How to Treat Disease in Fish

How to Treat Disease in Fish

If you’ve ever read our other posts or watched our webinars, you may have noticed that we never tell you how to treat certain diseases. Although it’s one of the most common questions our staff is asked, treating disease is never as straightforward as a fish owner may think. As one of my colleagues put it recently, “I no longer treat disease; I treat systems.” When your fish gets sick, do you think of treating the fish or the environment in which it lives?

When comparing disease in a fish vs. a dog, your veterinarian will rarely ever ask, “what is the air quality in your house?” For fluffy pets, it is always assumed that they have suitable air to breathe. Veterinarians will rarely ever question this parameter unless you are talking about a fish. The watery environment in which a fish lives has a significantly increased impact than the air we breathe. (You’ve watched our water quality webinar, yes?) The increased density of water and the physiology of fish gill-water interaction can directly influence fish health. Fish live in a toilet, and there’s no avoiding that. Keeping your fish’s watery home within appropriate water quality parameters is the #1 thing you can do as a pet fish owner to keep your fish healthy.

And a big part of your fishes’ environment are the commensal bacteria living in your filtration. These magic beings don’t need any instructions or directions to do their part in keeping your fish healthy. By converting ammonia into its less toxic nitrate, they turn a watery death trap into a fish-safe home. However, any treatment you add to your tank, be it prescribed or over-the-counter, can affect those contributing bacteria. This is part of why treating disease in fish is very tricky. If you dump in a bunch of treatments that may or may not help your fish, you can wipe out all of the bacteria working in your favor. A lot of the over-the-counter medications are not validated by any third parties, and can do more harm than good.

Overall, treating diseases in any species is sometimes a straightforward process, provided that you can make the right diagnosis. Veterinarians train for years to make correct diagnoses and corresponding treatments. We are taught to be detectives and make sure to get the whole story rather than make assumptions based on simple physical appearances. Since aquatic medicine is an emerging field, many fish owners do not know that there are veterinarians who can help them. Asking Dr. Google a simple fish question can take owners down a rabbit hole of possibilities that very often lead them astray. Going to ask your local pet store can result in a bag full of home remedies that treat symptoms, not disease. Although there are many great fish stores and websites with loads of helpful information, knowing what is legitimate and woefully misleading can be hard to negotiate. By asking a veterinarian to assist you, you have a great guide to lead you to the right information and correct diagnosis, leading to treating your fish correctly the first time.

Find a fish veterinarian to assist you:

American Association of Fish Veterinarians

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association

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5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

Directly from our veterinary staff!

Water Quality

The #1 thing you can do to keep your fish healthy is to have good, clean water. You’ve probably heard this before, but we cannot stress this point enough. Think about how the air you breathe can affect your own health. It’s the same for fish, just underwater.

Regular water testing is a simple step to add to your maintenance routine. You should test pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, alkalinity and temperature regularly. Buy a reliable test kit that uses liquid drops, not strips, for the best results.

Buy a test kit here!

Quarantine

Any new fish you bring into your pond has the potential to bring along all of its diseases. In order to protect your established fish, all new additions should be separately quarantined for 4-6 weeks minimum. This will prevent disease spread to your other fish and allow you to treat the new fish specifically. Quarantining will save you time, money and lives. Potentially the lives of all your fish.

Can’t quarantine your fish at home? Send them to our hospital!

Nutrition

Indoor Tanks

Make sure you know what your fish need to be eating! Many specialty foods are available for all types of freshwater and saltwater species. Do your research before purchasing or adopting a new fish and make sure you have their favorite foods at the ready!

Outdoor Ponds

Pick a food for your koi from a reputable company with a good reputation who know their products well. The two main differences in koi foods are growth and maintenance. The temperature of the water in your pond will determine what type of food to feed when. Below 50°-55°F, do not feed your koi. Their metabolism is not high enough to digest anything. Between 55°F and 65°F, feed them a more easily digestible, wheat-germ based diet. Above 65°F, it is okay to feed a higher-protein, growth diet. There are also specialized diets to enhance the color of your koi.

We recommend feeding koi using the 5 Minute Technique. After checking the pond temperature and choosing the appropriate diet, sprinkle a small amount of food and wait for your fish to eat it ALL. Then, sprinkle another small handful and wait for them to eat it all. Continue this for 5 minutes, then stop.

Here are some recommendations:

Cold Weather Diets – 55-65F

Warm Weather Diets – >65F

Recognize Signs of Disease

Since you see your fish every day, you will be the first to notice anything amiss. Maybe one fish doesn’t have the appetite she used to or another who used to be a bully is hanging back at the bottom during feeding time. Sometimes, it’s not the obvious wounds that we get called out for.

Signs of disease can include inappetance, anorexia, lethargy, change in color or behavior. Fish have different personalities that may change upon the addition of new fish to the pond. Stress can cause a lot of problems in koi. Most stress in koi comes from poor water quality!

Don’t Guess! Ask a Fish Vet

Not all fish owners have direct access to a veterinarian specializing in fish, but not you! Dr. Jessie Sanders, chief veterinarian of Aquatic Veterinary Services of Northern California, is a certified aquatic veterinarian through the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association. Her mobile clinic brings the full veterinary clinic right to you! Our hospital offers in-house appointments, critical care and boarding.

Any questions you have about any aspect of koi care can be answered promptly and correctly. The next time your fish gets sick, don’t just throw a bunch of treatments at it hoping to correct the unknown problem. Call us and we can schedule a phone consultation or appointment to get to the root of the problem quickly and treat correctly the first time.

Call now to schedule an appointment or phone consultation!

(831) 346-6151