Knowledge is power, and this is true even in the field of preventing and treating fish parasites. As a fish keeper, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various common fish parasites that you might encounter and learn more about how to detect them in your aquarium. Parasite infestations that are observed at an early stage is usually much easier to cure than parasites infestations that the aquarist does not notice until all the fishes are severely infested. By learning more about fish parasites and how to recognize them you can also decrease the risk of bringing home infected fish from the fish shop.
A lot of factor will play a role when it comes to determining the best cause of action when one suspect parasites in the aquarium. The species of parasite is naturally of imperative importance, but the fish species in the aquarium must also be taken into consideration since some fish species are exceedingly sensitive to certain parasite medications.
You must also decide if you want to treat the entire aquarium, or if it is better to move the fish to a separate hospital aquarium. In some situations, dipping the fish in a bowl of medication will be sufficient. The volume of your aquarium is also a factor to take into account since some medications are very expensive. (Sometimes euthanizing and replacing all the fish will be cheaper than trying to cure them.)
Generally speaking, aquarists treat their fish at two different times. The first time is before introducing a new fish to the aquarium, and the second time is when a possible parasite infection has been detected. When it comes to preventative treatment, the treatment will normally take place in a separate quarantine aquarium in order to avoid treating healthy fish. Before starting the treatment, always ask yourself if it is really necessary or if simply keeping the new fish in the quarantine aquarium and looking out for any symptoms of ill health would be enough to safe-guard against parasites.
In some situations, it will also be a good idea to move a wounded fish to a quarantine aquarium since a wounded fish can serve as a breeding ground for commonly occurring parasites that would normally not be able to affect the healthy fish in your aquarium. You can have parasites lurking around in your aquarium for years without noticing it, until a wounded fish gives them a chance to multiply and start attacking healthy fish in huge numbers. As you can see, the use of a quarantine aquarium can make parasite treatment unnecessary in many situations. This is a good thing since most parasite treatments are stressful for the fish.
Manual removal of external parasites and gill parasites
Some parasites that infest the skin and/or gills of the fish can be removed using forceps. Argulus, leeches, copepods, and isopods are all examples of such parasites.
Start by anesthetize your fish using Tricaine Methanesulfonate anesthetic (commonly sold under the name MS-222). Slowly add Tricaine Methanesulfonate to a minimal amount of water with the right salinity to anesthetize the fish. Use forceps to remove external/gill parasites that are large enough. If your fish is infested with gill isopods you will have to cut the legs of the isopods using small scissors and then use forceps to gently pull the legs from the gills.
Keep a watchful eye on the gills to make sure they continue to work while you work on your fish.
Make the process short and efficient, a fish that is kept in Tricaine Methanesulfonate for any longer period of time will die.
Dipping away external parasites
Generally speaking, saltwater dips will remove a lot of external parasites from freshwater species and freshwater dips will do the same for saltwater species. The exact length and frequency of the dips will vary depending on parasite species and fish species. In many cases, three dips that last for five minutes each will be enough. Dipping is stressful for the fish and must be used with caution. Read articles about specific parasites for more detailed instructions.
In order to pick the right medication, you must first identify the culprit. There is no quick fix that will work for all possible fish parasites in the world, even though there are some remedies that are effective against a long row of parasites.
Always double-check the recommendations from the manufacturer of the medication by doing an online search. Some manufacturers want you to use a little too much medication. There is often a fine line between killing the parasites and killing the fish. Experienced aquarists can help you out with the right dosing. Also keep in mind that you particular fish species might be especially sensitive to the active ingredient.
A not about filters
Keep in mind that a lot of medications capable of killing microorganisms will kill off the beneficial bacteria in your aquarium. Take appropriate measures to avoid spikes in organic waste and rebuild your biological filter as soon as possible. You can read more about biological filtration in the article about cycling. An increase of organic waste is very dangerous for fish that are already weakened by parasites and a tough treatment.
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