Tails Blog

Keeping fish happy and healthy

Steve Coppell - Friday, September 24, 2010

The first basic to grasp is that fish kept in good conditions with minimal stress rarely get sick in the first place. Look after the water and the water will look after your your fish. Do the basics well and regularly. Carry out lots of partial water changes, service filters regularly, check the water temperature daily (If you keep tropical fish) Also test the water regularly. The exact tests required and water quality required and water quality you want to maintain will vary depending on what fish you are keeping, but the majority of community aquria (90 % of them) should be 25 degrees C with a pH of 7 to 7.5.

The second basic has to do with feeding. You often hear about  the dangers of over feeding ornamental fish. Overfeeding is certainly a common problem, but beware: overfeeding refers to left over food, which will decompose and pollute the aquarium. This misconception has led to fish ending up poorly nourished as their owners are afraid to feed them. Fish need to be feed little and often, at least once a day, if not twice. The exception is for garden ponds that are lightly stocked with fish. Here, there will usually be sufficient food naturally and anything supplied by the owner is supplementary. Fish should also be fed a variety of food. You can keep your fish alive using only flake food, but fish fed a variety of foods including frozen and live food, will be healthier, live longer and be more colourful. Don't forget that some species are specialist feeders too. Some, such as catfish and loaches feed off the bottom and others including suckermouth fish are largely herbivorous. Therefore, appropriate foods need to be supplied.

Fin Mates

Basic number three is to consider tank mates carefully, as not all fish live together happily. Some will simply eat each other and as a general rule, if a fish can swollow another one whole it probably will. More commonly though, health problems arise as a result of vigorous 'fin nipping' or territorial fish being kept with more placid tank mates. Typically, the more placid species will hide a lot, feed poorly  and either succomb to disease or simply waste away.

Moving in

It is essential to introduce your new fish to an aquarium gradually. For a fish, one of the greatest stresses, and therefore precursors of disease, is being netted, bagged, transported and placed in a new tank. Always float the bag containing new fish in your aquarium for 15 minutes to allow water temperatures to equalise, and then allow some tank water to the bag and leave another 15 minutes. Finally net the new fish out of the bag and place  it in the aquarium, then dispose of the bag water. Don't add the bag water to your tank!


Right, so you have done all the basics well and still your fish get sick. What to do? the main thing is to act quickly, as tomorrow or in the weekend may be too late. First seek advice, which usually means a good aquarium store. Make sure you have a good description of the symptoms, and a clean jar of aquarium water with you.The store will do a water test and advise accordingly and if your fish has a disease, will offer a cure.
If you are treating the fish in your aquarium first remove any carbon that may be in your filter as it may filter out the medication. Having covered most of the ways to avoid disease, here's a brief description of the common diseases and other health related symptoms that fish may exhibit.    


This is the most common fish disease and, as the name suggests, the main symptom is white spots on the skin- almost as if the fish has been sprinkled with salt. The spots are actually cysts where the white spot parasite lives. A cure will take several days but there are a number of very effective treatments on the markets. White spot often occurs after a chill so check your water temperature regularly.

Fungus looks like growths of white cotton wool on the fish. Fungus is a secondary infection and often grows on wounds or other areas of infection. You can purchase treatment for this problem over the counter and some antibiotics will also be effective, but these are only available from your veterinarian. Often described as mouth fungus is a bacterial infection called Columnaris. It looks like white fungus around the mouth but is actually a secondary infection, and no amount of treatment for fungus will cure this complaint. Instead, you will need to purchase treatment specially formulated for Columnaris.

Flicking is the term used to describe a fish scratching itself repeatedly against gravel, plants,or aquarium decorations. It can indicate whitespot or it can be a sign of ammonia in the water.

Gasping is when a fish constantly mouths at the waters surface. This may mean low oxygen levels in the water and is often the result of too high  a temperature,  warm water naturally holds less oxygen. Be wary of tanks that dont provide good surface area for optimum oxygen transfer.
There are many other fish disorders and many books of information if you want to know more about them. For fish keepers, prevention is far better than the cure.