Select Aquatics Of Erie, CO.
                                    Troubleshooting With Select Aquatics Fish

                         Fixit: Common Diseases, Health Issues 



     Page 1 - The Tank

     Page 2 - The Fish

    *Page 3 - Diseases, Health Issues 

     When observing your fish for overall
     health, look closely at their fins. They
     should be clear of spots or cloudiness,
     and held out wide. If there is a problem
     starting in your tank, the fins are often
     the first place you will notice it. Then 
     look to be sure their skin and eyes are
     smooth and clear of bumps or excess
     slime. On the far left are Ilyodon furcidens,
     and a growing out group of Xiphophorus
     montezumaes were caught waiting to
     be fed.


         This section won't be quite as comprehensive, simply because much of what we do - keeping the tanks consistently clean,
         doing regular water changes and carefully observing the behavior of the fish, is done to specifically avoid disease. Generally we are
         successful, but diseases do occur, and everyone encounters issues at some point when keeping fish long term. There are many texts 
         available on treating fish diseases, and having a book on diseases in the fishroom is essential.

         Medications available in the fish pet trade are always evolving, and there are over the counter remedies sold at fish and pet stores
         that will address most anything you will encounter. Often, however, the expense of buying medications can be avoided entirely.
         The information below is what we do when we see a disease or parasite, and how the issue is addressed. A deeper knowledge 
         may become necessary with stubborn or broader issues that need further investigation, but the few disease issues common with 
         livebearers can often be resolved fairly quickly with the practices described below.


     Even without clear signs of a problem, the circumstances toward a
     disease outbreak could be coming together, and you are not aware of it.
     But the fish know, and will make the point to you through their
     behavior. Only when water qualities are in good shape will a male
     velifera feel like courting and putting the energy into a full
     dorsal display.


         When faced with a disease, isolate the affected fish to a separate tank if possible, and be aware that your goal is not first to treat
         the fish that is sick. Your goal is to ensure that the other healthy fish in the tank stay that way. If you are fortunate enough to cure the
         issue with the fish that first showed signs of infection, which can be done in most instances, all the better. I have been told by other
         fishkeepers that "No one ever cures a sick fish", which is not true. Many simply cull the sick fish, improve the water quality, and
         address whatever they feel caused the outbreak. But when a problem is caught early, and treated appropriately, the majority of
         the most common infections can be cured. For times when a disease has taken hold and fish were lost, you may want to consider
         totally disinfecting the tank and starting over with a totally clean tank. To do that see "How to Bleach an Aquarium".

         Many problems can be first addressed through performing an immediate 40-50% water change, then providing a medicinal dose of
         salt to an aquarium (1 tablespoon per every 5 gallons of water), gradually removing the salt through water changes. Most issues, either
         directly or indirectly, can be traced to water quality. Poor water quality can be turned around by

         1. Checking to ensure that the temperature is correct,
         2. Change the filter medium, then briefly clean up the tank, especially a thorough siphon cleaning of any substrate.
         3. Doing a 40-50% water change, possibly improving the aeration and water movement in the tank,
         4. Then, depending on the nature of the problem, you will want to add a medicinal dose of salt, or the appropriate medication to treat
              the issue. Be aware that salt is not tolerated by some plants, and any plants will need to be treated as well - as moving them will
              spread any active disease to other tanks.

             Be sure to designate a net and equipment for that tank until the outbreak is over, and if you have your hands in the water
             of the sick tank, be sure to wash your hands before putting them into another aquarium, or you may infect other tanks.

     When water conditions deteriorate, the fish's
     immune system is challenged, and the fish 
     becomes stressed and vulnerable to opportunistic
     infections. Generally, the fish are able to fend
     these off. Most disease outbreaks are the direct
     result of inconsistent or deteriorating conditions,
     or having an active disease introduced to a tank.

     Obvious signs will present themselves before
     an outbreak occurs, such as filter floss that
     is allowed to become too dirty or clogged, or
     foam accumulating at the water surface, which
     tells you that dissolved organic waste has built
     up to levels that are bad for the fish. For the tank
     at right, a water change needs to be done.

        How long do I have to address a problem, before fish start dying?- When we get sick, we feel the sickness coming on,
         and within 2 days we are dealing with the disease. With fish, the progress is much quicker. A spot or two of ich noticed on a fish when 
         you leave for work in the morning could be throughout the tank by the time you get home from work, and fish could be dying by the end of 
         the second, and certainly the third day, if no treatment is given. It is best to treat a tank as soon as a disease is seen, or certainly within
         an hour or two when first noticed, if at all possible.

         Aren't there more diseases than what's mentioned here?- Yes, but the majority of the common issues you will run   
         across in the normal maintenance of an aquarium are mentioned here. With decent feeding, attention to water quality, and not  
         introducing problems into your tank by adding new fish carrying a disease, or plants that may carry parasites, you will see disease 
         very rarely. When you do, it will likely be something mentioned on this page. This is not meant to be a comprehensive disease guide, 
         but a calm approach to identify what you have, and suggestions based on experience here to address whatever it is. A good quality
         text on fish diseases is always valuable, and you may want to keep some simple medications on hand so that the most common
         problems can be treated immediately. Cures for ich or fungus are good to have available, as well as salt.  

     Some fish, because of traits that have been bred into them, such as the exaggerated
     finnage seen on this Green Dragon male, can be vulnerable to infection. Fancy guppies,
     in particular, are prone to fungus infections, and many IFGA show breeders maintain them
     in water that always contains a medicinal level of salt for this reason.

     With the Green Dragons, however, they have proven to be very disease resistant, and
     though they will often tear their fins up when breeding, they have always healed
     without incident. Any fish with lots of finnage needs to be watched for signs of
     spots, injuries, cloudy areas or clamping, that when spotted early can be treated
     quickly and easily without losses or permanent damage to the fins.

         Is it necessary to set up a Quarantine tank for new fish?- Absolutely, and for one reason you may not expect. It is always possible 
         to introduce a pathogen to your tank via a new fish, and some will argue that most pathogens enter an aquarium this way. But you are
         bringing a new fish into water qualities, feed, etc. that it is not used to. The fish is stressed at the same time it is being introduced to the
         routine pathogens in your tank, that your fish are conditioned to keep in check. But the new fish may need some recovery time to adapt.
         So you are protecting your new fish from the fish already in your tank, nearly as much as you are protecting your established fish
         from the new guy.

         The fish are bloated or swollen up- This will occur occasionally, and when it happens it is generally an internal infection  that
         was usually addressed by euthanizing the fish. However, it can occur in some fish as a result of feeding a food that is too high in 
         protein, and they will sometimes recover when switched to more vegetable based foods. When it has been successful, I have also 
         added a medicinal dose of salt. With fish prone to this happening, a permanent switch to more algea and vegetable type foods kept 
         it from re-occurring.

         The fish won’t eat - This can be caused by a number of reasons. With the plecos here, when the water is allowed to become
         slightly dirty, they will stop eating. When water quality deteriorates, fish will often stop eating, and a water change of 10-20% is
         often all that it takes to get their appetite back.. Some fish can be picky eaters, and require good water quality to eat consistently.

         Refusing to eat can also be an indication that the fish is either sick or possibly harboring parasites. Do any necessary cleaning in
         the tank, then introduce frozen or fresh live foods (frozen Brine shrimp is possibly the most eagerly taken), and if they are healthy,
         they should begin eating. If there is a parasite or disease issue, look to other aspects of their behavior and appearance, looking
         for a less obvious reason for their distress, such as an internal parasite. Observe their fins and skin for cloudiness, slimyness, or
         light colored areas. Those are signs of bacterial infection that could affect appetite and is often turned around with a prompt
         medicinal dose of salt and an improvement in overall tank cleanliness.  Internal parasites are more difficult to treat, with the
         exception of worms that will reveal themselves by sticking from the gills or anus, or anchored to the fish's skin. The most common
         type of worm, the Camallanus worm, is addressed in the next question.

         For other internal parasites, there are medications available that may be necessary to cure the fish afflicted, and often a
         medicinal dose of salt (1 tblspn per 5 gallons) may be enough to treat the problem. If only a few fish are showing signs of the
         problem, isolate them to another tank to quarantine the infection (Though this will not prevent it from appearing in other fish).
         However, keeping a few clearly sick fish in the tank may guarantee its spread. If it does not appear in the other fish, great.
         Meanwhile, treat the infected fish. Hopefully you will have stopped it, if not, the other fish will need to be treated.

         Small things are sticking out of the fish’s anus, and waving- These are Camallanus worms, and live within the fish. 
         The most effective treatment for these is Levamisole hydrochloride. This is a medication that is not available in the fish hobby, but
         is more effective at clearing out worms and many parasites than the currently available pet store alternatives. In the past the only
         way to obtain it was to have your veterinarian order it for you. Because there is no better treatment for Livebearer disease, we
         keep it in stock for sale. Email me at  if you would like to have some shipped to you.

         The fish’s gills are red - This can indicate one of two things, there is a bacterial infection that will need to be treated with a fish
         medication, or it is an inflammation in response to something in the water, or its overall quality. A water change, with aged but clean    
         water if possible, (possibly from a clean, lightly stocked nearby aquarium), and a cleaning of the tank, particularly the substrate,
         may solve the problem. If improvement in water conditions do not show a positive change within 8-12 hours, in combination with the 
         addition of a medicinal dose of salt, then a medication for treating bacterial infections may be appropriate.

         The fish has tufts of white on their mouths or fins- This is a fungal infection, and if left untreated is fatal. Fortunately,  
         there are a number of medications available that treat this successfully. This occurs when the tank is allowed to become too dirty.
         Change the filter medium, vacuum siphon any gravel and do a 30% water change, then add the medication and follow the directions. 
         Then possibly step up a revised water change and maintenance schedule for the future, so it doesn't re-occur.

        The fish have small white spots on their body and fins - This is most likely ich. Congratulations! Your fish have the most 
         common disease you will ever encounter. It can be treated easily and effectively, but is fatal to all fish in the aquarium if nothing is done. 
         Often simply increasing the temperature to 82-84 degrees will arrest it, but I much prefer using any of a wide variety of effective
         medications, as many fish do not tolerate warmer temperatures. Ich seems to be encountered often when first keeping tanks, and
         with better husbandry and basic care to do regular water changes, relatively clean conditions and consistent temperature, ich
         can be avoided. Today there has not been an outbreak of ich here in over 10 years, but it does occur easily, and some fish do seem 
         more prone to it than others. "Ich" is a small parasite that lives in the water, and when a fish's immune system is compromised, this  
         parasite can attach to the skin of the fish and produce eggs that are encapsulated in the white spots seen. It can spread throughout a  
         tank very quickly (often within 1-2 days), and is generally fatal when left untreated. The most common trigger for ich is a sudden cooling
         of the tank below where the fish are comfortable, such as when a heater fails. Having a bottle of ich medication on hand is a safe bet..

         A few fish seem to die every day without signs of injury- This has happened here with some fish, and is due 
         to a bacterial infection establishing itself in the aquarium. It is not common, and usually comes down to density. We immediately do 
         a 50% water change, treat with a medicinal level of salt and increase the aeration, and also treat with an appropriate antibiotic.
         This has happened rarely, and has been because the tank affected was overstocked, creating a reduction in water quality.
         We continue to change how things are done to avoid those types of issues- but even with treatment there will be some losses.
         The tank is then given a bleaching after the outbreak has resolved itself. Click here for "How to Bleach an Aquarium".

         The Fish is swimming upside down or sideways- Any equilibrium problems displayed are due to air bladder 
          problems, which are internal and generally bacterial. Separate the fish to a tank of its own, add a medicinal dose of salt, moderate
          aeration- not too heavy, and wait it out. There are many anti-bacterial medications available, and further research may point
          you to a specific medication for that condition. I have only had this happen a couple times, and survival was about 50/50.

         A fish is scraped or injured - Open wounds or tears in a fish's skin are a quick avenue for infection, so you do not want your  
         fish to get scratched or injured. Be sure not to include anything with sharp edges or rough surfaces in a tank, particularly a smaller 
         aquarium. Fish chase one another, and scrapes will occur when the opportunity is there. When a wound is running into problems,
         a fungus may begin to grow on it, or other signs of infection may appear. This can be a sign to other fish that this fish is weakened,
         so you will want to remove the affected individual to a tank of its own. Treat with a medicinal level of salt in combination with slightly
         higher temperature (But within the range of that species) to help facilitate the immune response. Continue good filtration and aeration.
         Usually, if not too severe, the fish will recover completely. Once totally healed they can then be returned to their home tank. If hairy
         fungus has started growing on the wound, an antifungal medication available at your fish store will be necessary. This will generally
         be a tablet that dissolves into the aquarium water, and is added over a few days.
         A chunk is bitten from a fish’s fins - Fins will heal quickly, and even chunks will often grow back. The plecos will tear up their 
         fins when spawning, but they heal quickly. The concern becomes whether there is a bully or aggressive fish in the tank. If so, put the
         aggressive fish into a large net breeder in the same tank, if possible, and let the victim heal and establish itself within the tank. After about
         a week, you can often release the aggressor. If that fish resumes the aggressive behavior, put them back into the breeder. I have often 
         solved aggression this way, but if the aggression does not stop, put the aggressor into a different tank of its own, or with larger fish. When
         this works, the aggressor's dominance was cut short by his time in the breeder.  Other fish step up, and the fish being picked on heals,
         and he/she may even take over the dominant position. By removing the damaging aggressor, you are altering the dynamics in the tank
         so the bully can no longer resume his injurious ways.  This transition took place while the aggressor was confined and impotent within
         the net breeder, in full view of the rest of the tank. This works best with fish that are similarly sized. Sometimes a large net hung in the
         tank will also work well when a large enough breeder is not available.

         If a fish jumps out of a tank, how long can it survive?- This seems like a no brainer. Fish jumps out, it dies. But that is
         often not the case. If you find a fish on the floor, check to see if it has begun to stiffen. If not, it may come back when put into the
         water. I once had a Jewel Cichlid survive over 90 minutes laying in carpeting. I have known people that keep Oscar Cichlids, and one
         woman I knew would literally wrap their older adult Oscar in a wet towel, and lay him on the counter while she took the tank apart
         to clean it! Supposedly this fish was used to it and was fairly accommodating. She says she tries to get him back within 20 minutes.
         Her oscar had been putting up with this treatment for over 9 years.



     This is what "Livebearer Disease" looks like. When not too badly affected,
     the fish can recover after a treatment with levamisole hydrochloride, at a
     dosage of 1/4 teaspoon per 100 gallons. Do a 25% water change, treat,
     wait 24 hours, do another water change and treat again. This is due to a
     small parasite that was first noticed in the hobby in the mid 1990s, and now
     most livebearer fishrooms need to keep an eye out for it. If left untreated, the
     fish will continue to thin as the parasite feeds on the fish"s skin.


        What is a “Medicinal Dose” of salt?- One tablespoon of salt to every 5 gallons of water. A 10 gallon tank would get 2 
         tablespoons A 50 gallon tank would get 10.  Sometimes a full medicinal dose is not needed, and a half dose will do the trick when
         just treating a minor issue.

         Can I mix medications? - Using any medication should be considered carefully. As mentioned earlier, the proper medication
         may be the only path to a potential solution. Unlike medications for us, however, with fish you are medicating the tank, and hoping the
         medication has an effect on the fish that are sick. Many medications will erase much of the biologically healthy environment that exists in
         a tank, requiring that the tank go through a reintroduction to the nitrogen cycle to be healthy again. This simply means you should do
         water changes on a heightened schedule and treat the tank as if it were just being set up for the first time. Some medications will also
         stain the tank or the decorations in it, and some will destroy or damage plants. It is always best to medicate only when necessary and
         with the least toxic medication available at the lowest dosages required. Though mixing salt with medications can be done, always err
         on the side of caution, aware that the addition of most medications is stressful for the fish and the biology of a tank. In many years of
         using various methods to treat disease, it has never been necessary to mix any medications, with the exception of putting a
         medication into a tank that has already been dosed with salt.

         Did a correct water change, but next day half of the fish were dead - In 4 places where I have lived and kept aquariums, two
         of them had issues with their water supply, either during the winter or in the spring. In one, the city used algeacides to control algea
         growth in the reservoirs, and enough would make it into the water supply to kill the fish in our tanks each spring.. The winter situation
         at another location was that large amounts of ammonium chloride, used to clear snow and ice, would drain into the sewer system,
         and eventually make it to the tap water in high enough concentrations to affect home aquariums. Some  people will  "de-gas" their 
         water change water by leaving it in gallon jugs throughout their fishroom during these periods. In all instances the water was affected
         seasonally, lasting a few weeks in the spring or winter. Testing the water will usually show raised ammonia levels.

         When checking with city officials you may receive sympathy, but there is little they can do. It is a problem, and many just brace for 
         losses.  When they see unexplained deaths they find other ways to provide toxin free water to their aquariums until it passes.
         Then, of course, always use a dechlorination product, and add water of correct temperature when doing water changes.

         Do pathogens always exist in the tank? Or can you keep your tanks "Clean"? This has been a topic of discussion for years, 
         and I have heard those that should know the answer stand on both sides of the argument. The reality is moot, actually, for disease
         is an issue only when it occurs. If it does not occur, the reason may be multifaceted, whereas the incidence of disease can be often
         identified, as it is usually triggered by something (introduction of a sick fish, deteriorating conditions, etc.) Any feeling of immunity 
         from disease in your tanks, for whatever reason, is a vulnerable position to take. It is best to stay observant and prepared, and if   
         you do have something happen, you will be ready for it. If nothing happens, consider yourself lucky and continue your husbandry
         practices, because they are working for you.

         I happen to believe that pathogens always exist in our tanks - I have had things come in with commercially prepared dry foods
         (daphnia cysts, infusoria) so introduction of routine aquarium pathogens (ich, camallanus worms) seems entirely likely. In my
         opinion, a disease free environment that isn't due to good husbandry is unlikely, and sacrificing husbandry through some
         confidence that your tanks are "disease free' is a prescription for future disease problems.          

         Can I just maintain a medicinal dose of salt to avoid disease?  Yes, but there are reasons why this is not a good idea.
         Serious guppy breeders routinely maintain their tanks with a medicinal concentration of salt, and some species that tolerate
         those levels long term are kept that way specifically to avoid disease issues (Mollies, for example). But salt will often destroy many
         plants, it can be messy, and will need to be continued by anyone getting your fish. Otherwise, until the fish's  immune system adjusts
         to the non salted water, the fish you traded may be vulnerable to opportunistic disease issues. This is one reason why a quarantine 
         tank is necessary for any new fish to a fishroom. After a week or two, the new fish will be adapted to the unsalted water and can be
         introduced into the community tank.      

         What causes bent spines? Bent spines are not a disease, or even a concern, with the exception of keeping that fish from
         breeding as it matures. Bent spines are the result of closely related  fish "clearing out" negative mutations present in their
         genome that are not otherwise expressed. Bent spined fish are the normal result of a line as it becomes more consistent 
         in what is produced, as a result of breeding closely related fish. In fact, the presence of bent spines is a sign of the line is
         improving as it throws off these mutations. Continued careful selective breeding will continue to develop and strengthen the
         line. Bent spined fish are simple mutations that must be culled (or at  least maintained away from the fish you wish to breed).


         Greg Sage
         Select Aquatics






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