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Thread: Freshwater Dip for Marine Fishes

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    Brittle Starfish

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    Freshwater Dip for Marine Fishes

    FRESHWATER DIP WITH METHYLENE BLUE


    INTRODUCTION

    I totally support the use of a quarantine process for newly acquired marine specimens. My quarantine process and its benefits are written here:

    The matter isn't where the fish came from or how it was acquired. I don’t care how reliable the source (a best friend who guarantees his tanks and fishes have no disease; an LFS who says he did the quarantine for you; etc.) or how healthy you think the fish is (you watched it for days at your LFS and could see nothing wrong with it), it needs to be quarantined and before that quarantine, a freshwater dip.

    Fish are always stressed. But a proper quarantine process doesn't have to be extra stressful to the new fish. The quarantine process can be made to be less stressful, if it is done properly with forethought. But, this post is not about the quarantine process. It is about what to do before the fish gets into your quarantine tank.

    IMHO
    All fish need to have a freshwater dip/bath before getting into your quarantine tank. It is essential for all fishes. There are just too many flukes, external parasites, gill parasites and things on and in newly acquired marine fishes that (especially to the eye of the excited aquarist who just bought the fish) are not readily visible. It is the greatest prophylactic step the aquarist can take to further protect their investment and the health of the newly acquired fish. Read this post to see where the FW dip falls in with the proper acclimation of a newly acquired fish: Fish Acclimation Procedure

    Let's get over some terminology. A 'dip' is meant to be a short immersion of the marine specimen into prepared water. A 'bath' is meant to be a lengthy immersion of the marine specimen into prepared water. Since my 'dips' are 30 minutes long (that's right! ), I'll be referring to it as a 'bath' more than a 'dip.'

    So here, I've provided as much (too much?) detail as possible about performing a good general freshwater dip/bath for newly acquired marine fish.

    THINGS YOU NEED

    TWO identically sized plastic (non-clear) bowls such that (when equipped with the colander insert if you choose to use one) it is no less than 2 inches over the height of the fish and enough room for the fish to swim around in (or at least be able to easily turn around in).

    ONE cover for the above bowls that is open or has holes in it, like a plastic latticed cover or flat colander.

    Methylene Blue (a solution sold for fish medication that is about 2.0 to 2.2% Methylene Blue)

    Sodium Bicarbonate (Food Grade Arm & Hammer Baking Soda) to adjust pH up

    Vinegar (pure without additives) to adjust pH down BUT avoid the use of this -- don't overshoot pH and prefer to dump the bath and start over rather than adding vinegar to the bath

    Timer (stove, microwave, portable timer, watch, etc.)

    Net(s) (preferably, use a colander (see below) to transfer and dip fish to avoid injury from a net)

    Long plastic kitchen spoon (either solid or with holes) for mixing the bath

    pH tester

    Temperature tester


    OPTIONAL THINGS YOU MAY WANT

    A third plastic bowl (non-clear) exactly like the two from THINGS YOU NEED

    Plastic Colander (that fits snugly into the above required plastic bowls; the fish will be inside this and it still needs to give the fish the 2" minimum water over the fish and swimming around room)

    pH meter (Hanna handheld or similar model that measures to 0.05 pH units (or better) reliably)

    Thermometer (easily portable digital that reads to 0.2 degrees F reliably)


    PREPARATIONS

    Prepare equipment:

    There must be no sharp edges to the colander and plastic bowls (use fine sand paper then Emery Cloth to remove sharp edges)
    There must be no labels or glue left from removed labels, on the equipment and tools.
    Clean everything and rinse well with RO/DI or distilled water. (NOTE: Especially if you use a dishwasher for your household, you must rinse in hot tap water to remove any dishwasher soap/rinse residue, then thoroughly rinse again in RO/DI).
    Although it isn't necessary, if you haven't recently calibrated the pH meter (if you'll be using one) I suggest doing that before this process.

    Prepare the freshwater bath:

    1. Use RO/DI water or distilled water for the bath water. Measure how much water you are using in gallons or liters.
    2. Adjust bath water to about 3F above the temperature of the quarantine tank water (some cooling will occur). Stir with spoon.
    3. Using Sodium Bicarbonate in small increments, adjust bath water to a pH just about 0.10 pH units below the pH of the quarantine tank water. Stir with spoon.
    4. Add drops of Methylene Blue to the bath water as follows: 2 drops per liter of water; 8 drops (0.4 ml) per gallon of water. (NOTE: dispense drops holding the dropping bottle or dropper exactly vertical (not at an angle).)
    5. Stir bath with clean spoon.
    6. Finish adjusting the pH to match that of the quarantine tank water pH while stirring the bath.
    NOTE: It is possible for the QT water to change pH in a short time. Be sure to verify that the bath pH still matches the pH of the QT water JUST BEFORE the fish is to enter the bath. Adjust pH just prior to use, if necessary.
    7. Check temperature. If it is up to 2F above the quarantine tank water, that will be okay. If the bath water temperature is lower than the quarantine tank water, it must be raised. A lower bath water temperature than the quarantine tank water, is not acceptable. (You can use a microwave to heat a small portion of the bath water, then mix with the whole bath to raise the bath water temperature).

    Prepare rinse dip water:

    Fill one of the bowls with quarantine tank water to use as a rinse, just before you need it (see DIP PROCESS)

    ----------------

    So you have two (or three if using the colander method) identical sized bowls;

    1 with the freshwater bath water in it, properly adjusted for pH and temperature
    1 empty (to be filled when needed with quarantine water for the rinse off)
    1 empty with the colander inside of it (if you're using nets, these two pieces aren't needed)

    The colander will fit snugly into each of the three identical bowls


    DIP PROCESS

    Process directions are given as if you are using the colander suggested equipment.

    1. Acclimate the fish in its bag, to the quarantine tank water according to the proper procedure.
    2. After this acclimation and while fish is still in its transport bag: Gently pour the fish and water into the empty bowl with the colander insert in it. Cover the colander. (Now the fish is inside the plastic colander, which is inside the bowl, which now contains the bag water).
    3. Lift the covered colander and let the water drain away out of the colander (and away from the fish). Hold for two seconds.
    4. Insert covered colander into bowl with freshwater bath in it, and sink it.
    5. Set timer for 5 minutes and start the timer.
    6. For the first 5 minutes watch how the fish is doing through the lid or by peaking under the lid. Tangs often pretend to be dead. Don’t be fooled! If the fish is in legitimate danger, stop the bath and proceed to number 9.
    7. After 5 minutes, check the fish again and start the timer again (for another 5 minutes).
    8. Repeat 7. until the fish has been in the bath for 30 minutes or until the fish is in legitimate danger (see below: Signs of a fish in trouble).
    9. Fill the still empty dry (third) bowl with quarantine tank water.
    10 When time has come to stop the bath, raise the covered colander out of the bath, sink it into the rinse container of quarantine tank water to rinse off excess bath water. Pause just a few seconds.
    11. Raise colander and sink it slowly into the quarantine tank so that the fish can quietly swim out.

    Look closely at the freshwater bath water in the container. Do you see anything that came off the fish? It is maybe hard to see through the blue (so pour some off (decant it); dilute it with distilled water), but spend some time and look closely to see if anything came off. Look for anything the size and shape of a sesame seed (fluke); look for tiny specs the size of powdered sugar (Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatum)). This will help you with a diagnosis, should the fish end up being sick, infected or ?


    TIME IN THE BATH

    A freshwater bath experience is more stressful to the novice aquarist that it is to the fish. Most fishes can handle an hour in this bath, but 30 minutes is plenty. With experience you can tell the difference between a fish faking stress and one that is really in trouble. Hard to explain in writing, but I’ll try.

    Signs of a fish in trouble. Often tangs (and a few other fishes) sink to the bottom of the bath and play dead laying on their side. It is okay to prod it gently with a clean plastic rod or the long spoon handle, with no sharp edges. If it flops about or swims or swims then falls over "dead" again, it is okay. Once some time goes by the tang will probably swim around. You’re mostly interested in how it's breathing. Watch the gills.

    Some fish will go into their defensive mode by erecting all spines, changing colors, changing patterns, or any combo of these. What the aquarist wants to do is don't read too much into such antics, but to look closely at the fish to see how it is breathing. Rapid or normal breathing is okay for the first few minutes, but the methylene blue should calm the fish down shortly after the first few minutes (see below). If the fish is breathing very fast or not at all, with any one or more of those 'defensive' signs, the bath should stop.


    BACKGROUND INFO

    Without getting technical, the methylene blue helps calm the fish and provides the fish an easier time to breath. At the same time, the methylene blue will actually make life difficult for some external and gill parasites. It has a very nice dual use in this process so take advantage of it. DO NOT overdose the bath water with methylene blue. More is not better!

    I found you can find/buy inexpensive colanders and bowls from your 99 cent store, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. You want a plastic colander that fits tightly into the bowls and gives the fish the most swimming/moving around room inside the colander. You can even buy such plastic containers from suppliers of aqua culture products through the Internet. Alternatively you can use nets, but as we all know, nets can harm the fish (and by the time you get the fish, the fish is totally afraid of nets!). Buy the bowl sizes that are right for the size fishes you will be dipping.

    If you use nets rather than the colander method, then you don’t need one of those bowls and the colander. You'll make the transfers using the net to move the fish from bath to rinse to QT.


    SUMMARY

    A lot of grief later on can be spared if all newly acquired marine fishes are given a FW 'dip' right after acclimation.

    In the case of anemonefish: After they are in the QT they need to begin a treatment for Brooklynella. The freshwater dip will not clear them of Brooklynella and most ciliated protozoan. ALL ANEMONEFISH need to be treated for Brooklynella and ciliated protozoan. It’s just that these fishes attract these pathogens too readily to not perform Formalin dips.

    Similarly, after the fish is in the QT, all tangs of the Acanthurus genus should be treated with Cupramine copper treatment to rid them of both Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) and Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatum. These fish are so often infected with one, the other or both that treatment should be considered part of the QT process. I like the use of hyposalinity, but hyposalinity doesn't kill Marine Velvet. Copper kills both these parasites.


    A fine quarantine article:
    An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: A Quarantine Tank for Everything by Steven Pro - Reefkeeping.com

    Lee's Quarantine Process:
    A Quarantine Procedure
    Now that the fish is in the QT, start feeding it right:
    Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition

    Lastly, if you find any 'things' in the dip water you are unsure about, post in this Forum (preferably with a photo and/or detailed description). If you need any help with the QT process or a condition, injury or disease of your fish, post in the Marine Fish Discussion Forum here on Reef Frontiers.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by leebca; 05-14-2008 at 07:32 PM.
    LEE

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    Nice post.

    What are your thoughts on using a formalin bath in lieu of a FW bath? I switched to std prophylactic formalin baths about 10 yrs ago and discovered that fish seem to tolerate a proper formalin bath better than a FW bath/dip and it also seemed effective against the std parasites (flukes etc) that many people cure with FW dips. I use a small heater & air stone when giving a formalin bath and keep them in the bath for about 50 minutes.
    Switched to SW in 1975

  3. #3
    Brittle Starfish

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    Thanks Kevin.

    There are those who believe that a proper Formalin bath is less stressful than a FW dip. I believe either one can be done with minimal stresses such that the difference is negligible.

    The Formalin bath isn't as effective as the Formalin treatment, which is 3 to 5 baths, for killing certain pathogens. Although I recommend the Formalin treatment for Anemonefishes newly acquired, I have gotten better results from a single FW bath than a single Formalin bath.

    These 'results' I speak about is an examination of the pathogens and 'things' that come off the fish and are left in the bath water. When I microscopically examine the life forms in the FW bath water after a single dip, I find a much wider range and different set of organisms than in the single dip Formalin bath water.

    The use of Formalin has become problematic over the years. Besides being harder to find, fewer and fewer aquarists are handling it properly. It has a finite shelf life and few aquarists can determine when it has become less effective. Seriously past its shelf life, I believe produces compounds that are injurious to marine fishes.
    LEE

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    Hermit Crab
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    what about adding copper to the bath so that u dont get ich.

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    Brittle Starfish

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    If you understand that a copper treatment only kills the cysts and free-swimming Marine Ich parasites, then you'll realize that a copper dip will not kill the Marine Ich that is on the fish. You may wish further reading here: Marine Ich - Myths and Facts.

    So adding copper to the FW dip or using copper as a bath or dip to cure Marine Ich doesn't work.
    LEE

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    Hermit Crab
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    oh ok because i think my yellow tang has ich since i see white cycst on the begining of its fins.

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    I just want to add the warning to those following this procedure that Methylyne blue right out of the bottle is very staining. It's a very pretty color but I now have a blue thumb, haved scrubbed the blue off of my sink and have blue spots on my kitchen towel.

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    Blenny
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    I'm actually really surprised to see the FW dip being pushed. There have been tests done that show Ick is to imbedded into the fish to be affected by this method of treatment. This also stresses out an already sick fish and brings on secondary infections like bacteria and lymph. I do know fw dips work well on flukes though. I'd personally only fw dip if i had flukes. Anything else would be a hypo treatment. I always give a bath of meth blue for an hour before i add to my qt tank though. Interesting read.

  9. #9
    Anthias
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    Quote Originally Posted by luke33 View Post
    I'm actually really surprised to see the FW dip being pushed. There have been tests done that show Ick is to imbedded into the fish to be affected by this method of treatment. This also stresses out an already sick fish and brings on secondary infections like bacteria and lymph. I do know fw dips work well on flukes though. I'd personally only fw dip if i had flukes. Anything else would be a hypo treatment. I always give a bath of meth blue for an hour before i add to my qt tank though. Interesting read.
    Although FW dip does not cure ich I believe it can help a distressed fish with a high level of the parasite in the gills. It is a quick treatment that can provide temporary relief to the fish so that in can be put through Hypo or copper treatment. I know lee does not recommend a fresh water dip for treatment of ich, he recommends hypo or copper. Also hypo only treats ich as far as I know.

    I also know Lee recommends a fresh water dip as part of the acclimation process for new fish. This is to remove any parasites such as the fluke you spoke of prior to being put into the QT.
    Kris
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    Blenny
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    Yep, just didn't want people to think this is a good way to treat ick. I would differ on being stress free to a fish though but wouldn't argue about it. I think its stressful in the sense that you have a sick fish, then you chase it around with a net, catch it, throw it in fw with meds, leave it be for 30min, then pull it out with a net and put it back into the tank. Fluke's suck!

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    Copepod slimy fish's Avatar
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    wow!

    Leebca, Good post but I would not tell hobbyists to freshwater dip every new marine fish they acquire. There are many species of marine fish that will not survive the dip/bath at 30 minutes long or even 5 minutes.

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    Brittle Starfish

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    I've not found any fish that can't handle a FW dip as proposed. Some individual fishes don't handle the length of time very well. Keep in mind slimy fish that part of the process is to monitor the fish and remove it from the bath if it shows signs of being in trouble.

    If you know of any whole group of ornamental marine fishes that won't handle any FW dip, then please list them.

    LEE

  13. #13
    Brittle Starfish

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    luke33,

    Keep in mind that the post doesn't claim to use the bath for any particular condition. Marine Ich is not mentioned.

    But if Marine Ich is the problem I would recommend a FW dip as krisfal has indicated to get some off the fish's gills to hopefully save a severely infected fish.

    You should read what is recommended for Marine Ich here on this forum: Marine Ich - Myths and Facts so you can better appreciate how this FW dip fits into the scheme.

    LEE

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    Blenny
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    Lee, I've read nearly everything about marine ick and FW dips and the conclusion is that it harms the fish more than helps. The ick is embedded into the fish to deep for the FW to affect the ick. The ick will last hrs like this in fw, but the fishy won't : ( And you do realize if you try and treat ick with a fw dip, then throw the fish back into a tank with ick, the fish will be infected even more since its stressed.

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    Brittle Starfish

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    luke33,

    Thanks for posting.

    You seem not to be reading the original post and my following posts closely. Some of your statements aren't true. Some I would disagree with. The ones that aren't true can be shown as such. Those I disagree with are from my experience. Let me share both.

    The Marine Ich in the gill structure is more vulnerable to the FW dip then parasites embedded in the skin. One reason I recommend its use is to help the fish breath when and if the fish is having trouble breathing. The only other time I would recommend that an infected fish would possibly benefit a little bit from a bath is when the fish is heavily infected and near death. The dip may give the fish some moderate relief.

    If you put an infected fish in a FW bath, you will find Marine Ich parasites in the bath water. This is fact. You can duplicate this yourself. So some of the parasites do come off. This is because not all parasites have dug their way into the fish, yet. Keep in mind that the parasites are at various places during the time on the fish. Some just attached; some are burrowing in; some are getting ready to multiply (this is the only time the parasite is in/on the fish that we can see with the unaided eye); and some multiple on the fish itself and move onto a new place of the mucous coating. You can also show this by examining the bath water after such a fish is dipped--parasites will be found in the water.

    It was because of the above fact and observation that it was incorrectly said (and thus rumored) that the fish could be cured of MI by a FW dip. However, the FW doesn't cure for exactly the reason you stated -- some are not reachable by the water. But, a FW dip can help a fish with breathing problems or about to be overcome by the parasite--using my recommended procedure.

    Note when the FW bath should be given. It is given on the fish's way into the hospital tank or on its way into the QT. It is expected that treatment starts upon the transfer. Thus I didn't advocate returning the fish into infected water. Of course what you point out is true if the fish is dipped and then returned to infected water. But then, the FW dip is not meant by me to be a cure (see above). It is the first part of the standard treatment only if called for.

    Lastly, the FW dip lasts for as long as the fish shows no signs of stress.

    Regarding the stressor of a FW bath. . .very little if you follow my procedure. With methylene blue to help the breathing and to relax the fish, the process pretty much goes unnoticed by the fish, in the list of other stressors placed on a captive fish.

    Since I began using this procedure, I've lost two fish that I would claim was due to the process. Both were my errors for not removing the fish that was clearly showing stress after 15 minutes. I allowed myself to become distracted. I believe I have exceeded giving more than 1500 marine fishes of over 200 species representing over 20 Genus this procedure, successfully. On the other hand, I have lost more fish due to a Formalin bath. Some believe the Formalin bath doesn't stress the fish or stresses the fish less than a FW dip. I have not found this to be the case, anecdotally, but if anyone cares to, it can be proved one way or the other.

    LEE

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