The Hard Way “Quarantining New Arrivals”

Patience is virtue. The old axiom certainly hold true in the art of fish keeping. Weather it be cycling a new tank, or waiting for your fish to spawn, trying to rush any of these processes will usually result in a loss of fish and more headaches. One important lesson learned is that of quarantining new arrivals to your fish collection.

As a true fish addict I’m sure you can relate to cruising the local fish stores and forums always looking for “the fish you always wanted”. In most cases I’m stuck juggling the inhabitants of my current tanks in my head trying to make room for possible new tank mates. Of course there is room. Well, i mean , i can make room… So you get home with your fish and float the bag in the tank to equalize the temperature, you may add tank water to help acclimatize the fish. you’ve netted the fish and introduced them to their new home. All seems well, for the first few days.

In the morning during your daily fish checks you notice some white spots on one of your favorite fish, or perhaps one of your Mbuna has lost his appetite and isn’t going for the food. What gives? Then it hits you! There must have been more than fish packed up at the local fish store! Thats right, you forgot to quarantine your new arrivals.

Quarantining is one of the golden rules of fish keeping. One should never expect that the local fish store’s tanks are free from parasites and fungus’, that goes double for other hobbyist’s tanks. It is virtually impossible to maintain a disease free water system when there are hundreds of tanks running off a central filtration system. That is unless the owners follow a strict quarantine of new arrivals, but even then, don’t risk it!

I have plenty of excuses as to why I forget or rather neglect to quarantine new fish. Usually it is due to a lack of tank space, I have to stop using the quarantine tank as a fry grow out for starters. But when you lose enough fish over the years to such a simple mistake, you learn the hard way.

How To Setup A Quarantine Tank

Ideally a 20 or 30 gallon tank would do nicely as a quarantine, depending on the size or number of fish you work with, but you can get away with a 10 gallon. The smaller the tank the less medication you are going to need. You will need only the basics for this tank, so a hang on back filter or small powerhead with attached sponge, plus a dependable heater is all that is needed. I would recommend going with a bare bottom tank, no gravel since it makes for a more sterile environment, and is far easier to maintain. One or two small decorations, rocks or driftwood can provide a more soothing home, but remember: the purpose of this tank is to observe new arrivals for parasites, diseases and unnatural behaviors, so don’t put anything in the quarantine tank that interferes with viewing.

Fill the quarantine tank with water from the main tank and then wring out one of the established filter sponges to populate the quarantine tank with Nitrosoma’s or beneficial bacteria. This will allow you to skip the cycling process all together. If possible you can even transfer the filter material from the main tank.

This is a bare bones setup. This tank can also be used as a hospital tank should any of the main tank residents fall ill, or have become injured and need a time out.

Landing new arrivals

All new arrivals should stay in the quarantine tank for at least two weeks. It is best not to float the fish bags in the main tank. You never know what bacteria could be harbored on the outside of the bag. When landing new arrivals i will usually release the fish into a five gallon pail along with all the water from their shipping bags. I will slowly add tank water to the bucket via air hose siphon from the main tank. This should help them adjust to the local water parameters. You can put an air stone in the pail to oxygenate the water but it is not necessary. After a half hour to an hour the fish will have acclimatized and I will net them out of the bucket and drop them into the quarantine tank, being very careful not to mix any fouled water from the pail.

Prophylactic Treatment?

The online debate regarding the use of prophylactic or preventative treatments versus simply observing the fish for signs of disease is one that we may never hear the end of. Basically there are two schools of though on the matter.

In the first case, the fish keeper will leave their new arrivals in the quarantine tank for two to three weeks, giving minimal feedings and regular weekly water changes, while observing the fish for signs of stress or disease. No medications have been administered to the tank, unless signs of infection are evident, such as ick or anchor worms. After the quarantine period, if the fish is “clean” and no symptoms have appeared they will then move the fish to the main display tank. The benefit here is that the new arrivals won’t be treated to the sometimes harsh medications that may possibly weaken them, cause more stress or make them resistant to further antibiotic treatments. On the downside however, it is possible that the fish is in fact infected and that none of the symptoms have appeared. It is quite possible that the quarantined fish is a carrier of bacteria, protozoans, or virus’s that do not have an effect on said carrier fish but may however wreak havoc on the main tank inhabitants. It is for this reason that some fish keepers prefer the prophylactic treatment. If symptoms of disease present themselves be sure to extend the quarantine period until you are certain it’s no longer communicable.

In cases where you have purchased wild caught fish you should certainly administer medications to the quarantine tank. Wild fish may have picked up all sorts of diseases and parasites on their travels. Better safe than sorry.

Treating The Quarantine Tank With Medications

What medication should you purchase? That is a really tough question given that we don’t have any idea what kind of bug your are treating. Is it an external parasite? Internal parasites? Bacterial? viral? It would be great if there was one product that could eliminate all the aforementioned, but this is simply not the case.

There are three groups of medications on the market. Anti-parasitic, Bacterial antibiotics, and anti-fungal. The studious fish keeper will be able to recognized visible diseases in their fish and chose the appropriate medication. Most people are better off using a blanket cure such as Jungle Labs “Lifeguard” all in one cure, or Clout, a strong but effective mediacation. Having an anti-parasitic food on hand can work wonders even if it’s all you can afford. You must be careful and follow the manufacture’s directions. Some medication can kill off the beneficial bacterias in your filters, so keep up the water changes. Some medications are photosensitive and must only be used in a dark environment. Many medications will be absorbed by activated filter carbon, best to remove it before treatment and install fresh carbon after treatment to remove excess medication.

Some medications should be used in tandem with other products. Visit the manufacturers website, and if you have any specific question, email them. In today’s information age, they will get back to you! Most local fish store workers won’t know the finer details of the medication so it’s always best to get the answer straight from the horses mouth so to speak.

The other issue is “what medications are available”? Some local fish stores stock very few products and what they do carry will cost you a small fortune. Your local veterinarian may have experience with tropical fish, and may be able to help you out as well, for a nominal fee… Then of course there is the internet, where you usually can find the best prices, however you may have to be patient awaiting your shipment, and when dealing with disease time is always of the essence. Chose carefully, and like the boy scouts always say, “Be prepared”.

Emergency Fish Bath

When no quarantine or hospital tank is available you may have to resort to desperate measures. Give your fish a bath. In a five gallon pail mix your medications slightly stronger than you would for the main tank. Be sure to work out the correct strength based on the package directions. In most cases, each medicinal tablet treats 10 gallons, this can vary per medication so READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! In a five gallon pail with 3-4 gallons of tank water that would be up to half a tablet at most!

I recommend a strong air pump driving a couple of air stone diffusers to keep the water oxygenated and to ensure the medication is thoroughly mixed. Before adding the sick fish make sure that none of the medication has precipitated on to the bottom of the bucket.

Leave the fish in the bucket for 30 minutes to an hour. Keep a close eye on the fish during the entire period. If the fish is at the surface gasping for air, or is trying desperately to jump out of the bucket, this may be an indication that the solution is too strong, either remove the fish immediately or dilute the medication by adding more tank water. A fish bath should be the last resort if no quarantine tank is available or you don’t want to risk medicating the main tank. After short dip in clean tank water to “rinse” of the medication the fish is ready to be added to the main tank, hopefully disease free.

Tips For Stopping The Spread Of Disease In Your Fish Tanks.

-Don’t forget to sterilize new plants before planting. A 10% bleach and water solution(plants and decorations only!) followed by a bath in tap water with a generous amount of dechlorinater is all thats needed.

-always have one set of fish nets per tank and label them accordingly. cross contamination is the biggest reason for disease outbreaks.

-never refill a tank with the same buckets used to drain them or clean filter materials.

-Avoid purchasing fish from dealers where poor tank maintanence is the norm.

-Always treat wild caught fish prophylactically upon arrival as they have a higher chance of harboring disease than most tank raised species.

– A healthy immune system is the best defense against disease, don’t unnecessarily stress your fish by handling or constantly changing their environments or changing foods.

-ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with a non scented soap before and after working with an aquarium. Be sure to rinse thoroughly also!

I would love to hear what other procedures hobbyst are using to land and quarantine their fish. If you have a technique that works we’d love here it! Feel free to post in the comments or head to our Fish Forum and strike up a conversation.

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