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Fish Pond Care and Water Quality Testing

Fish Pond Care is the most important aspect of keeping your Koi healthy. A few basic rules should be followed to help establish and maintain the most stress-free environment that you can.

Fish Pond Care and Stress

A common cause of disease in Koi is stress, and stressed Koi are more susceptible to disease.

©2010 Sara K. Schwittek. All rights reserved lillyella.blogspot.com

Fish Pond Care is an important part of Koi Keeping. Stress is an unavoidable part of life for any living creature. It's simply a reaction to something uncomfortable and new. Fish out in the wild would simply swim away when conditions became unstable for them, but in our care they are not able to swim away when the ammonia levels are too high, these fish are stuck. And being stuck topples their anxiety into stress.

Fish do not like changes in their environment of any kind, including temperature. Any changes add stress to the fish and the larger and faster the changes, the greater the stress. Koi can also become stressed from the temperature change when being transferred to another pond. It is not only the temperature the fish need to be accustomed to but also the pH, hardness and alkalinity of it's new surroundings.

To combat stress in your Koi Debride ProHealth is the best product. Debride ProHealth calms fishs, reduces losses, eases stress, minimizes infection and aids healing, thereby helping to protect fish during illness, handling and transportation.

Physical Response to Stress

Hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenalin are released from adrenal tissue, as are natural steroids. These hormones speed up heart rate to improve the circulation to muscles, trigger blood sugar release from liver stores to fuel muscle metabolism, act as natural painkillers so that minor injuries will not impede any fighting or escape behaviors, an much more.

Problems can arise when a stressful predicament becomes prolonged and the fish is unable to escape it, a situation all too common in the confines of an aquarium or a pond.

A huge part of detecting stress is observance. Another big part of Fish pond care is knowing what is normal behavior for your Koi. Fins are often the first body part to deteriorate when fish are stressed or unwell so they can give a good general guide to condition. Examine all fins, especially those underneath the fish, for ragged or uneven edges, tears, splits or bloodshot appearance. Red lines in the Koi fins are a sure sign that your Koi is under stress.

Stress is a condition in which an animal is unable to maintain a normal physiologic state because of various factors adversely affecting its well-being. Stress is caused by placing a fish in a situation which is beyond its normal level of tolerance.

Specific examples of situations which can cause stress (stressors) are listed below.

Chemical stressors:

  • Poor Water Quality - low dissolved oxygen, improper pH
  • Accidental pollution insect spray, spills and run off.
  • Diet composition - type of protein, amino acids
  • Nitrogenous and other metabolic wastes - accumulation of ammonia or nitrite

Biological stressors:

  • Population density - crowding
  • Other species of fish - aggression, territoriality, lateral swimming space requirements
  • Microorganisms - pathogenic and nonpathogenic
  • Macroorganisms - internal and external parasites

Physical stressors:

  • Temperature: This is one of the most important influences on the immune system of fish.
  • Light
  • Sounds
  • Dissolved Gases

Procedural stressors:

  • Handling
  • Shipping
  • Disease Treatments

Disease is an abnormal condition characterized by a gradual degeneration of a fish's ability to maintain normal physiologic functions. The fish is not "in balance" with itself or its environment.

A Koi can live 25, or 30, or even 60 years, and you've got to create the right environment. You've got to be able to feed that Koi a good nutritious food that's going to maintain him for a long period of time. You're going to need to be educated to look for simple Koi diseases that you can treat early.

8 Typical stress behaviors and indications to watch for:

  • Jumping
  • Remaining near the bottom of the pond
  • Lying partially on its side
  • Failing to snorkel near the surface during feeding time
  • Trying to hide under ledges or under the waterfall
  • Rubbing against items in the pond, as if to scratch
  • Swimming lethargically or with a tighter, almost jerky rhythm
  • Staying by itself; not joining with others to feed

If a single Koi hides away or stays separate from the group, it could be sick. If all the fish suddenly become skittish and hide when the pond is approached, they have probably been frightened by a predator that has awakened their "genetic memory" when attempting a strike.

water garden picture

7 Physical symptoms or changes in appearance that often point to a specific disease:

  • Clamped fins
  • Fin damage
  • Pale gills
  • Raised scales
  • Swollen areas of the body
  • White spots on the body and gills
  • *A reddening of the fins and belly

*When your Koi’s belly and fins become red it is due to the capillary veins becoming visible through the skin. This indicates high blood pressure in your Koi along with stress, most probably due to disease.

Fish pond care involves using mechanical ways to find out whether the problem is with your water quality or your fish's health. Test the water for ammonia levels, or bowl your stressed fish and put in your quarantine tank to try and diagnose the Koi. But remember everytime the Koi is netted (I don't recommend netting) or bowled this adds to their stress.

Scales and skin are most commonly damaged by Handling Stress. Any break in the skin, or removed scale, creates an opening for invasion by pathogenic organisms.

Five Freedoms

Here are 5 basic considerations that you can look at to provide for the welfare of your Koi or Pond fish, thereby helping to avoid stress. These are the so-called Five Freedoms that were developed by John Webster in 1995.

  • Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  • Freedom to express most normal behavior
  • Freedom from fear and distress

Freedom from Thirst, Hunger, and Malnutrition: Keeping your fish free from thirst is not usually a problem, but to provide a freedom from hunger and malnutrition means you need to address two main issues. First, you need to supply enough food to them, and second, animals must feed in order to survive.

Feeding a variety of food to your Koi or Pond fish will proivde them with the "Freedom of Malnutrition."

Freedom from Discomfort Water quality is the most obvious example under this heading. The minimum water quality testing should include ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH. Pond stocking could also be included in this heading. If you have to many Koi in your pond it can hinder the oxygen levels. Make sure you know your stocking levels for your pond.

Freedom from Pain, Injury, & Disease You should avoid placing sharp rocks or coral in your pond as your Koi can be liable to cut themselves should they brush against it. You should also not place aggressive or predatory fishes in a pond with Koi.

If a Koi Disease does strike your pond prompt action is essential both for the welfare of the indiviual fish but also to reduce the risk of the disese spreading.

Freedom to Express Most Normal Behavior Fish behavior is instinctive. This means that to a whole range of possible situations the fish may have a limited number of responses.

Freedom from Fear & Distress This includes placing adequate hiding places of an appropriate nature be provided for protection of predators. Not only will predators injure individual fish, but they can also trigger stress and fear in the whole pond population.

Carp will release a chemical called "alarm substance" from their skin when they are damaged or injured. This chemical triggers predator-avoidance behavior in nearby fish. Any skin trauma, whether it is from a heron attack or just poor netting technique, can cause its release.

References:Animal Welfare by: Webster, A.J.F. 1995

Ammonia Levels

A water quality test should be your first reaction to any abnormal behavior that your Koi exhibit. The quality of your water is the biggest source of potential stress for you Koi. Your ammonia levels should always be zero.

Your Koi breathe in water, extract oxygen, and push the water back out. In fish, gills have a dual role, in addition to allowing for respiration, they are also excretory organs. As a result, fish excrete ammonia across their gill surface and release it into the water.

In the Summer when water temperatures are higher your Koi will excrete between 50 - 100 mg ammonia per kilogram bodyweight daily, and if you have a heavily stocked pond that would be alot of ammonia!

Water in a clean pond dilutes the excreted ammonia, and then the bacteria in the biological filter dissolves it. But in a dirty pond, a pond with a nonfunctioning biological filter, or no Koi pond filter at all, the ammonia levels build up. Ammonia levels increase after the Koi have been fed, and they really go up when the Koi are overfed. The optimal way for feeding koi is two or three times a day and NO food should be left after 5 minutes. Fish pond care includes not overfeeding your Koi and knowing the proper way to feed. Remember: after your Koi have finished eating you need to remove any left over food. Uneaten food is one of the fastest ways to bring your water quality down.

Fish waste, decomposing fish food and other organic matter such as pond algae are other ammonia sources.

The higher the ammonia level in the pond, the more difficulties your Koi have trying to push their ammonia out across their gill surface and in breathing in general.

In people ammonia irritates lung tissue. Irritated bronchioles can not absorb oxygen or exchange carbon dioxide. Fish have a similar reaction. The symptoms of elevated ammonia in your fish will make the gill coverings swell. The rate of water flow across the gill surface decreases as does the gas exchange rate (the flow of oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of the body). Your Koi may try to dislodge this irritation by rubbing the sides of its face/gills against a hard surface.

Once established that you have a elevated ammonia levels, feeding should be stopped and a partial water change carried out, with feeding only continuing once the ammonia level has returned to zero.

For More information about Ammonia in Ponds Click Here.

Nitrogen Cycle

It is important to appreciate that a pond differs from natural bodies of water in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, ponds do not receive a constant supply of fresh water to replace the "lived in" water that they contain. Secondly, most artifical ponds have a far higher stocking level and bioload (the sum of all the biological activity going on) than natural ponds and lakes. For these reasons, you as the pond keeper must be aware of the nitrogen cycle and how to maintain it at a healthy equilibrium.

For More on Water Quality Click Here

Ideal Water Testing Parameters

Water quality is the single most important factor in maintaining healthy fish. The Saying in Japan is: “Keep good water and the Koi will keep themselves.”

Parameter What it is Ideal Value How to Correct Notes
pH Measure of the hydrogen ion concentration of the water. Values under 7 are considered acidic, values over 7 are considered alkaline. 7.2-7.8 for Koi/ 6.8-7.6 for Goldfish pH Up or pH Down Check pH at same time each day. It will always be lower in the morning. In general it is better to allow fish to adjust to the pH of your water rather than adjusting pH. The key with pH is stability rather than a specific value. Ammonia is more toxic in water with a high pH.
Ammonia Excreted from fish gills, also product of organic decomposition. 0 Partial water change and add Pond Keeper All in one Water Conditioner is the best product, it reduces ammonia along with nitrites, it also replaces skin slime coat. Long-term-Greater filteration. Possible symptom of too many fish or inadequate filtration. If nitrogen cycle is not functioning well, addition of Pond Keeper All In One Water Conditioner can help.
Nitrite Produced by biological breakdown of ammonia. 0 Partial water change. Long-term - Greater filtration. Possible sign that filtration is not cycling properly. If nitrogen cycle is not functioning well, addition of Pond Keeper All in one Water Conditioner.
Nitrate Produced by biological breakdown of nitrite. Preferably less than 20 ppm. Partial water change. Long-term - more plants. Nitrate is utilized by plant life. Only toxic to fish in high concentrations (over 150ppm).
KH Alkalinity-measurement of carbonate and bi-carbonate in the water 50-150ppm Pond Keeper All in one Water Conditioner also maintains alkalinity. Proper alkalinity helps maintain and stable pH.
GH General Hardness - measurement of Calcium and Magnesium in the water 50-150 ppm   This is not a critical aspect of pond water chemistry. Adjustments to GH are not usually required.
Phosphate A salt of phosphoric acid Less than 0.3 ppm Partial water changes Phosphates are important and needed by both plants and fish. Excess phosphates can lead to an algae bloom.
Chlorine/Chloramine Tap water additives 0 Dechlorinator Always use a dechlorinator when adding tap water.
Salinity Measure of dissolved salt concentration in the water. Depends on Use Water Change if High, Add Pond Salt if low  

You can purchase your Water Testing Kits Here.

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Water Temperature & Koi Immune System

A fishs immune system has two parts, the cellular part that includes white blood cells and other hunter killer cells that seek out and ingest diseased cells, and a chemical part that consists of antibodies, along with other important compounds such as interferon and complement.

The various parts of the immune system function best at the fishes preferred body temperature. The Kois white blood cells have their highest activity and reproduction rate at 83° F, falling off at temperatures above and below this point.

Antibody production is optimal at 66° to 78°F, while Koi that become infected at low temperatures (below 50°F) do not produce antibodies so long as they are kept at these temperatures.

If you increase your water temperature you will need to add more aeration to your pond because warmer water lowers the amount of DO (dissolved oxygen). It also causes more of any dissolved ammonia to shift into the more toxic non-ionized form.

It is recommended that you test your pond water on a weekly basis. This will alert you to any problems, such as overstocking (no more than one inch of fish per ten gallons of pond water is an optimal stocking amount), failing filtration or overfeeding, can prevent expensive and upsetting losses of fish and plants.

Water quality affects the rate of growth because Koi lose their appetites and may even stop eating if their environment is poor. Poor water quality can also affect the fish's metabolism, thus hindering digestion of food.

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  • An anti parasite remedy for use in the pond water that contains Praziquantel (For flukes)
  • Salt for ciliated protozoan parasites like Ich, Chilodinella, Costia and Trichodina.
  • Formalin-containing compounds if the salt does not work (remove most of the salt first).
  • Pro Form LA for Lice and Anchor Worm treatment.
  • Medicated food for bacterial infections.
  • Sometimes the ability to heat a very weak fish in a small quarantine facility will save these weak fish. So having a collapsible tank with a titanium caged drop in heater is a good idea.

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The more intimate we know the behavior of our Koi, the more reliably we can use our observations to gain a broad understanding of their state of health. As the Koi Health is largely dependent on the quality of their environment, we can soon gather useful information about the quality of our water simply by Koi watching.

However, a more detailed analysis of pond water can only be determined by testing the water for a number of key parameters. This will not only give us more information than studying fish behavior but will allow us to identify any problems and respond to them before they cause a change in Koi behavior.

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