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    Thread: Empiric treatment - vague symptoms

    1. #1
      SeriousCallersOnly's Avatar
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      Empiric treatment - vague symptoms

      With the purchase of our very rural home 2 years ago, we inherited a stable, mature koi / goldfish pond with 5 fish. The pond is ~350 gallons and has vigorous mechanical filtration. The previous owners *never* did water chemistries; always fed a "cheap", off-brand food (incl. feeding regular, non-wheat germ food in spring & fall), or used a winter pond de-icer.

      There have been no issues until 1 month ago (4/25), when 1 of the goldfish (~18 years old) suddenly died. There was no warning other than possible lack of interest in feeding all spring by the 3 goldfish, but it has been cold; "she" had seemed normally active and had no obvious body lesions. We and the local pond / fish store attributed the death to old age -- until 3 days ago (5/22), when a 2nd goldfish (also ~18 years old) was found dead, and the 3rd goldfish (also ~18 years old) had simultaneously become very lethargic. The previous night we had noticed the 10 year old koi repeatedly flashing and breaching, but all else seemed well other than ongoing lack of interest in food by the 2 remaining goldfish.

      In the absence of a definitive diagnosis, MICROBE-LIFT/BSDT (broad spectrum malachite green and formalin) was started empirically immediately on 5/22, following a 50% water change. We have been unable to find any treatment protocols either online or in koi books for MICROBE-LIFT'S use, other than the limited directions on the bottle. So, we have been doing 30-50% water changes every 8-14 hours then adding MICROBE-LIFT, dosage titrated to our pond size. I just put our pond heater (de-icer) back in after learning that increasing the water temp might be helpful in boosting their immune system.

      Today is Day 3 (5/26). While there have been no more deaths, the remaining 4 fish (3 of which are koi) remain lethargic. They have absolutely no interest in feeding. The remaining 18-y.o. goldfish continues to segregate herself from the "herd" and is basically motionless; fins clamped, and resting near the pond bottom for hours at a time. None have any visible lesions, "pineconeing", or other abnormalities other than the goldfish, which developed hemorrhages of the tail veins ("injection") soon after becoming ill.

      I have no access to a microscope. The local commercial koi dealer has not responded to our phone call, phone message, or text -- and not a soul was around their premises when we made a personal visit on 5/22 during their advertised business hours. (However, their tanks were actively running and contained hundreds of koi, so they are obviously still in business). The local pond / hobbyist koi shop confirmed the accuracy of my chemistries but was able to give no other guidance -- so I am turning to you for help.

      Pond parameters:
      ~350 gallons. Well water, non-chlorinated.
      Vigorous mechanical filtration, with a double waterfall.
      Mechanical filter pads cleaned (thoroughly rinsed) ~1 x week in warm weather.
      Water remains very clear.
      Water hycinath (4 small plants) reintroduced 3 weeks ago, as usual every late spring. This was 1 week after the death of the first goldfish.
      Hikari Gold food re-started ~7 weeks ago, after pond temps above 52F.
      ALGAEFIX dosed once approx. 7 days prior to the first death (4/25). I have used it sparing in the past during warmer weather with no apparent ill-effects, and none seemed to occur this time either.


      Chemistries have remained very stable and within normal limits:
      Ammonia 0.25 (both before and after MICROBE-LIFT, which I understand increases ammonia temporarily)
      Phosphate 2.0
      pH 6.0-7.5 (the latest is 7.5)
      Nitrite 0


      I have many questions, but for starters:
      1) What is the empiric treatment protocol for MICROBE-LIFT, in the absence of a definitive diagnosis?

      2) How many days should MICROBE-LIFT be continued? How frequently should it be administered? How soon should health improvement be reasonably expected - hours, days, or weeks?

      3) Could the MICROBE-LIFT be causing the 3 koi to be lethargic and anorexic? The 10 year-old koi's flashing & breaching stopped immediately after stopping MICROBE-LIFT. I'm wondering if this is because MICRO-LIFT is addressing the underlying issue -- or if the formalin/malachite green are toxic enough that the 10 year-old koi simply no longer has the energy to flash & breach. He (and the other 2 young koi) quit eating soon after MICROBE-LIFT was started -- again, I'm not sure if this is because of the medication or the underlying disease.

      4) I'm considering salting as a next step. How soon after discontinuing MICROBE-LIFT can salting be started?


      Thank you for bearing with this lengthy post. Any insights and guidance that you can give would be greatly appreciated.

    2. #2
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      OK. The Microbe-Lift BSDT is very similar to Proform C, and the treatment protocol for Proform C is 25% water change before each dose. Three doses a day apart. The formalin malachite green does a number on the parasites, but the wounds need time to recover, so the recovery will not be immediate, though the flashing should stop quickly. Salt would be something that I would not recommend, though some still use it. It has been used so much that the parasites have developed an immunity to the normal dosage levels.

      Looking at he water parameters, I would love to see a KH value. With a pH as low as 6, I would guess that there is a big chance you have gone through a pH crash, which will kill fish, or even worse in some cases, kill the filter bacteria, which are the most important residents in a pond.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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    3. #3
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      ALGAEFIX treatment could have also been a factor combined with well water. The water falls may not contribute enough oxygen in such a small pond. You may want to think about using an air pump with a couple air stones.
      If you are rinsing your filter pads once a week, how are you doing this process, and what kind of water are you using? Tap or well water?

    4. #4
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      Thank you, everyone. I REALLY appreciate your expertise and helpfulness.

      In reply:

      1) Dragonfly & RichToyBox, the filter sponges (non-carbon sponge mats) are very thoroughly rinsed with the same well (non-chlorinated) water that the pond is filled with. Could I be rinsing them *too* thoroughly, thus decreasing the bacterial load too far?

      2) This afternoon I took in a water sample to the pond/local fish store. Staff there freely admit that they aren't fish vets and their knowledge is limited. Fish store chemistries were nearly identical to mine done approx. 2 hours earlier:
      pH remained at 8.0
      Ammonia approx. 0.1
      Nitrite 0

      Additional chems done there:
      Nitrates 0
      hardness (KH??) low at only 25
      total alkalinity was ???
      I was confused then & didn't fully understand that alkalinity & hardness are 2 different things
      They agreed that my water is very clear.

      In addition to holding MICROBE-LIFT BSDT doses and deferring any water changes today, at the pond shop's recommendation I purchased (and added 2 hours ago) MICROBE-LIFT STRESS RELIEF.

      I also purchased MICROBE-LIFT TEST STRIPS that will allow monitoring of nitrates, total hardness & total alkalinity in addition to the other chemistries I was already doing.

      As noted above, after reading online this morning that koi immunity becomes robust only after pond temps are ~75 degrees F, I put the pond heater / de-icer back in even though ambient (air) temps have averaged ~55-65 today. Interestingly, the sickest fish (the lone surviving goldfish) has hovered very near it most of the day. Two of the 3 koi have also spent time near the heater.

      Tonight, there is no condition change. All remain lethargic & anorexic; there are no visible skin lesions, pineconeing, etc. The last MICRO-LIFT BSDT was administered 24 hours ago. At least no more fish have died, which I honestly feel would have quickly happened if I was not intervening.

      Because of your advice, I now do *not* plan to salt the pond.

      More questions:
      1) Is KH "total hardness"?

      2) Do you agree with lowering the pH by adding Arm & Hammer baking soda *tonight*?

      3) Do you agree with this guidance I found online?
      "We recommend buffering your KH to a level of at least 150 PPM. Some Pond hobbyists prefer to keep their KH level over 200 PPM. KH levels cannot be 'too high' however anything higher than 200 PPM is not necessarily of any extra benefit.....Regular Arm & Hammer Baking Soda will be fine for most uses...We recommend adding 1 cup of baking soda per 1,000 gallons of pond water daily until your KH level has increased to 150 PPM. Test your KH level after 24 hours before adding more Baking Soda."

      4) I am concerned about potentially dropping the KH too quickly. To be conservative, I am seriously considering adding 1/4 cup of baking soda (calcium carbonate) tonight. The pond is ~350 gallons, and 1/4 cup is a 250 gallon dose. Then, repeat chemistries incl. hardness and alkalinity tomorrow AM & repeat baking soda as needed. Do you agree with this?

      Thank you again!

    5. #5
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      Dragonfly, here is a photo of the double waterfall, with the filter box below. I don't know the pump size: it came with the pond. I will investigate an air pump and stones per your suggestion. Everything I've read so far indicate that there were (and still are) a lot of fish for the pond size. "Big Boy" koi alone (10 years old) should probably have at least 350 gallons to himself.

      Ironically, the fish did well for 10 years with the previous homeowner's benign neglect. I took over 2 years ago, and a month ago was the first time there were any issues. Ack!

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    6. #6
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      The pond was well balanced as per previous owners routine: water changes (if any), feeding (probably very little), filter cleaning (again probably very infrequent). He knew his pond very well after all these years through trial and errors. It's not very easy for a new owner, even with strict instructions from the previous owner to "figure out that balance" because he ran it mainly through intuition. After all is said and done there will be a new balance with the new owner. Good luck.
      Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. ---- Marthe Troly-Curtin



    7. #7
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      Quote Originally Posted by SeriousCallersOnly View Post

      Ironically, the fish did well for 10 years with the previous homeowner's benign neglect. I took over 2 years ago, and a month ago was the first time there were any issues. Ack!

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      That seems to often be the way that low KH presents itself. Everything is looking just fine. year after year even. But when the KH gets too low the whole system crashes. The PH swings very low, which stresses the fish incredibly. And in the very acidic conditions all of your good bacteria may get killed off. Which can then give you an ammonia spike. If the PH swing doesn't get 'em then the ammonia spike does.
      If you have much KH in your tap water and you (or the previous owner) did large enough water changes you might never need to add calcium bicarbonate. But all of the biological processes that go on in your ponds eco system deplete KH. So best to have the level fairly high. 100 really is a minimum. I like 150, and it has been pointed out that bio filters perform best with KH at 150 or above.
      I do find it interesting that the goldfish were more vulnerable than the koi. Thought it would have been the other way.

    8. #8
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      Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and it is a pH buffer. It is used to increase the KH (Total Alkalinity). Calcium carbonate would be a limestone like material and it would act as a buffer when the pH is very low but at the pH of about 8.3, that the baking soda will push, it does nothing.

      Well water can be, depending on aquifer, very high in calcium (Hardness), bicarbonates (KH, alkalinity), and initial pH that is very low, or it can be devoid of calcium and bicarbonates with unknown pH. Aerating the high calcium, high bicarbonate water will drive off carbon dioxide and raise the pH to 8.3 area. Doing major water changes can introduce a lot of low pH, high CO2 water to the pond, making the pH go down rapidly which is stressful to the fish. Limiting the water change to about 25% or spraying the water into the air allowing some of the CO2 to dissipate will make for a more consistent pH value.

      The KH, (total alkalinity), is to my way of thinking the most important test value that we have, as a high value will provide consistent pH, make bacteria happy, and with happy bacteria, the ammonia and nitrites (both toxic) will be consumed making healthy water.

      The timing for the addition of the baking soda, in my mind is when the pH is closest to the 8.3, which should be late afternoon.

      "1) Is KH "total hardness"? No, it is total alkalinity.

      2) Do you agree with lowering the pH by adding Arm & Hammer baking soda *tonight*? Yes, but raising, not lowering

      3) Do you agree with this guidance I found online?
      "We recommend buffering your KH to a level of at least 150 PPM. Some Pond hobbyists prefer to keep their KH level over 200 PPM. KH levels cannot be 'too high' however anything higher than 200 PPM is not necessarily of any extra benefit.....Regular Arm & Hammer Baking Soda will be fine for most uses...We recommend adding 1 cup of baking soda per 1,000 gallons of pond water daily until your KH level has increased to 150 PPM. Test your KH level after 24 hours before adding more Baking Soda." Yes

      4) I am concerned about potentially dropping the KH too quickly. To be conservative, I am seriously considering adding 1/4 cup of baking soda (calcium carbonate) tonight. The pond is ~350 gallons, and 1/4 cup is a 250 gallon dose. Then, repeat chemistries incl. hardness and alkalinity tomorrow AM & repeat baking soda as needed. Do you agree with this?" The baking soda will raise the pH and the KH, but yes, add tonight, and the conservative approach is acceptable, but if the pH is near 8 and additional baking soda is needed to bring the KH to 150, you will not change the pH much with large doses of baking soda.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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    9. #9
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      I worry about getting my hopes up -- but things seem to be slightly improving this evening.

      "Big Boy" (10 y.o. koi) came out and cruised for at least 30 minutes tonight, along with one of the smaller koi. For the first time since this started 4 days ago, "Big Boy" was moderately interested in food and actually ate some. The 18 y.o. goldfish (who is sickest) looks slightly perkier although she is certainly not out of the woods yet.

      mplskoi, I wonder if the goldfish succumbed first because of their advanced age? All 3 of the goldfish would be ~18 years. The oldest koi is 10.

      Based on everyone's input, I now believe this is a water quality issue and not disease. In retrospect, when we took ownership 2 Julys ago, the water hyacinth was deep green and profuse -- and multiplied so rapidly that I needed to remove huge scoops of it every morning before it choked off the pond. (The plants were removed in the fall).

      Late spring 2017, I put in 4 new water hyacinths but was disappointed that they never really took off -- leaves were a paler green and they never came remotely close to multiplying the way the ones the previous year had. I attributed it to different plants. At the pond store yesterday I noticed their water hyacinth was deep green -- that is where I had purchased mine only 3 weeks ago, and mine were now a paler green. My plants are growing, albeit slowly. It seems logical that my fish are unhappy for the same reasons that the water hyacinth is.

      Back to the chemistries:
      1/4 cup baking soda added last night.
      pH has swung 2 full points today: 6.7 at 11:30 am; 8.5 at 4:30 pm
      "hardness" remains 0
      Alkalinity 180 at 11:30 am; 180 at 4:30 pm
      Nitrites remain 0
      Nitrates remain 10

      I did a 25% water change at 5:00 pm because of my concerns about the wide pH swings, even knowing that pH typically increases as the day goes on.

      Thank you everyone for your input -- it is invaluable and greatly appreciated. The pond is clearly unstable but I hope it is now headed in the right direction. I'll continue to report here -- this is a real learning experience and I anticipate more bumps before things re-stabilize.

    10. #10
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      I know the pond is small and the fish load is high, which makes it harder to keep up with. Do you have an air stone and aeration boiling some portion of the pond. Driving off the CO2 will keep the pH more stable.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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    11. #11
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      RichToyBox, no air stone but I absolutely plan to obtain one after the holiday -- tomorrow, if possible. Until this forum, I had never heard of them.

      Chemistries at 4:30 pm today:
      Ammonia unchanged 0.25
      Phosphate increased to 0.25
      pH continues to be unstable. Yesterday: 6.0 @ 11:30; 8.6 @ 4:30 pm. Now 9.0 -- the highest it has been. It was 6.0 on 5/23 @ 1:00 pm
      Nitrites remain 0
      Nitrates remain 10
      "Hardness" remains 0
      Total alkalinity (KH) 180. Yesterday @ 4:30 pm 180

      Goldfish remains lethargic; no significant change from yesterday.
      Koi seem somewhat more lethargic compared to yesterday PM. Anorexic.

      What do you recommend now?

      The KH seems OK but I am very worried about the elevated pH. One source suggested adding white vinegar (cautioning the water would turn cloudy). What about a 25% water change tonight? Or, should I try to hold off on any interventions, in hopes of adding an air stone tomorrow? I'm concerned that too many interventions make the pond harder to stabilize itself, and stress the fish even more than they already are.

      Again, thank you so much for your helpfulness and kindness.

    12. #12
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      The air stones should reduce the swing in the pH by driving off the acidic carbon dioxide, which will also improve the health of the fish by allowing them to expel a larger percentage of the carbon dioxide in their system from their gills. It could also raise the upper end of the pH and if that is the case, you may need to add some calcium chloride (pool hardness increaser) which will react with the carbonates that are driving the pH up, forming calcium carbonate, a precipitate that will no longer affect the pH. I would wait a day or so to see what the pH is doing and if it stabilizes above about 8.5, add slowly about 1/4 pound dissolved in the morning when the pH is lowest. When dissolving the calcium chloride generates a lot of heat, so be careful and don't allow it to burn you.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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    13. #13
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      All fish have been very lethargic for the past 2 days; not eating. pH has remained at 9.0 for the past 2 days. I have held all interventions for the past 2 days.

      Tonight (5/29/2018) -- chemistries @ 6:45 pm
      pH remains unchanged 9.0
      Ammonia 0.5
      Phosphate 0.5
      Nitrites 0
      Nitrates 0
      Alkalinity (KH) 180
      "Hardness" 0

      Two air stones installed tonight & are now bubbling merrily away. Thank you, RichToyBox.

      Because the pH was remaining at 9.0, MICROBE-LIFT pH DECREASE 30 ml (very conservative dose) at 6:45 pm
      pH remains 9.0 at 9:00 pm

      Will re-evaluate in AM

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      The use of a pH decreaser will first consume all of the KH before it will lower the pH, so don't. Instead use the calcium chloride to bring the pH down to 8.3/8.4. With a zero nitrate, it indicates the filter has not cycled, probably killed off by a pH crash. The good bacteria that convert the ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate do not like the very low pH values and in the process of conversions, generate a large amount of acids lowering the pH in the filter, killing more bacteria. The acids produced will be converted by the alkalinity to carbon dioxide and gassed off by aeration.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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      I think we are making progress. Slow progress, but progress.

      Since yesterday, all fish seem slightly perkier and not as deeply lethargic. The goldfish remains very quiet but even so, is moving more and at a brisker rate on occasion. Her fins are not as tightly clamped tonight and her dorsal fin is up. She's not separating herself as much from the "pack". "Big Boy" koi and the other 2 koi are eating small amounts. The goldfish hasn't eaten anything for at least 8-9 days...as well as consuming very little all spring. Except for yesterday, weather has been unseasonably cold: at 6:00 pm tonight it is only 54F. So, that may be contributing to their sleepiness.

      Yesterday afternoon, in addition to the 2 air stones installed the day before, I installed a 2nd filter which includes filter media that will support bacteria. The new filter/UV light combo also has a fountain spray aerator (PONDMAX SK650 ALL-IN-ONE FILTER SYSTEM). So, in the past 2 days aeration has increased from the double water fall (pictured above) to now also having 2 air stones & the new filter & fountain. I also pulled out ~1 gallon of river rocks the previous owner had on the pond bottom. From perusing another koiphen forum, it sounds like the rocks need to go. That will be a good project for later, after the pond and fish are stable, healthy, and happy.

      Chemistries, yesterday & today:
      pH mostly hovers around 9.0
      "alkalinity" 120 all day
      "hardness" (CH) 25
      Nitrite 0
      Nitrate 10

      I'm continuing to slowly try to nudge up the hardness / decrease the pH via calcium chloride.

      Should I be concerned about how long the goldfish can go this late spring / early summer without eating? Not that I can do anything more than what I already am...

      Any other comments or guidance? I plan to continue doing what I'm doing, slowly adding calcium chloride to increase the KH and eventually decrease the pH, unless advised otherwise.
      Last edited by SeriousCallersOnly; 05-31-2018 at 09:26 PM.

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      Don't worry too much about the feeding. They won't die of starvation. Keeping the food levels low will help to keep the ammonia and nitrite low. I would continue adding baking soda in the evening and calcium chloride in the morning to see if I couldn't get the numbers up some and the pH down. As each is added, the values of the other will drop some until the pH is about 8, so keep adding to make sure the pH is stable and down around the 8.3 area. Having the other filter will help, but it will take it about 6 weeks to fully develop, so don't expect immediate response from the bio portion.

      "Our goal is to assist with emergency and Koi health issues, as well as educate on best practices. Please help us gain a clear picture by giving the original poster time to answer our questions before offering opinions and suggested treatments."

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      Thanks to the wonderful help on this forum, my fish all seem to be doing very, very well. Things really turned around ~3-4 days ago.

      pH remains ~9.0 but the KH is now where it should be. Big Boy is ravenous and all are active. The goldfish is even doing well -- and she was at death's door for 1.5 weeks. She's not eating yet, but she is very social and active again, and seems to be grazing on the bottom of the pond. I will be continuing to tweak the chemistries as advised but am far less concerned compared to even 211 week ago.

      THANK YOU SO MUCH everyone! Without your help I am certain that I would have lost all of my fish. I am so, so appreciative! This site, and the kind, knowledgeable people on it, is the greatest!

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