In this last section, we bring up popular issues that come up after your
tank has been running for a while.
You should first
be aware that not all algae is ``bad''; Algae, like plants, feed off nutrients
in the tank, so a good crop of regularly-harvested
algae can help keep the pollution levels in check (this is the principle
behind ALGAL SCRUBBER filtration).
Likewise, algae plagues are usually symptoms of overfeeding or
not enough water changes. The best thing to do is to learn what is
causing the plague, and eliminate that cause.
Test your nitrate and/or
ammonia. Increase your water change volume and/or frequency, or feed
your fish less.
There are also a number of chemical remedies for specific algae types, and
algae-eating fish which will consume some algaes.
For full details, including specific remedies, please consult the
ALGAE SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ.
Snails, like algae, can be both useful and detrimental to a tank. Some species
will burrow in the gravel, aerating it and keeping it from being compacted;
others will eat algae. However, some species will reproduce unchecked,
destroying plants and generally being an eyesore.
You can protect against snails by sanitizing anything inanimate
you add to your
tank in a 1:20 bleach solution,
and treating new live plants in potassium permangenate or
Alum. For ridding your tank of snails, you have little recourse other than
vacuuming as many up as possible, though clown loaches are rumored to eat
snails. The SNAIL SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ
describes individual species of snails and specific remedies.
Healthy fish can easily go a
week without food. When you go out of town for the weekend, don't
bother getting someone to feed your fish. (Indeed, someone not
familiar with fish tanks is likely to overfeed your fish while you are
gone, leaving you a mess to deal with when you return.)
Stay away from those ``vacation feeders'' that slowly dissolve. They
can upset the pH of your tank and lead to excessive food in your tank.
Electrically-operated automatic feeders, though, can be useful as you
``pre-measure'' the amount of food it dispenses each day.
If you're going away for longer than a week you will have to make
arrangements for someone to feed the fish. Tank minding companies and
some fish stores will do this for a fee, but most people ask a friend or
neighbor who doesn't keep fish themselves. Sustained overfeeding could
overload your filter and wipe out your tank, and the best way to avoid
the risk of this happening is to make up individual packages (such as
small envelopes) each
containing a day's worth of food. The fish don't have to be fed every
day, and shouldn't be given more than one day's normal amount of food
at a time, even if they've gone a few days without. Be sure to warn your
helper not to make up for days they have missed by giving extra food.
If your tank has a high evaporation rate you may also want to arrange
for it to be topped off with fresh water. This is most important in a
marine tank, as you don't want the salinity drifting too high.
You can't guarantee there won't be a major equipment failure or some
other kind of disaster while you're away, but you can minimize the risk
by replacing any suspect equipment well in advance (so you can be sure
the replacement is working). Don't add any new fish in the month before
your vacation in case they introduce disease that takes some time to
come to light. Clean your tank and filter and do a normal water change
before you go, but if you've neglected maintenance don't wait until the
day before you leave and then blitz it. That will stress your fish and
perhaps damage your filtration bacteria just when they least need it.
If there is a serious problem, the chances are that it will be
discovered too late to do anything about it. However, looking after
someone else's fish can feel like a heavy burden of responsibility, and your
helper might have better peace of mind if they have the number of a fish
store or some other source of expert advice to call in an emergency.
contributed by Timothy Shimeall
The best word on moving fish (and in this discussion, fish
includes all aquarium animal life), beyond very short distances, is
DON'T. Travel is very stressful on fish, and even with the best
precautions you should expect to lose several. Given that this is true,
you may want to seriously consider selling off your stock and
getting new fish at your destination.
If, given the above, you still want to try to move fish, then the
following may help to minimize the pain and loss of fish.
The task of moving fish splits into two tasks: moving the
tank, and then (later) moving the fish. Never attempt to move the
fish in their tank.
Moving the tank
The main problem in moving the tank is the filtration system.
After a very few hours (less than a day) without a flow of
oxygen-laden water, aerobic bacteria start to die.
If you are moving a short distance (a few hours' drive or so), it may
be possible to preserve your bacteria colony; even for longer drives, some of
the bacteria will survive and rebuild itself quickly. With a modest amount of
ingenuity and planning, it should be possible to minimize the down time of
the filter by keeping water flowing though the media until the last
possible minute and restarting it as soon as you arrive. It is advisable
to always try to save your old filter media rather than throw it away.
The moving procedure is as follows:
- Put your fish in a holding container (more on that below)
- Drain your tank. If the move is going to be short, preserve
some of the water to help preserve the bacteria colony.
- Disassemble your tank. Aquarium plants will survive a fair
amount of time if their roots are kept wet, so it should be possible
to bag them with some water and set them aside for hand-moving.
If the move is going to be short, put your (unrinsed) filter medium in a
sealed container (preferably a never-used pail or other
chemical-free hard-sided container); keep the media wet, but not
submerged. For long
moves (more than one day), either clean or discard your filter media.
Pumps, heaters, etc. can be packed as any fragile appliance.
- Move your tank. Don't use a moving company or professional
packers, unless you have absolutely no choice AND you can supervise
them packing the tank and loading it in the truck. It's far better
to move it yourself or with the help of friends.
- Reassemble your tank at your destination. If you're doing a
short move you should have enough dechlorinated/treated water
available on arrival to fill your tank and get water moving through
your filter. If you're doing a long move, then set your tank up as
if it was a new tank-- including a week-long delay before putting
fish in the tank. Initially, put in a few hardy fish to get the
nitrate cycle established. After the tank is stable, put the fish
from your old home back in.
Moving the fish
There are three problems in moving the fish:
It's come to this has it? You've read all the FAQs, found out
everything you can about diseases, ailments and the proper treatments,
asked for help from several knowledgeable sources and have come to the
conclusion that you cannot nurse your fish back to health. And since
you took on the responsibility of caring for the fish you now must
find the most humane method in helping it to die.
- Where do you put them?
You have two options:
a friend's tank, and a pet store tank.
Some pet stores will, for a fee, board fish during a move. A
signed contract, detailing what responsibilities the pet store is
assuming, is a very good idea. Some pet stores, for a further
fee, will pack and air-ship the fish to you on request. This isn't
Bear in mind that you'll be leaving the fish there for at least a
couple of weeks.
- How do you pack them?
For short periods of time (a couple of hours, tops) you can put the
fish in sealed bags, half-filled with air. This time can be
stretched somewhat by filling with oxygen, rather than air. Put
the bags in a padded, compartmentalized container, and ship by air.
(This is how pet stores receive their fish). For larger
fish, or longer trips, one can use a sealed bucket for each fish,
rather than a bag.
- How do you support them on the move?
Fish won't eat during the move. They're too stressed,
and you don't want to degrade the water quality by the food,
anyway. Fish can survive a week or so without food if they've been
previously well fed.
Try to maintain an even temperature, perhaps by placing the fish in
a sealed cooler, or compartmentalized cooler.
For long trips, particularly by car, a battery-powered airpump and
airstone is a good idea (if not a must).
After the move, slowly condition the fish to the new tank location,
as you would in adding new fish to a tank.
Several options exist for euthanizing your ill pet. They include
chemicals, decapitation, and donation. The best method is probably
through the use of chemicals. A few vets recommend an overdose of
MS-222, a fish anesthetic. It can be purchased from chemical supply
companies as MS-222, tricaine methanesulfonate or Ethyl
3-aminobenzoate, methanesulfonic acid salt. Immerse the fish in a
container of 350 ppm MS-222 (350 mg MS-222 per liter of water) for 10
minutes. This is very humane and is non-traumatic for both the fish
and owner. Another chemical method is the injection of pentothal into
the abdominal cavity. This may be more difficult for the owner as
syringes may be hard to come by and sticking animals with needles may
not sit well with some people. It is almost painless for the fish if
this helps ease your hesitations regarding this method. Finally one
can use alcohol to euthanize a fish. Make a 1:5 (20%) solution of
Vodka (or any other similar strong grain neutral alcohol) and
water. Then place the fish into the container and it will simply `go
to sleep'. These 3 methods are highly recommended as they are very
One method that has been recommended by a non-veterinary (but
experienced Oscar breeder) type is the use of Alka-Seltzer. Place the
fish in a shallow container of water and place 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets
in a position under the gills. The fish supposedly will `fall asleep'
A non-chemical but effective method is decapitation. Once again, some
owners may be squeamish over this method. If done properly is quick
and painless for the animal, and has the benefit of being cheap; most
of us own knives but not anesthetics. Use a sharp knife and sever the
spinal cord by quickly cutting down through the body just behind the
eye at the level of the lateral line. The quicker you make this cut
the better it will be for the fish. Remember to disinfect this knife
after the procedure if you plan on using it for anything other than
If you are unable to go through with any of the above methods try
contacting a local university. It is possible that one of the
departments in biology or similar fields will take your sick fish off
your hands. They may use the fish for research and study its disease
or will be able to dispose of it properly.
Methods that are not recommended but are often mentioned include
variations on freezing. Fish tend to suffer in these procedures. It
does not matter whether they cool down slowly when you place them in a
bowl of water in the freezer or if the water is already cold from the
addition of ice cubes. Fish react to these methods in a negative
way, and it is painful to watch. Finally one should NEVER flush a fish
down the toilet. This is not an effective method of euthanasia but is
a form of torture as the fish ends up in a septic tank or similar
place where it is bathed in nasty chemicals and sewage before finally
succumbing hours if not days later.
At some point, you will find yourself unsatisfied with merely keeping
healthy fish, and will yearn to delve into the fascinating world
of fish breeding. Congratulations! You've gone beyond the scope
of the FAQs.
Go read some good books on fish
breeding, and post questions to the newsgroups. Then write a FAQ on it,. :)
[Editor's note: someone has taken us up on the challenge!
There is a BREEDING FAQ at last.]
End of Beginner FAQ.
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