Fish Disease – I Think I’ve Seen It – What Do I Do?

This is not a text on the treatment of fish disease, but hopefully a suggestion about how treatment could be more accurate and successful.

The fear of aquarists – and that is any aquarist, experienced or newcomer – is to have a disease problem strike their aquarium. It can cause an aquarist to give up the hobby because of the heart-rending loss of livestock, maybe a total wipeout. At best, even if the disease is treated properly and successfully, the period is very stressful.

So what does the aquarist do? What are the first actions to be taken?

The aquarist is down at heart because all the recommended procedures have been followed: great care has been taken in selection, transportation, introduction and ongoing maintenance. Seawater quality is high and kept that way, but disease has appeared.

The very first action that an aquarist should take is in anticipation of a disease problem. That doesn’t sound like a positive way forward at all, but it is. The aquarist is readying his/her knowledge and defences from the word go. Disease is not expected, but it is best to be prepared.

The very best thing an aquarist can do, even before livestock is obtained, is to obtain a high quality marine hobby book. This book will contain all sorts of information including aquarium filtration, aquarium lighting and other aquarium necessities. It will also contain sections on fish, and possibly further sections on corals and shrimps etc. It will also contain a section on disease, and it is this latter item that is of importance here. The disease section should contain pictures to assist with identification and, of course, treatment procedures. There isn’t a need to become an expert on fish diseases, just to be aware of the major ones and how they could be identified.

If a potential disease problem strikes that is not the time to be trawling the internet trying to obtain information on what it might be and how to treat it. There should be minimal delay when treating disease, so having a book handy is valuable. It is even more valuable if the book has been read in total. Aquarists will certainly read the interesting bits on filtration etc but may not be so keen on reading potential negative subjects. It is good to read these though, as it assists the aquarist when observing the fish so that a problem is more likely to be detected.

If a potential problem is observed then the last thing the aquarist should do is dose the aquarium with a remedy as it ‘could do the trick.’ If luck is at home that day then yes it could, but just as likely, or more likely, the fish will be stressed by inappropriate medications. The aquarist should keep calm and observe very closely the livestock in question. Previous knowledge from a book will assist here, as what is required is an accurate diagnosis. Taking a little time to be sure is well worthwhile, as then of course the appropriate medication can be administered. Though disease does need to be dealt with without undue delay, there is usually time to observe and consider. There will be time if the aquarist has observed the fish regularly and noted their condition.

There can of course be difficulties in treating fish. If the fish are in a fish only aquarium, then the aquarist could probably administer fish medication directly. With a reef aquarium it is more difficult as corals will not tolerate certain medications. That’s another reason for having a good book to refer to, as a ‘doomsday plan’ could be generally worked out in advance just in case a need should arise in the future.

An aquarist needs to be like a scout – be prepared. Having a good book at hand will not cost a lot and it will have other uses besides disease, and will allow the aquarist to be educated on potential trouble that could occur.

Many years ago marine aquarists considered that if their husbandry was up to the mark it was possible that disease would not rear its ugly head. Nowadays with so much more known on fish capture techniques and transportation and the high level of aquarium environment that is now achievable, it is reasonably safe to state that it will be probable that fish disease will not appear. However, it will not ever be safe to use the word ‘never’, as the threat is always there.

  1. I would recommend Julian Sprung’s: The Reef Aquarium. It is a great reference for many aquarists.

    Also having the misc. medications on hand will also increase your success as not all pet stores are open every day or late night.

  2. Thanks for the input. Julian Sprung is a very well known and respected name in the hobby. A good p[oint about medications being on hand – but watch for any ‘use by’ dates.

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