Recognizing that something is not quite right with one of your aquarium inhabitants can be very unsettling. There are so many factors to consider when diagnosing a problem, figuring out where to start can be daunting. Is it the fish? Is it something the water? The knee-jerk reaction is to rush down to the local fish store and frantically look for a medication that somewhat covers the symptoms you are observing. Unfortunately, sometimes this “quick fix approach” will only make things worse, especially if the medications are not used properly. When trying to help a “sick” fish, we would ask that you consider the following guidelines:
Is it Environmental?
Improper water chemistry or temperature can cause symptoms in your aquarium inhabitants that mimic many diseases. Sometimes an ammonia spike can cause your fish to exhibit symptoms such as loss of appetite, hiding, or gasping at the surface. Before just assuming that your fish as a disease, rule out any environmental factors by running a full panel of water tests and checking that your water temperature is not contributing to the problem.
Research the Species and the Symptoms
You would never dream of just giving your child a medication without making sure it was going to treat the symptoms being displayed and is safe for your child. You should treat your aquarium inhabitants with the same regard. Make a list of the symptoms being displayed. Talk with your local fish store or get on a reputable website/blog and see if others have had the same issues if you are unsure what the problem is. Ensuring a proper diagnosis is key to making sure you select the proper medication. You will also need to make sure the medication you are selecting is appropriate for the animal to be treated. For example, so fish such as lionfish, clownfish and some types of angles can not tolerate copper-based medications. Do not just run down and pick something from the local fish store. Save yourself time and money by researching the proper course of treatment before you add anything to your aquarium.
Isolate If Possible
If the disease seems to be limited to one fish, remove the fish from your aquarium and put it in a quarantine tank. There are several good reason for doing this. You will save money by reducing the amount of medication you will need due to the smaller size of the water in which you are working. You can use medications without harming other inhabitants. Again, just because one of your children is sick does not mean you will medicate everyone in the house. In addition, some copper based medications can actually bind with live rock and other substrates in your aquarium, causing the medications to leach back into your aquarium for years. This can be especially problematic if you have corals or other inhabitants that are sensitive to copper. Some antibiotics and medications have been known to destroy beneficial nitrifying bacteria, leaving your aquarium without the biofiltration you have worked hard to create.
What if Isolation is not an Option?
If isolating the fish(s) is not possible then consider using a product that is reef safe. Some are better than others so consult with an expert before spending a bunch of money on something that may or may not work. Ruby Reef makes a product called Kick Ick and Polyp Labs makes a product called Medic. Scott, one of our contributors, has used Medic and he recently wrote an article about it on AquaNerd. We are also aware that AquaFinn, has a reef safe product it is working on but it is currently in the testing phase of development. No word on when it will be available for purchase but we hope to be able to report on this very soon.
Follow The Instructions
Make sure you always follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly. Measure accurately and take the time to properly calculate your volume of water so you do not over/under dose your system. It is also very important that you do not try and use multiple medications. People are notoriously impatient. You see your beloved fish struggling and begin to become impatient when a medication does not seem to be working. One of the worse things you can do is try and use multiple medications to treat a problem hoping that “one of them will work.” If you find that a medication is not working, make sure you take the time to do a water change to eliminate the original medication from the water column. You can also use activated carbon or other chemical filtration methods to eliminate as much of the medication from the water before you start using a different one.
Skip the “One Size Fits All” Medication and do your research!