish affected will help indicate what illness you are dealing with.
When was the last time you added new fish? Adding a new fish that was under considerable stress from transport and then dropped in an alien environment can bring lots of fun parasites and diseases into an established tank. Just like you bring home lots of new germs from the airplane ride with complete strangers, so does your new fish addition.
Call a professional for assistance. Do not waste time falling into an internet black hole. Many seasoned fish hobbyists can help with general husbandry and diet issues. For disease diagnosis and treatment, you will need to contact your local fish veterinarian. We realize that there are currently many over-the-counter medications available, but keep in mind that these are not regulated products. No one is checking the contents of those little foil packets before you dump it in your tank/pond. Treating a fish that does not need medication can breed resistant strains of bacteria that can affect your fishes’ future health. For a list of veterinarians who see fish, check out the American Association of Fish Veterinarians and the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association.
Do fish get sick? You bet they do! Fish illness can present itself in many ways. Most problems can be divided into two categories: physical and behavioral. Physical problems are the easiest to diagnose and involve physical changes in a fish’s appearance. This category can include open wounds, ulcers, lumps and bumps, color changes and changes in body shape, such as with dropsy or egg-laying females. Behavioral issues are changes in a fish’s everyday routine. This can include loss or decrease in appetite, odd swimming posture, changes in buoyancy or lethargy. Some of these subtler changes can only be noted with daily observations.
Fish owners are very attuned to their fish’s day to day routine, usually observed at feeding times. They note who is first to the food, who lingers behind or waits their turn and how all the fish swim around their tank or pond. If a fish is starting to become ill, an owner may notice a change in their physical appearance, or perhaps the fish that used to eat everything all the time has started to hang out at the bottom during feeding times, noting a behavioral change. Usually, a one-day slump is normal for a fish to have every once in a while. Just like people, fish can have off days where they return to normal the following day.
If a fish’s behavior has been altered for three or more days, it’s time to do some problem solving. We recommend checking your water quality to start and usually doing a water change regardless of the values. Most issues with fish that we encounter in our veterinary practice are actually secondary to poor water quality. Investing in a drop-based water test kit and testing weekly is a great tool for any fish owner. If the water checks out okay and the fish is not improved, it’s time for a deeper look. There are reference books available for those looking to educate themselves on fish health.
Here are some good reads, all written by fish veterinarians!
Fish veterinarians are a growing veterinary specialty and are happy to help educate fish owners on best practices and help out when there is a fish in distress. To find a fish veterinarian near you, check out the following two databases:
We here at Aquatic Veterinary Services are happy to help with any fish questions even if you do not live in our immediate area. We are happy to help answer any fish questions that any fish owners need assistance with. We would much rather you turn to us than try to scour the internet and lose yourself off in a dark corner. Come to us and get the right answers the first time!