How Not To Kill Your First Fish

How Not To Kill Your First Fish

It all starts out the same. Kid X begs for a puppy. Kid Y wants a kitty. You barter a fish to “see how it goes.” Tank gets set up, fish gets plunked in, and everything goes swimmingly… for about 2 weeks. Then all hell breaks loose and your fish dies. The tank is tossed and the fish forgotten.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Follow these 4 simple steps and I guarantee that your fish will have a fighting chance!

1. The fish you bought at the pet store are probably already sick.

How do I know this? Given the rapid turn-over at the pet store, most commonly less than 48 hours, stores never know what fun diseases their fish are already carrying! White spot disease in particular is the most common. Only ONE of these little spots can spawn 1,000 babies! At warm temperatures, this can spiral into a pit of death and despair within days. If you see ANY fish in the store with suspicious white spots, dead or listless fish in the tank, go somewhere else or order online. Ask when then fish came in. If they have been there over a week, they are probably healthier. probably… THERE IS NO WHERE YOU CAN GO THAT WILL GUARANTEE HEALTHY FISH. It’s just not profitable; yes, I tried.

2. Quarantine your new fish.

Yes, it’s a pain in the @$$. Yes, it takes away the instant gratification. But quarantining fish from different stores/batches/yard sales will keep disease from spreading. Ever watched one of those zombie movies where the virus spreads so quickly no one can do anything? It’s the same thing with your fish. You may have gotten lucky with the first batch of fish, but you’ll play Russian Roulette with any new additions. Get another tank, keep it far away from the first tank and USE SEPARATE EQUIPMENT! At least 4-6 weeks (shorter for warmer water). For full rules and restrictions, read this.

3. New Tank Syndrome is the #1 cause of new fish death.

We are all obsessed with instant gratification. When you first get your tank, you want it full NOW! Well, sorry to say that this is just asking for a disaster. Newbie fish keepers are most likely unfamiliar with the NITROGEN CYCLE. This cycle keeps your fish ALIVE. There is no product you can buy to “short cut” this cycle. Our office tried a dozen products and ONLY ONE shortened the cycle by 1 week. 4-6 weeks MINIMUM are necessary to make your new fish home inhabitable. Starting with just a few fish will get your cycle up and running without sending your toxic ammonia on a mission to kill all your fish. Read this, memorize it and tell everyone you see about it. And you know that 1″ of fish per gallon is bull, yes?


Dedicated followers have heard this before… many times. It’s the most popular topic on our website. Good water quality = happy, healthy fish. I can’t make it easier than that. Get a test kit and use it regularly. In the beginning, this will be DAILY. After your NITROGEN CYCLE is established, scale back to WEEKLY. If your system has remained unchanged in maintenance practices, equipment and fish for 3 months, you can maybe get away with MONTHLY.

Alright, rant over. Please value your fishes’ lives. It pains our service when these calls come in and it’s too late to help.


Fish Bowl Syndrome

A common problem we see, especially in betta fish, is known as Fish Bowl Syndrome. Essentially, it can be broken down into one main issue:

Your fish is in a bowl.

Problem #1: Your fish has no filtration for processing of dangerous ammonia waste. Without a place for bacteria to grow and filter the water, your nitrogen cycle can never be established. Some may argue that betta fish get pushed around by filters, but if you chose the right one and slow the flow, it is perfectly suited to bettas.

Problem #2: You fish has no oxygen circulation. Fish tank filters are great at adding in oxygen, even in slow-flow mode. In a stagnant bowl, your fish is limited to what air diffuses from the surface. Yes, betta fish have a specialized labyrinth organ used to squeeze oxygen from the air. This is a short-term adaptation mechanism used to survive in drought conditions. It is NOT a long-term survival technique.

Problem #3: Your fish has no temperature stability. We’ll pick on betta fish again. Bettas are tropical and need heat. The small volume of a bowl causes temperatures to fluctuate dramatically. Watch the difference in ambient room temperatures on a 1-gallon fish bowl and a 10-gallon fish tank. It’s the same as you stepping out into freezing temperatures wearing a t-shirt or a coat.

Problem #4: When doing bowl water changes, most often, you will take your fish out of the bowl and put them in a tiny container while you empty all the water out of the bowl and scrub it clean. Since you have no filtration or oxygenation, you can swing the water chemistry parameters, including pH and temperature, very rapidly, causing your fish to stress and possibly die.

Fish bowls are ancient technology invented before there was electricity. With all the modern updates to fish-keeping, isn’t it time to let the fish bowls go? Unless, perhaps, you use them for this purpose:


Don’t Flush That Fish!

Don’t Flush That Fish!

It’s almost that time of year again, where many families will be bringing new pet fish into their homes as holiday presents. Unfortunately, many of these new endeavors tend to end disastrously. But this doesn’t have to be the case for YOU! With our helpful guide, your fish can live a long a happy life.

  1. Plan ahead. We all know the thrill of walking into the pet store and loading up on everything a fish could possibly want. You can still get that rush, but go in with a plan. Read this checklist to make sure you have everything you need to keep your fish happy for those first few critical weeks of life. Here’s how to set everything up once you’ve worked through your checklist.
  2. Understand how tank cycling works. New tank syndrome is the downfall of many holiday fish systems. By starting with a low bioload for the first few weeks, you will save yourself the hassle of having to start over. Buy a reliable test kit and watch your parameters closely.
  3. Plan out your maintenance schedule. We’ve generated a handy checklist, but be sure to put it on YOUR calendar. Here’s a step-by-step cleaning guide in case you need some help.
  4. Start with a beginner-friendly species, such as a betta or comet goldfish. Don’t go for the super picky, super specific species right off. Assume that any new fish might be carrying some bug from the pet store. Since they don’t stay there that long, disease signs may not occur until you get the fish home.
  5. Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed, and this does NOT mean scrolling through the internet! There is a TON of misinformation on the internet. Call your local fish professional and have their number ready, just in case. Our office fields calls from all over the country on a daily basis for people needing help with the next step. Call us if you need help –> (831) 728-7000.

By working through these 5 simple steps, you have ensured your holiday fish will be a member of the family through the next holiday season. Need more? Be sure to read through our Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make.

And flushing dead fish is NOT a sanitary method of disposal. After you have made sure they are dead, through prolonged drug exposure or cervical spine separation, place dead fish in the trash or bury them at least 12″ in the yard. Putting almost dead fish in the freezer is not humane.

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


“Reputable Dealers” Cannot Guarantee Healthy Fish

“Reputable Dealers” Cannot Guarantee Healthy Fish

Over the years, many of our clients have added fish to their pond without quarantine and denied any problems simply because the fish have come from a “reputable dealer.” Unfortunately, even our store, with some of the strictest quarantine guidelines, cannot guarantee our fish are 100% disease free.

Why is this? Well, keep in mind that fish live in a toilet. There are constantly pathogens on them, including bacteria, fungi and parasites. A healthy fish’s immune system works to constantly keep these invaders at bay, but they are always around in low numbers. This is why when water quality goes off the rails, we commonly see secondary infections. The stress of compensating for poor water decreases a fish’s immune function, allowing these pathogens to multiply and spread.

No dealer can 100% sterilize a fish. It would be cruel to even attempt it. But they should be able to keep you away from the worst. In fish, these are mainly viruses. Viruses, such as Koi Herpesvirus (KHV), can wipe out a pond very quickly. By ensuring a proper quarantine length and temperature duration, most dealers will catch infected fish and remove them from their purchasing pools. However, even if they say their protocol is one thing, unless you watch them go through this protocol, you cannot guarantee anything.

The only way to cover all your bases? Quarantine your fish yourself. A simple setup with separate equipment and filtration out of splashing range of your pond will guarantee that no sick fish are bringing anything into your pond. Read this article on quarantine or watch our webinar to make sure you can keep your fish healthy.

A Guide to Buying New Fish

A Guide to Buying New Fish

Looking to add some new fish to your system? Here’s a helpful checklist to help you through!

  1. Do you have room for more fish? The standard 1 gallon of water per 1″ of fish is a terrible standard. Fish vary too much in their build and nutritional conversion for this standard to hold true. Be sure to read this article to make sure you have room for more!
  2. Will the new fish get along with your current fish? Species tolerances and pecking order need to be taken into consideration when selecting new fish. If you have a tank, make sure that each fish has enough room for their own territory without overlap. Here is a good website to get an idea for different species space requirements.
  3. Where are you purchasing the fish from? There a numerous “reputable dealers” that claim all their fish are healthy. Be sure to ask about their specific quarantine protocols and see evidence of when the fish were delivered to their facility. A “reputable dealer” does NOT guarantee healthy fish!!!
  4. How will you be transporting them? How long will the transport be? Most fish are sold and packed with pure oxygen in bags containing some water. These bags are either shipped or hand carried to their new homes. Try to minimize any temperature swings or extremes during transport. Do NOT hold the bag on your lap. Prop them upright in a sturdy box and keep them out of the sun.
  5. The capture, handling and transport will cause your fish stress and subsequently their immune system will drop, allowing pathogens to replicate rapidly. Fish are not sterile critters and have bacteria and parasites on them at all times, but their immune systems keep them in check. During the stressful transport process, all the pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, etc) will replicate, REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOUR FISH IS COMING FROM. So when they get home to your tank, they will pass on everything to your current fish. How do you prevent this? QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE!
  6. Quarantine all new additions for 4-6 weeks, REGARDLESS of where they come from. This is non-negotiable. You will potentially save the lives of all of your fish by doing this. See our Quarantine Webinar for more information.

By following this checklist, you will ensure that you have healthy fish coming into your system. Most of the health issues in tanks arise secondary to new fish additions. Protect your fish.

Koi Herpes Virus – What You NEED to Know

Koi Herpes Virus. Those three little words can spell disaster for any koi owner. Koi herpes virus is a viral infection that can kill 95-100% of exposed koi in 24-48 hours. Quarantining any new additions can keep KHV from spreading to established populations. With warm water and transport stress, fish will become sick and die quickly, but since they are quarantined, they will not spread the disease to your other fish.

In the cyprinid (koi and goldfish) herpes family, there are 3 known viruses. Cyprinid herpesvirus-1 causes carp pox. Carp pox is a skin disease of koi that causes irregular growths usually around the dorsal fin in koi. Cyprinid herpesvirus-2 is a disease in goldfish causing hematopoietic necrosis of the internal organs. Cyprinid herpesvirus-3 is the causative agent of the deadly koi herpes virus. The virus causes severe necrosis of the gills and other internal organs. Death occurs quickly, within 24-48 hours.

Koi owners need to be aware that KHV is present and deadly. Without proper quarantining procedures, all the fish in your pond can be decimated. Any new additions to any pond should be quarantined separately for minimum 4-6 weeks. The incubation period for KHV is 7-21 days. New additions need to be quarantined with new koi to make sure they are not a carrier. Carrier fish will never show physical signs of the disease, but can transmit it to other fish. Goldfish and other carp species can be carriers and NEVER show any signs of illness. Be sure the water is between 60⁰-77⁰F (16⁰-25⁰C) to bring out the virus if it is present. If your new additions are indeed carrying KHV, they will sicken and die quickly, but your other fish will be protected. Any fish that survive an outbreak of KHV are carriers of the virus and can spread it to other fish. It is recommended that carriers are isolated for the remainder of their lives or humanely euthanized.

So how do koi get KHV? Koi can get KHV through direct contact with infected fish or their fluids as well as contaminated water, mud or equipment. Once they contract KHV, the sick fish usually show unspecific signs of illness, most commonly, sudden death. Post-mortem analysis of fresh dead fish can confirm an outbreak of KHV. If there is suspicion that a fish may be a carrier of KHV, there is another test available that can confirm the presence of KHV in live fish from a blood sample.

KHV is a reportable disease to the state and OIE. It is not an actionable disease, like Spring Viremia of Carp, meaning that euthanasia of survivors is NOT required. It is up to the owner and veterinarian to decide what will be done with any survivors.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for KHV. A vaccine was previously available, but has since been discontinued. The best thing to prevent KHV from spreading is quarantine. Quarantine all new fish additions for 4-6 weeks in water 60⁰-77⁰F (16⁰-25⁰C).

If you suspect your fish may have KHV, contact your local fish veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. In California, call (831) 346-6151. To find a fish veterinarian in your area, review the following databases.

American Association of Fish Veterinarians –

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association –

For more information, check out this handout from UFL or e-mail

Behind the Story: Boo & Bubbles

Behind the Story: Boo & Bubbles

What does every kid want? A pet! Warm and fluffy or wet and scaly, a childhood pet is an essential tool for developing compassion and personal growth. Not to mention tons of fun! Who among us does not have fond memories of their favorite pet? Personally, I grew up with cats, dogs and fish and it turned into my career! Learning how to properly welcome a new kitten into the family started a spark that grew into a veterinary education. I had a friend for life, even though we had to say good-bye. No matter the pet, children can greatly benefit from being the main caregiver of a dependent animal.

A young Dr. Sanders reading to her best kitty friend, Frisco
A young Dr. Sanders reading to her best kitty friend, Frisco

Here enters Boo & Bubbles. Not all families can accept a fuzzy pet into their homes, so what about a fish? Fish are very smart and personable companions, even if they can never leave their underwater homes. My specialty in the veterinary community is treating pet fish. Owners can be as connected to their underwater pets as those that sleep in their beds next to them. It is my responsibility to my clients to understand this relationship and provide them with the best veterinary care and education available. Very few veterinarians are willing to even examine a fish, so I have tried to make myself as widespread as possible. In writing this book, I hope to inspire children and families to accept a fish into their home like any other pet, with proper planning and consideration.

Dr. Sanders performing surgery on a koi
Dr. Sanders performing surgery on a koi

The first installment of the Boo & Bubbles series touches on how to properly set up a fish tank for the first time. The main character, Boo, loves playing underwater and wants a friend to enjoy the water with her. Her pet cat, George, does not appreciate getting wet, so Boo asks her Mom to help her adopt a pet goldfish. We follow the story of picking her new fish, Bubbles, up from the pet store, transport home and all the assembly of Bubbles’ new home. Following books in this series are already in the works. Book two, planned for production in February 2017, will illustrate how a fish can get sick and what goes into properly caring for a wet pet. Books three and four will educate on how to add another fish to the system and transporting an entire ecosystem to a new, larger tank. This complete series will be a great asset to the entire fish-keeping community and inspire a new generation to appreciate the underwater world. This book is a great gift idea for any child who is a fan of the Finding Nemo & Dory series.


For more information about the Boo & Bubbles book series, please see our website.

Books can be purchased through our sister company, Santa Cruz Koi. Come on down to our store at (4061B Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073) or order online.

New Fish Health 101 Article: The Dreaded Quarantine

Another new article for our fish health 101 section, this one all about proper quarantine procedures. I know quarantine is a pain, but please keep in mind…

Quarantining your fish will save you time, money and lives.

Maybe the lives of ALL your fish.


Click here to read!