The fish keeper’s emergency toolbox.

The Fishkeeper’s Emergency Toolbox

The laboratory in which I worked when I first graduated from university was an exciting place. Among the fish tanks housing a range of species were cupboards full of everything you’d need to deal with any fish emergency from flow regulators and air pumps to limitless test kits, water treatments and medications.

For more experienced fishkeepers, maintaining a stock of these items is second nature. However, for newcomers, it is very beneficial to know what items you should have to hand should some unforeseen emergency arise such as a broken or leaking tank, breakdown in water quality or stressed fish.

Dealing with a broken or leaking tank

The ultimate emergency for a fishkeeper is a broken or leaking tank as this will affect fish health as well as equipment such as filters, heaters, air pumps and lighting failing.

A consequence of failed life-support equipment will almost certainly be a drastic deterioration in water quality, leading to increased stress in your fish and a weakened immune system. As well as spare life-support equipment, you should always keep water test kits handy, and should use them as part of your ongoing aquarium maintenance. The Tetra 6 in 1 test sticks allow you to quickly and easily test your water quality at any time and can be used alongside the Tetra Aquatics App, allowing you to quickly react to any sudden changes.

When it comes to a shattered aquarium, there is little that can be done although having a spare tank to hold the fish in an emergency can be useful – used tanks are widely available and can be handy, otherwise a clean tub-trug might do the job. Pond keepers will often use a knocked-down pool to hold fish temporarily if there is an emergency, or more often during a major clean.

A breakdown in water quality

Let’s imagine that our water quality tests reveal a major horror in the tank; ammonia levels are off the chart or there are dangerously low pH and KH levels, for example. The most likely course of corrective action would be a significant water change which is why our emergency kit must include a good stock of tap water conditioner, such as Tetra AquaSafe, which will neutralise any harsh chlorine from the tape water that may be residual, making a drastic water change a lot easier.

For marine fishkeepers, a partial water change means making synthetic salt water; a process that should really take 24 hours. A stock of synthetic salt water should be kept as part of your emergency kit for a quick water replacement.

Following a partial water change to correct the water quality, application of activated carbon to the filter can help to further restore water parameters. If high ammonia and nitrite levels were the issues, then a dose of a filter bacteria culture, such as Tetra SafeStart or Tetra FilterActive, will help restore the populations of nitrifiers.

Ensuring fish wellbeing

Following on from the deterioration of their habitat, fish will often be left with raised stress levels and low immunity which can leave them susceptible to many diseases. Should such infectious disease strike, the fish often show predictable symptoms.

Microscopic ectoparasites, such as the skin and gill flukes, Costia and Trichodina, cause intense irritation to the fish, leading to the production of a thicker mucous coat which may cause the fish to become lethargic and gasp at the water surface. With an Ictyhopthirius infection, white spots can develop all over the skin and fins.

These parasites can usually be controlled with a dose of a broad spectrum antiparasitic such as Tetra Contralck. It is preferable to have this treatment to hand and know the circumstances when you would use it, then to panic-buy any treatment in the hope it would cure your sick fishes. Only use a disease treatment following a full and thorough appraisal of water quality values allowing you to correct any parameters before proceeding with the treatment.

Stocking your emergency kit

Should a situation arise, it’s important to have items ready in order to ensure fish wellbeing by responding quickly. Always invest in a trusted fishkeeping brand like Tetra, who for over 65 years has been passionate about ensuring the wellbeing of fish and other aquatic animals through innovative and high-quality products such as its range of Starter Line aquariums available in 30L and 54L. As always, if you’re unsure about your aquarium or have questions about your fish or waters, your local retailer will always be happy to support you.


The Freshwater Fishkeeping Emergency Kit Checklist


·       Tetra AquaSafe water conditioner

·       Tetra Contralck broad-spectrum antiparasitic

·       Tetra 6 in 1 test sticks

·       Bucket

·       Siphon

·       Fish nets of a suitable size

·       Pump impellor

·       O-rings for canister filter

·       Filter media (including activated carbon)

·       Spare heater

·       Air pump diaphragms

·       Spare tank or other vessel to hold fish

·       Fish-safe silicone / adhesive

·       Thermometer