How To Buy Healthy Fish

The average aquarist has no control over the fish shipped worldwide by exporters, importers, wholesalers, and breeders. They cannot tell any of these entities how to care for their fish, and cannot ensure that they do everything in their power to maintain healthy specimens. However, the typical aquarium keeper most certainly can monitor the quality of the fish brought into their home. They can do this by observing the animals at the local stores, and by knowing how to tell a healthy organism from a sick one. This can make the difference between a successful tank and one with fish which are constantly dying and being replaced.

The first step in quality control is to know the reputation and practices of each local store. Some will obviously be better than others, and there are many categories in which the shops can be judged. For the purpose of this guide, the most important ones are the stores' husbandry routines and the health of their fish. The better locations will perform water changes at least weekly on all of their tanks, monitor their livestock, and treat or quarantine as needed. A scan of any store's fish department should reveal few, if any, dead or dying fish. However, an absence of dead fish is not always a good indicator of a shop's quality. Savvy employees know to remove dead fish because they turn off customers and pollute the water, possibly leading to further death. The better stores just don't need to hunt for dead livestock as often. The worst ones don't do it at all.

To obtain information about the stores in a particular area, talk to the members of a local fish club, search online forums and aquarium websites for reviews, or discreetly ask customers in the stores themselves. People are more than happy to share their experiences, and knowing where to go can save time, money, and headaches. Particularly good or bad retail shops will quickly gain a reputation. Be wary of irrelevant comments, though. Just because a store is huge and has a great selection of fish, that doesn't mean that they do a good job in caring for them.

After deciding on one or more locations, the next step is to observe the animals in them. Are the fish diseased? Do any of them act listless, or exhibit poor coloration? Do they seem to be doing what they are supposed to? Background knowledge will help a lot here, as knowing what to expect from a certain species makes it easy to judge their health in a store. Not knowing the typical behaviors of a fish will make it difficult to decide whether it is in good health or not. Still, some outward physical signs are almost impossible to mistake. Easily visible parasites or odd behaviors can rule a fish out for purchase singlehandedly. Swimming upside down or in loops, buoyancy issues, extreme nervousness, colliding with decorations or tank walls, and visible wounds should almost always warn off a potential buyer. If just one fish in a tank seems to have problems, it is possible that all of the fish share them. Thus, it is best to hold off on buying any animals housed with ill specimens. It is a good precautionary measure.

Sometimes a sick tank will seem to become healthy after time passes. Fish which were not previously worthy of buying appear to be in good shape. Though seemingly there could not be anything wrong with such a scenario, it is still wise to practice caution. Though all outward symptoms may have disappeared, there could still be internal problems, or an outbreak could reoccur. Waiting at least two weeks after all signs of trouble disappear from a tank is good, but being patient and waiting even longer is better. Buying fish soon after they have recovered from a traumatic illness could prove to be the final straw, and finish off the animals for good. Taking risks with fish often ends up in their deaths, something which is not at all fair to them.

A helpful source of information about a particular store's stock is an employee or even the owner. They can tell you how a particular group of fish or single specimen is doing, and whether they have had issues in the past. They can let you know how well certain animals are eating, and what they are being fed. Not everyone is willing to share this information with every customer, so getting to know one or two employees at every store is recommended. Inside information can save a customer from buying something that looks healthy but refuses to eat, or that attacks all of its tankmates. These animals are better off left in the store unless special plans can be made for their care.

One last tip is the most important one- set up a quarantine tank if possible. This provides a chance to observe a new purchase, to ensure that it is healthy, and that it will not damage its future intended home in any way. Sometimes a disease that is slow to show symptoms will appear on a recent purchase. If that fish is in a quarantine tank, it can be dealt with apart from all of the other animals, so that they are not endangered. Placing a fish directly from the store into an established aquarium sometimes results in the new fish spreading a sickness that weakens or kills the other livestock. Or, even if not all the fish become sick, those that are healthy must still be exposed to the medicine used to treat their tankmates. Quarantining all new additions bypasses these problems. At least three to four weeks in quarantine is usually enough time for any problems to surface and be taken care of. If anything does happen during this period, it is best to extend the quarantine time as necessary.

Taking the precaution of using a quarantine tank is one of the best things an aquarist can do to help ensure healthier animals. It need not be used only for new fish, either. A fish from the main tank which becomes sick can be transferred to quarantine and treated separately, and with luck, before anything else is infected. Those who do not use a quarantine are taking chances with their stock. Taking chances so often leads to mistakes, mistakes that can be prevented.

Nicholas Sundin