New Tank Syndrome

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New tank Syndrome is the nickname given to a group of maladies and poisonings that occur when fish are introduced to a tank that has not properly cycled.

This article was contributed by Aquarium Advice member Mycatsdrool

Many aquarists have experienced the same problems with an uncycled tank when starting out so do not feel bad or get discouraged. The important thing is when you recognized that something was wrong, you sought out help for your animals, and are willing to learn. This is a very rewarding hobby and fish are very rewarding pets, so do not give up. I want to help you, so I am going to provide you with some things you should purchase and some simple instructions to help get things under control.

Shopping list – Must haves:

A gravel vacuum. You can purchase one for probably less than $10 and it will make all the difference for you. Get the one with the longest flexible tube you can.
A 5 gallon bucket. You might want to purchase it from the pet store as it will likely be more ready for fish care than one from a hardware store.
Heater. Get a heater rated for your tank size. If you are unsure, ask.
A thermometer. Digital preferred, but if you cannot find or afford one, any will do to give you at least a basic idea of the idea of your water temperature.
Aquarium salt. This will help in the healing of your fish.
A good water conditioner. I personally prefer Seachem Prime as it is the only one I personally know of that is non toxic if used in high doses, and it will help lock up some of the ammonia in your tank.
Liquid reagent test kits for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH.

Optional Items:

An automated gravel vacuum. I use one called a Python. Considering that you will be making several water changes over the next two months or so, I highly suggest this. It will cost around $30, but will pay for itself quickly.
Antibiotic food. Jungle Labs makes some. As your fish are already weakened, it is likely they will be suffering some secondary infections. This will help.
Some vitamin C drops from the health food store. This will help them heal and bolster their immune systems.
Some liquid garlic supplement. You can generally find this in the saltwater section of the aquarium supplies. This will also help bolster their immune systems and promote healing, as well as entice them to eat.
An extra 10 gallon aquarium kit with a heater and filter. You may need this to quarantine sick fish.

You should be able to obtain all of this for less than $200, if you are careful. However, get the necessary items first.


Start the road to recovery.

Week 1: Daily 50-75% water changes. Turn off the heater and filter. Using the gravel vacuum, remove 50-75% of your water. You can drain it into a bucket or if you use a Python, the sink or out a window. It works like a siphon. Leave your fish in the water while removing it. Lightly sweep the gravel on the bottom of the tank to remove any uneaten food and detritus (dead plant parts, feces, etc.). Do not at this time dig the vacuum into the gravel. Just remove surface debris.

Replace the water using either a Python or a bucket. Treat the water with 5 times the regular dose of Seachem Prime. This sounds like a lot, but it is safe. This will help lock up some of the chemicals that are harming your fish at this time.

Over the course of the week, increase the temperature in your tank very slowly to 88 degrees. If you have an air pump, you might want to introduce some air stones to the tank. If not, lower the level of the water in your tank by about 1 inch, to allow some movement over the surface of the water. This will increase the flow of oxygen to the fish. Increasing the heat will deplete the oxygen, but it will also fight any disease in the tank. Also, when doing water changes, add 1 tbsp of freshwater Aquarium salt to the water per 5 gallons. This will also promote healing, and help fight disease.

Feed your fish only one time every other day with antibiotic food treated with garlic if you opt to purchase it. Also add vitamin C if you choose to purchase it. Feed only enough that they will eat in 1 minute. If there is remaining food after feeding them, remove it with a net or a small water change. Test water daily for ammonia and nitrite.

Week 2: Continue with the water changes as before, but lower the level of Prime to 3x dose. Keep the temperature at 88 degrees. Continue with the feedings as in week 1. Test water daily for ammonia and nitrite.

Week 3: If your tests show reasonable readings and the cycle is starting to progress, excellent. Reduce the water changes to 25-50% daily, treated as in week 2. Continue with sparing feeding and supplements. Start slowing lowering the temperature to 80 degrees over the course of the week. Test water daily for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

Week 4:
Continue with 25-50% water changes daily. Start increasing feedings to daily with regular food, but with the same treatments to the food. Lower Prime to regular dose if water is testing reasonably. Keep temp at 80 degrees. Test water daily for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

Week 5: Continue with week 4. reduce salt to 1/2 tbsp per 5 gallons. Test water daily for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

Week 6: Start changing water 25-50% every other day. Continue to reduce salt level. Feed daily for 2 minutes. Test water every other day for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

Week 7: Start changing water once weekly. You should be seeing nitrates now. Start doing deep gravel vacuuming with the water changes. Stop using salt. Test water every other day for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Do a water change if needed to reduce nitrite or ammonia.

Week 8: Develop a regular regimen now of fish care. You should be well now hopefully. Test water weekly. Do regular water changes of 25-50% weekly.

You may lose fish along the way. If you do, do not replace them until you are within regular parameters in your water (no ammonia or nitrite, small amounts of nitrate). Then stock very slowly and reasonably.

Do not scrub any ornaments or change filter material during this time. You may rinse it ONCE during treatment, around week 4 or 5, in used tank water taken out during a water change.

This should help you get back on track. Please continue to read, especially about the nitrogen cycle and stocking guidelines for your aquarium size.

Good luck! It will pay off in the end!

Filed under General Articles.