The Short Answer to Why You Need a Quarantine Aquarium

The short answer to, “Do I really need a quarantine tank?” is a resounding YES, especially if you have a large aquarium full of fish. While it may seem like a hassle to have a quarantine aquarium, it is much less a hassle than losing all your fish due to introducing something deadly to your current aquarium occupants.

The Long Answer to Why You Need a Quarantine Aquarium

There is not a day that goes by without someone calling PetSolutions looking for the best cure for some type of infection in the aquarium. With freshwater fish, it is usually fairly straight forward to treat the disease. You might have to remove your chemical filtration and perhaps turn off a UV sterilizer (if you have one) while treating and, then, be ready to do a partial 20-30% water change. Marine aquariums can pose a significantly more difficult course of treatment. If there are no invertebrates, corals or live rock in the tank, it can usually be treated just like a freshwater aquarium. But if there are any invertebrates, corals or live rock, the treatment will require more caution. For most bacterial infections, we can successively treat the fish with the use of antibiotics, such as Furan 2, Fish Mox, Fish Cillin, or one of the natural remedies, like Melafix or Pimafix. Most treatments will take 5 to 10 days to effect a cure, and for the first two or three days, it may be difficult to tell if the fish are getting better. After four to five days, you should see an obvious improvement of the fish’s appearance and behavior. Treating a parasite infestation can take a little more planning. If the aquarium has “scaleless” fish like Clown Loaches, Synodontis catfish, or Silver Dollars, you will need to carefully follow the dosing instructions of the treatment of choice, often using a half dose. Even when you can treat with a full dose of the medication, such as Rid Ich+, Formalin-MS, and Cupramine,  it is important to treat longer than the parasite is visible on the fish. The parasite’s life cycle includes a stage where the cyst has fallen off the fish into the substrate, where it multiplies and then burst open to release 100’s of new parasites. Most treatments can only kill the parasites while they are in this free swimming stage. Where it gets tricky is that the cyst can remain in the substrate for 5 to 10 days before it releases the new parasites, and it is important to still be treating when this happens. You may not see any cysts on the fish but still need to treat for 5 to 7 more days. If the parasite infestation occurs in a marine aquarium with invertebrates, corals and/or live rock, you will have to use specialized treatments that are safe for these animals, like  No-Ich Marine, Stop Parasites, or Aqua Pro-Cure. These treatments will need to be for three weeks to control the parasites, and it is important to begin the treatment the moment you see the parasite. You really need to have the medications on hand at all times to start immediate treatment before the parasite can get entrenched in the aquarium.

While the discussion above explained in simple terms how to treat the display aquarium for diseases or parasites, there is another way to almost guarantee you will not have any problems in the display tank: Simply use a quarantine aquarium and proactively treat the fish before they are added to the main tank! Nearly every handbook written will tell hobbyists to use a quarantine system, and nearly all hobbyists will ignore this suggestion or think it is too difficult to set up a quarantine system.

Listed below are the simple steps you can take to have your own quarantine system. You need to have on hand:

  • an aquarium or container that holds 10 to 20 gallons of water
  • a simple Sponge Filter and an air pump for filtration
  • an aquarium heater, preferably a submersible unit and a thermometer
  • resin, plastic or even PVC ornaments and/or pipes

As soon as you know you are going to add new fish, fill the water container/aquarium with water from the display tank. (The new water will be added to the main display as part of a partial water change.)

Place the Sponge Filter and heater inside the quarantine system, and be sure to check that the temperature is remaining constant. If you have a sump style main filter, you can keep the Sponge Filter in the sump until you need to set up the quarantine system. This way, the Sponge Filter has an active biological filter to help keep the system stable. Be aware that once you are done with the quarantine system, be sure to bleach the Sponge Filter before adding it back to the sump to avoid transferring any pathogens to the main tank.

Acclimate the new fish to the water in the quarantine system. Hopefully, the new fish does not show signs of bacterial infections, but you can use products like Melafix or Paraguard to treat any possible infections. While you cannot see them, it is important to treat for parasites for a period of at least two weeks. You can use products like Cupramine or No-Ich Marine. Both are easy to dose and are difficult to overdose. The reason to use plastic ornamentation is to avoid having any of the treatments absorbed by the material but still offer the fish a place to hide and something to interact with and not feel like they are totally isolated.

Once the fish finish their time in the quarantine system and are moved to the display tank, tear down the quarantine tank and wipe it down with vinegar before storing it for the next time. Taking these easy steps can prevent a major disaster in your prized display aquarium.

About The Author Don Roberts

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