A customer walks into your store with a worried look in their eye. Their fish is sick, and while they can’t bring this fish into the vet, they’ve come to the next closest thing: their local fish expert. They want the comfort of talking with someone who understands fish health and wellness, as well as someone who can point them in the right direction for a medication that will help the fish quickly get on the road to better health. Luckily, there are many trusted products on the market that can help fish overcome most common problems, whether it’s bacterial, a parasite or a fungus. And thanks to clear packaging, helpful websites and smartphone apps, pet store employees don’t have to be experts on fish disease in order to help customers find the right solution.
“When it comes to fish, we’re treating for symptoms, not defined diseases,” said Gary Jones, research and development manager of Mars Fishcare. “You’ll ask about crabby eyes, frayed fins, lethargic fish, open sores or white patches, and then utilize a medication that is the best fit for the symptom.”
Mars Fishcare has created a system of pictograms, available on the packaging and on the website, to help pet store employees and customers identify symptoms and find the right treatment.
“We make it easy for every person working in the store to look like an expert,” Jones said. “They don’t have to know the name of the disease; they just have to know the symptoms, and now they’re empowered to help the customers.”
The New Antibiotics
Bacterial infections call for treatment from an antibiotic, and the strict regulations in place both by the FDA and the manufacturers themselves ensure that the medications available for fish are safe and effective. In fact, some antibiotics such as tetracycline were removed from the fish medication line with new regulations. But manufacturers have found satisfactory alternatives to help sick fish become healthy using erythromycin, minocycline or doxycycline—all broad spectrum antibiotics—to treat a number of bacterial infections.
More than just the type of antibiotics, the packaging is changing as well. API’s doxycycline is in a package in line with its priority of keeping things simple, calling the relatively new medication Fin & Body Cure, rather than labeling it the name of the antibiotic.
“We’re moving to names that are more recognizable, and wanted the name to describe what the product really does,” Jones said.
The Herbal Alternative
While antibiotics are effective, they’re not without their side effects. The use of antibiotics can end up disrupting the balance of the water or cause stress on the fish, which in turn effects its already weakened immune system. Safe, effective alternatives to antibiotics can be found with all-natural herbal medications, and as more emphasis is put on these products, they are seeing improvements in ingredients and effectiveness.
For example, after much research into botanicals and their properties, API Fishcare narrowed in on melaleuca, or tea tree extract, for its natural medications Melafix, Bettafix and Pimafix. The researchers found that the roots of plants have bacteria around them that break down the iron oxide and protect the plant all at the same time.
“The plants secrete compounds that knock off the pathogenic bacteria without affecting the beneficial bacteria,” Jones said.
Tea tree extract was the one chosen because it can be manufactured synthetically and works well on fish. Other ingredients found in herbal remedies include chitosan, rosemary oil, and cinnamon oil in the Mardel herbal treatments and napthoquinine in Kordon’s herbal treatments.
In addition to the ingredients that are in the herbal medications, manufacturers are also looking at what they can leave out to improve the safety and efficacy of the treatments. The newest product from Fritz Aquatics, FixIck, is a formaldehyde-free ick medication that uses natural oils and extracts to attack parasites directly on the fish body for fast results.
“We’re always looking to improve our products to make them safer for the fish, safer for people making the products, and effective, too,” said Mike Noce, specialty sales manager of Fritz Aquatics.
It’s more than just the right mix of oils and extracts that give natural and herbal treatments their effectiveness. BacterShield and ParaShield from Fritz Aquatics have a patented delivery process that helps ensure the treatments get to the fish through the use of a polymer that is attracted to the fish like a magnet, rather than just being put in the water column. The polymer is called chitosan, which is found in shrimp and crab shells. It has the opposite charge as the fish, which makes it cling to the fish rather than floating around in the water.
Start at the Source
There are many good fish medications available for retail shelves, but to truly care for fish it takes a store owner and employees who understand that treating disease is about more than selling a product. It’s about taking time to talk with the customer to find out the symptoms, talking through the treatment options and how to administer it, and learning more about the conditions the fish are in at home. It’s important to treat the disease; but then take a step back and try to figure out why that fish is sick in the first place.
“Many times it’s the environment itself causing a fish to get sick,” Jones said. “Poor water quality or temperature, stress from other fish or poor nutrition could cause a fish to succumb to parasites or fungus that it would normally fight off.”
Help your customers keep their fish healthy by providing them with the tools they need to keep water balanced, the temperature correct and the environment clean and healthy. It’s also important that the fish are eating a complete and balanced diet—one that is appropriate for the species. Through thorough education and the availability of high quality food and treatment, fish have a better chance of staying healthy, and healthy fish make happy fish owners.