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.

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Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Everyone always wants to know how to keep their fish system from becoming infested with some horrible disease that puts all their fish at risk. Well, it’s a lot simpler than you think!

  1. Quarantine. Quarantine. Quarantine. This includes plants and ALL NEW FISH. The stress of handling and transport is enough to make even the healthiest of fish turn on your tanks inhabitants. Fish cannot be sterilized and always have pathogens on them, including parasites, bacteria and fungi. Most problems occur when new fish, invertebrates or plants are added to an established system. Set up a separate hospital tank and have it at the ready whenever new fish are on their way in. 4-6 weeks is the MINIMUM requirement for all new additions. For more information, be sure to watch our Quarantine Practices webinar!
  2. Maintain your water quality through consistent maintenance, proper feeding and adequate filtration. Water quality is the #1 thing owners can do to keep their fish healthy. Get a test kit, know how to use it and what normal parameters look like. Not all fish systems will be identical! Keep up with your maintenance. If everything is a bit discombobulated, use these handy checklists for tanks and ponds.
  3. Feed your fish a good quality diet that is species appropriate. Look for a food with appropriate levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We are happy to give consults on diet for FREE. If you want to learn more about fish diets, watch our webinar.
  4. Note any signs of disease early and take precautionary measures. You set up that hospital tank, right? Learn the physical and behavioral signs of disease in fish through our free webinar.
  5. If you think something is wrong, ASK NOW! Don’t wait until a small problem becomes big and hard to manage. Our job is to help you take care of your fish, plain and simple. We can work within your budget to make sure your fish get the care they need. Call us at (831) 346-6151 or email hospital@cafishvet.com.

Follow those rules and your fish will thank you! Being healthy and disease free is the way to be, no matter what your species!

pH and kH

It’s time for everyone’s favorite topic: water quality!

Many of our clients purchase “master” test kits which include: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, low and high pH. This is a great collection of parameters to start with, but what about kH?

For those of you unfamiliar with kH, kH measures the buffering capacity of your water. Buffers bind to free hydrogen ions (H+) and keep them out of solution. Since your pH is a direct measure of [H+] in your system, kH directly impacts pH. And remember that high [H+] = more acidic and low [H+] = more basic.

(For those of you who are confusing this with gH, or total hardness: gH measures the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water. Although this may be a component of your kH, they are separate parameters entirely.)

So, if your kH levels are too low, all the H+ your fish discharge due to metabolic processes can build up and crash your pH. Adequate kH levels will keep your pH consistent throughout the day, regardless of what your fish and filters are doing. Knowing your tanks kH is an essential component to any fish keeper’s database. There are simple tests available that will make your testing a true “master kit.”

A kH value of >50 mg/L is adequate, but >100 mg/L is better. 

If your tank kH is low, test your source water kH. Some city and well systems have low kH coming in and will need buffers to be manually added to your system to maintain adequate levels. Keep an eye on your pH when manually adding buffers in order to make sure your pH will not change too much. Slow and steady is the goal for any pH changes.

Water Changes & Fish

Water Changes & Fish

Most fish kept as pets are maintained in artificial systems; tanks and ponds meant to replicate their “wild” environment. In a “wild” environment, water flushes into and out of a system through streams, rivers, brooks, rain or the ocean. In an artificial tank or pond, water will come in and out at the owner’s discretion, commonly called a water change. There are many ways to improve your system by getting it very close to a “wild” system, but it’ll never be the same. Let’s get started with some of the various claims our office has heard over the years.

“I never do water changes and all my fish are fine. The out break of (fill in your chosen disease here) has nothing to do with the water.”

In most of these systems, commonly referred to as “natural” systems, a lot of plant debris and sludge can usually be observed. All the nitrates produced by the fish waste is going into the plant growth. This is a fine way to manage your nitrates. But what about the fishes’ other wastes? How do you remove the hormones they produce? What exactly is living in the sludge from months or years of fish and plant waste? In a “wild” system, hormones and other metabolic wastes are diluted out with the influx and efflux of new water, so why aren’t you doing water changes? Yes, I know water is expensive, especially where we are in California, but you can manage a system very simply with small water changes. Water removed from fish systems should always be used to water plants. Fish health is tied directly to the water chemistry. If you’ve “never had a problem before,” I guarantee everything was building up until a tipping point was reached.

“I remove the fish from the tank and do a big water change every ___ months.”

When you take water from your hose and add it to a fishes’ environment, the metabolic activity of the fish changes the water chemistry over time. By the time you get to your water change, the chemistry in the tank could be significantly different than what you originally added from the tap. When you dump that fish from his tiny bowl into a freshly filled tank, the shock of the differing water parameters can stress them out and potentially kill them. I understand that sometimes, tanks and ponds get beyond your weekly/monthly maintenance and the only way to get in and get the job done properly is to remove the fish. In order to keep your fish from stressing out either from handling, confinement in a tiny tub during maintenance or water shock, keep them in the tank while you work and never remove more than 50% of the water at one time. As long as you aren’t chasing them with the vacuum or siphon, they won’t mind a bit. And yes, you do need to use a gravel siphon.

“It can’t be my filter, because I replace my filter media every month.”

Sorry consumers, but this is only to get you to buy more filter media. By removing your filter pads every month, you essentially set your nitrogen cycle back at zero. I know those flossy pads with carbon pellets tend to fall apart that fast, but switching to a firmer sponge, that could last for several years, will be the best investment you ever make. Your fish will be so much happier not having to go through the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate spikes every month.

If you have any questions about water changes or water quality, please contact our office or comment below.

Old Pond/Tank Syndrome

Old Tank/Pond Syndrome

What is it?

This occurs in fish tanks and ponds with the following water quality parameters:

pH: <6.0

Alkalinity (kH): <50 mg/L, usually 0 mg/L

Ammonia: >1.5 mg/L

Nitrite: >0 mg/L

Nitrate: >40 mg/L

The loss of buffers (alkalinity) can lead to pH swings and a pH crash. The low pH actually protects your fish from the high nitrogen levels. This syndrome usually leads to intermittent deaths or wide-spread death and disease.

How does this happen?

This syndrome occurs in established systems with little to no proper maintenance. Perhaps it has gone for too long without a water change or the filtration is clogged up and inoperable. As the nitrate levels rise, the bacteria responsible for the conversion of nitrite to nitrate get backed up, leading to a rise in nitrite levels. These processes can back up even further and cause the ammonia to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the buffers in your water are slowly used up, and then the pH starts to sink. This can occur very slowly or very rapidly, depending on how large your system is and how many fish are in it. Once your kH reaches close to 0, your pH can swing up and down with your fishes’ biological functions. pH crashes are very commonly tied to Old Tank/Pond Syndrome.

In the end, you end up with a very low pH, no buffers, high ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

How do I know if this is occurring in my pond/tank?

The physical signs of Old Tank/Pond Syndrome are very minimal and vague. You may see increased parasitism and other disease. You may get a few intermittent deaths or all your fish may die. You may have no signs whatsoever that this is occurring in your system. There are no concrete physical signs that point to this syndrome.

The only way to tell if this is happening in your system is to test your water quality parameters. Bring a sample to your local fish store, buy a test kit, or have your fish veterinarian or pond professional check your pond out to determine what your levels are at. It is a very straightforward diagnosis.

I have diagnosed Old Pond/Tank Syndrome in my system. What do I do?

You may feel like a full water change will be the best, but DON’T DO IT! Slow and steady return to normal water quality is the main target of therapy for this syndrome.

Start with very small (10-15%) water changes daily for 1 week. The second week, stretch it out to every other day. Make sure your filtration is functioning properly! If you are not sure, get the opinion of an aquarium or pond professional. Don’t attempt any major filtration changes if you are inexperienced.

Weeks 3 and 4, do larger water changes (20-25%) twice a week. At the end of 4 weeks, check your water quality and see what has changed from day 0. You may need to upgrade your filtration system or start cleaning more routinely to bring your water change amount and/or frequency back down.

I have additional questions. Who should I contact?

We recommend that you contact your local aquarium or pond professional, fish veterinarian or pet fish store for help with this syndrome. Having a fish veterinarian for emergencies is never a bad idea. Find one in your area using either of the following databases:

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (international): http://aquavetmed.info

American Association of Fish Veterinarians (US only): http://www.fishvets.org

We at Aquatic Veterinary Services can always help over the phone or email. Our phone is (831) 346-6151 and we have email contact forms available online at http://avsnca.com/help