Water is the life blood of any aquarium, and any issue with the water can quickly impact your fish’s health. Because of this, it’s important to recognize the most common problems that you may encounter with an aquarium’s water, and how to swiftly remedy the situation.
Of course not every problem should be regarded as an immediate threat to your fish, and most fish will be more than happy to swim around in an aquarium brimming with algae. But let’s face it – no one wants to have an aquarium filled with pea soup in their living room.
The Nitrogen Cycle
It’s not a stretch to say that the most important thing that you will ever do for your aquarium is cycling it properly. If you don’t know what the term cycling means, then you probably already have major problems with your fish tank.
Cycling deals with the nitrogen cycle, and helps to build up the beneficial bacteria in an aquarium that break down fish waste. Even after you have cycled a tank, you should still keep an eye on the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels, since any change to these can have a huge negative impact on your fish.
If you start to detect problems with any of these chemicals, it can come from several sources. The most likely source is that you are overfeeding your fish, and you should cut back the feeding slightly. Several other possible causes include having too many fish in the aquarium, leaving a dead fish to rot in the water or not changing the water on a regular basis.
Ammonia – If you do have a spike in ammonia in the aquarium, you can usually tell long before you test the water. Your fish will be showing obvious signs of distress, and they can exhibit red or bleeding gills and red streaking on the body. They may also be gasping for air at the surface of the water, or laying listlessly on the bottom of the aquarium.
If you see any of these signs, you need to take action immediately. Firstly, you have to identify the cause of the poisoning, since there is no point in trying to deal with the symptoms and not the cause.
After the source of the ammonia has been removed, the levels of ammonia can then be brought down through small, regular water changes. Increased aeration is also believed to help the fish, since many of them will have damaged gills at this point from the ammonia poisoning.
You can also use the ammonia treatment that can be found at many pet stores, but it can cause further problems since it won’t allow your aquarium to adjust to the higher levels of ammonia. It should only be used in dire emergencies, where you are at risk of losing all of your fish.
Nitrites – Unfortunately, nitrite poisoning usually appears fresh on the heels of ammonia poisoning. As the ammonia is converted to nitrites by the bacteria in the tank, nitrite levels will begin to spike to dangerous levels for the fish/
The symptoms are similar to ammonia poisoning and many of the fish already weakened by ammonia poisoning will often succumb to nitrites afterwards. Like ammonia, there is no real cure per se, and it can only be dealt with through increased water changes and aeration.
Nitrates – While both ammonia and nitrites are both deadly to fish, nitrates on the other hand will always be present in aquariums, and only become toxic at high concentrations. If the level of nitrates rise too high, you will often see your fish “flashing” on objects, as they rub their scales which have become irritated by the nitrates.
Nitrates are easy to deal with, and can be lowered through the addition of live plants and also through regular water changes which remove nitrates.
Algae in an aquarium is an annoyance, but generally won’t hurt the fish. In fact, many fish enjoy eating algae, so small amounts in the aquarium can actually be beneficial. The problem arises when the algae takes over your aquarium, and blankets everything with a green fuzz.
There are several possible reasons that an aquarium can experience an algae bloom, and the following are the most common ones:
Too Much Lighting – If your fish tank has too much lighting, it will allow the algae to grow out of control. This is especially true if your tank receives sunlight, since natural light is practically a guarantee that you will have algae problems. Always try to keep an aquarium out of direct sunlight, and only keep the lights on between 8-12 hours a day.
Overfeeding – If you overfeed your fish, then they will provide more fertilizer in the way of phosphates for the algae. This can quickly result in an algae bloom which can cover the aquarium in a thick rug of algae. Only feed your fish as much as they can eat in three minutes – anymore and you are overfeeding them.
Water Chemistry – Some areas contain naturally high phosphates in the water, which will contribute to fast algae growth in the aquarium. There are several products on the market that will help you deal with phosphate in the aquarium. The best product is PhosGuard, which can be found at Amazon.com
High Nitrate Levels – If you don’t keep up with regular water changes, the levels of nitrates will continue to rise – which will in turn fertilize any algae in the tank. If you start to develop sudden algae problems and you’re not overfeeding your fish, you should concentrate on focusing on regular water changes.
You can also reduce algae by adding algae eating snails or fish, or by including live plants in your aquarium. Live plants directly compete with algae, and many fast growing species will out compete the algae and leave few nutrients for it to use in it’s grow.
Cloudy water is one of the most common complaints that new aquarists have, and it can be frustratingly difficult to determine the cause. For the most part, cloudy water is harmless to fish and will clear up on its own after a short period of time.
One of the main causes of cloudy water is simply detritus and waste being disturbed in the gravel when fresh water is added to the tank. This is especially common in tanks where the gravel wasn’t cleaned prior to being added, or wasn’t cleaned thoroughly enough during the water change.
If the cloudy water is almost a tan colour, then the culprit is most likely new driftwood. When driftwood is first added to an aquarium, it can leak tannins for several weeks. The tannin itself is harmless and will only discolor the water for a short period of time.
Another reason that tanks become cloudy is due to too many nutrients in the water. Whether it is though overfeeding, adding new water to the tank, or because the tank isn’t properly cycled, it may occasionally experience a bacterial bloom. A bacterial bloom will turn the water nearly opaque, but will normally go away on it’s own.