Methods for Quarantining Your New Additions

Greg Hix & Renee Coles-Hix

We’ve all heard the expression “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and it holds true even in the basics of our hobby.

However, one of the most common mistakes among experienced and inexperienced hobbyist alike is an abbreviated or non-existent quarantine (QT) protocol.

So, if everyone is familiar with the term QT, why isn’t everyone playing along?

  1. Lack of true understanding of what a QT should entail
  2. Fear of instability of an uncycled tank.
  3. To avoid extra expenses.
  4. Space limitations.
  5. Believing a trusted source means no QT is required.
  6. Laziness… oh come on, no offense, but you know that applies to some.
  7. Believing luck has and will be on their side throughout their entire involvement in the hobby.

Before we address each of the issues above, let’s define what quarantine means. It is a period of isolation, observation and acclimation for newly acquired specimens. While some species or organisms require a specialized QT protocol, those requirements will not be addressed within this article.

There are basically three different types of QT tank setups that are utilized.

  1. The Mini Display Cycled Setup.
  2. The Sterile Uncycled Setup
  3. The Hybrid
The Mini Display Cycled Setup

This QT tank is exactly as it sounds, a miniature setup of the display tank. It is fully cycled and contains LR, sand, “proper” filtration and lights. Sometimes it even has its own little cleanup crew.

  • Very Stable Environment
  • A more natural, low-stress environment.
  • Can support heavy feedings.
  • Can be difficult to fully observe behavior and eating patterns.
  • Pathogens have a place to hide in the LR and sand.
  • Initial setup more expensive.
  • Needs to be running at all times, requiring maintenance when there isn’t a specimen in there.
  • Cannot be sterilized between uses.
The Sterile Uncycled Tank

This tank is totally uncycled in that is has nothing in the way of a biological filter. Its basic setup includes an airline, heater and sometimes doesn’t even include things like a PVC for shelter.

  • Nowhere for fish to hide, so they are very observable.
  • Can double as a hospital tank.
  • Can be taken down and stored between usage.
  • Very cheap to setup.
  • Easy to sterilize between uses.
  • Nowhere for pathogens to hide.
  • Water quality can be difficult to maintain. Can actually be harmful if there is a sudden ammonia spike.
  • Can be very stressful on the fish.
The Hybrid

This is my personal favorite and takes the best of the two above described tanks. It looks very similar to the sterile tank but with one very important difference…. a sponge filter that has been colonizing in a cycled tank. The setup of a hybrid would include: heater, thermometer, airline, colonized sponge filter, PVC for shelter. Lighting optional, however, a cheap kitchen strip light will suffice.

  • Fish are easily observable.
  • Can be taken down and stored between uses.
  • Can be sterilized
  • Very cheap to setup.
  • Stable water quality. Contains biofiltration by means of a mature sponge filter.
  • Converts quickly to a hospital tank as needed.
  • Need a way to colonize a maintain a sponge filter between uses. A sump is ideal.

So you set up one of the above tanks…. then what do you do? You do nothing. You just sit and observe……. Oh, and change water if you are using either the Hybrid or the Sterile tank. There is a wide variance regarding the length of time required for the QT period. The middle of the road is about 4 weeks with the earliest recommendation being 2 weeks and the longest being 6.

Make sure the fish is eating well before introducing them to the display tank. If the fish in question is only eating live food upon arrival, the QT period is an excellent opportunity to get them onto frozen.

Let’s look at those 7 excuses again for not setting up and utilizing a QT tank.

  • Lack of true understanding of what a QT should entail.

Hopefully the above information squashed this reason like a bug.

  • Fear of instability of an uncycled tank.

Using the Mini Display tank for the Hybrid tank will reduce the likelihood of this. I like to use Amquel+ or Ultimate with water changes in my hybrid tanks as well as an in tank ammonia alert.

  • To avoid extra expenses

Let’s do a cost run down of your basic hybrid tank. Most of us already have most of this stuff in a box somewhere.

10 gallon Tank
25 Watt Heater
Sponge Filter
Air Pump and Tubing

That’s less than 50 bucks for the initial setup. We can all afford that. * You can get 10 gallon tank at petco, during their $1 per gallon sale.

  • Space limitations.

If you go with the Hybrid or the Sterile Tank you can sterilize them when you are finished. This can be accomplished by cleaning the tank with a 10% household bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water.). Make sure your bleach is pure without any added scents or surfactant, all of which should be listed in the ingredients. Let the solution for 1 hour and then rinse it out. I like to follow it up with some dechlorinator to make sure any residual bleach is reversed. I can’t trust rinsing until the smell of bleach is gone because the smell stays in my nose for days. Then place everything inside the tank and store it away somewhere until you need it again.

  • Believing a trusted source means no QT is required.

Nobody can guarantee you their fish or coral will be free of pathogens. Simply moving from one tank to another can be enough stress to lower the immune system. Seahorses I raised from birth ended up having mycobacterium. They were raised in a sterile environment and it is suspected it was passed down through the parents either in the egg or acquired while growing in the pouch. I would have bet money that my horses “clean”. No one’s specimens are 100% safe.

  • Laziness… oh come on, no offense, but you know that applies to some.

No comment….. Except get off your keester and change some water.

  • Believing gluck has and will be on their side throughout their entire involvement in the hobby.

Heh… if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you…

Additional Tips:

Place the QT tank in an area of low traffic. Placing it in a high traffic area will increase the stress on the fish.

If you are using the bare bottom Sterile or Hybrid tank, blacken out the bottom. This will reduce the stress to the fish and make siphoning the bottom a breeze by increasing the visibility of detritus, feces and uneaten food.

When using the Hybrid tank, throw away the sponge after each use. A replacement sponge costs less than $3 and really should not be placed back into the display tank or sump. When you remove it from the display to place in the QT, place a new one in the display for future use.

Just remember, a QT tank can be as basic or as elaborate as you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be functional.