You have had your aquarium for about two weeks and are loving it. Everyday you turn on the light, give your fish just a little snack of food, watch them eat and then get on with your day. You come home, sneak a peak at your fish, maybe give them just a little pinch of the new food you just bought, and then watch them for a little while. Time for bed? Maybe just another pinch of food as a bed time snack. Does this sound like you?
After doing this for about two weeks you have noticed that your fish just don’t look right, they’re not eating like they used to, they are darting around and picking fights with one another, they are at the surface of the water gasping for air. Once peaceful fish have now become aggressive. This is hardly the relaxing hobby that you were expecting. What is probably happening is one or both of two things. You are feeding your fish too much and you are going through the biological cycle. If this is a new aquarium you are definitely going through the biological cycle. Every aquarium goes through this until it completes the cycle. When this occurs the aquarium has become “seasoned”. It usually takes about a month to six weeks and can be sped up using a Bio starter such as Hagen’s Cycle or Sea Chem’s Stability. If you are an impatient person we recommend using a Bio Starter. This helps to cycle your aquarium in two weeks. To better understand the biological cycle click here. For now lets focus on how to alleviate the problem at hand and get your fish feeling and acting better.
Do a water change immediately. This will dilute the ammonia levels in the water. Remove any uneaten and rotting food off of the bottom of the aquarium with a siphon and stop feeding your fish for 2 full days – not even a pinch! It is wise to purchase an ammonia test kit and monitor your levels until the ammonia is at zero. It can be a very hard lesson to learn because while thinking that you are a responsible fish owner, you may actually be harming your fish. When you overfeed your fish the food begins to rot in a matter of hours and ammonia is released.. Ammonia, which is in the form of a gas, decreases the amount of oxygen in the water by replacing it. Your fish are not only breathing oxygen but ammonia too. This ammonia gets into their bloodstream and weakens their immune system making them vulnerable to infections and disease. They feel awful! Your fish are suffocating and extremely uncomfortable. Don’t worry, once you have done a water change your fish will perk up. The key to avoiding stress for you and your fish from ammonia poisoning is to avoid ammonia spikes in the first place. Follow these simple guidelines listed below to keep ammonia levels manageable. One tip is to keep your pH below 7.0 when going through the biological cycle. Ammonia is converted to ammonium at a pH below 7.0 and ammonium is less toxic than ammonia.
Gradually add a few fish initially and do not add more until the tank is completely cycled. It is very hard to wait but it is well worth it. Even in a well established tank, only add a few new fish at a time and avoid overstocking.
Feed fish small quantities of foods, and remove any food not consumed in five minutes. Do not follow the directions on the food container! The manufacturer’s directions always tell you to feed too much. Wait until the tank is cycled and then you can feed them multiple times a day.
Clean the tank weekly, taking care to remove any debris. If you do this weekly during the first month, your tank will be better in the long run.
Perform a partial water change at least every other week once your tank is cycled, more often in small heavily stocked tanks.
Test the water for ammonia, pH and Nitrite at least twice a month to detect problems before they become serious. Make this part of your routine when doing water changes.