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Thread: Copper - Treatment, Use, Problems

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    Brittle Starfish

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    Copper - Treatment, Use, Problems

    Thanks goodness for copper! Thank goodness that the most troublesome and devastating parasites to our ornamental marine fishes are killed by the use of copper. But it can't be used casually or as a kind of 'answer-to-all' problems. It's use by aquarists comes with the need for responsibility and attention. After all, copper is a poison to our fish and in the effort to kill off the parasites, we can kill off our fishes. What's worse even, is the abuse of copper can shorten the lives of our captive fishes.

    Copper is nowadays used almost exclusively to kill Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) and Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatum) infections on our ornamental marine fishes. (I'll use MI and MV to refer to these parasites and the conditions they cause).

    I'm sure what is written in this post is familiar to some or all of you, in part or in whole, but it should be clearly stated in one place.



    AQUACULTURE DISCOVERS CURE

    It's not much of a secret. The ornamental marine fish hobby owes what we know about MI and MV to the studies, research and monies thrown at controlling these parasites, by the aquaculture industry. 70 years ago the aquaculture industry was plagued by these problematic parasites and then it was found that copper could kill both these parasites at a concentration that wouldn't kill many of the food fishes.

    One issue that the aquaculturists faced with the copper treatment is how much free copper ions love to complex with carbonates and how lethal it was to the fish. For the aquarist, this means that adding copper in its ionic form to saltwater will cause the copper to attach to substrates, rocks, other carbonate-based things, and even glass! Treatment with copper requires diligence and control.



    COPPER MEDICATION DEVELOPMENT

    Copper Salt (Cu2+, cationic or ionic copper)
    At first the basic copper medication was a water mixture of a copper salt (e.g., copper sulfate). The copper concentration in this form is hard to control in saltwater. Copper in this form will easily complex with carbonates -- even carbonates that were in the salt water making up the alkalinity! The copper would precipitate out of its dissolved state and no longer be available to do the job of killing off the parasites. These medications I remember well. When added to the aquarium water, there would be a 'cloud' of bluish-white haze in the aquarium water. This was some of the copper coming out of solution.

    Controlling the copper concentration in this form was a problem for the aquaculture industry, and a nightmare for the hobbyist. The aquaculture industry had neither the time or the money to keep testing their water to hold the copper in the 'effective range' to kill the MI and MV, yet not kill their stock. This copper was so 'effective' at killing (even fish) that some fish just couldn't even live in the concentration it took to kill the MI and MV. By this, I mean to make clear that the copper in this form is very lethal even to the fish it is supposed to treat. This copper medication isn't even considered a choice by today's standards.

    Chelated Copper
    The next major development in the medication, was to 'protect' the copper from complexing and coming out of solution so readily with the carbonates in the water. Thus came the 'chelated copper' medications. (Chelated is pronounced KEY'lated). The copper was more reliable for staying in solution. What was done was to shield the copper ion with a weak, very large molecule (e.g., Ethylenediametetraacetic Acid, a.k.a EDTA) The copper ion still complexed with carbonates and the copper still precipitated out of solution, but not as much. The chelated copper was more stable compared to the plain copper salt medications. More fish now could be treated with this form of copper. But the most sensitive of fishes (e.g., dwarf angelfishes, some large angelfishes, some tangs, and scaleless fishes (sharks, rays, eels, etc.)) could not be treated with this form of copper.

    Complexed Copper
    The serious breakthrough came when the copper, instead of protected by a weak complex in the chelated form, could be chemically bonded to a protein molecule. In this case, the copper is still lethal to the MI and MV, but it keeps an arm's length away from affecting the fish. It resists complexing with carbonates making the concentration much easier to control and to get to remain steady. This copper form could now be used on any ornamental fish, and scaleless fish. This complexed copper is safe and yet effective at killing off MI and MV. The leader in this category is Cupramine and is the only copper medication I now use and will recommend. It is totally safe for even the most copper-senstive fishes, including Agnels, Sharks, and Rays.



    THE NATURE OF THE COPPER

    When copper ions get into our aquarium water, they will complex with several other salt water ingredients and some of the things we put in our aquariums. Copper ions, as noted above, are very fond of forming complexes with carbonates. When they do, this complex is not very soluble at the pH of our aquariums and it will precipitate, or come out of solution.

    Copper ions will do the same with rocks and substrates that contain any form of carbonate materials. This is one reason why it is best to use copper medications in a bare-bottom hospital tank without live rock, dead rock, and carbonate based decorations.

    The precipitated copper-carbonate will redissolve if the pH of the aquarium water goes down. This has the effect of suddenly increasing the amount of copper in the tank water. So, the aquarist thinks they are in control of the copper concentration only to find that there is a surge of copper when the pH drops. In addition to maintaining the effective copper concentration, attention has to be given to the holding the pH of the water steady. By the way, this surge in copper, no matter how short of time it is, is enough to permanently injure, poison, or kill the fish being treated.

    Another thing has to be made clear about copper as a medication. It is a poison as has been stated previously. Copper can and does cause stress in the fish and thus, does some harm to all fishes at detectable (by test kits) concentrations.

    Copper medications can harm the fish without the aquarist even realizing. In 'effective concentrations' that kill the disease organism, copper stresses the fish and in effect is slowly killing it. Furthermore, (even in low concentrations) copper can stress the fish and weaken it, allowing all sorts of other conditions to affect the fish. I have to be the 'adult' here! Copper is not a toy!

    If you decide to use a copper treatment the fish might stop eating. Copper is a stress to the fish and some fish respond by not eating, acting in a peculiar manner, or becoming afraid of its own shadow/reflection.

    Lastly, if you choose to use a copper medication/treatment process you should know that the equipment will need special cleaning after the treatment IF the equipment will be used to quarantine invertebrates. More information on that here:
    Cleaning Procedures



    EFFECTIVE CONCENTRATION and TREATMENT

    Not only does each type of medication have its own effective concentration, but so does each manufacturer's product. We can't make any general statement about how long to treat or how much copper needs to be in solution for it to do its job. Simply put, only the medication manufacturer knows what they put in the product and thus how to properly use the product.

    In short, follow the manufacturer's treatment recommendations very closely. BUT I strongly urge that only Cupramine medication be used. It is safe for all senstive fishes, rays and even sharks.

    But no matter what the copper medication manufacturer recommends, the aquarist needs to know what copper concentration range should be used in the treatment. Only the manufacturer knows this.

    And since only the manufacturer knows how to properly test for the copper in their medication formula, the aquarist needs to know what copper test kit to use in measuring the copper concentration.

    Armed with:
    1. the medication;
    2. having the right test kit for copper, recommended by the copper medication manufacturer;
    3. knowing the copper concentration range measured by the test kit in 2. the manufacturer recommends; and
    4. a properly setup hospital/quarantine tank

    the aquarist is ready to perform a copper treatment. Some manufacturers try to make it easy by just stating in their instructions to add a quantity of their medication per gallon (or per some other volume) to your water, but in the marine aquarium world, everyone's tank is different. One addition doesn't work the same in all hospital tank systems. You need the control of measuring (this means DO NOT USE DROPS, but instead a graduated cylinder or other accurate measuring device), knowing the target copper concentration range, and holding the copper in that range.



    OVER- and UNDER-DOSING

    The copper concentration has to be kept in exactly the correct range for it to work properly. As stated above, only the medication manufacturer knows what range is right for their medication. So I can't and no one can say a general/proper range.

    DO NOT USE DROPS TO DISPENSE THE MEDICATION. Use an accurate measuring device like a graduated cylinder, teaspoon, tablespoon, etc.

    In the case of using Cupramine, the manufacturer, Seachem recommends that at first the amount added is half the final dose. Then later the rest is added to bring the concentration to 0.5ppm. FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS. Adding half dose allows the fish and biological filter to have a short time to acclimate to the addition of copper. After the second dose totally mixes in, then start the testing for copper.

    However, if the copper concentration drops below the concentration needed to kill the MI and/or MV, the treatment will have no effect.

    Likewise, if the copper concentration exceeds (goes above) the high-end concentration, the fish could suffer, become poisoned, and/or die. This is a situation where clearly, more is NOT better.

    If using Cupramine, use either the Seachem Copper Test Kit or the Salifert Copper Test Kit to measure the copper concentration of Cupramine.

    For the above reasons, it is important that the aquarist knows how much of the copper is in the water and doing its job. AND must keep it in that range. Any slip means the treatment time has been wasted (and possibly will kill the fish if overdosed).



    PERSONAL PREFERENCES

    I have my own preferences of these medications. I have used several copper medications since I began keeping saltwater fishes in 1968. With the current advances and availability of good copper test kits like we've never had before, I strongly recommend the use of Cupramine as a copper medication. It is in that third category of being a complexed copper and very safe for use on all ornamental fishes including copper sensitive Agnels, Sharks and Rays. All of the so-called 'copper sensitive' fishes can be treated with Cupramine, when done properly.

    The proper copper test kits to use for Cupramine medication is either the Salifert Copper Test Kit or the Seachem Copper Test Kit. I hear many complaints about how hard it is to read the Seachem Test kit. And the rumors are true that in late 2005 and early 2006 there were Seachem Copper Test Kits on the market that expired before their time and gave erroneous readings. But. . .who's perfect?

    The Salifert Copper Test Kit is quicker and easier to use. However, it goes from 0.5 ppm copper indicator straight to 1.0 ppm copper (with no in between comparison color/shading), then the next color is greater than 2. ppm. Cupramine is best used between 0.3 and 0.8 ppm. So this scale doesn't give you much information. You can use Cupramine very effectively at 0.5, though 0.6 ppm is preferred for the 'tougher fishes.' For sharks, angelfishes, etc. 0.3 to 0.5 ppm would be preferred, in my opinion. There is a way around this test kit situation.

    If you prepare freshly made up saltwater (like you were doing a water change) and test that for copper, you can then use that to dilute your tank sample water for the Salifert Copper test, remembering to account for any copper reading of the freshly prepared water. Thus, you can get the relative accuracy you need from the Salifert Copper Test Kit reference colors. (Just remember to calculate the copper concentration reading by the dilution factor).

    NOTE: In the case of using Cupramine, the manufacturer Seachem recommends that at first the amount added is half the final dose. Then later the rest is added to bring the concentration to 0.5ppm. FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS. Adding half dose allows the fish and biological filter a little time to acclimate to the addition of copper. After the second dose totally mixes in, then start the testing for copper, ammonia, and nitrites.

    One advantage of Cupramine is that it is a 14-day treatment AFTER the copper concentration is up into the range (after the second dose). Other medication manufacturers claim their treatment takes longer or shorter, but the 14-day treatment makes sense when you review the life cycle of MI and MV.



    AFTER TREATMENT

    After the medication is used, you must hold the fish in quarantine for another 4 weeks minimum to verify that the fish is free of Marine Ich and Marine Velvet, and that your treatment was successful. Don't shorten or skip this important step. What this means is that AFTER the treatment is finished AND the copper is removed, you still hold the fish in quarantine for 4 more weeks to verify the treatment was a success. Watch fish closely; look closely for any signs of the disease either by sight or fish behavior (flashing, irritation, etc.). Watch for secondary infections (bacterial) and be prepared to treat with an antibiotic (Maracyn Two for Saltwater fish should be purchased when first beginning the copper treatment). If the bacterial treatment must follow the copper treatment, then AFTER the last treatment (bacterial/antibiotic) hold the fish 4 more weeks to verify that the bacterial infection was cleared up.


    DANGER !!!

    Treating with copper cannot be done with many other treatments and medications.

    Copper should not be used with any kind of sulfa-based antibiotic.
    Never perform a copper treatment in a hyposaline solution. The copper becomes lethal to marine fishes if and when the pH goes down in a hyposaline treatment. A drop in pH in a hyposaline treatment is almost a guarantee since the buffering ability of the water is poor in such a low salt concentration.
    Hyposalinity only cures one parasite -- Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans). Copper kills Marine Ich and Marine Velvet also, so there is no purpose in doing both the copper AND a hyposalinity treatment at the same time (see above red). See: A Fish Hyposalinity Treatment
    It is not recommended to use Cupramine with other medications, but it can be used with the antibiotic Maracyn Two for Saltwater fishes (or with Maracyn Two for Freshwater Fishes -- both okay for salt water fishes). This doesn't mean to go ahead and use it, it means it can be used. You treat Marine Ich infected fishes that show signs of a secondary bacterial infection, with an antibiotic at the same time while treating the fish with Cupramine. Remember, all medications put a stress on the fish so don't use the antibiotic unless it is obviously needed/required. If in doubt, post photos and others can guide you on whether or not there are signs of a bacterial infection (like fin rot, redness of skin, areas of pale white around the Marine Ich parasite white spot).


    What can go wrong?

    Treating with copper can cause or lead to any or all of the following:
    1) The fish stops eating from the stress of the copper;
    2) The biological filter stops or slows (some bacteria go into a stasis mode when confronted with the copper ion). The aquarist has to monitor ammonia, pH and nitrites daily during the copper treatment. Such affected bacteria will resume their function, but it may take days or weeks;
    3) Water parameters change. Diligently monitor copper, pH, ammonia, and nitrites BY TEST KIT (not dip stickes); and
    4) Excess stress on fish. Lower lighting and perform treatment where few humans go, to avoid additional stresses.
    5) Copper contamination of equipment. Copper is not easily removed to low enough levels after its use. Please read Cleaning Procedures.


    font=arial]DON'T USE COPPER UNLESS NEEDED

    I seem to be get a cyclic surge in hobbyists wanting to prophylactically treat their fishes. Every so many months a group of hobbyists thinks they invented a new approach to the Marine Ich and Marine Velvet problem. Yeah, right! NOT! On the surface, it seems fine -- treat all fish for these parasites whether they need it or not. However, shame on me for not making it more clear about why this shouldln't be done.

    Copper is a poison. It just so happens that at low levels it kills the parasite before it kills the fish. It does harm to the fish. It will shorten it's lifespan. Most 'old' hobbyists are aware of the struggle of getting fish that we NOT collected using cyanide. At some places on the planet, cyanide solution is squirted on the fish in its hiding place in the wild. The fish is left unconscious for a time. It regains consciousness to find itself in a plastic bag on its way to a collection point where and, when enough are gathered, will be exported to another part of the world.

    However, cyanide is a poison, and like copper it will shorten the lifespan of the fish. Some of the cyanide collected fishes live for a few days, some a few months or even a couple of years. But, the fish was poisoned and will live a shortened captive life. This is what copper does, but when controlled, does this to a lesser extent.

    A fundamental mandate in veterinary circles is: "Do no harm." It is what vets live by. If hobbyists would be willing to do the same, then they would not use copper or ANY treatment method on fishes which do not need treatment, except in three cases noted in my posts: All need to be de-wormed; Anemonefishes need to be treated for Brook (if wild-caught or in contact with wild-caught fishes); and certain Tangs need to be treated with copper since they are so highly likely to be carrying one or both of the two most prevalent parasites known in the hobby.

    So then a second group says, 'I'll use hyposalinity." Duh! This only treats for Marine Ich -- just one parasite out of the dozens that affect our fish. Not worth it, either, since now the fish has to be kept in quarantine for 4 extra weeks which is stressful. Treat only fishes that exhibit having the infection.

    Keep on reading and thanks for the reading you are doing.
    :read:


    I hope I've provided some understanding regarding copper treatments. Some additional important links having a connection to this topic:
    Marine Ich - Myths and Facts and
    Marine Velvet - Myths and Facts

    Post your questions or ask if you would like any elaboration.
    [/FONT]
    Last edited by leebca; 06-15-2008 at 11:21 AM. Reason: Updated reference links; added AFTER TREATMENT section; etc.
    LEE

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    Lee

    I strongly recommend the use of Cupramine as a copper medication

    Me too Lee, my favorite but only in BB. This Amine complex copper if reapplied to a tank treated with copper, to include Cupramine, when used with a substrate bottom, especially a calcareous substrate, can pull all the copper out with the copper levels through the roof = dead fish. To bad I deleted all the info I had from SeaChem PM's and my searches. I was working on this for steve-s before he left and he had all the info and was going to write something on it. Allot of this info is hidden on the SeaChem website under FAQ on Cupramine. This is further complicated when using things like Prime or Amquel which are sulfate based.
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    Brittle Starfish

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    I wouldn't consider recommending a copper treatment with any substrate. The BB (bare bottom) hospital tank is important. But, for fishes that are burrowing, I have used pure silica sand. The trick here is that most human sands are contaminated with some carbonate-based material. So the use of pure sand must be verified.

    Did Steve or Seachem ever mention if Cupramine has an interaction with granular silica, beyond what we know about copper and glass?
    LEE

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    What started it all was some was a competitor making remarks about chloramine removers and they were safe with any copper med. Steve had asked me to do some research on it and copper meds and the potential hazards if any many months ago. This issue was the fitter bed, of any kind. Whether or not silica sand is OK is another issue and one would need to do some tests. Some ref say it does. I would not gamble without knowing. Silica sand or not cooper will still get pulled out into the filter bed to some degree. This also revolved around many FOT people that DO dump copper into their tanks. I know that neither of us three would recommend that.

    Not all here but

    Adsorption of Copper-Amino Acid Complexes on the Surface of Highly Dispersed Silica
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/p656qu3364067363/

    Measurement of copper solution transport in a sand column
    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=16778518
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    Copepod

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    I was hoping someone could help me with increasing the accuracy/readibilty of the Salifert test... I'm trying to understand this statement from above:

    "If you prepare freshly made up saltwater (like you were doing a water change) and test that for copper, you can then use that to dilute your tank sample water for the Salifert Copper test, remembering to account for any copper reading of the freshly prepared water. Thus, you can get the relative accuracy you need from the Salifert Copper Test Kit reference colors. (Just remember to calculate the copper concentration reading by the dilution factor). "

  6. #6
    Brittle Starfish

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    Take the water with copper medication and dilute it with water that has no copper in it. If you diluted the copper sample 1:2, then you multiple the reading by 2.
    LEE

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    Amphipod

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    One more question: I'm trying to understand how a 14-day treatment with Cupramine is effective if the parasites are killed in the free-swimming state (theront phase), and it can take 24 or more days for the tomonts to hatch and become theronts? By the time that happens, I will have removed the copper, but still have my fish in quarantine, so wouldn't they be susceptible to Ich again when this hatching happens and the theronts go looking for a host again? Or does Cupramine kill the parasites in an earlier stage? I get that in a bare-bottom tank there is no substrate for the tomonts to attach to, but couldn't they attach in the filter or on other surfaces in the tank? Just trying to understand how & when the Cupramine treatment works...

    Thanks!
    Dawn

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    Brittle Starfish

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    The copper treatment differs from the hyposalinity treatment in that the copper is a poison to the parasite in its various forms. The hyposalinity just affects a certain stage of the parasite's life cycle.

    Still, you want to leave the fish in quarantine for observation no less than 4 weeks after the copper level goes down to undetectable by the copper test kit.
    LEE

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    great thread lee. What would you recommend to you to control nitrates and phosphates in QT system apart of water changes. is there anything can be used from chemistry?

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