KNOW-HOW: INJURY TIME
it’s easy to panic when you see damage on your fish, but here’s how to react to and treat minor physical injuries.
How to treat minor physical injuries in your fish.
We all get cuts and grazes from time to time, whether it’s a child falling from a swing, or an adult cutting their finger while chopping veg, but hopefully we all know how to deal with minor injuries. Clean it, protect it, let it breathe and keep it dry, simple. Plus, we have useful remedies to encourage the healing process, like aloe extract to help tissue growth, and Vitamin C tablets to help the immune system fight infection.
When it comes to our aquatic pets getting injuries, we need similar action (apart from keeping it dry, of course) but with different equipment. In aquaria, there are far fewer cases of physical injury (not least because fish don’t tend to chop vegetables…).
But because most fishkeepers don’t deal with these situations very often, they often lack experience and confidence in what to do. Here, then, are some guidelines for dealing with a fishy flesh wound.
Minor wounds First, it’s important to diagnose the reason for the wound. Physical damage to fish can occur because of fighting and biting, scratching on a rough surface, getting trapped, heater burn, rough netting/handling, parasite damage and bacterial infections. In ponds, there’s also a risk of wounds caused by predators such as herons and cats.
Whatever the cause, an open wound is at high risk of infection from bacteria and/or fungus – more so in water than out – so we need to address tank/pond cleanliness and hygiene.
With minor damage, sometimes all a fish needs to recover is a few extra water changes and a good diet (maybe using vitamin additives), much the same as us cleaning a wound regularly and eating healthily. The trick in this scenario is to watch that damage like a hawk, so at the first sign of any infection you can act quickly with a remedy. Natural/herbal remedies based on tree and plant extracts, such as Melafix by API, can be useful for minor issues and as a preventative treatment against fungus and bacterial infections. They can also be effective at encouraging tissue growth, when used after treatment for more severe infections, to help speed up healing time. Note these treatments can’t be used with labyrinth fish, however, as they cling to and block the labyrinth system, so don’t use them with Bettas, gouramis, snakeheads and other anabantoides – although there are enzyme-based treatments aimed at speeding up recovery that are safe, such as Balance enzyme by aquasource.
Dealing with infection Stronger treatments will be needed for more advanced bacterial or fungal infections. Many bacteria and parasite medications also treat for fungus – handy, as a wound with a bacterial infection will often become affected by fungus as a
secondary infection (also the case with parasite damage). There are many broad-range bacteria and fungus treatments available. Here are some points to bear in mind when using them:
You must know the volume of your tank and treat accordingly. Overdosing may be toxic to your fish; underdosing may be ineffective and allow the infection to advance.
Check the warnings on the bottle – some fish species or groups of fish can’t tolerate particular ingredients and many treatments can’t be used with inverts such as shrimp and snails.
The addition of any treatment will displace dissolved oxygen. Counteract that by increasing surface water movement and/or add an air stone (run by an airpump) for the duration of the treatment.
Remove any carbon or zeolite from your filter and turn off any UV lights as they will absorb and break down medications, rendering the treatment useless. If you’re using any other absorbent media, check the manufacturer’s instructions to see whether it should be removed.
As with human antibiotics, always follow the full course – don’t be tempted to stop a seven-day treatment on day five because the fish look a bit better. Chances are the infection will return with a vengeance, possibly with a resilience to the medication. Don’t mix treatments unless it’s advised in the manufacturer’s instructions. Continue treating. If health is improving but not fully healed by the end of the course of treatment, most medications can be continued for a few more days, or re-dosed after a week, but do a water change or two before continuing. Placing some carbon in the filter after successful treatment will soak up any residue of the medication, particularly heavy metals like copper, used in many treatments. Topical treatment When larger fish are wounded, it’s often more effective to treat the wound topically – cleaning the area and applying treatment to the wound itself. This is common practice with Koi and big cichlids. It takes a little leap of faith to handle your first topical treatment, but once you’ve
done it you realise it’s not so difficult.
The first concern is anaesthetising the fish. This isn’t something you’re likely to have done before, but follow the instructions, keep a close eye on the fish and its reactions, and you should be fine.
Before you start, set out all the equipment and tools you need.
Fungus and bacteria can quickly infect a small wound.
ABOVE: Saprolegnia fungus.
BELOW LEFT: Ripped fin with slight infection.
BELOW RIGHT: Clean ulcer.
Use Virkon to sterilise equipment before and after use. Clean the wound.
Bring them back to health.
Fight bacterial and fungal issues.
Boost the imune system.