Beginner FAQ:
Long-Term Success

Contributed by Lots Of Writers

In this last section, we bring up popular issues that come up after your tank has been running for a while.

Stopping that !@*!@ Algae Plague

You should first be aware that not all algae is ``bad''; Algae, like plants, feed off nutrients in the tank, so a good crop of regularly-harvested algae can help keep the pollution levels in check (this is the principle behind ALGAL SCRUBBER filtration). Likewise, algae plagues are usually symptoms of overfeeding or not enough water changes. The best thing to do is to learn what is causing the plague, and eliminate that cause. Test your nitrate and/or ammonia. Increase your water change volume and/or frequency, or feed your fish less. There are also a number of chemical remedies for specific algae types, and algae-eating fish which will consume some algaes. For full details, including specific remedies, please consult the ALGAE SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ.

Snail Plague

Snails, like algae, can be both useful and detrimental to a tank. Some species will burrow in the gravel, aerating it and keeping it from being compacted; others will eat algae. However, some species will reproduce unchecked, destroying plants and generally being an eyesore.

You can protect against snails by sanitizing anything inanimate you add to your tank in a 1:20 bleach solution, and treating new live plants in potassium permangenate or Alum. For ridding your tank of snails, you have little recourse other than vacuuming as many up as possible, though clown loaches are rumored to eat snails. The SNAIL SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ describes individual species of snails and specific remedies.

What to do on Vacations

Healthy fish can easily go a week without food. When you go out of town for the weekend, don't bother getting someone to feed your fish. (Indeed, someone not familiar with fish tanks is likely to overfeed your fish while you are gone, leaving you a mess to deal with when you return.) Stay away from those ``vacation feeders'' that slowly dissolve. They can upset the pH of your tank and lead to excessive food in your tank. Electrically-operated automatic feeders, though, can be useful as you ``pre-measure'' the amount of food it dispenses each day.

If you're going away for longer than a week you will have to make arrangements for someone to feed the fish. Tank minding companies and some fish stores will do this for a fee, but most people ask a friend or neighbor who doesn't keep fish themselves. Sustained overfeeding could overload your filter and wipe out your tank, and the best way to avoid the risk of this happening is to make up individual packages (such as small envelopes) each containing a day's worth of food. The fish don't have to be fed every day, and shouldn't be given more than one day's normal amount of food at a time, even if they've gone a few days without. Be sure to warn your helper not to make up for days they have missed by giving extra food.

If your tank has a high evaporation rate you may also want to arrange for it to be topped off with fresh water. This is most important in a marine tank, as you don't want the salinity drifting too high.

You can't guarantee there won't be a major equipment failure or some other kind of disaster while you're away, but you can minimize the risk by replacing any suspect equipment well in advance (so you can be sure the replacement is working). Don't add any new fish in the month before your vacation in case they introduce disease that takes some time to come to light. Clean your tank and filter and do a normal water change before you go, but if you've neglected maintenance don't wait until the day before you leave and then blitz it. That will stress your fish and perhaps damage your filtration bacteria just when they least need it.

If there is a serious problem, the chances are that it will be discovered too late to do anything about it. However, looking after someone else's fish can feel like a heavy burden of responsibility, and your helper might have better peace of mind if they have the number of a fish store or some other source of expert advice to call in an emergency.

Moving a Tank

contributed by Timothy Shimeall

The best word on moving fish (and in this discussion, fish includes all aquarium animal life), beyond very short distances, is DON'T. Travel is very stressful on fish, and even with the best precautions you should expect to lose several. Given that this is true, you may want to seriously consider selling off your stock and getting new fish at your destination.

If, given the above, you still want to try to move fish, then the following may help to minimize the pain and loss of fish.

The task of moving fish splits into two tasks: moving the tank, and then (later) moving the fish. Never attempt to move the fish in their tank.

Moving the tank

The main problem in moving the tank is the filtration system. After a very few hours (less than a day) without a flow of oxygen-laden water, aerobic bacteria start to die. If you are moving a short distance (a few hours' drive or so), it may be possible to preserve your bacteria colony; even for longer drives, some of the bacteria will survive and rebuild itself quickly. With a modest amount of ingenuity and planning, it should be possible to minimize the down time of the filter by keeping water flowing though the media until the last possible minute and restarting it as soon as you arrive. It is advisable to always try to save your old filter media rather than throw it away.

The moving procedure is as follows:

  1. Put your fish in a holding container (more on that below)
  2. Drain your tank. If the move is going to be short, preserve some of the water to help preserve the bacteria colony.
  3. Disassemble your tank. Aquarium plants will survive a fair amount of time if their roots are kept wet, so it should be possible to bag them with some water and set them aside for hand-moving. If the move is going to be short, put your (unrinsed) filter medium in a sealed container (preferably a never-used pail or other chemical-free hard-sided container); keep the media wet, but not submerged. For long moves (more than one day), either clean or discard your filter media. Pumps, heaters, etc. can be packed as any fragile appliance.
  4. Move your tank. Don't use a moving company or professional packers, unless you have absolutely no choice AND you can supervise them packing the tank and loading it in the truck. It's far better to move it yourself or with the help of friends.
  5. Reassemble your tank at your destination. If you're doing a short move you should have enough dechlorinated/treated water available on arrival to fill your tank and get water moving through your filter. If you're doing a long move, then set your tank up as if it was a new tank-- including a week-long delay before putting fish in the tank. Initially, put in a few hardy fish to get the nitrate cycle established. After the tank is stable, put the fish from your old home back in.

Moving the fish

There are three problems in moving the fish:
  1. Where do you put them?
    You have two options: a friend's tank, and a pet store tank. Some pet stores will, for a fee, board fish during a move. A signed contract, detailing what responsibilities the pet store is assuming, is a very good idea. Some pet stores, for a further fee, will pack and air-ship the fish to you on request. This isn't cheap. Bear in mind that you'll be leaving the fish there for at least a couple of weeks.
  2. How do you pack them?
    For short periods of time (a couple of hours, tops) you can put the fish in sealed bags, half-filled with air. This time can be stretched somewhat by filling with oxygen, rather than air. Put the bags in a padded, compartmentalized container, and ship by air. (This is how pet stores receive their fish). For larger fish, or longer trips, one can use a sealed bucket for each fish, rather than a bag.
  3. How do you support them on the move?
    Fish won't eat during the move. They're too stressed, and you don't want to degrade the water quality by the food, anyway. Fish can survive a week or so without food if they've been previously well fed. Try to maintain an even temperature, perhaps by placing the fish in a sealed cooler, or compartmentalized cooler. For long trips, particularly by car, a battery-powered airpump and airstone is a good idea (if not a must). After the move, slowly condition the fish to the new tank location, as you would in adding new fish to a tank.


It's come to this has it? You've read all the FAQs, found out everything you can about diseases, ailments and the proper treatments, asked for help from several knowledgeable sources and have come to the conclusion that you cannot nurse your fish back to health. And since you took on the responsibility of caring for the fish you now must find the most humane method in helping it to die.

Several options exist for euthanizing your ill pet. They include chemicals, decapitation, and donation. The best method is probably through the use of chemicals. A few vets recommend an overdose of MS-222, a fish anesthetic. It can be purchased from chemical supply companies as MS-222, tricaine methanesulfonate or Ethyl 3-aminobenzoate, methanesulfonic acid salt. Immerse the fish in a container of 350 ppm MS-222 (350 mg MS-222 per liter of water) for 10 minutes. This is very humane and is non-traumatic for both the fish and owner. Another chemical method is the injection of pentothal into the abdominal cavity. This may be more difficult for the owner as syringes may be hard to come by and sticking animals with needles may not sit well with some people. It is almost painless for the fish if this helps ease your hesitations regarding this method. Finally one can use alcohol to euthanize a fish. Make a 1:5 (20%) solution of Vodka (or any other similar strong grain neutral alcohol) and water. Then place the fish into the container and it will simply `go to sleep'. These 3 methods are highly recommended as they are very humane.

One method that has been recommended by a non-veterinary (but experienced Oscar breeder) type is the use of Alka-Seltzer. Place the fish in a shallow container of water and place 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets in a position under the gills. The fish supposedly will `fall asleep' within minutes.

A non-chemical but effective method is decapitation. Once again, some owners may be squeamish over this method. If done properly is quick and painless for the animal, and has the benefit of being cheap; most of us own knives but not anesthetics. Use a sharp knife and sever the spinal cord by quickly cutting down through the body just behind the eye at the level of the lateral line. The quicker you make this cut the better it will be for the fish. Remember to disinfect this knife after the procedure if you plan on using it for anything other than euthanizing fish.

If you are unable to go through with any of the above methods try contacting a local university. It is possible that one of the departments in biology or similar fields will take your sick fish off your hands. They may use the fish for research and study its disease or will be able to dispose of it properly.

Methods that are not recommended but are often mentioned include variations on freezing. Fish tend to suffer in these procedures. It does not matter whether they cool down slowly when you place them in a bowl of water in the freezer or if the water is already cold from the addition of ice cubes. Fish react to these methods in a negative way, and it is painful to watch. Finally one should NEVER flush a fish down the toilet. This is not an effective method of euthanasia but is a form of torture as the fish ends up in a septic tank or similar place where it is bathed in nasty chemicals and sewage before finally succumbing hours if not days later.

Breeding Your Fish

At some point, you will find yourself unsatisfied with merely keeping healthy fish, and will yearn to delve into the fascinating world of fish breeding. Congratulations! You've gone beyond the scope of the FAQs. Go read some good books on fish breeding, and post questions to the newsgroups. Then write a FAQ on it,. :) [Editor's note: someone has taken us up on the challenge! There is a BREEDING FAQ at last.]

End of Beginner FAQ.

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