Oh my darling quarantine...

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Forum moderator Bob Mehen explains why a quarantine tank can be your most important purchase.

Firstly, my apologies for the most poorly crow-barred in title ever, but the point of this article is that without a quarantine tank many of your fish may well be 'lost and gone forever' and indeed you'll be 'dreadful sorry' that you didn't use one.

How many of us use quarantine tanks? Go on, you can be honest here – it's only me asking and I won't tell a sole, plaice, topknot or any other member of the flatfish family. I'm pretty sure the answer will be not many of us – or at least not as many of us as really should.

Now at this point I have to admit over the years I haven't always used these myself – it can be just so tempting to put that new fish straight into the new display. After all it looked so healthy in the shop, and we all know how to spot an obviously sick fish don't we?

The problem is that many of the diseases and parasites carried by fish show no obvious external symptoms until it's too late and once the fish in in the main tank it can be almost impossible to catch and treat in isolation – shutting gates and horses bolting anyone?

Fortunately many shops have extensive quarantine facilities themselves, meaning the chance of you bringing home something nasty with your new pets is greatly reduced. It's well worth asking your local shop about their quarantine facilities and what exactly they do in them.

Some may just hold the fish there for a week or so to help them recover from the trauma of their travels and regain condition prior to sale – others may carry out general treatments for parasites etc., particularly in wild caught fish.

If you can find out just what medications they've used, if any, then you can avoid repeating these unnecessarily at home. I would still recommend however that if possible you quarantine your new fish at home for at least two weeks after purchase, regardless.

This period should allow you to spot any problems that might not have been immediately apparent in the shop.

It will also enable you to adjust the water chemistry from whatever water they were held in the shop in, to that of your main tank at gentle rate.

Finally it will give you the chance to accustom them to whatever food you choose to use, without competition from their tankmates-to-be – and allow them to fatten up a little – most fish are starved to some degree prior to import, and fed only sparingly while in the shop to reduce waste problems.

The set up need not be that expensive, and certainly needn't look like one of George Farmer's aquascapes – a few plastic plants and maybe plant pot to give some cover will be adequate. My current quarantine tank is just like this with no substrate to make cleaning easier, filtered by a simple air powered sponge filter and cost a little over ££75 – not cheap, but worth every penny to my mind, after all what price would you put on the health of your fish?