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Aquarium First Aid: Warning Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff


Many situations can arise in an aquarium that demands immediate attention from the hobbyist in order to protect the fish and
invertebrates that are housed within. Described here are warning signs of an emergency, the equipment you should have to
determine what the problem is, and equipment necessary to correct it.
Warning signs
Fish behavior
The behavior of the fish should be your first indication of problems within the aquarium. Some of the signs to watch for
include:
Livestock losses
Rapid breathing
Irregular movements
Color loss
Unusual markings or growths
Fish stop eating
Environmental changes
Changes in the general appearance of the aquarium can also be an indication of water problems. Some of the typical signs
related to imbalances in water chemistry include:
Poor expansion in corals and invertebrates
Poor growth or death of plants
Cloudy water
Water with a strong smell
Increased algae growth
Equipment to determine the problem
Test kits
A quality test kit should always be on hand and should include tests for ammonia, nitrite, pH, nitrates, phosphates, and a
hydrometer if it is a saltwater aquarium.
The following is a general guideline to the problems that the different water parameters can cause in the aquarium along with
a solution. Compare the warning signs that your aquarium exhibits to the following, and test those parameters to determine if
they are the culprit.
Ammonia and nitrite: Excess amounts of either of these nutrients can be responsible for all the signs listed above. If toxic
levels of either are present, perform 25% water changes daily until the values return to zero, and incorporate a chemical
ammonia neutralizing media into the filtration.
pH: The pH of the aquarium water can be responsible for all the signs listed above. If abnormal, perform a 25% water change
and add the necessary pH buffers.
Nitrates: Excess nitrates in the aquarium will lead to excessive algae growth as well as health problems with the fish at high
levels. Perform 25% water changes with nitrate free water weekly, and incorporate a nitrate reducing chemical media into the
filtration.
Phosphates: Phosphates encourage algae growth, cyanobacteria in saltwater, as well as inhibiting the calcification process
within corals and coralline algae. Perform 25% water changes with phosphate free water weekly, and incorporate a phosphate
adsorbing media into the filtration.
Equipment to correct the problem
Water changing equipment
Keep on hand all of the equipment that you need to perform a water change. This equipment should include:
Siphon hose
Buckets or garbage cans large enough to hold at least 25% of the aquarium's water capacity
Power head or air pump, for aerating the make-up water
Heater and thermometer, for make-up water
Dechlorinator, if using tap water, and salt for a saltwater aquarium
Chemical medias
The following chemical medias are useful in both emergency situations, as well as general maintenance:
Ammonia neutralizing medias
Activated carbon or organic removing resin

Aquarium First Aid: Warning Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment - Page 1 of 2


Unauthorized use of any images, thumbnails, illustrations, descriptions, article content, or registered trademarks of Foster & Smith, Inc. is strictly
prohibited under copyright law. Site content, including photography, descriptions, pricing, promotions, and availability are subject to change without
notice. These restrictions are necessary in order to protect not only our copyrighted intellectual property, but also the health of pets, since articles or
images that are altered or edited after download could result in misinformation that may harm companion animals, aquatic life, or native species.
Phosphate and nitrate adsorbing media
Toxic metal or copper remover
Appropriate pH buffer and spare media bags
Hospital aquarium
A hospital aquarium is a separate aquarium that is much smaller than the main aquarium, and used to medicate ill fish, and for
quarantining new fish before acclimating them to the main display. One of the Eclipse systems ranging in size from 2 gallons
up to 12 is an excellent option. This system will need to have a heater and thermometer, preferably a dark colored gravel, and
some form of shelter for reducing stress on the fish.
Medication
If any of the fish in the aquarium show signs of disease, it is important to transfer them to the hospital aquarium. In the event
that illness should become evident in the aquarium, having a broad range of treatments on hand will help save valuable time
in combating the illness. The medications that we suggest for emergencies are:
Furanase
Erythromycin
Copper
If copper is used, you will also need a copper test kit to monitor the levels within the hospital aquarium.

Aquarium First Aid: Warning Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment - Page 2 of 2


Unauthorized use of any images, thumbnails, illustrations, descriptions, article content, or registered trademarks of Foster & Smith, Inc. is strictly
prohibited under copyright law. Site content, including photography, descriptions, pricing, promotions, and availability are subject to change without
notice. These restrictions are necessary in order to protect not only our copyrighted intellectual property, but also the health of pets, since articles or
images that are altered or edited after download could result in misinformation that may harm companion animals, aquatic life, or native species.

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