Copper treatment

UPDATE: **Read this if using chelated copper** New recommendation for chelated copper

Copper treatment

What It Treats – Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) and Marine Velvet Disease (Amyloodinium ocellatum). There is some anecdotal evidence that copper will suppress symptoms of Brooklynella hostilis and Uronema marinum; however it is unlikely to completely eradicate either.

How To Treat – First, it is important to know what kind of copper you are using. Below is a list of the most commonly available copper products, their therapeutic ranges and compatible copper test kit(s):

  • Copper sulfate (0.20 ppm): Seachem or Salifert copper test kit
  • Cuprion (0.20 ppm): Seachem or Salifert copper test kit
  • Cupramine (0.5 ppm): Seachem or Salifert copper test kit
  • Coppersafe (2.0 ppm): API copper test kit
  • Kordon Copper Aid (2.0 ppm): API copper test kit (Avoid this brand of copper; it’s too watered down)
  • Copper Power (2.5 ppm): API copper test kit (Click here for a Copper Power Dosing Calculator)
In addition to the aforementioned hobbyist grade test kits, the Hanna High Range Copper Colorimeter (HI702) is a highly accurate “professional grade” test kit capable of reading all forms of copper

** (I personally use Copper Power + Hanna copper colorimeter, and treat at 2.5 ppm.) **

** If you do not feel comfortable treating with chelated copper @ 2.5 ppm (or if the fish is a known copper sensitive species), I recommend treating with chelated copper @ 2.0 ppm. This is still therapeutic, but may not be sufficient for copper-resistant parasites, so observe the fish for at least 30 days afterwards (in a non-medicated QT) to ensure copper treatment was successful. **

How long to use copper on a fish depends upon whether you have 1 or 2 quarantine tanks to work with. If just 1 QT, treat for 30 consecutive days. The reason this approach takes so long is because copper only targets the “free swimming stage”. While 7-14 days is the “norm” to reach this stage, certain strains of Marine Ich have a prolonged life cycle. Indeed, even 30 days may not be sufficient in some rare cases. This is why it is so important to observe after treatment ends, to ensure symptoms do not return.

A therapeutic level must be maintained at all times during the 30 days, so testing often is important. If the level drops even slightly out of range, then the 30 day clock restarts. One reason your copper level may drop unexpectedly is if you are treating in a tank with rock and substrate; these should be avoided with copper due to absorption. Conversely, if you exceed the therapeutic range you risk killing the fish.

Copper is a poison, pure and simple. It only works because most fish are able to withstand being in it longer than the parasites. Knowing this, some feel it is wise to raise the copper level very slowly (over 6-7 days) instead of the usual 24-48 hour label directions. However, I have had the best success dropping fish into QTs predosed with Copper Power @ 1.0ppm, and then take 48 hours to reach minimum therapeutic (1.5 ppm). I take another 48 hours to achieve 2.0 ppm, and then another 48 hours to reach 2.5 ppm which is my “sweet spot” for using chelated copper. So, take 6-7 days to raise the copper level from the initial (1.0) to full therapeutic (2.5). These increases in copper are done very gradually, dosing the QT multiple times per day.

So, what if I have TWO quarantine tanks to work with? Well, in that case you only need to treat with copper for 14 DAYS and then transfer the fish into QT#2. Provided the following:

1) Copper level must be at FULL THERAPEUTIC (2.5 ppm if using Copper Power) for the entire 14 days (very important).
2) Nothing from QT#1 can be reused to setup QT#2. Transfer just the fish; nothing else!
3) The two QTs must be at least 10 feet apart, to avoid any possibility of aerosol transmission. Also be careful to avoid cross contamination via wet hands, feeding apparatus, anything wet really…
4) Do not lower the copper level prior to transferring. QT#2 should be copper free, so you can observe to ensure treatment was successful. You can, however, treat with other medications (e.g. Prazipro if you need to deworm) in QT#2.

The above strategy works because after 14 days any ich or velvet trophonts should have dropped off the fish. The presence of copper in the water shields your fish from reinfection from any unhatched tomonts (which release free swimmers). It’s these unhatched tomonts you want to transfer your fish away from, because some ich tomonts can take up to 72 days to release all of their free swimmers. Thus, understand that QT#1 is still possibly contaminated with ich and/or velvet tomonts (plus any other diseases the fish was carrying) even after all the fish have been transferred out. Which is why sterilizing QT#1 in-between batches of fish is a good idea.

Pros – Readily available.

Cons/Side Effects – Appetite suppression and lethargy are common side effects. If a fish stops eating completely, perform water changes (to lower the copper concentration) until he eats. If this happens a second time after you resume raising the copper, you’ll know you’ve encountered a “copper sensitive” fish and an alternative treatment should be used instead. (Note: Anytime you lower the copper level below therapeutic, the 30 day treatment clock begins anew once the copper is raised back up.)