Treating Sick Koi

Treating Koi with Bacterial Infections

Many people think that koi are the same as carp and therefore extremely hardy.  And while it is true that koi are technically carp, they are distant cousins to the wild fish you see in lakes.  Koi have been selectively bred and inbred for a couple hundred years.  The breeders have selected them for colors, pattern and body shape, and not necessarily for resistance to bacteria and parasites.  Because of this selective breeding process koi have lost much of that wild hardiness and they are more fragile then you might think.  That is not to say the slightest mistake and all the koi will go belly up, but rather you need to take care and provide your koi with better water conditions to ensure long term health.

But sooner or later, if you keep koi, they will get sick.  Most times this will be some sort of bacterial infection, and you need to be ready to treat them.  Bacterial infections can be caused by a scratch or injury like a split fin or lost scale, stress that weakens the koi's immune system, poor water conditions, parasites and a whole host of other reasons.  So you can see why they are so common.  There is bacteria in all water and it is very opportunistic.  Any weakness on vulnerability and the bacteria moves right in.  If you have the tools on hand ready to go, you stand a much better chance of a complete recovery.  Far too often, by the time the hobbyist notices the problem, then manages to go buy all the supplies needed, well, it's just too late to do anything about it.   So first I am going to go over a few basic things to have on hand to treat sick koi.  An emergency koi kit if you will.

First thing you will need is an easy to set up hospital tank.  This is the most important item you can have and sadly it's the one thing most people don't have.  It makes it far easier to catch and treat the koi if they are in a smaller tank.  Most avoid this because of either space or money.  The fact is you don't need much of either.  Anything that can hold around 150 to 200 gallons will do.  Something like a simple as a kiddie pool will work just fine.  These can often be picked up for less then $100 at your local discount superstore.  You can also use a show tank if you like.  These will last much longer and you can keep them set up for an indefinite amount of time.  But for something quick and cheap, your basic kiddie pool will do just as well.   Some people also have a permanent quarantine tank that takes the form of a well filtered second pond with only one or two goldfish in it keeping the filter cycled.  

Once the tank is set up you will need some sort of filtration.  If you plan on only leaving them in there less then a week, then an air pump and water changes will probably be ok.  But most infections will take longer then a week to treat.  If you have a cycled filter ready to go, you will be better off.  A great inexpensive option is the Matala EZ Bio with a small submersible pump.  You can have it set up in your regular pond the rest of the time and then just pull it out and set it in the hospital tank whenever you need it.     

Ok, so now you have your hospital tank all set up and ready to go, its time to get all your supplies ready.  Some basics will be antibiotic ointments and dips for treating general infections like ulcers, fin rot and mouth rot.  These are bacterial infections that can be easily treated if caught early. 

You will also want to have on hand some general parasite treatments.  Salt is always good for this and so is ProfromC.  However you never want to mix ProformC or any Fromalin product with salt.  It might also be good to have some Praziquantrel on hand.  Prazi treats flukes which are very common and cannot be killed with ProformC or salt.  However Prazi is a bit expensive and many will wait until they are certain they have flukes before they purchase the product.

Next, of course it's good to have general water treatments handy.  You will need these for your regular pond treatments, but even more so in the hospital tanks as you will need to do frequent water changes to ensure excellent water quality for the sick koi.  Dechlorinators and stress reducers are part of every hospital tank routine.  I prefer a product called Ultimate, but there are many others on the market.  Also, Debride Pro Heath is great for sick fish and works well with Ultimate.  I also like Koi Clay to help improve the general health of the water.  Also, the cloudy water will help calm the koi in its new surroundings.  Water conditioners are needed because healthy water will be the most important thing you can give the koi.  No treatment will work if the water conditions are poor.  In fact, sometimes the only thing a koi needs is just good clean water and some time to rest.

Other items to have on hand are syringes and an injectible antibiotic.  I like Baytril, but there are several good choices.  These are harder to come by and you need to see a vet to get them.  The hardest part is finding a vet that knows about koi, most look at you like you are nuts when you say you have a sick fish.  So let your fingers do the walking and just start calling around.  All vets will need you to bring the fish in before they can prescribe anything.  This is required by law.  But usually they will prescribe you more then you need to treat the one fish and then you will have it on hand for the next time.

Lastly, you will want to have some Clove Oil.  This is for sedating the fish.  Clove Oil can be bought at any GNC for just a few dollars.

Okay, so now you have your hospital tank ready to go and a well stocked medicine chest.  You are ready to do battle with any parasite or infection that comes your way.  But wait, what do you do with all this stuff once you actually have a sick koi?  Ah well, that's where we put theory into practice.   The first thing you will need to do is catch the koi.  For some, this process alone makes some people not want to treat the koi and just dump a bunch of medications directly into the entire pond and hope for the best.  Catching koi is a trick, that's for sure.  But having a good net and bowl makes things a lot easier.   Just remember, you cannot move the net faster then the koi, so move slowly and gently come up under the koi.  Move the net side to side as it will move easier through the water.  Try not to lift the koi entirely out of the water in the net.  Gently guide the koi into the bowl and then into a bag with water.  Then carry the koi to the tank.  It take practice, but after a few times it will be a snap.  Remember, the bigger the koi pond, the bigger the net you will need.

Now that you have transported the koi into the tank, it's time to figure out what's wrong.  For larger koi I like to slightly sedate the koi to calm it down and take a good close look.  Small koi you can just hold in your hand and roll over.  But big koi can flop around and possibly hurt themselves further.  So now is the time for a sedation bath.  For this you need the clove oil.  Usually about 7 to 10 drops per 1 gallon of water.  The clove oil will not mix with water easily so I use a glass bottle (not plastic) and fill it about half way with water and add all the clove oil you plan to use.  Then shake vigorously for at least a minute and dump the mixed clove oil into the tub of water.  Then you can gently lift the koi by hand or with a koi sock into the sedation tub.  The koi will slowly calm down and begin to roll over.  Do not leave the koi unattended during this time.  For general inspection the koi does not need to be completely sedated, just wait for them to calm down and get a bit groggy.  Then gently roll them over and inspect the belly, fins, mouth, scales, anal vent, tail, etc for any sign of damage or infection.

Mild Infections:

Assuming you find some sort of infection, it's time to treat.  Put the koi back in the sedation tub so it can be completly sedated.  You should have all your meds handy before you start the sedation process.  Now it's time to choose what you will want to use.  For most minor damage and infections, a dip followed by an ointment will be plenty.  To do a dip, mix the Tricide Neo into distilled water (note: the dip should be prepared before you sedate the koi).  Use ONLY distilled water.  You will not need to use the entire gallon.  The koi will not need to swim in the dip, you just need enough to cover it.  I like to use a clear plastic bag.  Pour in a couple inches and then put the koi in the bag.  Make sure the temp of the dip is the same as the temp of the tanks.  You can do this by floating the bag of dip in the tank for about 15 min.  Just be careful not to let ANY of the dip get into the tank.  Tricide Neo is a powerful antibacterial and it will kill all bacteria, both good and bad.  Leave the koi in the dip for no less then 3 minutes and no more then 5.  Then remove the koi and place it in a rinse tub to wash off the dip.  Then assuming the koi woke up in the dip, place it back in the sedation tub for another minute or so.  Remove the koi once he has be resedated and place it on a wet cloth towel that is covered by a wet paper towel.  This will help reduce slime coat loss.  Now pat the infected area dry (don't rub!).  Then apply a liberal amount of the ointment to the wound and let it sit for at least a minute.  Then you can release the koi back into the hospital tank.  You will want to repeat this process 2 or three more times over the next week.  If the infection does not improve or is very large, deep or infects multiple areas, then you need to take it to the next level.

Major Infections: 

For more severe infections, you need to do an injection.  Don't worry, it's not as hard as you think.  Fill the syringe with the necessary amount based on the size of the koi and set it aside.  (this is why you need to see a vet as they will tell you the correct dosage).  There are several ways to inject a koi, I prefer IM or Intra-Muscular.  I will lay the sedated koi out on that same wet cloth towel that is covered by a wet paper towel you used for the ointment.  Then along the side of the koi, about 3 scales down from the top and about 2/3 back along the dorsal, gently lift a scale with the tip of the needle and slide the needle under into the muscle.  The needle should lay flat with only a 8 to 10 degree down angle.  As though the needle was pointing right through the mouth of the koi.  Then press the needle into the muscle.  It should slide in easily.  If you meet resistance, then the needle is piercing the scale.  Try to avoid this as it will result in the scale coming out and causing the potential for additional infections.  Gently press the plunger, do not push to hard as this can cause tissue damage.   After you remove the needle apply some ointment to the injection site to avoid infection.  For severe infections on koi that require injections, I will also do the dip and ointment procedure from above.  All three treatments combined will make for rapid recovery.

This is not by any means everything.  There is substantially more information out there on koi health.  I only tried to cover the basics for the more simple procredures.  Bacterial infections are by far the most common problem and the number 1 killer of koi.  But they are also one of the easiest problems to treat, if you are prepared. 

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