A thorough and effective approach to quarantine.

1)Introduction to quarantine.

Quarantine is, rather unfortunately, one of those things that most people don't regard as a necessity until after their fish have been wiped out by infection, and among the many keepers that do practise it, there will be many questions about how, why, and when to do it to ensure a healthy fish collection. Quarantine is a nothing in,nothing out policy, a time of segregation for observation and treatment, and for using the time numerous bacteria, protozoa, parasites and fungi take to expire to your advantage.

2) How to begin.

Where to start? Straight away, with the very first fish you buy, and when you intially set up an aquarium!

When purchasing decor or equipment for your new aquarium, particularly if the equipment is second hand (disillusioned fishkeepers who have lost their collections to disease are often the very people who will be offering bargain prices for aquaria and tank equipment they no longer want) or sourced from near watercourses must be very careful to thoroughly sterilise all porous surfaces before they begin. The basic tools of sterilisation are heat, extreme alkali (usually bleach), lethal gases and chemicals like chlorine, iodine and ammonia. Be sure to rinse equipment well after the use of such chemicals , and its advisable to let sterilised items air for a day or two. Limescale removers are also handy to rid old tanks of porous mineral build-ups that may harbour disease. Immediately discard any old filter media and replace it with new. Gravels and bogwoods too are usually in need of boiling or roasting to sterilise them, and again its probably better to start from new with these highly porous , detritus and bacteria trapping items.

Hopefully you will have already got your tank up to speed with the cycle fully completed, and already added the plants and decor you desire. The cycling period is 21 days, give or take a few, and therefore you will have hopefully already quarantined both your plants and your decor to a reasonable degree by putting them in from the very start. Most diseases and parasites will expire within a month without nutriment to sustain them, particularly if you use ammonia to fishless cycle, rather than organic detritus , or material from another currently running cycled aquaria. Some established aquaria contain diseases that may originate from various regions in the world, and your new species may have no legacy of contact with them, thusly being much more vulnerable than your existing fish collection.Diseases often kill some fish and not others, and fish previously treated for ailments that others have not may have had to opportunity to acquire an immunity. New juvenile fish will be vulnerable. Those lucky enough to be able to afford ultraviolet sterilisation units and reverse osmosis will quite simply be at a huge advantage. For fish sensitive to meds these devices for the ongoing sterilisation of aquaria are a lifeline, and disease transmission rates will be reduced massively. If you can afford to get them and use them from the outset, do so. You'd be a fool not to.

In order to give a filter time to establish steadily and avoid water quality crashes its extremely important to add fish slowly, in small numbers, and to avoid additional disease complications its adviseable to not only limit the numbers of fish you buy to begin with, but also to source them from the same place rather than from several local fish dealers. Different shops may have different supplies and different approaches to disease control (if any) and to limit the potential diseases you encounter, its better to confine your purchases to one place at the beginning.

There, your first fish are acquired and your very first tank is actually functioning as a quarantine! This is the time when you will learn about how fish acclimate and just how susceptible to common conditions like saprolegnia, aeromonas, flexibacter columnaris, and of course that bane of the beginner fishkeeper, whitespot. (refer to the disease profiles for details.) In essence you have just set up a quarantine aquarium, and as you will see, the principles of this remain consistant with a few variables like decor level and size of the aquaria changing according to need and function.

3) How to manage your first quarantine.

Be it your first tank, or your first attempt at segregated quarantine with the intention to stock a bigger community aquarium later on matters not, from her on in the principles are the same. The first thing you dont do, come hell or high water is use equipment like gravel cleaners, buckets, syphons, nets etc with any other tank other than this one. Ever.

The second thing you don't do, is buy more fish. Deal with them in batches ,preferably same species, one at a time, and make sure each batch has a full observation and quarantine period. This coincides with not pushing a newly started tank beyond the limits of its bacterial culture. This brings us on rather neatly to what precisely a good quarantine period is.

For most people's purposes a reasonable quarantine period should be a minimum of one month. There are of course diseases that will remain dormant far longer than one month, but by and large most of the faster accelerating diseases are easily detected in this time, and they account for at least 90% of aquarium disease incidents. It breaks down like this.
Detected reliably by one month: Whitespot, aeromonas, columnaris, saprolegnia, velvet, gold dust, leeches, anchorworm,crustacean and copepod parasites, finrot bacteria, salmonella, staphylococci, coccidiosis, amoebic debilitation.

Detected reliably by two months. Livebearer herpesviruses, channel cat disease , blackspot, whirling disease. proteus bacteria, metacercariae,and the faster trematodia infections.

Detected by three months to a year: Roundworm, tapeworm, degenerative kidney disease, internal flukes,neon tetra disease, hexamita, koi herpesvirus, mycobacterium, myxobacterium,lymnphocystis, henneguya, ceratomyxa,trichodina,.Various numerous protozoa and viruses.

So as you can see,according to common incidence, for practical value unless dealing with the rarest and most expensive of collections and specimens most quarantine for the average layman beyond 2 months can become fairly pointless, as the reminder of the diseases can remain undetected for years. Many of the longer term infections are just that, not lethal to the host for years, some are merely partially debilitating, and with some parasites , perfect sybiosis may be reached , meaning treatment never need be addressed, or purges need only be considered as necessary should a problem arise over time. Basically, in technical terms, we fall off that bridge when we come to it. So unless paranoid about known disease outbreaks in your area, 2 months is a standard safe time for quarantine, and for most occassions, one month is perfectly sufficient.

In practical terms for safety this means that on average, a fishkeeper should only be buying one batch of fish per month or bimonthly suited to the stocking limit of the quarantine aquarium. If its your first tank, wait at least a month before acquiring new fish.

4) It happened! My new fish have a disease!

Well actually, to start off with its not all doom and gloom. Firstly, its not your fault. Having done everything you can to make sure the aquarium was clean from the outset, the diseases sure werent caused by anything you did, and as you have now discovered , most diseases get into aquaria from the LFS. In fact your laughing. Your other fish in other aquaria have already been successfully saved from harm, and protected from the most likely period when a newly acquired fish will have a low immune system from the stress of a move, and will be magnets for disease, and a vector for the spread of disease to other fish. If you are a first time fishkeeper you should be grateful that you didnt buy too many fish and if this batch has even some of the most lethal diseases known, at least the damage is limited to this group, and you didnt wade in and kill a tankful of new fish. As for what to do, refer to the disease profiles on this site for diagnosis and treatment, and after every symptom has faded wait another month before getting new fish. Be sure. If this is a seperate quarantine from your main tank or the disease was untreatable, after the fish are moved or have died, break it down, sterilize it, and start again. Yes it does liberally suck having to break down a new tank or qt after an untreatable infection, but thats life and thats as good as it gets. Not to do so risks lives, so might as well suck it up! Obviously, take hints where you can get them and buy fish SOMEWHERE ELSE. Nothing hurts a bad shop more than voting with your wallet.It saves you a lot of trouble in the long run too.

5) When to quarantine.

Well, aside from every time you buy a new fish, obviously there will be times when sickness breaks out in a community tank for whatever reason, but often because people regularly disregard the need for quarantine, and just chuck new acquisitions straight into a community, or the filter breaks, blocks, things happen while you go on holiday, maintenance was poor etc.

So you have a sick fish in the tank and dont want it to infect its cagemates , so what do you do? To quarantine or not to quarantine?

This is a most complicated issue, it depends not only the disease to be fought and treated, but also on the species of fish present, and the condition of the worst affected fish. Many decisions also depend on you having a cycled and filtered quarantine tank ready, or if you can only manage an uncycled and unfiltered quarantine at a rush. Sensitive fish may die if moved to uncylced quarantine, especially if the disease has infected the renal system or circulation and any effect of shock will be massively more ounced. Sometimes quarantines kill fish that might otherwise have made it through alive. Any decision you make will have to take the needs of the many and place them over the needs of the few, but it is possible, when diagnosis is inaccurate, to be entirely overzealous in this approach. Make sure you know your diseases as well as possible.

There are no absolute rules that will help you, but here are a few pointers.

With mega-contagious diseases like whitespot,and flexibacter columnaris segregation is almost always completely pointless. By the time the first symptom is spotted, pretty much all the fish will have already have been infected, so you might as well treat them in situ. Exceptions come in the form of scaless catfish, clown loaches, stingrays and mormyrids for whom most methylene blue, malachite green, and copper based meds are a death sentance. In these circumstances your only options are to segregate the fish or use mechanical control like ultraviolet sterilisation. In any case treat such fish seperately as it would be foolish to deny non-allergic fish access to treatments known to be effective. You take your chances with sensitive fish and less effective medicines away from the main community if you can.

Other diseases, like numerous fungi, hexamita, aeromanas etc, can, if caught early enough be worth segregating fish into quarantine for. Resistances to these conditions vary widely, and some fish have an immune system capable of handling or resisting such infections well or for certain time periods so the gamble of segregation can be worth the risk. Sometimes fish debilitated with age or otherwise poor condition may fall victim and and be a vector for contamination to other fish. It is often worth quarantining such fish and treating them seperately so that the more vigourous fish dont hae to suffer the risks of treatment.

There are certain conditions you would never segregate for, swim bladder organ failure for example is a good one. Moving a fish to different temperatures means the damage when otherwise recoverable might become permanent, and if you quarantined it and there was not a legitimate bacterial cause to be concerned about, you just killed a fish for no reason.

For the most severe disease for which there is no real treatment, like neon tetra disease etc, quarantine is the only way to save any of your fish in the tetra groups. You are really trying to segregate fish before infection occurs. Quarantines often fail in these circumstances, but if you dont try, nothing survives.

In the final analysis a quarantine is at its most effective as a preventative rather than as a cure. In the authors opinion fishkeepers all over the world would enjoy better disease free aquaria and better survival rates if quarantines were used before they appear to be needed, This applies to industry as well as the homebased keeper. There really is no excuse for the lack of regular quarantine on aquisition, and worldwide captive disease incidents could be reduced massively if people would consider it part of their remit as a fishkeeper and a fishstockist. Anyone, and I mean anyone, with even a moderate community should consider having an adequately equipped and cycled quarantine somewhere in the house, especially if you wish to maintain a fluid , multigeneral community requiring new specimens to be periodically purchased, no matter how much you trust your LFS. Star well, and keep it up. Never take chances. This as much as anything else is a major part of good fishkeeping. Show me someone who has a good community tank thats lasted over a decade, and i'll show you someone who uses quarantine. Every zoo, every specialist in rare or expensive fish does it, and you have to ask yourself why you arent.

6) What makes a good quarantine tank?

Simple, literally. A tank large enough to take the fish humanely for the period of time you wish to quarantine them. Filtered and cycled is preferable, it avoids worrying about water quality killing your fish while under treatment, free of massive amounts of porous surfaces, that can be easily stripped down as required. For confident pelagic fish it need not be decorated at all, but since most fish in the hobby require some cover a small amount of decor is in order, but make it cheap, and nothing you cant afford to ditch at a moments notice. Even bits of flower pot or drainpipe will do. If you want substrates for burrowers make sure they are inert and impermeable like quartz or slate, even glass beads will do for some fish. Put them in a plastic tray within the tank rather than on the tank floor and should treatments require it, you can take them out easily without panicking the hell out of the fish. Plants can be included if you wish,, but you may have to remove them and some meds will kill them, but if you have the cuttings to spare, why not?

Choose filters rated for the QT's size, and small modular filters like the smaller renas, and eheim aquaballs are ideal, so that you can swop out filter inserts should you need to use or remove carbon, and clean them easily.Make sure you have regular sponge inserts running as standard and dont rely on carbon except for when actually wanting to remove medications. Dont choose carbon reliant filters.

You dont have to keep qt tanks bare, but it would be foolish to overimbellish them. You can keep them cycled with a smallish fish species that can go into community when new arrivals come, something tough like a gourami or betta is ideal. When starting a qt though, I would recommend fishless cycling because or the low bacterial nutrient period it offers, that way too, the gourami or betta that lives in it when its not actively being used as a qt doesnt have to suffer repeated cycles and have a lousy, miserable life.

Quarantine well, and you may never need the disease profiles on this site. Good luck, and happy fishkeeping!