Has someone sprinkled salt on my fish?
The small white spots on your fish are definitely not salt. It is most likely a parasitic infection of some type. In fact, parasitic infections are believed to be responsible for most fish deaths, and can even wipe out an entire fish population in an aquarium. To prevent and/or cure any parasitic problem, we must first understand how the parasite made its way into YOUR aquarium.
How did these parasites make there way into my aquarium?
Just like dogs and cats can and will carry fleas, all fish have the ability to carry many different parasites. Parasites can be picked up by fish in the wild before capture, in the holding system at a jobber, in the holding system at the local wholesaler, or the holding system at your favorite retailer. Fish may carry a parasite for many months with little or no signs of infection. Then, after experiencing a small amount of stress, which can depress the immune system, the parasite can “take over” the fish. Most aquatic parasites are ignorant, meaning that they overpopulate at a point to which they may kill their host fish. On the other hand, in the case with fleas, they will live your dog or cat but ultimately will not kill pet.
What is the life cycle of a typical parasite?
You may be asking yourself why this is relevant. The best way to control a parasite is to interrupt the parasite’s life cycle. For the sake of example, the life cycle of a flea will be used to compare that of most fish parasites.
The flea life cycle:
If you have a flea infestation in your home, you would probably call an exterminator. He would come and spray your carpet or “bomb” your house. Your home would be “flea-free” for approximately 14-30 days. On the 21st or so day you might notice a few fleas reappearing. This is not because your pet found some more in your yard and brought them inside, rather the flea treatment did kill the cysts or eggs the adult fleas laid in your carpet before getting bombed. Flea eggs hatch after about 15 days and start to looking for a host, i.e. your pet. The flea’s total life cycle is approximately 30 days –from egg hatchling larvae to reproducing adult. But thankfully, new flea elimination products have been developed that permanently disrupt the life cycle of the flea.
Similarly, many aquatic parasites have life cycles similar to that of the flea. However, the aquatics industry is not as advanced….yet. In short, once an aquatic parasitic infection is identified, one must medicate for a minimum of 14 days or half the life cycle of most aquatic parasites. Of course, recommended standard industry practice is to quarantine all livestock for 14 days before adding them to your show display. By doing so, one can effectively identify infected fish before adding that livestock to your aquarium.
How can you prevent a parasitic infection in your aquarium?
Like people, all animals are susceptible to infectious diseases. When immune systems are depressed, the stage is set for infections to occur. When making any livestock purchase, one should always look for basic signs of good health. Are the fins intact? Is the fish eating? Are the eyes clear? Does the fish have any spots or discoloration on the body or fins? However, keep in mind that even the trained eye can miss potential problems. The only true way to guarantee a healthy specimen is to cut it open and look at it from the inside. All hobbyists should purchase fish from reputable retailers that use reputable sources. In an ideal world, all fish would be quarantined for at least 14 days. However, this may not be practical. It is always a good idea to ask your retailer what they are doing to prevent the spread of parasitic infections in their fish systems and if the fish you are contemplating purchasing has been subject to any prophylactic remedies. Again, quarantining all fish for 14 days, half the parasites life cycle, is the best means of ensuring a “clean” fish. Also, keeping their new environment as stress-free as possible is another key to success. Stresses include, but are not limited to, water quality, feeding appropriate diets, tension and fighting with other tank inhabitants, and stable temperatures. Also, there are many commercially available vitamin supplements for aquatic livestock that are effective in boosting the immune system.