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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Water of Life

By Patrick Donston

Store Owner, Absolutely Fish


From my experiences and education, I've learned that water is crucial to healthy living creatures. I’ve also learned that the average hobbyist and store employee truly do not understand water quality and its effect on fish health.

I know that most shops teach their staffs to understand the significance of pHs, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates when it comes to stressed or sick fish. However, if you don't, I highly recommend you start doing so - after all, this is the foundation of fishkeeping.

All employees working in any fish department must know the nitrogen cycle before allowed to give advice on any aquatic animal. Where I find the underlying problem is when the above-listed parameters are in check, most think water condition is not the cause of fish health or death. I've seen many dying-fish situations where the four basic tests are satisfactory, so the employees go right to the medicine case. This is wrong, as there are other water-condition parameters to examine before recommending medication.

It is important to remember that nitrogen-based wastes (ammonia, nitrite and nitrate) are predominately the urinary waste of the fish. The defecation waste is virtually untestable, so it must be analyzed through observation and questioning. Excessive defecation waste dissolved in water will increase the bacterial/viral count. As with people, when fish breathe an excessive amount of germs, they get sick, die or can't fight disease as well. It's imperative to evaluate the situation by examining filter beds and gravel for dirt or detritus. A muddy sponge or cartridge and/or dirty gravel bed may not show ammonia, nitrite or low pH in a water test. It can still be a problem, though, as this waste becomes a culture bed for pathogens, which in turn blow into the water column for fish to breathe.

Teach your staff to examine these situations by:

  1. Checking if gravel beds are dirty by asking when was the last gravel cleaning.
  2. Checking filter maintenance by asking when was the last time sponges were cleaned and carbon was changed.

For those who don't know, carbon removes dissolved amines (i.e., feces). Thus keeping carbon fresh and regularly changing water usually improves water quality beyond ammonia control.

Never underestimate the power of water changes. The best example I tell customers is when we receive a new shipment of plecos, neons, etc. If on the next day we find that three or four have died, the first thing our staff is taught to do is hydro-clean the gravel bed, making sure it is clean. If a dirty bed is discovered, we usually have found the problem. On Day 2, maybe one or two died. By Day 3, zero deaths and no medicine is needed.

Testing water is a start, but understanding water quality beyond that is a skill. Store staffs need to be educated and understand that, like humans, fish need a healthy environment to be well and overcome disease.

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