by Susan Horton, DVM

What is Algae?Algae should be thought of as a type of simple plant that develops when water and light are present. Algae is not harmful to an aquarium but in most cases is considered unsightly and customers want to control or eliminate it. What causes Algae to grow? For algae to grow it needs light. Both the aquarium and room light can cause algae to grow. If your tank is getting more than 10 hours of light a day you may notice green algae starting to grow. Warm water and ‘nitrates’ (which build up from not doing regular water changes) will cause algae to grow quickly. Also if phosphates are present, they will promote algae growth. How to control Algae:

  1. Control the light received by the aquarium. The less light your tank gets, the less likely it is you will have algae.  Do not place your tank where direct sun light will affect the tank.  Keep your aquarium lights on a timer and limit the light to 10 hours a day.
  2. Regular water changes.   We recommend a 1/3 water change every 2 weeks for an established fish tank.  Algae uses excess fish food and fish waste for fertilizer. By doing regular water changes you will reduce the amount of “food” the algae has.
  3. Live plants fight Algae.  They compete for the same nutrients.
  4. Certain fish are “Algae Eaters” and will naturally help control algae growth.
  5. Many chemicals are available to help algae from growing. These chemicals are “inhibitors” and will prevent some algae from starting to grow but will not get rid of Algae after it has started.  We prefer a more natural tank without these chemicals and therefore do not recommend them.
  6. You may want to purchase a scraper or pad to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium. Don’t use anything from the supermarket to clean your tank, as it may contain soap which is deadly to fish!

Algae blooms or green water problems An algae bloom is a suspended algae that makes the water green but does not grow on glass or ornaments. If this happens to your tank the best way to get rid of it is by ‘starving’ the Algae. Cover the tank with newspaper so it is completely dark for 48 hours (during this time only feed every other day). This will cause the algae to die. After 48 hours, do a 1/3 water change. In some cases the water change may have to be repeated. Green Algae is caused by too much light.

  • Reduce the amount of light
  • Do regular water changes
  • Don’t overfeed
  • Get algae eating fish

And you will control this problem.

by All Creatures Vet Hospital

Preventative Medicine for Pet FishIn terrestrial veterinary practice “preventive medicine” is often erroneously considered synonymous with vaccination and “deworming” schedules. Of course, preventive medicine encompasses much more, including provision of proper nutrition, maintenance of a healthy environment, and management of other disease risk factors. For pet tropical fish, the lack of available vaccines and well worked out chemical prophylaxis regimens greatly increases the importance of the “other” areas of preventive medicine. Preventive medicine should begin before the pet fish owner sets up their tank or pond, and includes many areas considered “Husbandry”.

I. Tank Set-up and Operation

Proper set up of the tank that will house pet fishes is critical to long-term success. For example, tanks set up in southern or western exposure windows may experience severe algal problems possibly along with deleterious temperature fluctuations. Although aquarium heaters can stabilize a tank in cooler environments, fewer systems incorporate the chilling equipment required to keep water temperatures from rising in summer. Relocating these tanks before they are established can avoid numerous problems. Judicious use of blinds or curtains can help if relocation is not an option. Tanks located near radiators or other types of heat exchange outlets can experience similar problems. Remember to assess the air quality in the area projected for the tank and particularly the air quality near any planned remote air pump.

The configuration of a tank can have a great impact on its carrying capacity. Tall tanks with low ratios of surface area to water volume are hard to clean and manage, and can properly accommodate a much smaller biomass than a tank of equal gallonage with a great deal of surface area. Also, many beginners want to start out small and work their way up in tank size. Unfortunately small tanks are much more dynamic and difficult to manage than large tanks. the slightest shift in water quality usually results in rapidly fatal situations. Larger tanks respond more slowly. Larger doses of toxic substances are required to reach toxic levels, which gives the owner more time to observe the problem and react. We advise clients to start out with a tank that holds at least 20 and preferably 30 gallons.

Tanks should also be constructed of materials that won’t be toxic to the fish. All glass aquaria are constructed from glass and high grade silicone rubber. Older tanks or occasionally very decorative tanks may incorporate metals or other materials that can be a source of chronic toxicity. Similarly, very exotic substrates (sands, rocks, decorations) need to be evaluated to make sure they won’t leech toxic substances. This can be an analytical challenge, and may require a skilled geologist or chemist.

II. Water Quality

Certainly the single most important issue in preventative medicine for pet fishes is water quality. Improper initial start up and water cycling of tanks on biofiltration can result in ammonia and nitrite toxicities. In older more established tanks, improper methods of changing water are often the cause of build ups of toxic wastes or contaminants. Clients often erroneously consider “topping up”, or the replacement of water lost to evaporation, as the same thing as a water change. Unfortunately, toxic substances including heavy metals such as copper do not evaporate with the water. Each “topping up” can add more toxicant, and removes none. Slowly the concentrations build up to toxic levels. A classic example would be a long established tank which has been maintained the same way for years. Now fish are dying, either individually or in small groups. They don’t respond to pet store medications and infectious disease signs are not the principle signs. Water change requires that you remove water first then replace water to the original level (0.75% change per day, 20% every two weeks, or 30% change each month will work well in most cases).

1. pH
The ideal pH level of freshwater aquariums is between 6.5 and 7.5.
Marine tropical fishes thrive at a pH of between 8.0 and 8.3.

2. Temperature
The ideal temperature for most freshwater tropical fish is be between 76 and 80 degrees F.

Abnormal Behavioral Patterns

As in terrestrial pets, fish behavior can be a sign of trouble and a cause of trouble. The following is a list of some of the common behavioral patterns displayed by stressed or diseased fish in aquaria.


The most common problem behavior reported in pet fish is undesirable aggression. This aggression is commonly displayed as chasing or fin-nipping. When these behaviors are witnessed, the social structure of the tank should be evaluated and appropriate measure taken to isolate fish.

  1. Chasing
    This is the rapid movement of one fish in close pursuit of another. The dwarf gourami is a territorial species that will commonly chase other fish away from its established niche. The hovering angelfish may actively chase more peaceful species housed in the same environment. These types of situations may cause active fish like guppies and tetra to hide and refuse food, therefore making them more susceptible to opportunistic pathogens in their environment.
  2. Fin-nipping
    Damaged fins and surrounding tissue are potential sites for bacterial infections.


Resting on the bottom is normal behavior for sedentary species and fish that are asleep. Typical fish that are considered sedentary are: plecostomus, polypterus, lungfish, Chinese algae eaters, and some catfish.

Bottom-sitting may be clinically significant if displayed by a normally active species. If one fish is affected, a bacterial or parasitic disease entity should be pursued. If the whole population is affected, possible contamination of the environment with a toxicant should be investigated.


This may be a sign of one-sided blindness (the good eye will always be to the outside of the circle) or one-sided fin damage. Circling typically becomes apparent prior to recognizable noticeable fin damage.

Color change

This may involve a fish becoming blanched (paleness or decreased intensity of the entire body). This is commonly seen in situations stress as in cold shock or low levels of dissolved oxygen. A specific paleness of the lateral line in neon tetras is highly suggestive of infection with the microsporidian Pleistiphora.

An increase in color intensity or the development of new colors may be seen during periods of courtship.


This is described as aimless, unpropelled motion through the water. This is generally thought of as indicative of a moribund(dying) state.


This describes a fish that turns on its side and makes a rapid semicircular swimming motion. These fish will frequently rub on objects in the aquarium as well. Flashing is considered to be a sign of an “itchy” fish. Ectoparasite infestation is the most common cause of this behavior.


Head-standing is when a fish assumes a vertical position in the water with its head down. This is a serious sign, indicating loss of control of equilibrium or buoyancy, and is secondary to gas accumulation in the abdomen or under the skin. This is common in catfish due to the organism Edwardsiella tarda.


This is a swimming pattern in which fish stay relatively in one place in the tank. This is a normal behavior for angelfish, hatchet fish, Siamese fighting fish, and some of the fancy gold fish.


This is the gulping of air at the surface of the water. It is indicative of severe hypoxia. Three normal behaviors that may be confused with piping are:

  1. Air breathers- these fish normally breathe air from the water surface. Lungfish and some eels typically display this behavior.
  2. Leaf fish which are surface dwelling fish may be confused as displaying this behavior.
  3. Bubble-nesters- fish that build nest for their eggs from bubbles they produce are often confused to be piping.

Hypoxic animals typically act very anxious and are not concerned with other things going on around them. Piping may be secondary to low oxygen levels or to gill parasites.


This is a swimming movement in which the fish does not swim in a normal horizontal plane, but assumes an oblique position with the head directed toward the surface. This behavior is very characteristic in tetras infected with the microsporidian Pleistiphora.

External Parasites of Fish

  • Protozoal diseases constitute the most common disease entity for a tank of pet fish. Some protozoans such as Ichthyopthirius (“Ich”) and Cryptocaryon (saltwater “Ich”) have an encysted stage which is resistant to chemotherapeutic treatment. When faced with a protozoal outbreak you must look for a source. This will most commonly be the addition of an unquarantined animal to the aquarium or the presence of a stressor such as overcrowding or poor water quality. Protozoal diseases are best treated with a medicated bath. Fish treated in this manner should be removed from the display aquarium and placed in a hospital tank. The treatment tank should be well aerated and any carbon filtration should be discontinued.
  • Fungal diseases are usually external and are most always secondary to a break in the integrity of the epidermis and associated mucus coating. Common pathogens include Saprolegnia and Fusarium. If the infection is not severe many fish will heal with supportive care. The fungal colony can be gently removed with a cotton swab and the underlying wound may be treated topically with a disinfectant or antibiotic cream.

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites can be clinically significant in aquarium fish.

Metazoan parasites include the skin and gill flukes (monogeneans), cestodes (tapeworms), nematodes, trematodes, and crustacean parasites. With the exception of a severe monogenean skin and gill infestation the presence of these parasites usually does not constitute an emergency. Antemortem fecal examination or a thorough autopsy will diagnose an internal helminth problem.

Bacterial Diseases

Most bacterial pathogens of fishes are gram negative rods and include such genera as Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, Vibrio, and Flexibacter. Infections can be severe and lethal.

Once a diagnosis of bacterial disease has been made or is at least suspected, a treatment plan should be formulated. Larger pet fishes may be injected intraperitoneally or intramuscularly with antibiotics which are effective against gram negative pathogens.

An alternative to injectable antibiotic therapy is utilizing the oral route. Antibiotics may be mixed into a gelatinized food or given by force feeding.

Recipe for Gelatinized Food

  • Take 250 grams of a well-balanced flake food, mix in a blender with 500 milliliters of water. Mix well.
  • To this slurry add 25 milliliters of cod liver oil and 25 milliliters of vegetable oil.
  • Add a can of tuna or spinach baby food (optional step)
  • Blend well. After blending, add in the medication to be used. Blend well.
  • In a separate pan, heat 500 milliliters of water to boiling.
  • Add 60 to 75 grams of powdered unflavored gelatin (8 to 10 normal size packets) to the hot water, and stir until gelatin is dissolved.
  • Allow the gelatin mixture to cool but not set, add the food mixture to the gelatin mixture and stir well.
  • Place the total mixture into plastic bags and place into refrigerator. After one hour, the food can be broken into manageable chunks for your fish to eat.

A third and less desirable approach to chemotherapy is to administer the treatment as a bath. Antibiotics and other compounds can be added directly to the water. This type of treatment is more appropriate for ectoparasite infections. Fish treated in this manner should be removed from the display aquarium and placed in a hospital tank. The treatment tank should be well aerated and any carbon filtration should be discontinued.

Medicating Fish

At the present time there are only 6 compounds (four active ingredients) approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in aquatic species, and use is extremely limited in terms of species, indication and route of administration. Approved products include one ectoparasiticide (formalin), one anesthetic (methane tricaine sulfonate) and two antibiotics (oxytetracycline and a potentiated sulfonamide). Certain products have been designated to be of low regulatory priority by FDA which suggests that, while not approved, their use is being tolerated by the agency.

When a single fish is ill, the fish usually can be placed in a hospital tank for treating. In cases in which many or all fish are affected, especially with a condition like Ichthyopthirius (“Ich”) and Cryptocaryon (saltwater “Ich”) the entire tank should be treated.


During anytime of display tank treatment, carbon filtration should be discontinued because it nullifies the treatment. If the tank contains a viable biological filter, it should be disabled during the treatment to protect nitrifying bacteria. After the treatment, 30% to 50% of the water in the tank should be changed.

Please feel free to contact your veterinarian’s office if you have any questions regarding your tropical fish. They will do their very best to assist you in the proper correction of the problem at hand.

Best of luck and we hope you enjoy your tropical fish for years to come. Please check the numerous literature sources available for more detailed information on tropical fish and their care.

David E. Hammett, DVM
G. Scott Russell, DVM

Supplies Checklist

  • Fish tank
  • Water conditioner
  • Full hood with light
  • pH kit
  • Gravel
  • Fish Foods
  • Heater
  • Decorations
  • Thermometer
  • Stand (optional)
  • Filter with cartridges
  • Books about fresh water tropical fishes

by ​Susan Horton, DVM

Day 1- Set up the aquarium

  • Adjust the water temperature to 76-80 degrees. Make sure it stays in this area for 24 hours.
  • De-chlorinate and condition the water with chemicals
  • Confirm that all equipment is running correctly by letting the filter run for 24 hours.

Day 10-12 add started fish

  • Limit fish purchases. 1-2 fish per 10 gallons every 10-14 days.
  • Choose hardy fish.
  • Add live plants (optional).
  • Do not feed the same day fish are purchased.

Day 10-12

  • Begin light feedings. Feed every other day, once a day for the first month.
  • Observe fish for stress (rapid breathing, lethargy, clamped fins).

Day 14

  • Recommended water change, 1/3 water change with a gravel cleaner


  • Purchase new fish (optional) using a ratio of 1-2  fish per 10 gallons.
  • As you enjoy watching your new pets, look out for signs of illness.

Day 15-30

  • Observe fish daily for signs of stress or illness.
  • Have water tested at least once a month

Day 30 cleaning (Refer to our free how to clean sheet)

  • Do 1/3 water change with a gravel cleaner.
  • Change filter cartridges.
  • Have water tested one week after this water change.

Important Notes

The first 4-6 weeks a tank is set up is when most people experience problems. This sheet is designed to help you get through this period. By following the above steps you should do great!


  • Do not overfeed.
  • Buy fish in small quantities.
  • Have your water tested.
  • Observe your fish for stress.
  • ​Have fun & enjoy!

by Susan Horton, DVM

Why should you clean your aquarium? No matter what type of filtration you have, you will need to regularly clean your aquarium. In a balanced, stable aquarium uneaten food or fish waste turns into ammonia. “Good” bacteria then convert these pollutants into non-toxic “nitrates”. Without regular water changes, the “good” bacteria will not be able to keep up with the accumulation of uneaten food or fish waste and the ammonia will quickly reach a dangerous level. How often should you clean your aquarium? There are many different opinions as to how often a tank needs to be cleaned. In general, the more often you clean your aquarium, the healthier your fish will be. In new aquariums (less than 3 months) we recommend a 1/3 to ½ water change every two weeks. As the aquarium becomes older a water change once a month should be sufficient. We do not recommend you take more than ½ of the water out at any one time. How should I clean my aquarium?

  1. Before starting, always take a minute to monitor your fish. Look for any signs of illness or stress. Clamped fins, loss of color, lethargy or tiny white dots (ICH) are all signs of stress. If you see any of these symptoms, proceed with your water change and consult your pet store about water testing.
  2. Unplug all equipment and wait ten minutes for your heater to cool down before starting to siphon any water out.
  3. During this time you can clean any algae off the glass so it will be siphoned out. Always use aquarium-approved products when scraping algae. Many other products will scratch the glass or could introduce harmful chemicals into the tank.
  4. Always use a “gravel cleaner” when siphoning water out of the tank. Never siphon water off the surface of the aquarium because waste accumulates at the bottom of the aquarium. By using a gravel siphon, you will be able to lift up gravel and get rid of the waste without removing any of the gravel or the fish. If you need to see a demonstration of how to use a gravel-cleaner, stop into your pet store and ask for a demonstration.
  5. Siphon the water into a bucket that is only used for the aquarium to prevent any type of accidental contamination.
  6. Before dumping the water out, clean the foam part of your filter in the dirty water. This way you will not harm the beneficial bacteria growing on the sponge. Replace any of the other cartridges that need to be cleansed (carbon should be replaced one a month). If you need to replace both the carbon and the foam we recommend you do this three to seven days apart so your filter will keep some of the established bacteria.
  7. Refill the tank one bucket at a time with tap water. Try to get the temperature close to the aquarium temperature. Add any water conditioners necessary into the bucket. Gently pour the water into the aquarium. Repeat, until the tank is filled. Wait five minutes and plug your equipment back in.


  • Never use soap or any household cleaners on the inside or outside of your tank.
  • If your filter doesn’t start back up, make sure the impeller is clean of grime.
  • Never change more than 50% of the water at any one time.

by ​Susan Horton, DVM

What is proper fish feeding?

To successfully keep fish as a hobby you must learn to feed your fish the right type of food and the right QUANTITY of food. If you “overfeed” your fish the ammonia level will rise quickly and ultimately make your fish ill or kill them.

Overfeeding fish is the #1 cause of problems in fish aquariums.

What is overfeeding?

“Overfeeding” is simply putting more food in your aquarium than your fish will eat. Generally if the food falls to the bottom of the aquarium you are overfeeding.

How should you feed your fish?

It is best to feed your fish after the light has been on for at least 1 hour. Start by taking a very small portion of food (4-5 flakes or pellets per fish) and put it in the tank. Now observe your fish. Do they immediately eat the food while it is still on the surface? If so put in a little more. As soon as food begins to fall to the bottom, stop. Every tank will require a different amount of food. Experiment to find out what is right for your tank using the guideline above. If you have liveleavers, stop at 7-9 per fish, as they may overeat!

How often should you feed your fish?

When starting an aquarium we recommend you feed your fish once, every other day. In a new aquarium it is especially important not to over feed. After one month you can increase your feedings to once a day if you would like. Remember it is difficult to “starve” your fish, but very easy to “overfeed” and cause ammonia problems.

What type of food should I feed my fish?

There is no right answer. The more variety you give your fish, the more likely you will mimic their natural diet. This variety will result in better color, quicker growth and better health. Like any living thing, the better the diet, the healthier and prettier it will be. Don’t overfeed but offer variety for a healthy and vibrant aquarium. A good rule is a staple food 3-4 times and different foods the other days; only one feeding a day.

What food do we recommend?

Flake Foods
Choose a balanced flake diet as your staple food.

Frozen Foods
There are lots of these to choose from.  Choosing a frozen food depends on the type of fish you are keeping. Frozen food should be offered at least twice weekly.

Floating Pellets
Floating food stays at the top longer before it sinks which is great for cichlids.

Sinking Pellets
These are preferred for bottom feeders and goldfish.

Various worms, live food
Many different fish, shrimp, and worms are sold. Tubifex, brine, and bloodworms are the two most popular.  Make sure they are rinsed well and healthy before you feed these to your fish.

by Ross Gottlieb, DVM

The popularity of saltwater aquariums is undeniable, and one of the most attractive features of these systems is there ability to sustain beautiful and diverse corals. Corals are actually animals, and not plants. They are unable to make food for themselves, as plants are, and they rely on their symbiotic zooxanthellae algae to do that for them. They also have a gastric cavity consistent with animals and not plants. Coral polyps also possess stinging cells called nematocysts, which are used for both prey capture and defense.

Symbiotic algae

Corals possess symbiotic algae that live inside their polyp tissue known as zooxanthellae. The algae feed on the ammonia waste produced by the coral, while providing the polyps with nutrition from photosynthesis. Not all corals possess zooxanthellae, and these corals require strict and frequent target feedings, making them a difficult inhabitant to keep in home aquaria. Different species thrive at different wavelengths of light and water conditions. Corals may expel some algae every day- this is not a bleaching event- they are simply making room for a new population. This algae is responsible for giving coral its beautiful colors, so it’s important not only to keep your corals happy, but their zooxanthellae as well.

Diversity and Importance

Coral reefs are amazing in that there are 1-3 million species of invertebrates and fish that make their homes on coral reefs. However, they only occupy about 255,000 square kilometers of our earth. For such an amazing amount of biodiversity to be found in such a relatively small area of the world is pretty amazing, and we have only really explored and catalogued about 10% of our world’s reefs. Reefs have many benefits besides providing homes for many species. Coral reefs have given us the aquarium trade, which provides many jobs to people throughout the world, stimulating economy in even third world countries. They also provide protection to many coast lines from heavy wave action. Lastly, they utilize CO2 to produce carbonate for use in their growing skeletons. Because of this, corals can act as a CO2 sink in our oceans, and make a difference in global warming and ocean acidification. However, excessive atmospheric CO2 can hinder their ability to build their skeletons

What do captive corals need?

Different species of coral have different needs based on the ecological and physical niches they occupy in the ocean. Our goal as aquarists is to mimic the optimal environmental conditions for these animals to the best of our ability. Many factors go into consideration- we have to think about what type of water flow they would do best in, how close to the surface they generally sit on the reef, how close they can be to other coral species (we will talk about physical and chemical competition later), ideal water chemistry (some corals prefer pristine water, while others prefer “dirty” water with more nutrients), the necessity and frequency of target feedings needed, and perhaps most importantly, how much light they need to grow and thrive properly.

Water flow

Corals are sessile creatures and are not able to move to hunt for food. Thus, they rely on water flow to bring food TO them. They also rely on water flow to remove waste from their tissues, as they obviously can not clean themselves very well. In addition, more flow has been shown to increase the surface area of corals undergoing respiration, as well as photosynthesis and calcification, which is obviously beneficial. However, it is important to find a balance of beneficial flow and flow that is too powerful and blowing on the polyps too harshly. Too much flow can be a catastrophic disaster for coral, as it also seems to be for this poor woman. Powerful flow can cause trauma from the polyps scraping against the corals sharp skeleton, and introduce deadly infection. Water turnover rate in the aquarium should be high- a general rule is that pumps should be rated at 5x the number of gallons of water in your tank. Thus, if your aquarium is 90 gallons, pumps should be rated to turnover water at 450 gallons per hour. Also, it’s important to try and mimic the chaotic water flow on natural reefs. To do this, multiple pumps are needed, and pointed either at each other or against walls of the tank to create random, chaotic currents. It’s also necessary to strategically place pumps so that some areas of the tank have minimal flow, for corals that prefer those sorts of conditions. However, its important to not have areas in the tank with NO flow, called dead areas, as these can be areas of extreme bacterial buildup. Some corals prefer to be close to the surface, and others prefer to sit on the sand. Their preference is a combination of light, water flow, and prey preferences. It’s important when first introducing a new coral into the tank to acclimate it to your light conditions by starting it low in the tank, usually in the sand where the light intensity is lowest. You can then gradually move the coral up until its final comfortable position. However, it is important to touch corals as little as possible, as not to further stress them and predispose to disease. It’s also important when considering a spot for a new coral to measure distance from neighboring corals. As we will discuss, certain corals can be aggressive towards neighbors, even to the point of death if they are close enough. Once a coral has been in a spot for a while, and its polyps are extended, showing that its happy with where it is, you should secure it tightly to your rockwork to prevent falling, which can stress and kill coral quite fast.

Chemical warfare

Corals compete with one another on the reef to occupy similar ecological and physical niches. One possible mechanism of doing this is for one coral to grow over another, and block its light source, thus starving it to death. Corals can be quite mean to one another! They are even capable of expelling their digestive tracts onto nearby neighbors and eating their tissue! A very potent method of competition is the growth of sweeper tentacles. These are usually exhibited in large polyp stony corals, and are larger than normal tentacles with a higher concentration of stinging nematocysts. They are capable of sticking to neighboring corals and firing these repeated high potent stings, causing injury. Corals also excrete mucous in response to stress of neighboring corals. This mucous contains nematocysts and other bioactive compounds, and can be moved around by the current and drift into other corals causing injury as well.   Corals are amazing because they are capable of “detecting self vs non self,” and responding in defense to other corals to try and protect themselves. It’s important to maintain frequent water changes while corals are getting used to one another in order to remove these toxic and harmful substances from the water. You could also utilize carbon filtration and ozone media to remove them as well. Some aquarists are known to snip off sweeper tentacles with scissors, but this can be harmful and introduce infection. It is best when sweepers form to decrease the flow in the tank, and they will recede on their own.


Corals are sentinels of water quality, meaning they will let you know when one of your parameters is off, by not fully extending its polyps and acting “angry.” Ammonia is extremely caustic to corals and fish, and should ideally be kept at 0 in the aquarium. Any detectable ammonia should be removed as soon as possible with a water change. Nitrites are slightly less toxic, but still very dangerous to corals. Levels should always be at 0 as well. Nitrates are not quite as damaging, and some corals and other animals prefer them to be relatively high for a “nutrient rich” environment. High nitrate also contributes to increased growth of nuisance algae. However, most corals prefer cleaner water and minimal nitrates, and thus they should be no more than 10ppm ideally. Too many nitrogenous compounds in the water will negatively impact coral respiration, photosynthesis, and calcification. We ideally like to see marine aquaria pH to sit between 8.1 and 8.4. However, there will be fluctuations throughout the day. Also, maintaining pH a bit higher is not necessarily a bad thing, and will inhibit the growth of nuisance algae. Alkalinity is constantly used up in the aquarium to resist changes in pH, and so must usually be dosed as a two part additive along with calcium. Alkalinity can be measured in dKh (degrees of carbonate hardness) or meq/L (which is dKh/2.8).  We like it to sit between 7-12 dKh. Temperature is preferred to remain in the zone of 75-80 degrees F. A new school of thought is to maintain corals at higher temperatures, from 80-84 degrees F, which promotes faster coral growth. However, this is risky as higher temperatures can lead to coral bleaching, so it’s important to find a happy medium. Make sure you have a good hydrometer or refractometer, keeping marine aquaria at or near 34-37 ppt or 1.024-1.027. Corals will not be tolerant of salinity outside this range, while fish will be fine. Additive such as iodine are not substantiated, although many hobbyists have claimed to see better coral growth.


Corals are mixotrophic feeders, meaning they get their energy from products of photosynthesis, as well as meaty foods such as zooplankton. They all have different nutrient requirements, and thus some will feed more than others. Some corals will not feed at all, and thrive solely on products of photosynthesis. Corals will trigger a feeding response when even a small amount of food as added to the water. They have many different methods of feeding, but the general idea is that they capture the food items within their polyps and bring it to their mouth. Corals out on the reef will generally filter feed at night, but home aquarists often feed during the day so they are able to watch the process. Corals can be trained to be “out” in preparation for their regular feeding. After digesting their prey, their waste is often recycled by their symbiotic algae. Waste can be further be removed by protein skimmers and adequate filtration.


We do our best to mimic the natural sunlight that the corals experience out on the reef. The sun is very powerful- difficult to mimic these conditions in home aquariums.  This is not an area to cut corners on in your aquarium! There are many good options today for home aquaria lighting, with each having certain advantages and disadvantages. Metal halides lights, an option used for many of the reef tanks here at the aquarium, are a very good choice. However, they give off lots of heat and use a lot of energy. One usually needs a chiller to keep temperatures down if using halide lights in their tank. However, halide bulbs last a long time, usually over a year. T5 Hi-output lights are a nice option due to their minimal heat and energy usage. However, you often need multiple bulbs, between 4-8 generally to generate enough light. Also, intensity decreases fairly quickly, and bulbs must be replaced every 6 months. LEDs are fairly new, and people are having great success with them. They put off minimal heat, and are very long lived. However, they are an expensive initial investment, usually between 500-800 dollars to light your tank. All of these options are good, but you have to make sure the light penetrates through the tank enough to hit all corals, even ones sitting on the sand bed. A general rule has usually been 5 Watts per gallon, but this isn’t really a good rule as no matter how big the aquarium is, corals still require the same, intense lighting.


Quarantine tanks are very easy to set up, and they can prevent catastrophic disasters in your aquarium. A tank as small as a simple 10 gallon will do. Don’t use substrate- just use a few rocks, and a simple heater/filter/light. Animals should be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days to monitor for signs of disease or parasitism and treat appropriately.

Natural Defense

Corals have many natural defenses against disease. Most corals primarily secrete a mucous from their tissues, which is full of anti-bacterial compounds. The composition of each coral’s mucous is different- they are resistant to different things. Their immune system is similar to that of vertebrates, in that they have phagocytes that are capable of ingesting and breaking down bacteria. However, they don’t possess the humoral immunity of vertebrates. Corals also produce heat shock proteins, which help them to resist bleaching events from heat stress. However, the composition and effectiveness of these proteins is altered when corals are stressed by disease, making them more prone to bleaching. Corals also utilize prophenoloxidase- a compound that aids in wound healing, encapsulation, parasite and disease recognition, and resistance. Corals are pretty amazing at protecting themselves, as you can see.

General Eel Care by Jonathon Bresolin, DVM

General Information:
Eels are a type of fish characterized by their long, serpentine bodies. Their caudal and anal fins, as well as their dorsal fins, are merged into a continuous fin that extends along around 2/3rds of their body. While there are 22 families of eels, most pet eels fall into the Anguillidae family, which includes the classic Moray eels. There are 16 species within the Anguillidae family, the most common of which include the Asian, American, and Japanese eels. Eels live, primarily, in freshwater systems and migrate into seawater to spawn. Eels in the wild can live up to 20 years.

In order to support their ability to live in both seawater and freshwater, eels have the ability to control their own ingestion of seawater and alter it before it reaches the stomach, preventing dehydration. They also can adjust chloride levels of the cells in their gills, adapting them to withstand the harsh change in environment.

Like all freshwater fish, eels are exposed to dramatic temperature variations during seasonal changes. In order to stabilize the blood and support brain function in colder temperatures, eels modify the amount of glucose that is circulating through their body. This allows them to adapt to and survive winter weather conditions, including almost freezing water temperatures.

Tank Selection:
Eels, despite being relatively sedentary creatures, require a large volume of water to offset their waste production. A minimum of a 60 gallon tank is recommended, even with the smaller species.  A large amount of “fixed” cover is also required. Eels primarily exist in hiding spaces in rocks and cover during the day, and this cover must be stable, in order to prevent it from shifting/falling and crushing the eel. Make sure to settle cover into the sediment, to ensure that it remains steady and in position.
A tank with a cover is a must. Eels are escape artists, and will systematically explore and test the boundaries of their enclosure at night. They are well known for jumping out of tanks. If you find your eel on your floor, don’t lose hope. Even dry and stiff eels can potentially be restored to life. Pick them up with a damp washcloth, rinse them off with tap water, and return to the tank. Monitor the eel for recovery—they should return to normal within an hour, if they are capable of doing so.
In regards to tank-mates, a well-fed eel rarely attacks other fish. However, many eels, especially the Snowflake Eel (Echidna nebulosa) preferentially eat crabs and shrimp. It is almost guaranteed that they will eat any that are in the tank.

Water Quality:
Eels are often tolerant of a wide range of water quality parameters. Below is a list of commonly measured water quality parameters and their acceptable ranges.

Specific Gravity – 1.025
Temperature – 23-30 C
Dissolved O2 – >5 mg/L
pH – 6.5 – 9.0
Ammonia (NH3) – < 1.1 mg/L
Nitrite (NH4) – < 86 mg/L
Calcium – 100 – 150 mg/L

Eels are carnivorous. Eels are voracious eaters, and often adapt quickly to new food types. Any fishmeal-based food, even frozen, will be gobbled up by most eels. Although non-fishmeal diets have been explored, due to their lower costs, long-term nutritional deficiencies are a possibility. Although the exact dietary protein requirements for eels has not been established, a general range of 35 – 45% is recommended for most freshwater species. A word of warning—do not attempt to hand feed your eel. Eels have poor eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Many become extremely excited by the smell of food, and eel bites are painful and often become infected.

Feedings should be done 1 -2 times a week, and only as much as they will readily consume. Extra food in aquatic systems will convert to toxic byproducts and give extra nutrition to the microflora in the tank, potentially causing excessive algae growth. It is not uncommon for eels to enter periods of “hibernation”, entering hiding and refusing food for a few weeks. Eels, in particular, are extremely well adapted to periods of low food availability.

Like all fishes, most diseases in eels area due to issues with water quality. Treatment of the disease is often reliant upon correcting any imbalances in water quality, along with treatment of the affected individual(s). Systemic drugs can be added on to severely affected patients, in order to help directly treat the disease. Below, we’ve listed a few examples of different diseases. This list is by no means comprehensive, but does describe the clinical signs, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of diseases that can affect your eel.

Edwardsiellosis is a potentially devastating bacterial disease caused by Edwardsiella tarda. Most commonly, it is reported in Japanese eels. Often, the first outward clinical signs of the disease are red, ulcerated lesions on the side and belly. These lesions, however, are formed by ulcerating abscesses of internal organs that have eroded through the musculature and skin. It primarily affects the kidneys and liver, but can spread to any organ system. Diagnosing the disease is often reliant upon clinical signs and culture of the bacteria from the wounds. The bacteria can infect humans and most commonly causes GI upset, but can cause severe disease in immunocompromised patients. Correcting water quality, along with systemic tetracycline antibiotics, is the treatment of choice.

“Water Mold” is a fungal infection of the skin that occurs in almost all freshwater species. Lesions present as a superficially cottony growth on the skin or gills. They start as white and change to red, brown, or green as they persist. They usually begin as small focal lesions, but can spread rapidly across the entire body and ulcerate deep into the body, if left untreated. Diagnosis relies on sampling the lesions, looking for fungal structures. Unfortunately, fungal infections are difficult to treat in fish, due to a lack of legally approved medications. Potassium permanganate pond treatments have seen some success, as well as salt dips. Malachite Green is an effective agent, but cannot be used in any “food fish”.

Dr. Kristin Claricoates, DVM

Natural history
Koi originated as domesticated versions of the common carp.  The common carp’s natural habitat is wide in range, including Asia and Central Europe.  The common carp was domesticated and initially used as a food source due to the fish’s ability to survive in a wide range of temperatures.  The Roman Empire further spread the knowledge of this fish as a food source while it was still in power.  They were eventually bred for their beauty and color in the early 1800s in Japan, which spring boarded them into worldwide recognition at the dawn of the 1900s after an exposition in Tokyo.  In Japanese, the word “koi” simply means “carp”.  The lineage and genetics of koi are uncertain, but it is thought that there are two subspecies of carp.  One subspecies is derived from Western Eurasia (Cyprinus carpio carpio) and another is from East Asia (Cyprinus carpio haematopterus).  Today, there are many varieties of koi, which are distinguished from one another by coloration, patterning, and scalation.

Unlike goldfish, which are now a separate species from their parent species the Prussian Carp, Koi are considered subspecies of the common carp and after just a few generations, can return to a normal wild type common carp.  Additionally, while Koi and goldfish could mate with one another, their offspring would be sterile.  In addition, Koi have prominent barbells on their lip, unlike the goldfish.

In many man-made bodies of water in North America, koi are used to keep water born insects under control.  However, they are thought to be an invasive species in most natural bodies of water as they can be detrimental in several ways.  Because they stir up the water, they reduce the number of aquatic plants, thereby reducing the oxygen in the water.  They can make water unsuitable for drinking—even for livestock!  For this reason, we do not ever recommend releasing koi into natural bodies of water.

Koi should be fed twice daily or less, depending on the temperature of the water.  Only give them an amount of food that they are able to eat within 5 minutes each feeding time.

Here is a good rough guideline as to how often they should be fed: Between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, feed up to two times daily.  Between 65 and 70° F, feed once daily.  Between 53 and 65° F, feed only every other day.  Do not feed below 53° F.
If they are overfed in summer, there can be an increase in the bacterial population resulting in poor water quality.

It is recommended that Koi live in large ponds or tanks.  Koi ponds should be stocked according to this rule- there should be 1 fish for one square foot of pool surface area.  In established ponds, the rule of thumb is for every 2-3 inches of the length of koi to have a square foot of pond surface area (Example- two 6 inch long koi require at least 4 square feet of pond surface area).
Koi require at least 3 to 4 feet of depth in a pond with at least 1,000 gallons of water.  The pond should have excellent water quality, natural plants, rocks, a rocky hangover area where fish can hide from natural predators, and a smooth gravel substrate.

It is important to have waterfalls to help keep the water moving as well, as a source of introducing more oxygen into the water, and to have a good filtration system.  A good filter system means there is less maintenance to do on the pond, but a cheap filter system will be more expensive in the long run as it will require a lot of upkeep and can potentially harm or kill your fish.  Koi clay is also something you can add to your pond which has lots of minerals that can be added to the system and koi love it. Also, koi clay is good at killing string algae as an added benefit.

To introduce your new koi fish into a pond or a tank, equalize the temperature of the bag of water to the pool or aquarium, then transfer the fish by hand.  The water your fish was transported in should never be added to the tank or pond your fish is transferred to as it may have free swimming parasites (some stages of parasites are not on the fish but swimming in the water).  After taking your fish out of the transportation bag and prior to transferring to a quarantine pond or tank, place your fish in a salt dip for 10-15 seconds.  This salt dip should be 1 pound of non-iodized salt per 1 gallon of water- again, only to be used for 15 seconds as it is a very high salt concentration.  Then, you can introduce your fish into the quarantine pond or tank.

The quarantine tank can be a lot smaller than a pond because it will only be a temporary home for the Koi.  Most quarantine tanks are 100 to 500 gallons in size.  The quarantine setup should include a filter, air pump, heater, net tank, and cover. If you have other fish already in your pond, do not introduce this fish into the pond just yet.

Ideally, your new fish should be quarantined for at least four weeks in a tank with a temperature between 74 and 76° F.  Many parasites have a life cycle of 10-14 days, and it is for this reason we recommend a quarantine of at least 3 weeks.  In this quarantine, you should have a 1% concentration (Example: 1 cup per 100 gallons) of non-iodized salt per water.  A broad spectrum parasiticide can be used in the tank as well.  During this quarantine, it is ideal to test the water daily for temperature, pH, Ammonia, Nitrate, and salinity.  Also, do not feed your new koi for a few days until the koi is accustomed to its new surroundings.

During the quarantine, pay attention to the behavior of your new koi.  If it is scratching its side against the tank or materials within the tank, it may have a parasitic infection.  Should you see scratching, we recommend you come to the hospital to test for parasites, which will be treated according to the parasite found.  If you have purchased only one koi, it is not uncommon to find them near the bottom of the tub or pond.  However, if it is near the bottom of the tub or pond with its fins clamped, this may be another sign of a parasitic infection.  During the quarantine, do a 25% water change each week, which can be done all at once or by changing a small amount of water every day.  Remember to have that water salted with 2 tablespoons of salt per 5 gallons of water to prevent diluting the salt in the tank.

After the three-week isolation period is over, prior to placing the koi in your communal pond or tank, consider testing for KHV (Koi herpes virus).  It is a blood test or PCR swab that will let you know if the Koi fish has ever been exposed the the virus or not.  If your koi is positive for KHV, placing it in your pond puts all of your fish at risk, and you can lose almost all of your fish population in only days to weeks.  If you did not perform a KHV test, but you feel that the Koi is healthy, you may move the Koi out to the pond if the quarantine period is over.  Remember, if your koi looks sick, do not introduce it into your pond even if the 4-week period is over.
If quarantine is not possible, you risk infecting your other fish with any parasites your new fish may have.  To minimize the risk of infectious diseases being transmitted, we recommend the entire pool be treated with a broad spectrum parasiticide every 3 days for 3 treatments.  This is not as reliable a method to prevent contamination of your other fish from any diseases your new fish may have.  This may be harmful to your plants.

Diseases of Koi/ common medical problems​

  1. Algae “Green water”: One of the most effective ways of combating single celled algae is an in-line UV sterilizer as part of your filtration system.  It is an excellent and non-invasive way of dealing with certain types of algae (and harmful bacteria for that matter) that can easily be added to your existing piping.
  2. Parasites: Koi are particularly vulnerable to parasites in the spring when their immune system is not yet at full strength, particular to gill flukes.
  3. Koi Herpes Virus: No treatment exists for either this disease and introducing a fish with KHV into fish stock can quickly wipe out the fish within a pond.

By: Kristin Valdes, DVM

Hermit crabs are fascinating pets that, despite their names, are very social.  They are also a pet that requires a lot of work and care.  If you are interested in a hermit crab, consider finding books at your library to read up on this pet.  There is a lot to know!

Hermit crabs can be fairly difficult pets for a first time pet owner.  They are social over time, but require an adjustment period to feel comfortable with their new owner.  If the introduction is rushed, they can become stressed and ill enough that they can die.  Hermit crabs like having other hermit crabs to live with.  A hermit crab requires at least one companion, but the more hermit crabs the better for these social critters to interact with.

A 20 gallon tank will work well for 2 small hermit crabs.  A 40 gallon tank is better for several hermit crabs, or for 3 full grown adult hermit crabs.  Large hermit crabs and small hermit crabs can live together without problems if they have enough space. They require a humidity of the environment at 75-85% relative humidity.  Purchase a hygrometer to measure this.  If they do not have enough humidity, they will suffocate slowly and die.  They breathe through hardened gills that need moisture in order to function.  Not enough moisture means they cannot properly get oxygen. They do not require baths unless you cannot get the humidity to the 75-85%, but baths are far less preferable than the ideal humidity.  A bath once to twice weekly will be required if humidity not obtained.
If the enclosure becomes contaminated and you see any insects in the tank, which can sometimes happen, you will need to completely clean out the enclosure.  You cannot use any pesticides or mite treatments, as this will kill your hermit crab.
Glass can be cleaned with white vinegar as needed.

The enclosure should have a temperature of 75 to 85F.  To reach this temperature, use an under tank heater with a built-in thermostat to ensure the appropriate temperature is reached.  It is important to do further specific research, as each of the 6 common species of hermit crab has an even more specific temperature preference within this range.   No basking lights are required as long as the under tank heater has maintained an appropriate.

The material you want at the bottom of the enclosure should be about 3-5 times the height of your largest hermit crab.  The substrate should also be dampened– if sand, it should be the consistency ideal for building a sandcastle.  You can use sugar-sized sand.  Marine aquarium coral rock sand and gravel are other substrates, along with a finely ground coconut fiber-based bedding for reptiles (e.g., Forest Bedding)– the coconut fiber may be used during molting.  In the hides in the enclosure, you can use reptile moss to help with moisture.  Change the moss frequently– at least every week– to prevent mold buildup.  Spot clean the tank daily for poop and food scattered around the tank.

2 water bowls are always needed: a bowl of fresh dechlorinated water and a bowl of salt water (dechlorinated aquarium salt for marine fish; DO NOT EVER USE EPSOM SALTS OR TABLE SALT) are always needed in the enclosure.  Natural clam shells are a great choice for bowls of water.  If they are not available, you need to find a bowl that your hermit crab can climb in to and submerge themselves completely, with a shallow side that is easy for them to get out, and a deep side in which they can soak. If the bowl has no easy way for them to climb out or if the sides are too smooth, place pebbles on one side to help them climb out.
To dechlorinate the salt and fresh water, a dechlorinator like Zoomed water conditioner can be purchased.  You simply add it as directed to the water.  Prior to placing the water in the tank, let the water sit out at room temperature for at least a day.    Some people have a 2 gallon milk container filled with fresh water, which they add dechlorinator to, and another 2 gallon milk container filled with salt water and dechlorinator. These are then used daily for the fresh water and salt water refills.  Alternatively, you can use spring water.  It is important to make sure nothing is added to the bottled water, like magnesium, as this can kill a hermit crab.  The specific gravity of the salt water should be 1.020-1.023.

Don’t offer commercial food- it’s not very good because it often has preservatives, and several are often not safe for hermit crabs.  Hermit crabs should be offered food daily, and it should consist of protein, fruit, and vegetables.
For the protein source, you can offer things like fresh shrimp, silver sides, krill, and bloodworms.  Sardines and meal worms are other meat sources. Occasionally, meat like steak or chicken (without any seasonings) can be offered.  The meat can be raw, cooked, or freeze-dried, but it should have no salt or preservatives.
You can offer several different fruits like blueberries, mango, banana, pineapple, grapes,  and apple. For vegetables you can offer carrots, corn, spinach, and broccoli heads.
Maple leaves are also ok as long as the lawn and trees have not been treated with pesticides or fertilizers.  For treats, you can offer walnuts, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, fresh rose or sunflower petals, honey, oatmeal and wheat germ.
Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables before feeding them to your crabs, and use de-chlorinated water to do it. Always do everything you can to keep your crabs away from chlorine. Vegetables and plant matter such as oak or Remember to change their food daily, otherwise they will bury uneaten food, which gets the tank dirtier faster.

Hiding places are needed for your hermit crabs.  These should include half logs, halved coconuts, and even clay flower pots that are cut in half long wise.  Other pet store hides work well too, so long as your crab won’t get stuck in the hide.
In addition to hiding places, offer them several things on which to climb.  Dried choya wood, stumps, driftwood, coral, and barnacles provide great climbing and exploration for crabs. Please do not use any pine wood as the oils the wood contains are irritating.  Natural seaside items are also good to use once  they are sterilized by boiling them in dechlorinated salt water.
Shells are also very important for your hermit crabs– they are a necessity.  Offer many shells in the enclosure similar to the size your hermit crab is using– but just slightly larger.  Check what species your hermit crab is, as some species of hermit crabs prefer round shell openings and others prefer oval openings.  Place 3-5 shells in the enclosure for each of your hermit crabs, so they can choose the shell that works best for them.  Don’t use painted shells.  These can lead to death of hermit crabs by toxins associated with the paint.

Boil all shells in dechlorinated water every 2 weeks to keep them clean and free of mold or debris.  Clean the entire enclosure monthly and remove all substrate.  If the glass is dirty, clean it with vinegar and water as well.

If your crab digs under the substrate for a couple of weeks, this is because your hermit crab is likely molting; don’t worry. For several weeks, he will need to be left alone.  Do not change the tank while this molting is occurring, unless you begin to smell a very foul smell, which indicates your crab has died.  During the molting, he will need to be left alone; if he is bothered, the stress could kill him. This molting is so he can grow.  The shed exoskeleton will be eaten by your hermit crab, then he will come out from the burrowing to find a new shell to fit into.

When they get home, be patient and don’t interact too much right away.  Leave them alone in their new enclosure for a few days, changing only the food and water daily.  When they stop hiding in their shells when you pass by, wait another few days, then try to hold your hermit crab.  Let them explore your hand and get adjusted to you.  Soon, they will look forward to the interaction.

Feel free to call us with any questions at (502) 241-4117.

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