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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 10, 2011

Marine Protozoans: Treating the Disease

By Patrick Donston


I’m constantly asked about good suppliers for marine fish. A good supplier is important, but I’ve yet to find one where we don’t have to be prepared for sick fish. Medicating marine fish can be simple if you understand that most diagnosed problems are caused by protozoa not bacteria or fungus. Oodinium (marine velvet), crypt (marine ick), Brooklynella and uronema combined add up to more than 90 percent of the illnesses marine ornamentals encounter. These are all protozoa (single-celled organisms) and can be treated similarly.

Recognizing sick fish, as well as early diagnosis, is vital to survival. It is imperative to observe your marines daily by way of a feeding/walk-around. Notate physical or behavioral mishaps. Create a daily husbandry list, start treatments, and prevent your customers from purchasing problem stock. We don’t save all of our sick fish, but we have noticed approximately an 80 percent “heal-rate” to sale of fish listed as “non-conforming.”

Bathing the fish in formaldehyde/malachite green solution is one way to start the healing process. This can be done by using 5ml of Quick cure, Rid Ick, Ick X or other brand names of the same chemical make-up and adding it to 2.5 gallons of the system water in a bucket. Bath the fish for 5 minutes, and then return them to their system or hospital tank with copper. Formaldehyde is the active ingredient that burns the slime coat, epithelia cells, gills and eyes where protozoa can be seen. Too long of a bath may kill the fish, as formaldehyde will bind with hemoglobin in the blood, thus causing the fish to die of hypoxia.

We’ve found Brooklynella (clown fish disease) and uronema to be most stubborn to eradicate. Freshwater baths can be helpful, especially with Brooklynella and uronema infections. Set the pH and temperature of your freshwater solution the same as the system. Repeated baths (once daily) with 5 to 10 drops of formalin/malachite green will help effectiveness.

Eye flukes, Amyloodinium and cryptocaryon are best treated with copper solutions. Copper medicines can be found with different chemical make-ups. Some tend to be more effective than others. Non-chelated (ionic) forms are known to be more effective, although harsher on the animals and systems. The reason is ionic molecules generally have a higher affinity to moving across cell membranes, thus they works into tissues and make protozoa easier to “kill.” It is important to remember ionic copper should always be monitored closely with a proper test kit. Levels should be maintained between 0.15 to 0.20 ppm for at least two weeks to kill all stages of the protozoa lifecycle. For certain types of fishes, such as tangs, marine sharks, and pygmy angels, lower levels should be maintained.
We have found ionic/non-acidic copper treatments, such as SeaChem’s cupramin, a great alternative for keeping stress down, although it is still strong enough for cure. Keep in mind that copper cannot be used in systems with live rock or invertebrates. That’s why it is important to keep your inverts separate and use recovery systems.

Shops so often pull out dead fish and chalk it up to “that one didn’t make it,” when a simple observation done a few days or a week ago could’ve saved the fish’s life. Fish not eating, rapid breathing, faded color, spots, ragged fins, are all signs of disease. Most times it’s protozoan and can be treated.

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