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Related FAQs: Quarantining Freshwater Livestock, Livestocking Freshwater, Freshwater Livestock Selection

Related Articles: Selecting Freshwater LivestockAcclimation of New Freshwater Livestock by Bob Fenner,

/The Conscientious Freshwater Aquarist

Quarantining Freshwater Livestock


By Bob Fenner


    Though not often discussed in the realm of freshwater aquarium keeping, quarantine of incoming/new livestock is standard practice in the saltwater hobby. Put simply, there is no better way to provide time for newbies to recover from the rigors of being moved, perhaps collected, held in stressful settings... and for you to be able to "check them out" for pathogenic, social, nutritional problems ahead of their mixing in your main tanks. The logic of quarantine is all-too-evident for those many who have accidentally placed new livestock with old, bringing in parasites, pests, and sometimes just too-weak new fishes et al. that could not compete with established tankmates.

    Setting up and maintaining a separate quarantine system need not be expensive nor onerous. For most folks, a cheap "ten gallon" kit with some sort of cover (to prevent jumping mostly), including a heater, simple filter, and some chemically inert decor (PVC pipe, fittings for instance) is about it. Much less money, not to count heartache, than replacing all ones livestock. Here is a detailing of what quarantine is, its rationale, and standard, operating procedure.

Why Quarantine?

    Avoiding pathogenic disease is often cited as the number one reason to quarantine new livestock. By doing so you can avoid most common infectious (bacterial, fungal) and parasitic (protozoan, worm, crustacean...) disease agents. Do be aware that aquatic life is considerably different than what you're likely familiar with your terrestrial pets. Fishes, aquatic plants and invertebrates may "look fine" now, but be set upon a path of trouble that you can't foresee. Giving them a brief time to either show these pathogens or recover from latent problems is the principal reason for most folks employing quarantine, though there is much more to be gained.

    Developmental/behavioral troubles can be largely avoided by having new livestock live on their own, getting used to captive conditions, your water quality, ahead of being "just tossed" in your main displays. Another benefit of having a quarantine system is the space it provides should there be altercations between new and established livestock. Should there be negative interactions, the established bully is often best placed in the quarantine, swapping it for the new livestock, and allowing the newbies a chance to establish themselves for a week or two before they're returned.

    Rest and Recovery from the trials of capture and/or long shipping and handling is another prime advantage of quarantining new livestock. Most new livestock is lost within a day of its being moved through the "chain of custody" from breeders and collectors, through wholesalers and transhippers, jobbers and retailers to you. Most of this loss is from simple "stress"... Best to give new livestock this chance of "catching their breath" w/o having to interact with established tankmates.

    Observation for all the above is most easily provided in smaller quarters during quarantine. Here you can use a flashlight or other bright illumination w/o the livestock being able to hide easily. Much easier than tearing your established systems apart.

    "Oh, I don't need to quarantine... my dealer does this for me"... Really? There are exceedingly few stores that are set-up to routinely adequately isolate new livestock. This practice is just too expensive, time-consuming for fish stores to afford. Most do their best to provide preventative dips, sterilize nets, specimen containers... but water is moved and traded twixt systems with troubles in stores continuously. The best advice is to quarantine your own livestock no matter how good they look at your dealers.

Quarantine: Systems and S.O.P.

    Tank et al.: the bigger the better as usual, but the tank need not be fancy or very large... A "stock" or non-show shaped aquarium of ten or more gallons will do, along with a heater and thermometer and some sort of "stand alone" filter... A hang-on power filter or inside one works out best in terms of doing enough biological conversion, circulation and aeration, but an old fashioned "box" or sponge filter will do (with an air pump, tubing, check-valve) as well. You want something that is easy to install, operate, and change-out... possibly adding chemical filtrants in its flow path if needed. Oh, and another mention re having some sort of cover... to prevent your livestock from leaving, cutting back on evaporation, and keeping kitty and little to larger hands out.

    Maintenance: is simple in most cases, with folks leaving their quarantine tank operating at all times, utilizing it for emergencies, treatments, a safe haven and young rearing facility. If you have no aquatic life present, it's a good idea to use the quarantine system as a reservoir for your change out water... that is, it's advantageous to add "old" water to the Q tank every week or so, to keep the beneficial microbes going in your filter media. If you find your quarantine tank out of use or brand new, it will be necessary to "break it in" as with all new aquatic systems, using a bacterial culture, old filter media, established system water... to inoculate it with needed microbes.

    Interval: Most new purchases can be processed in about two weeks time. Generally if problems are going to show, they will have within this period of time, and a fortnight is a long-enough spell for new arrivals to rest. Of course, if there are signs of problems, there is no need to rush things, and new livestock can stay in quarantine as long as necessary.


    There you have it; the principle arguments for the investment in the means and process of quarantine. Is it worth it for you to set aside a separated system for receiving, strengthening, observing... and perhaps treating new livestock? Each must decide for themselves here, but such practice is well-warranted if/when you have a treasured collection of established livestock and wish to avoid the very real possibility of introduction of pests, parasites and infectious disease.

    Give your incoming livestock a chance to "rest-up" and yourself the opportunity to closely observe them before introduction to your main/display systems. You'll be very glad you did.


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