The 20 DOs and DON’Ts of Quarantine

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Dr. Fish
Navarre, FL
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I wrote this several years ago, but wanted to share it here as well... Please list any useful tips you might have in the comments below!

Quarantine DOs and DON’Ts

The purpose of this write-up is to offer useful tips and point out common mistakes made during quarantine (QT).
  1. DON'T ever use a tank or piece of equipment until after it gets cleaned out with vinegar, bleach, etc. (This rule is dedicated to a beloved PBT I lost, because I didn't take the time to clean her temporary holding tank and unbeknownst to me it had come into contact with bug spray. :()

  2. DO quarantine for a minimum of 4 weeks; longer is always better (in most cases.) DO house your QT at least 10 feet away from any other saltwater tank/vat, to avoid aerosol transmission. DON’T house corals/inverts in your fish QT.

  3. DO float & release your new fish; DON’T drip acclimate if you can help it. One of the advantages of QT is you can set the specific gravity (SG) to match the bag water. This can usually be determined beforehand by asking the online vendor or local fish shop (LFS) what SG they keep their fish in. Knowing this, you can just float the fish for 20-30 minutes, to slowly bring the temperature of the bag’s water to match that of the receiving tank. Once that is done, open the bag and double check the SG. So long as the SG is within .001 (up or down) of the receiving tank, you can release the fish without further acclimation. If the SG in the bag is lower than the QT, you can quickly lower the SG of a QT by replacing some saltwater with freshwater. If the SG in the bag is much higher than that in the QT, then you are forced to drip acclimate. When doing drip acclimation use an ammonia reducer (e.g. Amquel or Prime) if a fish has been in transit for more than a couple of hours.

  4. DON’T add more fish to the one(s) you already have in QT. You risk introducing a new disease into your QT and having to restart the QT clock. Be patient; add more fish once the current occupants have graduated to the DT.

  5. DON'T ignore your QT. DO spend at least 10-15 minutes everyday in front of it. In addition to obvious physical symptoms (e.g. white dots), observe your fish for key behavioral symptoms of disease such as: Heavy breathing, scratching, flashing, head twitching. Fish with Marine Velvet Disease may never show visible signs, but they will usually swim into the flow of a powerhead and act reclusive (velvet causes fish to be sensitive to light).

  6. DON’T cram too many fish or house incompatible species in a QT. If you are forced to, then create compartments within the QT by using eggcrate or some other divider. Ideally it’s best to QT just a couple of fish at one time. Speaking of eggcrate, DO use that or some other material to build a secure top for your QT - especially if housing known jumpers. Be aware certain fish (Diamond Goby immediately comes to mind) are capable of jumping or even wiggling their way through eggcrate, so a screen on the bottom of the eggcrate must also be employed to prevent their escape. Crazy, I know.

  7. DON’T use rock in a fish QT. It will absorb copper and other medications, making it difficult to maintain a stable level. Using PVC elbows for hiding spots is an acceptable substitute. The use of sand in fish QT is optional: Even without live rock, you can still have biological filtration in QT to help control ammonia (see below).

  8. DO utilize biological filtration in QT; DON’T rely solely upon water changes (WC) to keep ammonia under control. We all have busy lives these days, so it’s tempting to put off that WC until tomorrow. In our display tank (DT) this is acceptable, but in a QT it can be fatal. What you need is an insurance policy… Most hang on back (HOB) power filters utilize some sort of biomedia(e.g. sponge, bio-balls, ceramic noodles, bio-wheel). All these need to become a working bio filter is to be seeded with some nitrifying bacteria. You can accomplish this one of two ways:
    • Seed your biomedia in a high flow area of your DT’s sump (or behind some rocks) for a minimum of 1 month before QT.
    • Pour one of those “bacteria in a bottle” products (e.g. Bio-Spira, Seachem Stability, Dr Tim's Nitrifying Bacteria) over your biomedia just prior to use.

  9. DON’T use an ammonia reducer, such as Amquel or Prime, with certain brands of copper - most notably, Cupramine. The resulting chemical interaction turns copper toxic. There have also been some anecdotal reports of fish wipeouts after mixing an ammonia reducer with Prazipro. HOWEVER, this recent experiment confirms that SEACHEM PRIME is safe to use with COPPER POWER:

  10. DO test for ammonia often (and pH if doing hyposalinity); DON’T worry about nitrates, phosphates, even nitrites in a fish QT. Ammonia is toxic to ALL marine animals, even at low levels. However, most other parameters only affect fish at extremely high levels; unlike with corals/inverts.

  11. DON’T bother testing for ammonia if copper or certain other medications are present in the water. Copper renders most ammonia test kits useless; you will get nothing but false positives. The workaround is to use a Seachem Ammonia Alert badge, which works even in the presence of medications.

  12. DON’T raise copper too quickly, especially when treating known copper sensitive species such as angelfish. Take 5-7 days to reach therapeutic levels instead of the usual 24-48 hours recommended on the labels. The sole exception to this rule is when treating for velvet.

  13. DO provide plenty of gas exchange when using medications, as most will deplete the water of oxygen. This can be accomplished by pointing a powerhead towards the surface of the water or by using an air stone.

  14. DON’T overdose medications; if in doubt always underdose. With copper, you need to buy a test kit to ensure you are treating within the therapeutic range. The dosage instructions on the bottles are notoriously inaccurate. DON’T mix medications without first checking to see there are no known negative interactions.

  15. DON’T add medications directly to the QT. DO dissolve & mix all medications (including liquids) in a glass cup or beaker prior to adding them. You can use tank water to dissolve/mix, and then slowly pour the diluted medication into a high flow area or filter chamber.

  16. As a general rule, DON’T run UV, ozone, a protein skimmer or carbon while using copper or other medications. Although there is some leeway if you want to use a UV with chelated copper: Also, a protein skimmer will only remove whatever medications are in the water in the collection cup itself. (Some medications will cause a protein skimmer to overskim though.) Be sure any filter pad you are using doesn’t remove medication.

  17. DON’T cross contaminate! Nothing should ever go from your QT into the DT. Conversely, if you are going fallow in the DT to eradicate some disease… you must take care not to reinfect your QT with that same disease. The above also applies to water change vats.

  18. DO keep your QT clean even if ammonia is zero. You can use airline tubing to siphon debris off the bottom without wasting too much water. DO replace the appropriate amount of copper when doing water changes (but not for top off water).

  19. DO feed frequent small meals in QT; DON’T feed nori unless it’s very thin strips. The issue with nori is fish tear it apart, and tiny pieces get all in the water. Newly acquired fish and fish being treated with medications will typically have decreased appetites. Therefore, small feedings 2-3x daily are optimal to reduce uneaten food left on the bottom of the tank.

  20. DON’T move a fish from QT to DT unless he looks perfectly healthy and is eating well. Whatever doesn’t look right about the fish isn’t going to get any better once he’s in the DT. But DO synchronize the SG/temp of your QT & DT before the fish gets transferred, so you can avoid having to do any acclimation procedure.
While not really a “DO and DON’T”, it is my personal belief that a fish QT should be kept simple. I prefer small QTs that I can quickly break down, sanitize and then re-start as needed. In my experience, newly acquired fish seem to do better in QT if placed in an almost sterile environment using freshly mixed saltwater. And if you ever happen to experience some unknown “Typhoid Mary”-like disease which wipes out your entire QT; you’ll want to completely break down & sterilize that tank before ever using it again.