Water quality conditions.
The information provided below are recommendations to help keep your tank healthy and should not replace the expert advice offered at this site or any other site you visit. Seeking advice is always recommended, as there may be other factors to take into consideration.
Poor water quality is commonly caused by misinformation and is fairly easily rectified.
Common symptoms are: fish gasping at the surface or bottom of tank, or are very inactive, but show no visible lesions. Your fish’s fins may be clamped to their sides. Many of your fish will be affected, possibly the whole tank.
If left too long poor water quality can cause several diseases. For example: fin rot, ulcers, dropsy, cloudy eye or bacterial infection.
It is important to do regular water changes, we recommend about 25% weekly with a gravel vacuum. Always add recommended dose of conditioner to any water you add back into your tank. Water from your tap contains chlorine and other chemicals harmful to your fish. Always make sure the water temperature is the same as the water in your tank. DO NOT change 100% of the water or scrub the tank clean. Doing so will cause the tank to cycle again. This is extremely harmful to your fish.
If your fish is inactive or showing signs of distress, the first thing to do is test your nitrites, nitrates and ammonia levels. If you don’t have a test kit most local fish stores will be able to test the water for you. But we strongly suggest owning one yourself.
If you have elevated Ammonia levels (should be 0 in a healthy tank) do an initial water change of 50% and daily changes of 10% until your reading is zero. Also reduce feeding. Keep in mind that ammonia is extremely toxic to your fish and can cause permanent damage to fish lungs and eyes. And may cause your fish to be susceptible to various diseases later in life if exposed to continued high ammonia levels. It is also important to find out what is causing your high ammonia levels and rectify the problem. Common problems are filter failure or malfunctioning, overstocking or sudden change in water conditions
If you have elevated Nitrite levels (should be 0 in a healthy tank) do an initial water change of 25% and repeat every few days until your reading is zero. You should also reduce feeding. Nitrite affects the hemoglobin (oxygen carrying cells) of the fish and will cause your fish to suffocate. Fish exposed to even low levels of nitrite over a long time will suffer damage to their immune system and may cause your fish to be susceptible to various diseases. It is also important to find out what is causing your high nitrite levels and rectify the problem. Common causes are filter failure or malfunctioning, overstocking or over feeding.
If you have elevated Nitrate levels (acceptable level around 20ppm) do a water change of 25% and check your levels. If there is still a high reading do another 10 – 15% change the next day. In a healthy tank you will get a reading of some nitrates in your water. This is caused by the nitrification cycle, and is kept under control by regular water changes. Nitrates are not as harmful to your fish as ammonia or nitrite, but can still cause considerable damage if left too long. Again it is important for you to identify how the excess nitrate reading is occurring. Common causes of high nitrate levels are overstocking, over feeding or not doing regular water changes.
Like all other living things fish need oxygen to survive, not enough oxygen and your fish will become ill and most likely die. They continually take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. There are also other things in your tank that need oxygen to survive. Plants produce oxygen as we all know through the process of photosynthesis but they also use oxygen when the lights are turned off. The good bacteria and microorganisms that break down ammonia and nitrite also need oxygen to function and also some chemicals can cause a reaction that depletes your tank of oxygen.
If your tank is not circulating enough or doesn’t have enough surface agitation your tank may not have enough oxygen. Also overstocking and a high temperature can cause a lack of oxygen. If there is not enough oxygen in your tank, your fish will stay at the top or bottom ‘gasping’ for air.
If you are having a problem with oxygen in your tank you have to take the above things into consideration. You may need some surface agitation provided by power heads or air stones, you may need to add more filtration to provide sufficient water circulation or you may need to add a filter that pumps external air into the tank. Or you may just need to lower the temperature of your tank.
Most freshwater fish need a pH level in the range of 5.5 to 7.5, Africans can go up to 8.4. While the recommended pH for most fish is important, more important is a stable pH.
Unstable pH, or pH out of the range mentioned above can cause serious effects to your fish. It can affect your fish’s breathing ability or direct physical damage to skin, gills and eyes. Prolonged exposure to a pH that is too high in acidity or alkalinity can cause stress, increased mucus production and encourage thickening of skin or gill epithelia, which will more than likely cause death.
Fluctuations within the preferred range can also cause stress and damage to your fish.
If your pH is stable and within the range above and your fish are showing no signs of distress, but the pH is not the ‘recommended’ pH for your fish, it will be best to just leave the pH alone rather than stressing and possibly damaging your fish by trying to get your pH exact.
If your pH is outside the preferred range above, your fish will likely be showing signs of distress and possibly dying. It is important for you to bring your pH into the range and keep it stable.
There are a few possible ways of doing this.
For a pH that is too acidic, or below 5.5, you will need to raise the pH. To do this you can aerate the water by using the methods in the above information about oxygen, use coral or limestone in your filters, or add rocks that contain limestone or add a coral sand substrate.
For a pH that is too alkaline, or above 7.5 for American, 8.4 for African, you will need to lower the pH. To do this you can add bogwood to the tank, do water changes with softened water or reverse osmosis (RO) water, or use an acid buffer.
Suitability to fish and plants.
12+ - fatal to plants and fish
9.5 – suited to a very few specialised species
8.5 – harmful to most plants and fish, but ok for some
7 – favourable to most plants and fish
6 – suitable for most plants and fish
4.5 – harmful to most plants and fish
3 or under – fatal to plants and fish
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