Newbie, first aquarium, 2 dead fish, help?

kiendu(WIS z4)March 12, 2007

I just got my aquarium set up about 5 weeks ago. It's a 29 gallon and has that filter thing that hangs over the edge on the back side. I have been keeping my water at 78/80 on the little strip that sticks to the outside of the tank.

I've lost two fish. One just died last night and it's been in there for a month. I just brought 5 new fish home yesterday and I'm worried there's something wrong with my water. The ones that have died are some little cheapies that were 99 cents. (an orange and black and kinda a light orange with black on the fins) The one that died yesterday had white spots on it. I've seen something called "ich" and I'm thinking that could be the problem? I took the dead fish out, but will my new fish get it too?Can I get "ich" in my tank after a month?

The ones I bought yesterday were angel fish and catfish bottom feeders. I haven't bought an algae eater yet because the fish store said I should wait til I actually see algae in my tank, or he will starve to death. My water seems kinda dirty... little white specks floating around. My pump/filter is running all the time, wouldn't that clean the water better than this? Do I need a bigger filter/pump? It came together as a set, frankly I don't know what size it is. But,after a month, my water is already dirty and I've only had 4 fish that would practically all fit on a table spoon... they were pretty small to make such a mess in 29 gallons of water. Maybe I feed them too much? I feed them twice a day, but maybe too much at a time?

I'm worried... the fish I purchased yesterday cost over $50 and I don't want to lose them. What would you suggest? I've been thinking I need to "test" my water. We have well water, so there's no chlorine, but I'm sure there are other things in the water that could affect my tank? Do you have any suggestions for what kind of test kit to use and what to test for? I looked on ebay and there's so many I don't know which one I'm supposed to use or what I'm supposed to test for? HELP!!

I don't want to give up on this yet, I'd really love to have an aquarium and have fish for years that can grow big and entertain my grandchildren. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks! Cindy from Wisconsin

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You may have more than one issue going on. You may have ich, which is the white spot parasite. That normally strikes when the fish are stressed and weakened. Raise the temp to the low 80's and increase the air / filtration.

I think the main problem, though, is what is called, "New Tank Syndrome", whereby a new filter is being overwhelmed by wasteproducts, long before it has had the opportunity to breakdown ammonia and nitrites, with the "good bacteria". Do water changes as necessary and don't buy any more fish until the tank is "cycled". Also, buy an Ammonia / Nitrite / Nitrate kit to monitor the cycle.

You may want to look into buying a product that can speed up the cycle. Personally, I have never used it. I try to allow the filter to develop the bacteria on its own. Keep us posted.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 7:40PM
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New tank syndrome and ick go hand to hand, the rising levels of ammonia & nitrites may not be enough to kill the fish but are enough to stress it, stressed fish ---> ick.

One of the most common mistakes of newbies is to overstock the tank not allowing it to mature, mistake you pay with white cloudy water, sick and/or dead fish, adding zeolite to the filter reduces the ammount of free ammonia but it´s a double edge sword, it removes the ammonia but it also retards the maturation process and until the tank is mature ( fully cycled ) you can´t add new fish. Then you have icky fish that need treatment and ick medications also retard the maturation process.

You didn´t "seed" the aquarium for what I could read, seeding is the process of adding nitrifying bacteria to the tank either in freeze dried form, in liquid form or transplanting the bacteria from an already established aquarium. Most probably like Petiolaris mentioned you have an aquarium with new tank syndrome.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 8:36PM
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james_ny(z7 NY)

At this point you need to slow down. Don't get any new fish until this is cleared up. As Raul and petiolaris pointed out you have two problems to address, "new tank syndrome" and the ich parasites. The cycling process can take many weeks to complete but is easily measurable. Have the pet shop test your water every few days [or buy kit]. You'll see a steady increase of ammonia until it reaches toxic levels, than will drop to 0 [along with nitrite]. The cycle is complete and your water will never be better than at this point. If your remaining fish develop ick [small white spots and scratching] get a treatment from shop and remember to use it for as long as the directions say. Stop early and ich comes back. Remember when you add fish they may already have ich, you just can't see it yet. Either quarantine new fish or make sure their ok in store for at least a week. Good luck, getting started is the hardest part.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 12:09AM
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chuckr30(z5, GR-MI)

Let me summarize.

- You made a mistake by getting any kind of goldfish for your first tank. (Ok it could have been a platy.) They eat lots and make LOTS of waste. Gold fish need at leat 5g per inch of fish. Your tank was not overstocked but I think it still has high ammonia. Get some type of danio, platy, or molly instead. They are hardy and are great for cycling your filter.

- Go to for FAQs on cycling and general help. This is a great site for all levels of expertise. I am an official assistant in the 'shrimp and crab' area. (user: bulrush)

- You will need a test kit for ammonia and nitrites at the very least. Drop kits are very cheap per test and accurate. Test strips are less accurate and very expensive per test.

- Check your ammonia levels before adding any more fish. Ammonia and nitrites should be zero in a cycled tank. Nitrates should be under 40 in a cycled tank.

- As a general rule, more expensive fish, like discus and angelfish, are more sensitive and will die quickly under bad conditions. Start your aquarium with cheap fish (danio, platy, or molly) and test every other day for ammonia and nitrites. When your tank is cycled, takes about 30 days, you can add more fish.

General stocking levels is 1 gallon per inch of adult fish. Find out the adult size of fish and stock accordingly.

So if you buy a 4 inch pleco, but adult size is 10 inches, you will need 10g for this pleco.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 11:46AM
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To the advice given above by Chuckr add:

A couple of days after adding new fish to the tank check the ammonia and nitrite levels, the test should read zero, that doesn´t mean you can add more fish, it means that with the new addition you didn´t overload the biological filter. To add new fish wait for a couple of weeks.

Remove activated charcoal after medicating or it will adsorb the medication rendering it useless, once the cycle of medication is complete and the fish show no signs of illness you can reintal the activated charcoal to remove the medication and it´s methabolites for a period of 24-48 hours, then change a gain the charcoal for a fresh batch.

Perform regular aquarium maintenance:

- Clean the interior of the glass with a scrape and rough foam every week
- Refill the tank every 2-3 days with clean water
- Perform 10-20 % partial water changes every week with new water at the same temperature of the tank depending on the load, more fish more percentage ( the water from the aquarium is excellent for watering your plants )
- Remove and rinse the filter media from the filters every week.
- Change activated charcoal every month
- Siphon the bottom every 1-2 months

All those chores give you a healthy tank and a healthy tank gives you healthy long lived fish.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 1:47PM
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kiendu(WIS z4)

Thank you for the advice. I lost two more fish last night. I realize I don't know jack about aquariums!! I ordered a test kit and a test strip thing that sticks in the tank... good for 4-6 weeks I guess. I think that is only for ammonia.

I don't think I have activated charooal??? I have a filter thing with two different filters in it. Is one of them charcoal? So, I should be rinsing those filters? I haven't touched them yet. I'll do that today.

Oh, I'm so disappointed... it's hard to get this started. I thought you put water in and plugged in the filter and heater and add fish. I didn't realize I have so much to learn! Well, I won't be buying any more fish until I've learned to test my water and keep it healthy for them. I wonder how many more will die by tomorrow. Can I just let it sit empty while it cycles?

Thanks again for the help... hopefully in six months I'll be a happy aquarium owner with healthy happy fish!


    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 3:27PM
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Yes you can leave it fishless and let it cycle on it´s own, your tank already has what it needs in order to cycle, but that doesn´t mean that after cycling on it´s own you will be able to stock it full abruptly.

Here´s the catch, in order for your tank to "cycle" you have to seed it with nitrifying bacteria ( from another tank or purchased in freeze dried or liquid form ), that original bacteria pupulation you added will remain dormant until the conditions allow them to become active, that is, until they have "food" ( nitrogenous compounds ) that "food" can be given in several ways, with ammonium ( fishless cycling ) or by adding fish and/or fish food, once the bacteria have something to chew on they will begin multiplying, as they begin to mutiply they will begin breaking down and transforming the ammonia into nitrites and later into nitrates, this process will go on until all the ammonia is consumed ( the levels drop to zero ), then until the nitrites are gone ( the levels drop to zero ) and the only remaining part left are the nitrates. Depending upon how much food the bacteria were supplied with the population will grow to a certain level. You have X ammount of bacteria to methabolize X ammount of fish waste. Everytime you add fish the ammount of waste increases, so new bacteria have to develop to take care of that increase in the waste levels, if you exceed the carrying capacity of the tank that balance collapses and again new tank syndrome appears ( high levels of ammonia, high levels of nitrites ). The way the system protects itself is by eliminating the cause of the unbalance ---> killing fish until the balance is restored to acceptable levels. Some fish are more resistant to increased ammonia and nitrite levels than others, those fish are the ones that survive the meleè, the others don´t.

Don´t feel dissapointed, most of us fish keepers learned the lesson the hard way just like you. Did you purchase the tank in an aquarium store ? Most aquarium owners are or have been hobbyists and most offer technical advice when setting up your first tank, the mentality of them is different they in it not for the money ( few get rich selling tropical fish for exception of the dealers and breeders ), they are in it because they love the hobby and what could be better than make a decent living doing what you love ?, on the other hand chainstores and pet stores only see you as a sign of money and the people that work in them is by far well qualified.

You say you have a filter with two different kinds of "filters" in it, brand & model ? more specific details are needed, "two" filters tell me nothing.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 4:26PM
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As with many things in life, there is usually more than one approach to handle a situation and more than one opinion how to achieve it. You can do the fishless cycle and/or seed the tank with bacteria or you can (first by the Ammonia / Nitrite / Nitrate kit) go with what you have, once the "dust settles". I wouldn't buy any fish right now and take the advice given above, with water changes and all. The tank IS going through the cycle even if it is overloaded at the moment.

Knowing beforehand how things work, bio-chemically, I would have gotten the tank set up and after a week or so of running I would buy one cheap fish, like a feeder guppy. That fish would produce wasteproducts at a low enough level as to move the cycle along but not overload things. Then once the tank clears up from being a little cloudy, I would get another cheap fish and let things continue to cycle. Basically, you go a little at a time until the bacteria have been established. It was just too much too soon. And it should be a lot closer to 6 weeks, as opposed to 6 months. Sorry you had to learn the hard way.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 4:38PM
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james_ny(z7 NY)

Remember you have to let the ammo level reach the top of the scale, then it will drop to zero. It can take many weeks depending on the size of the tank, filter, fishload and other unknown factors [at least to me]. If the filter is black it usually contains charcoal. Hopefully the store people give you advice similar to this thread. A good store wants you to succeed, so you'll come back for a larger tank. Have them explain the cycle, if it takes 1 minute go somewhere else. Ask pointed questions, if you don't understand their answers it's probably bs.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 6:52PM
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The advice I see here is very good!

Depending on how much you want to get into this and how much time you have...

Petsmart store personale are supposed to be knowledgable in stuff like this. A friend of mine is a "Speciality" (fish, birds, rodents) manager and has kept many aquariums and lots of fish. I go to her for help. You might check around and see if you have one in the area. Get someone who keeps fish for a hobby and talk to them.

The reason I say petsmart (although other fish stores are just as/if not more knowledgeable) they also do free water tests. They will also replace dead fish (bring the fish body back to the store with receipt) within 2weeks and they will replace the fish. I think it's two weeks, double check for certain.

This is if you are interested in having fish, but maybe are concerned about having to become an aquarium expert. :)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 1:11AM
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I have a 29 gallon tank with guppies in it. My filter broke four months ago so the water hasn't been filtered or even changed in four months and it doesn't seem to have made any difference. I also turned the heater off two years ago and it doesn't seem to have made a difference. My acquarium seems to have reached equilibrium. I have the same number of fish now as I had three years ago. For everyone that dies another takes its place. I haven't added a fish in three years. I started with three fancy males and two fancy females and about a dozen plain female feeder guppies. I now have a mix of fancy and plain which continues to make new combinations all the time so I always have some new colorful or different guppies. My favorite female, named firetail, has died but I still see traces of her in several generations of her offspring.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:05AM
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You have been very fortunate... so far. In a closed system like this, it's just a matter of time before wasteproducts build up and stress the fish out, making them susceptible to bacterial infections and/or ich. You really need to get the filtration going again soon

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:37PM
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