Monday, October 17, 2005

How do you treat sick koi?

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As befits the bad karma I am enduring, I am suffering the agony of sick fish.

One of my nerdier pursuits growing up (there were many) was keeping tropical fish. From that experience, I knew that keeping fish was a challenge. A river is a true miracle. It somehow keeps things in balance and fish happily survive. But I thought koi were going to be easier. Koi are a type of carp, and carp inhabit the most fetid streams and pools. Not mine it seems. (Not that the 8000 litre beautiful pond I have is a fetid stream - all water tests are good).

The first sign of trouble was flashing. Flashing is when a fish darts up to a surface and does a rapid turn trying to scratch an itch. It flashes its underbelly and hence the term. So I thought, mmm, I recognise this. My tropical fish once had white spot. Quick treatment should do the trick.

A short while later one fish died. Another developed dropsy. While I have been working crazy hours, I have been reading bits and pieces on the net, and the news was not good - dropsy is always fatal.

But I chose to persevere. My reading told me that salt was the treatment of choice. Which is good, because there are a million medicines at inflated prices in most fish shops. The fish responded well and started looking normal - with the exception of some ulcerated patches.

I treated the water with potassium permanganate - a dangerous affair, as overdosing kills gill tissue and fish die from suffocation.

After a week of good progress things regressed again. I tried Methylene Blue to treat the ulcers which had now spread to two other fish - including one of my big guys - a fish of about 35cm.

And now a week later, the big guy's ulcer is looking suspciously like "hole in the head" - a horrendous condition that literally results in holes appearing in the affected fish's head.

I did another potassium permanganate treatment tonight - together with a concentrated salt and potassium bath. Sadly, the poor guy that started the trouble with dropsy is looking worse for wear - I think the potassium was just too much for his overloaded system.

I am a little suspicious of the shop I bought my fish from. They all come from the same place. It is the biggest koi dealer in Johannesburg. When buying there, I also noticed two of their fish had fin rot. Of course, this hasn't been bad for them - I've probably spent as much on medication as the few thousand I spent on the fish.

Right now I'm thinking of getting an expert koi keeper in - I don't have time to deal with all of this now. And my koi were supposed to relax me...

Some useful koi links:

FishDoc - The home of fish health
Koi Vet
Fish medications
A summarised guide to koi disease and treatment
An excellent guide to treating Koi - with videos
Koi Carp - the world's best selling Koi magazine
Koi anatomy

My biggest, healthiest koi - OJ - about 40cm.


ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Call in the experts, ITTQ! The fish have suffered enough.
I understand the need to see if you could fix the problem yourself, but from what I can gather, things are getting worse.
(Keeping thumbs!)

It is the question said...

Jeez, you make me sound like a mad scientist experimenting on the poor beasts!

I am calling in the experts, but seeing as the expert I'm after is buying Koi in Japan at the moment, I'm backing this up with some more doctoring.

Tonight holds the thrill of annointing my seriously ulcered koi with mecurochrome. This at the advice of my most recent expert. From reading, it is the right thing to do.

Problem is, it is nigh impossible to hold a great big koi still. I now have to catch it, dry the affliction, mecurochrome it, blow dry and return to the water - without getting mecurochrome all over me and in the fish's eyes.

Oh hell.

It is the question said...

Some learnings from the awful experience:

Be careful handling your koi - one of my fish's pectoral fins were badly damaged during netting. These mesh nets they sell you are a disaster - they're made to catch pectoral fins. I'm after a very thin mesh - almost like a butterfly net to prevent this in future.

My chemist had a good suggestion - he sold me a spray bottle for applying the mecurochrome. Now the next good idea would have been wearing rubber gloves. I have some wierd looking mecurochrome stains!

Corner your koi using the net. Then place one hand over its snout and the other around its midrift. Lift it onto a wet towel. Treat it there and use the towel to gently place the koi into a holding tank to watch for any ill effects.

tripeak said...

OMG! This sounds like wayyy too much work - who would have thought fish can be so much trouble? Nah, that's it! i'm too lazy to keep koi. :P

It is the question said...

An update on the koi.

Good news is that they are all alive. The fighter is looking so much better. Pretty amazing if he pulls through this. After it seemed like I may have killed him after the dip the other night, he has revived considerably and is looking much better. Also, some of the mercurochrome seems to have stuck, and his ulceration seems much better today.

The guys damaged in the whole treatment experience seem OK. I am dreading the next treatment episode tonight...

It is the question said...

Oh, and on the mad scientist / expert thing.

Sad fact of keeping pets is that you have to be prepared to doctor them. I grew up with tonnes of pets. I highly recommend it for any kid.

From having to doctor my dog's problem ears - a highly unpleasant experience - to having to give a rabbit injections, it all teaches one about responsibility. It also teaches about keeping a stiff upper lip and biting the bullet when treating the buggers - rather than avoiding issues and actually letting problems fester.

The experts are on the way - I need them to examine the pond and look for root causes, but unfortunately my years of fish keeping have taught me that dealing with illness is unavoidable.

I do look forward to just having healthy koi though. From now on, any fish going into that pond is going to go through a month of quarantine!

It is the question said...

Update. It seems you can seriously earn a lot of money being a Koi vet.

I was quoted R450 per call out, R100 per fish injection, 3 call outs and injections per fish required.

For nine fish, that means R4050 for fish that cost about that much - with no guarantees.


andrea said...

I'd comment, but my only experience with koi is watching them get picked out of my neighbour's pond by marauding raccoons and herons.

LiVEwiRe said...

Any chance of contamination of dinoflagellates (ie: pfisteria piscida)? They are the buggers that run in the red tide (or I should say the nitrogen levels allow them to flourish). The will ulcerate many fish and cause basic havoc. Check it out.

It is the question said...

Andrea: we don;t have racoons here, but we have Hadedas - a type of ibis well known for plundering koi stocks. We also have heron, but not in built up areas. Thankfully, my neighbour's cat is the beast most interested in my koi, but petrified of the water.

Livewire: You appear to know something about fish. The dinoflagellates class includes many parasites that target fish. I believe "flukes" are part of this class and you are right, they are a major cause of ulceration. Hexamita is another delight, and cause of "Hole in the head" disease.

Thankfully my treatments of pottassium permanaganate, salt and mercuroghrome appear to be doing the trick.