How to Treat Sick Aquarium Fish (Even If You’re Not Sure What’s Wrong)
Treating a sick aquarium fish can be difficult, especially if you’re new to the hobby or have never seen this disease before. Based on years of experience helping customers at our fish store and online, here are the step-by-step guidelines and medications we personally use to get our fish back to health as quickly as possible.
Step 1: Do Your Quarantine Tanks Have You Got One?
A quarantine aquarium is a small, empty tank that you use to hold new fish until they are ready for your main aquarium. This allows you to ensure that your fish are healthy and won’t infect other fish. But you may say, “I don’t need a quarantine tank for my new fish because they all look healthy. How is it possible for sickness to come from fish that don’t have any symptoms?” The reason is because the original host fish may carry an illness, but its strong immune system keeps the pathogen under control with no visible signs. It is possible for the disease to spread to other fish by stressing the host fish when it is added to an aquarium.
Fish from wholesalers, fish breeders, or fish stores are most likely to bring in some type of pathogen. Any place that keeps a lot of fish together has a higher risk of having fish diseases. Therefore, whenever you buy fish or even get them from a friend, don’t immediately put them into your display aquarium. A quarantine aquarium is a good idea. This will allow you to first examine the fish for signs and then administer preventive medication. This is similar to the way we vaccinate cats and dogs to prevent common diseases from spreading. This prevents contamination and will save you money over the long-term.
These fish are acting lethargic, which is a symptom of many types of disorders. They will recover faster if they are treated in a safe, isolated environment.
In reality, most people do not keep a quarantine tank because they’re either new to the hobby or think it’s too much of a hassle, but it only takes one virulent outbreak to learn the importance of quarantining. We recommend that you treat the entire aquarium with medication if a disease has been introduced to it.
Step 2: Can You Identify What’s Wrong?
Most of the time, fish keepers (especially beginners) do not know what ailment has affected their fish, but doing nothing is also not productive. Ideally, we want to treat the issue as soon as possible to give the fish the best chance of surviving. We recommend that you use broad-spectrum medicines for parasitic, fungal and bacterial infections to cover all bases. There are hundreds of medications on the market. Which ones will not only offer effective protection against most conditions, but are also safe to use with plants, shrimp, snails, baby fish, and even sensitive, scale-less fish?
After consulting with ichthyologists and spending tens of thousands of dollars in development time and extensive testing, we narrowed down the search to three medications – Mardel Maracyn, Aquarium Solutions Ich-X, and Fritz ParaCleanse. All of these medications are safe to use with each other, and in our experience, they will not harm the beneficial bacteria in your aquarium.
Description for the trio of quarantine medications
Many people wonder if they can have two of the three medications. Is it OK to swap one of these medications for another? Unfortunately, some medications can be toxic together. That is why licensed pharmacists in humans are trained to identify and prescribe only safe combinations. We don’t know if certain medications are compatible with other fish medications. There are many types of medication available, some of which are not available in all countries. We don’t know if these unidentified products are safe for fish, invertebrates and plants.
Step 3: How to Care for Your Fish in Sickness
If you know the exact disease that your fish is suffering from, make sure to treat it immediately with the right medication. For example, if you see fish fungus, read our full article and consider using Maracyn and Ich-X. ParaCleanse is recommended for tapeworms and other parasites. It should be repeated every two to three months to kill any eggs still in the hatching fish.
Trio for quarantine medication
However, if you need to quarantine fish, or if you are unsure about the ailment, all three medications can be used simultaneously. Oftentimes, a fish may start off with one type of illness, such as a fungal infection. This can create an open wound that leaves itself vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection. Thus, it’s best to treat for all three types of infection to give the fish the greatest chance of recovery.
1. If you are treating new fish, make sure the quarantine tank is far away from your normal display tank, and do not let the tanks share any nets, siphons, buckets, or other equipment. You should wash your hands with soap and hot tap water after handling water droplets. 2. Before you begin treatment, make sure that the aquarium is clean and clear. Wipe the aquarium walls so that you can easily observe the fish’s condition, clean out the waste in your filter, and use a siphon to vacuum the substrate and change the water. 3. Turn off any UV sterilizers and remove any chemical filtration, such as Purigen or activated carbon. Consider adding extra surface agitation (such as with a simple air stone and air pump), since some medications can change the water’s viscosity and hamper with the fish’s breathing ability. 4. Do not use the box directions. For every 10 gallons aquarium water, you can add 1 packet Maracyn, 1 ParaCleanse packet, and 1 U.S. teaspoon Ich-X. (Ich-X is not known to stain aquarium decorations. However, it can stain clothes and skin if spilled. 5. Let the fish soak in the medication, and do not feed them or change any water for 1 week. You can feed your fish only lightly if you feel that you have to. Wait until Day 4 or 5. During this time, you should leave the heater and aquarium filter on. Aquarium lighting won’t activate the medication. 6. After one week, you can change 30% of the aquarium’s water. Keep the fish hydrated and keep an eye on any symptoms.
It may be easier for fish with weak bodies to spread out treatment. Bacterial infections are most common so first use Maracyn for one week at the recommended dosage in Step 4. External parasites and Ich are the most common. Next, treat the fish with IchX for a week. Internal worms and gill flukes are slower-acting pathogens, so dose ParaCleanse in the third week.
If you can clearly identify the illness (such ich), then switch to the appropriate medication and complete the quarantine med triage.
You may notice signs of an outbreak such as ich or white spot disease after you have started the quarantine medication treatment. Change 30% of the water, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the medication you need to use (e.g., Ich-X in this case). Wait a few weeks to let the ich die. Then, treat the fish with ParaCleanse or Maracyn for a week.
If you have never treated any of your fish before, consider treating all of them and starting with a clean slate. You should then be proactive in treating any new fish that come into your home. While medication is expensive, some pathogens may remain dormant for years, just waiting to attack your fish’s immune system. These medications should always be available for emergency situations, based on our own experience. Chances are that you won’t be able to find them last minute at your local pet store and will have to either wait several days to receive an online shipment or settle for an untested brand that may not work at all.
Take an Active Role in Your Fish’s Health
We are very passionate about quarantining all new fish, no matter who you get them from, because even changing their environment (e.g., different water parameters or new social hierarchy) can trigger disease. That’s why we preventively medicate every single fish that enters our fish store and ensure they have a clean bill of health before leaving our care.
In the same way, take the proper precautions to ensure your own fish can lead long and healthy lives.
Are you dealing with a specific sickness in your aquarium fish? You can find detailed instructions in our article list.