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I'm 100% with Byron on this one. . .
A QT tank and a hospital/sick tank are two different things, though we are often forced to use one tank for both purposes, because of space/money limitations. . .
First the QT side of things. . .which, in my limited personal experience is what this tank will *mostly* be used for :)
The fish that you bring home from the store has likely traveled quite a long way before it made it to your local shop. They've been boxed, bagged, and shipped from far off, often with a stop off at various distribution centers, before ever making it to your shop! It's likely that each stop along the way has different water parameters, and varying levels of care given - only the toughest will make it to the shop.
With all this in mind. . . these little fish really NEED a break when we get them home! They need a place to rest from all of their traveling, and get used to the water parameters, nose level, and how you run your tank without having to worry about anything, or feel threatened by anything for the first time in we have no idea how long! They NEED stability and calmness.
In my opinion, the ONLY way to properly do this is to give them a nicely planted, comfortable environment in a quiet corner of the house. Think about relaxing in a hospital as opposed to your home. Hospitals are clean, stark, and cold. Most people will recover far more quickly in the comfort of their own home! So. . . the idea is to make your QT tank as close to the fish's natural home as you can, without going *too* nuts about things. . .
With this in mind, If you can make changes to tailor the tank specifically to your new arrivals (like adding rock caves if you're bringing loaches home), do it! If they want to hide - let them! They'll feel much safer, calmer if given hiding places, and ultimately LESS likely to hide. Even the most skittish fish, given enough time in a good environment, will come around far more quickly in a tank like this than in an empty hospital tank! In most cases, a truly ill fish won't behave like the others, and will make his presence known in one way or another - and in most cases, you'll be happy to find that they come through like champs given an ideal environment and clean water.
Our fish live with a mind-boggling array of parasites, protozoans, and 'illnesses' but for the most part, they are able to fight these off on their own without any help from us, except of course, for clean water and stable parameters. In some cases, they may harbor nasties for their entire lives - it isn't in the best interest of most parasites to kill off their hosts. This isn't the case with every illness, of course (Ich being one prime example, along with some protozoans that really hit swiftly and spread through the tank at a rapid rate) but for the most part, it isn't until a fish is stressed that many of these latent issues are able to get the 'upper hand' and start to cause problems. Because of this, it is in your best interest as a fishkeeper to do all you can in helping the new arrivals to settle comfortably into their new home - I see it as a preventative measure for the new arrivals - if they feel safe and comfortable, they won't get 'sick' in the first place!
I also keep an extended QT period for my fish. I generally give them 8-12 weeks, depending on where they came from, if they were wild-caught, and the behavior I see from them. You'll know when they're ready to be moved. They'll be calm, showing colors, feeding well, and open. They'll own their tank. . .and I've found that when they reach this point, they rarely show much stress after the move into the 'main' tank, they flip immediately into exploratory mode, and settle right in as if they've always been there!
I'm a firm believer in using live plants for my tank, I feel that the fish CAN tell the difference, and also that fast growing stem plants and duckweed (cheap, easily replaceable) can make all the difference in the world in a tank that has rapidly changing stocking levels. I personally like to keep my tank running at all times, fully cycled, as this allows the tank to 'mature' and establish. I have seen direct evidence that fish feel absolutley more at home in a tank that is 'old,' as opposed to one freshly set up. EVEN when you use pre-seeded media to ensure a stable cycle - there's a difference in behavior (though my fish do tend to be fussier than your average guppy, so it could just be my limited experience, lol!)
That said, I also am sure to keep back up filter media - TWO sets, actually. ONE I add when I add new fish, to ensure that there is enough bacteria to handle the bioload of, say, a shoal of 20 tetra. The second I keep on-hand to replace the first in the event that I am forced to use a medication that knocks out the beneficial bacteria established in the tank (this has not yet happened, but I'm ready!)
THEN there's the hospital tank side of things, which for me must be the same tank. Because of this, I have found that it's a good idea to keep a supply of artificial plants on-hand so that if you have to use medications that will kill plant-life, you can maintain the 'comfort' of the tank by replacing the living ones with the artificial ones as needed. Personally, I do this as the plant-life begins to fail. Early enough to avoid ammonia spikes due to massive die-off because of the medication but bit by bit, and not all at once. It seems gentler to me to do gradually, and less stressful to the sick fish (though I'm sure that some meds will kill off an entire tank of plants at the same time, I've never had to use these!). Because I do things this way, I tend to prefer to keep stem plants and duckweed in the QT tank - cheap enough to replace, fast growing enough to handle cycle flux, and. . . fast growing enough that there can always be more spread through other tanks to replace any that has been lost/contaminated because of medication or illness. I also keep artificial floaters on-hand to replace the duckweed with if necessary, to ensure that the fish will always be given the benefit of a shaded tank. It adds so much to the comfort of many species. . . A thin layer of cheap playsand is my substrate, I have a bag on-hand for if I need to siphon out all of it and replace it in case of medicating. . .
Sorry to go on so long about this. . .it happens to be a topic that I feel VERY strongly about! I just can't help but feel bad for all of those fish coming 'home' to barren hospital tanks, and I really feel that it isn't the kindest way to go about things - even though I know that it tends to be the standard. . .
P.S. don't forget to equip your QT/hospital tank with a bubbler. You'll need it in case of medications - and be sure to have extra air-stones on hand at all times :) Good luck!
Last edited by Chesh; 02-23-2013 at 09:38 PM..