Salt in Fish Systems

Salt is a normal component of many fish systems. Saltwater and brackish systems require salt on a continual basis. But what about freshwater systems? Some internet pages recommend keeping salt in koi/goldfish ponds/tanks at all times. Others say don’t bother. What are the effects of salt on an all-freshwater species?

In a freshwater environment, a fish’s body is more dense than the surrounding water. As a result, water is constantly trying to enter the fish’s body and achieve osmotic homeostasis. A fish’s gills, kidneys and urinary systems are responsible for removing the excess water. When these mechanisms are compromised, the clinical manifestation of “dropsy” can occur. By adding salt to the water, you are changing the osmolality of the environment surrounding the fish, thereby decreasing the amount of water diffusing into the fish. Some people figure this is less stressful for a fish, but after millions of years of evolution, it really isn’t necessary. A fish’s body can handle the metabolic demands of freshwater. It’s the human equivalent to drinking less water so your kidneys don’t have to work as hard.

Most salt-avid fish keepers will keep their fish in very low salinities: 1-1.5%. This level can be very hard to test accurately for and will often vary between 0-3%. This level will not hurt your fish. If you feel like you NEED to have salt in there, that’s fine, but you should not strive for levels greater than 2%. You do NOT HAVE to add salt to your freshwater fish system. Always add non-iodonized salt (not table salt)!

For some parasites, depending on the species and water temperature, higher therapeutic levels of salt can be used to treat the infestation. Salt works by first increasing, then depleting the mucus coat, which many parasites use as a food source and for protection. Once the mucus coat is gone, the single-celled parasites rupture from the changing osmotic gradient. But if you are slowly bringing your salt levels up without realizing it, some parasites have been found to become resistant to therapeutic salt levels, requiring treatment at even higher doses. The higher the salt dose, the harsher the treatment for the fish.

All in all, a little salt is fine, but don’t obsess over it. Your fish will do just fine without it. The only time we recommend salt is for recovery from trauma or surgery. Don’t forget that salt can kill aquatic plants!

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Fish Surgery Diagnostics

How do fish veterinarians decide when it’s time for a fish to go under the knife? Surgery can be very beneficial for fish when it is warranted.

Water Quality Testing

Prior to any surgery, a veterinarian MUST test the water quality. If the water quality is off in any way, recovery after surgery will be hindered. Corrections to water quality must be made prior to any procedure.

Radiographs

In dealing with structures including and next to bones and the swim bladder, radiographs, commonly called “x-rays,” provide great diagnostic info. These are very handy to see if there is any air where it shouldn’t be and if any structures are not in the correct place. For soft tissue, we need…

Ultrasound

This tool is one of the most beneficial to evaluate internal structures in fish. For koi, it is how we are able to see gonadal sarcomas and how extensive they are. A small tumor is much easier to operate on that a large one.

Bloodwork

Unlike many other pet species, bloodwork is not very useful in many species of pet fish. Reference ranges have been established, but some are too wide, and vary based on water quality and genetics. For surgical procedures, a PCV (packed cell volume) is helpful to understand how much blood a fish loses during a procedure.

Pond Bottom Cleaning – Best Practices

Now that we’ve covered all your potential options for pond substrates, how is the best way to go about cleaning the bottom of your pond? Here’s the full checklist of tasks for all ponds to keep up with on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis.

If you have rocks on the bottom of your pond:

To prevent the buildup of dangerous anaerobic bacteria, stir your substrate weekly. If the rocks are larger, use a pond vacuum to suck the muck out from the bottom. To make the job easier, start to scoop out the rocks.

If you have a concrete bottom or liner:

Gently sweep any debris and algae towards your bottom drain a few times a week. If you do not have a bottom drain, use a pond vacuum to suck up all the debris after it settles post-sweep. Be careful with liners not to scrub too vigorously or else you may rip a hole!

If you don’t ever clean the bottom of your pond:

Time to start! If you think there is more than a few inches of mud at the bottom of your pond, get your fish out of the pond and in a temporary holding tub just in case you have pockets of hydrogen sulfide. Dig down until you hit the liner or concrete bottom. Try to keep up with cleaning on a weekly or at least monthly basis to keep it from being such a chore!

If you do not have a bottom drain:

Never fear! Even if you didn’t add a bottom drain when you put in the pond, one can be retrofitted. Bottom drains make cleaning ponds so much easier! Contact your local pond professional to get one added to your pond today!

What’s at the bottom of your pond?

There are many ways to build a koi pond, and some methods can affect your maintenance regimen. Your pond bottom, also known as your substrate, can dramatically change how much time and effort you spend cleaning your pond. We’ll cover some of the most common bottom covers and the pros and cons of each

Gravel/Small Rocks

Pros: This substrate is the most eye appealing of them all. It breaks up the industrial look of a synthetic fish environment and can provide hold for and uncontained plants.

Cons: You will need to stir the gravel/small rocks frequently to keep them from cementing together. A pond vacuum will be of little use and will keep collecting all these small stones. This substrate collects lots of debris and is hard to clean. If the substrate is deeper than 3″, you run the risk of anaerobic bacteria production once they are cut off from the oxygen in the water. This can create pockets of hydrogen sulfide that can kill fish if mixed into the water supply.

Large Rocks

Pros: Another aesthetically appealing bottom substrate. Larger rocks are more suitable to a “river” appearance.

Cons: Your pond vacuum will work slightly better if the substrate is too large to fit up the hose. If the stones are too heavy, you will have a very hard time cleaning between them. Multiple layers of stones will be more likely to collect debris than only one layer of rocks. This layering effect can contribute to cementing of rocks together and formation of hydrogen sulfide producing anaerobic bacteria.

Liner

Pros: A liner bottom is one of the easiest substrates to keep clean. They work well with a bottom drain.

Cons: Pay special attention to the thickness of your liner. Thinner liners may be more economical, but they will not last as long as thicker liners. They are prone to tears from rocks, root growth and boots. They are not as aesthetically pleasing and deep folds can potentially trap fish.

Concrete/Spray Liner

Pros: Concrete bottoms with a spray-applied liner are very easy to keep clean. They are more durable than simple liner ponds. Leaks from tears are not an issue as this type of bottom stands up well to abuse from rocks and boots.

Cons: This is one of the most expensive substrate options for fish ponds. If your concrete is not mixed properly, you will lose chunks of your bottom, leading to leaks. They are susceptible to earthquake damage if this is an environmental concern. Be sure both your concrete mix and spray liner are appropriate for usage with fish. You cannot change the shape of your pond or add any underwater features later with this substrate.

Plants/Mud/Bog/”All Natural”

Pros:

Cons: Your lack of cleaning effort creates a dangerous health hazard to your fish. Dense planting and layers of debris and fish waste create layers of bacteria that lose contact with oxygen in the water. These anaerobic bacteria use sulfur as a food source. If you mess around in the muck or your fish try to flash on this surface, you will release hydrogen sulfide and kill all your fish.

It is impossible to recreate a native environment in a synthetic fish system. “All natural” systems in wild environments use multiple species working together to balance waste management. In a man-made pond, you are missing many of these critical elements. Do your regular maintenance!

Spring Koi Checkup Package

Just like your cats and dogs, your pet fish can benefit from a yearly wellness exam. By bringing your vet in before you notice any issues, health problems can be caught earlier and treated more effectively. The spring months are the most common times of year when problems with koi occur. Save yourself the stress of trying to guess your koi issues and get it straight from the best trained source in California & Nevada.

Our Spring Pond Package for 2019 will have some new benefits for all pond owners. To schedule, call (831) 728-7000.

Tumor Screenings for Female Koi

With the increased incidence of gonadal sarcomas, we usually do not catch them in time, given their sneaky, lack-of-external, appearance. By implementing regular screening, we can find these tumors much earlier and fish can undergo life-saving surgery.

Watch a full tumor removing surgery.

Recommended Products for Koi Owners

With the closing of our store, the Fish Vet Store, we want to be able to provide our clients with all our best product recommendations. All Spring Pond Package clients will receive a 20oz bag of UltraBalance Maintenance koi food, an API Freshwater Master Test Kit + kH test kit, an infrared thermometer and a signed copy of Dr. Sanders’ book, Healthy Koi Made Easy.

Water Quality Screening

Fish health is directly linked to water quality. Our spring pond checks include full assessment of fish water quality parameters. If there’s an issue, our veterinarian will make recommendations to correct them quickly and easily.

Call (831) 728-7000 to schedule your Spring Pond Checkup today.

Top 5 Spring Diseases in Koi

It’s almost koi season at Aquatic Veterinary Services! Here are our most common diseases we can expect to see and the signs you should be aware of if any of these diseases are present in your pond.

5. Carp Pox

Although not THE koi herpes virus, carp pox is also known as cyprinid herpesvirus-1. It causes lesions within the skin that can look like “candlewax drippings” and “frosting” along the leading edges of the lips and fins. In cooler water temps, the lesions can be severe, but as the water warms, the fishes’ immune system and skin replacement can make the lesions almost vanish. Only in severe cases will a fish start to be compromised to secondary infections.

Since this is a herpes virus, there is no treatment or cure. If you have one fish in your pond that is showing these clinical signs, all of your fish have already been exposed. Only immune-compromised or stressed individuals will show clinical signs.

This is a very common disease for us to diagnose. Unless the case is severe, the fish will have good health, but will not be very pretty.

4. Monogenean Treamatodes (aka ‘flukes’)

These irritating little worms are most commonly gyrodactylus or dactylogyrus species. They can infiltrate the skin or gills and cause severe irritation for any fish. You will most commonly see signs of skin irritation, with increased redness on paler fish, bruises or missing scales.

Since fish cannot itch themselves like a cat or dog, they exhibit a behavior known as “flashing.” Usually, you will see your fish throw themselves sideways along the sides or bottom of their pond in an attempt to dislodge these irritable invaders.

Severe infestations can cause the gills to shut down and death to occur. There are many over-the-counter medications that will claim to take out these bugs. Please keep in mind that these medications are not controlled or overseen by any government checks. A veterinarian can prescribe a prescription-strength medication to take care of your problem safely and easily.

Boo & Bubbles: A Visit From the Fish Vet

3. Gondal Sarcomas

Unfortunately, we often do not catch these tumors in time for surgery. Females between 8-12 years of age seem particularly more susceptible. Our Spring Pond Package for 2019 will include ultrasound screenings for all females since we are trying to catch this disease early.

The only physical sign you may see is a slightly enlarged, perhaps asymmetrical, body shape.

These space-occupying tumors most likely start from female gonadal tissue. By the time they are visible externally, most of the internal organs are failing. These masses are very hard to catch, which is why our new screening system will be started this year. If caught early, the tumor can be removed via surgery.

2. Trichodina

This aggressive “scrubbing bubble” is often aided by our #1 disease in koi. We tend to see this parasite most commonly, often displaying the same “flashing” behavior as our monogenean friends.

This parasite is easily treated by our prescription-strength medication. Over-the-counter medications do not work well against this parasite for some reason.

1. Water Quality

I know it is not a “disease,” but poor water quality is the #1 diagnosis for disease I make. Having poor water quality makes all diseases WORSE, including bacteria, fungi, parasites and other pathogens.

Water quality is directly linked to fish health. Like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in has a direct effect on their overall immune function. Before the spring diseases come, get your maintenance routine overhauled and test your water chemistry regularly to make sure your fish have their best chance for a healthy spring.

Top 5 Most Common Problems with Koi Ponds

Koi make up the majority of our veterinary practice, and in seeing so many cases, some common themes occur. Don’t make the same mistakes with your fish!

  1. Not Checking Your Fish Daily – We know in the winter, when metabolisms are quiet, your fish are not very entertaining. However, even in the slower, winter months, small problems can start to grow very quickly, especially when the weather starts to warm. Even though you may not be feeding your fish daily, it is critical to check on all the fish DAILY to make sure they are doing okay.
  2. Not Testing Your Water Quality – This rule does not apply to fish tanks alone. Koi ponds can suffer the same New Pond and Old Pond syndromes and a whole host of other issues. Water quality is the #1 important factor in fish health and is the leading cause of secondary disease. Buy a test kit, learn how to use it, and keep track of how your pond changes with the seasons. Learn more about water quality here.
  3. Adding New Fish without Quarantine – This year will have a significant increase in Koi Herpes Virus cases. Protect your fish by quarantining ALL NEW FISH for at least 4-6 weeks. DO NOT expect your dealer/vendor to do this for you. Most parasite outbreaks come from new fish being added to a pond without quarantining first. Watch our Koi Herpes Virus webinar here.
  4. Feeding an Appropriate Diet – There are many, many, many different koi foods available and they are NOT all created equal. Read through the ingredient list carefully and understand what all the different nutrition labels mean. Watch our helpful webinar so you can make the best choice for your fish. Maintenance, Growth, Color-Enhancing, etc do NOT mean the same thing throughout the different brands. And “nucleotides” is a completely idiotic label. Do you know what nucleotides are?
  5. Keeping Up with Your Maintenance – In winter, we know things slow down and maintenance routines can relax. However, this is not an excuse to completely ignore your pond! You should at MINIMUM keep up with your backwashes to keep your pressurized bead filters functioning properly and keep your skimmer and matting free of debris. Click here for a complete checklist of pond tasks.

If you have ANY concerns about your koi at ANY time, contact your local aquatic veterinarian. If you are in California or Nevada, call us at (831) 278-1081. We will have our Spring Pond Package ready to roll as soon as spring hits. Schedule your visit today!!

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #4

The #4 Mistake – Not Testing Your Water

Ponder the following situation: you have two glasses before you. One is tap water and the other is hydrochloric acid.

How do you know which one is safe to drink by looking at them? Which one would you put your fish into?

It is impossible to tell if water is safe for fish by the look of it.

Water that is safe for fish and dangerous for fish will look EXACTLY THE SAME. This is why we always test the water at all of our appointments and why all fish owners should do the same. Fish health is directly tied to certain water quality parameters. If you’re a regular reader, please, list them along with us:

You don’t have to test all of these parameters all the time, but regular tests of AT LEAST ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, kH and temperature are essential.

Test your water AT LEAST once a month. You will need the following tools:

All of these tools are easily purchased at your local pet fish store or online.

Safe levels for fish will vary on the species. For koi, goldfish and most tropical, including bettas, you want your water within the following parameters (please keep in mind that this chart was made using the API kit parameters and are general guidelines):

ParameterKoiGoldfishTropicals
Ammonia<0.25 mg/L<0.25 mg/L <0.25 mg/L
Nitrite0 mg/L 0 mg/L 0 mg/L
Nitrate<40 mg/L <40 mg/L varies
pH6.5-9.06.5-9.0varies
kH>100 mg/L >100 mg/L >100 mg/L
Temperature33-85F (1-29C) 33-85F (1-29C) 74-84F (23-28C)

As your fish systems progress, record your weekly/monthly readings and watch for any trends. How does your regular maintenance change your readings? By keeping a close eye on your parameters, you can significantly improve the overall health of your fish. 

Good water = happy, healthy fish.

Rotting Eggs & Fish Don’t Mix

Rotting Eggs & Fish Don’t Mix

Have you ever been cleaning your pond, maybe pulling out dead plants, and smelled rotting eggs? This unfortunate smell is hydrogen sulfide, the product of anaerobic bacteria buried deep in the mud. Hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic to fish and can can death very quickly. Fish who are exposed suffer an increase in secondary infections from bacteria, parasites and fungi.

It is essential to remove your fish from the pond before undertaking any serious deep cleaning, especially into boggy areas with overgrown plants. Set aside a whole day to tackle your cleaning project and put your fish in a temporary tub with an airstone for the day. They will be fine for a few hours without filtration, but no more. Bring in extra help to make sure the project can be completed quickly. If you use a professional company to perform your cleanings, make sure they are aware of hydrogen sulfide and can provide the proper accommodations for your fish. Once all the plant material is removed, the pond must be drained to remove all hydrogen sulfide.

 

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