Treating with Antibiotics
Treating with Antibiotics:
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are classically known as a group of bio-molecules which prevent or restrict the growth of pathogenic bacteria, parasites and fungi. Essentially, they are anti-microbial agents which interfere with the growth and reproduction of microbes thus enabling the host to develop an immune response and eradicate the 'disease.'
How do I know which antibiotic to use?
As with all things in this hobby, research is your friend. Antibiotics are not the one-click-fix of fish diseases and in fact are harmful if used improperly. The first thing you should do when considering treatment is identifying exactly what your fish are suffering from. You cannot effectively treat your tank if you do not know whats in it especially when certain antibiotics are only effective against certain pathogens.
Once you've identified what kind of bacteria, parasite, fungus etc. you need to treat for, you will need to select the proper treatment for your fish. Thankfully, many of the aquarium-oriented antibiotic treatments of today will clearly say which infections they will treat and which infections they will not. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, you must do your research on what drug you will be using as it may not effectively provide treatment.
Can I use them every time my fish get sick?
Depending on what your fish have, you may have to, but you should not be using these types of treatments for your fish every time you suspect that they are ill. Most pathogens will effectively develop immunities to antibiotics and you may find that a treatment that worked a year ago no longer does.
The overuse of antibiotics in the fish-keeping hobby has produced a series of antibiotic resistant bacteria, parasites etc. that no longer respond to treatment. These diseases have become harder and harder to treat and mortality rates have been creeping up towards 100%. Therefore, antibiotics should only be used when there are no alternative therapies and you, as the responsible fish-keeper, have done your research and chosen the appropriate therapy for your fish.
What will I need when treating with antibiotics?
It is difficult to say exactly what you will need when you begin a therapy regiment however, I have compiled a list of what you may find useful solely based on my experience:
Qurantine Tank: You may find that it is only appropriate to treat a single fish with an antibiotic regiment and simply provide better water conditions in the main tank along with a milder treatment. This prevents unnecessary stress on fish that are unaffected.
NOTE: More often than not, diseases will be present in the entire water column and it is therefore advisable to dose the entire tank.
Bleach or disinfecting solution: Anything that touches the infected tank has the possibility of infecting other tanks or affecting you, the fish- keeper. Therefore, have a diluted 1:10 bleach solution on hand to disinfect anything that you plan to use on another tank. Bleach can be rinsed off and then left in the sun to dry. You may also try hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohols (I would avoid these).
Ammonia pads: Some antibiotics will negatively impact your biological filter. You may see large increases in ammonia and nitrites tanking place further stressing your fish and diminishing your chances of success. Therefore, if you water parameters begin to deteriorate, I suggest adding an ammonia remover to maintain your parameters.
Bacterial booster: Once your treatment is complete, you may find that you'll be cycling the tank all over again especially if the antibiotic wiped out your colony of good bacteria. Adding a bacterial booster will help you rebuild your good bacteria and maintain water quality. This will be especially important if you keep high-bioload fish.
A good gravel vacuum: Maintaining water quality during treatment is essential. Most bacteria will thrive off of fish wastes or uneaten foods. Keeping a clean substrate will help you fight the infection and remove a good number of pathogens in the process.
Aquarium salt: Most pathogens will not do as well in slightly salty conditions as they will in pure freshwater conditions. Salt has been claimed to reduce stress in fish, support gill function and allow for better osmo-regulation. It can be used some cases with the recommended dosage. It is not filtered out and need only be added when new water enters the system. Salt should be added slowly over the course of a day so as not to shock your fish or the biological filter.
NOTE: It is your responsibility to ensure that your fish will not suffer from increased salinity.
Your Antibiotic of educated choice: Obviously you will need the antibiotics with which you'll treat your fish. Follow the directions closely and do not make any deviations unless it is absolutely necessary. You may find that a repeated dose is necessary.
The tips and tricks: There is only so much that directions, research and even I can tell you, most of it you must learn from experience. However, there are certain things which I learned and which might help you during your treatment.
1: Minimize the decor in your tank. If you have caves, driftwood, tunnels etc. reduce the number so as not to stress your fish, but enough that flow throughout the tank is increased and you can more easily vacuum the substrate.
2: Aerate the tank. Medications will be very stressful for your fish. Aerating their water will not only improve their chances of survival but also help alleviate their stress.
3: Have an extra round of medications on hand. If you need to repeat the dosage, its best to do it as soon as possible; there shouldn't be large gaps between your regiments. If the pathogen has a chance to rebound, it will be harder to kill the second time around.
4: For bacterial infections, you should reduce the temperature of the tank slowly. Warm water will speed up the life cycle and unlike parasites like Ich, a sped up life cycle is not a good thing.
5: I highly recommend that you continue some sort of treatment for at least a week past the antibiotic regiment. It should preferably be something more mild than the antibiotics. This will continue fighting the infection long after your fish have begun to fight it themselves. It really boosts the chances of completely eradicating the pathogen and it will give you some ease of mind.
6: You should really only be feeding foods which you know are clean. I recommend dry flakes or pellets only as live foods, no matter how reassuring the pet store employee or packaging may seem, always have the chance of being contaminated with disease. Feeding dry foods also cuts down on the decay of food in your substrate thus positively impacting water quality.
7: Lastly, keep calm and consistent. This isn't the end of the world I assure you. Keeping a precise and accurate regiment will provide for the best chances of success.
A side note:
Why you should never need antibiotics:
A main tank infection should almost never take place. There are rare exceptions where certain fish are carriers of disease, but in the typical case, a quarantine period should allow enough time for the development and eradication of disease. You should always be quarantining your new fish in order to ensure that they are healthy and disease free. Adhering to this simple instruction will ensure that you avoid this heavily time and money consuming process.