We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and there is no statement more true in fish-keeping. A quarantine tank is one of the most important tools any aquarist will use.
Why Should you Quarantine?
There are quite a few reasons to quarantine new fish, plants, inverts or live rock.
First and foremost is the protection of the existing livestock in the display tank; any diseases, parasites or hitchhikers can be treated, cured and eliminated without exposing your display to them.
Secondly, you can monitor the new livestock for behavior and health issues. If anything is wrong, whether it is an injury, disease or simply a refusal to eat, it is much easier to deal with a single specimen in a smaller tank instead of trying to catch and treat it in a large display.
Third, many treatments and medications can and will destroy the bacterial colony of a tank, causing a major crash. Limiting the use of these treatments to a quarantine tank eliminates the risk of damaging the essential biofilter of the display.
Fourth, most fish have been exposed to internal parasites either in the wild or via the centralized filtration stores and fish farms use. Quarantine time is the perfect time to deworm.
Finally, some time in a quarantine tank allows the new livestock a chance to settle into your water conditions and home activity levels, without the stress of other tank mates harassing or threatening it. And of course, this also gives you a little time to think about your new purchase and if it really is right for your situation and research its needs if you haven’t already. Often we buy an amazing fish or coral on impulse, only to find out when we get it home that it is wildly agressive or completely unsuitable for our display. If the fish is in quarantine, you have more time to research and think about the situation than you would if you put the fish directly into your display and watched in horror as it destroyed all you have worked for.
How to Set Up a Quarantine Tank
Any tank, food safe storage tub or even a food safe bucket can be used as a quarantine tank. Ideally, a glass or acrylic fish tank is best, as this allows easier viewing of the specimen. Use common sense when it comes to the container size, do not try to fit too many fish in too small of a container, or a very large fish in a very small container.
A filter of some sort is necessary, even if it is just a powerhead with a pre-filter or an air driven sponge filter. Substrate and decor are not necessary, but depending on the species, may be added to help add a feeling of security and reduce stress. Avoid any porous decor such as driftwood though, everything you use should be disposable or something that can be thoroughly disinfected.
It is a very good idea to have extra filter media or keep an extra filter running on an existing, healthy tank. This provides you with “preseeded” bacterial media to assist in setting up a quarantine tank unexpectedly. If you know you will need to home some new livestock in the near future, try to get your quarantine tank running and cycled ahead of time. However, in an emergency, a quarantine tank does not necessarily need to be cycled. In that case, frequent water changes and the use of a product such as Amquel or Prime to detoxify ammonia will get your fish through the initial period.
Be sure to monitor the tank parameters and be prepared to take action if they are not where they should be. Often people try to keep a quarantine tank running at all times, but invariably they end up adding livestock or plants to it, and it is no longer a quarantine tank! It is often easier to keep your quarantine tank put away in storage where you are not tempted to use it.
How to Quarantine?
Now that you have your tank set up and the livestock acclimated, its time to watch, wait and watch some more. Be on the lookout for external parasites, bacterial infections, refusal to eat, lethargy, fungus, etc and in the case of live rock or plants, any unwanted hitchhikers. Basically watch for anything that does not look normal. Identify any problems and treat as necessary, being sure to follow the recommended procedure completely. Ich, a common external parasite often seen in new purchases, has a life cycle of up to 21 days, so be sure to follow instructions and treat for the entire life cycle. It does no good to treat the problem only halfway, and have it come back a week after you’ve moved the livestock into your display tank.
A very important part of quarantining any new, sick or injured livestock is proper sanitation procedures. Never share any nets or other equipment from a quarantine tank with any other tank, at the risk of contamination. Be sure to disinfect any equipment, including but not limited to, siphons, buckets, thermometers, hydrometers and nets that are used in the quarantine tank. Always wash your hands after working in any tank, and consider the use of aquarist gloves.
How Long to Quarantine?
Generally, most aquarists recommend 2 to 4 weeks of quarantine time at the very minimum. Ideally, you should wait 2 to 4 weeks after the last sign of any symptom or disease is completely gone before introducing your new livestock to the display tank.
Yes, this may mean a month or more before you can enjoy your new acquisition, but it is worth it when compared to the risk of losing any or all of your existing livestock.
At Last, Quarantine is Over!
Once your livestock has completely healed, shows no signs of any disease or parasite, is eating and behaving normally, it is time to introduce them to their final destination. Use proper acclimation procedures and monitor their behavior to be sure they are settling in. Keep an eye out for territorial battles or other aggression.
Once everything is settled in, you can now disinfect your quarantine tank and put it away for a future use. Use a bleach/water solution (1:19 ratio), oxyclean or other such sterilizing agents to sanitize all the equipment used in the quarantine setup. Disposable items such as filter media are best thrown out, rather than risk the chance of contaminating any livestock in the future.
Now, go sit and admire your tank and healthy livestock, and know in the back of your mind that you know how to keep them that way!