A freshwater rehabilitation performed by reddit user /u/ErrantWhimsy
This is his photo of Phoenix, one of six bettas ErrantWhimsy has rehabilitated.
Thank you for letting us use this photo. ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
Question to you, the reader:
Which fish would you rather put into your display tank? Day-1 Phoenix? Day-25 Phoenix? Day-80 Phoenix? Which do you think would have a better survival rate against competing inhabitants?

This photo illustrates the power of quarantine + rehabilitation.

We've all done it before. In fact, I just did:

Go to LFS because they have fish, and fish are cool.

See they are having a 50% off fish sale.

See a host of lethargic, bottom of the barrel, last-pick fish.

See that the LFS closes tomorrow and they are remodeling the entire store.

Buy the fish because you needed a lawn mower blenny and clown anyways.
So now what? Are you really gonna toss these two fish into your main display tank, are you? Absolutely not. That's an easy ride on the way to a shiny new dead display tank.

There are a few different approaches to quarantining fish:

1) No quarantine:
Skipping any form of quarantine entirely, putting a severely weak fish into the fray for territory as soon as you get home.
Very high chance to introduce very deadly diseases and parasites.
Very high chance that the weak fish will not be able to compete against your current tank mates (Very high mortality rates.)

2) Quick observation period, halfway-committed quarantine: (1-4 weeks)
Quarantining for a short period of time to observe the fish for disease until the ammonia levels get too high so you hit the eject button and dump them into your main display.
Very high chance to introduce very deadly diseases and parasites (high mortality rates.)
High chance that the weak fish will not be able to compete against your current tank mates.

3) Expedited quarantine (4-5 weeks)
Dosing medications immediately whether or not the fish shows any signs of disease and providing a completely sterile environment throughout a 4-5 week period. Enough time to fix some disease and pest problems, but not enough time for the fish to reach its full fighting potential.
Still not the best chance of survival you can get.
No guarantee of preventing disease or parasite transfer as most diseases take longer than 4-5 weeks to completely dissipate.

When discussed in guides, casually on the forum, or one's own mind, quarantining suggests isolating a fish from your display tank and tossing in meds when they get sick. Kind of like you are a CDC operative during the zombie apocalypse. ;Hurting

But there is more to it than that, and far better options.

By skipping either of the two 8- or 12-week quarantine processes, you take away the most beneficial part of quarantine from your fish, the opportunity to rehabilitate. An 8-week or longer quarantine is a necessary step of the acclimation process. Nothing increases a fish's chance of success in a main display more than the opportunity to be nursed from a stressed fish back to their full strength, before making them find space in a tank with other fish; especially if your display consists of any aggressive species. If you have strong fish, they can fight off low-risk diseases and infections, kind of like healthy humans.

Here is where we split into two different types of thought:

4) Attempting total parasite/disease elimination: (8 weeks)
Dosing medications a few days after introducing fish so to avoid stress. Providing a completely sterile environment throughout an 8 week period. If the fish shows signs of disease, the quarantine period starts over.

A proven and tested method that works well at preventing disease transfer as much as possible.
Sometimes enough time to let the fish gain strength, depending on how much medication was used and for how long.

An idea I've been trying unknowingly for the past 10 years:

5) Low stress rehabilitation/quarantine (8-12 weeks)
Aims to rehabilitate fish over a long 8-12 week period. Rather than providing a sterile and disease-free environment, this method prioritizes low stress techniques over absolute sterility, using medications only when necessary and restarting the quarantine period to 8 weeks when major diseases or parasites are identified.
The goal of this method is not to entirely 100% attempt to guarantee the complete elimination of all possible diseases and parasites. Notice my redundancy and emphasizing 100%. I would say that 100% is actually impossible, leading to unexpected tank crashes when a sick fish or a small spot of ich reaches the main display and hits all the sparkly clean fish.
The real goal is aimed at increasing fish strength as much as possible so that they can hold their own against existing fish and ward off low-risk diseases already present in the main display.

Since the focus is usually on medicating fish and preventing diseases or parasites from making it into your display tank 100%, we often forget that fish need time to recover from their long journey from the ocean, or the breeder. This is usually a stressful process that swings though many different temperatures, salt levels, and multiple continuous exposures to ammonia. This journey can take up to 3-6 different transfers of stressful transportation, especially to big box LFS's. At this point in the process, your new fish is at the weakest point it has ever been in its entire life. I would even go as far to say that you have the potential at this point to completely destroy a fish's personality and cause permanent psychological damage, if you believe in that kind of stuff. Not to sound like a hippy, but I know without a doubt that my fish have their own individual personalities and mental states.

With a focus on disease prevention, and not rehabilitation, we forego necessary stress-reducing measures in favor of being as sterile as possible. This involves dumping fish into hard plastic pasta strainers or nets to remove bag water, handling them outside the tank to get a photo for disease id, (both of these damaging the protective slime coat of the fish, something I didn't even do when I used to go catch and release fishing) introducing copper as a protocol before identifying any potential diseases, and keeping them in a brightly lit bare bottom tank with no where to hide, or a few pieces of PVC. Dumping fish into a hard plastic strainer is enough force to cause spinal injuries and brain damage, at least use a net. All this so that the already physically and mentally destroyed fish can get from petstore to display tank in a time efficient manner and without getting in the way and transferring low risk diseases.

Now wouldn't it be crazy if I tried a low stress quarantine? One that lasted 8-12 weeks? A quarantine process so gentle and luxurious that they would think they're at the Ritz Carlton? Only using meds as a last resort? Would I be nuts for getting a few ounces of bag water into the QT tank in favor of dumping them into a plastic pasta strainer? I don't think it would be too crazy.

If the fish are under as least stress as possible, if I don't damage their slime coat anymore than the goofball at the petstore did, then they should have a better chance at fighting disease and parasites before needing medical intervention. This is going to require sacrificing some live rock.... Why? Well I usually sacrifice some rock to keep QT ammonia stable, lawnmower blennies really like GHA, and I just happen to be an expert at growing the stuff! Since Im not dosing with copper until I need to, the live rock can be removed and replaced with pvc, if treatment with meds is necessary.

Maybe there is some study that live rock reduces stress more than PVC...

At the end of the day, these are two really hardy fish, and I don't foresee them having big disease issues. I figure this type of QT process would be more beneficial for the hardier disease-resistant varieties. These kinds of fish should benefit more from rehabilitation time and stress reduction, than from blind medication. Keeping fragile fish, such as hippo tangs, would most likely be a bigger risk.

I personally don't see a benefit in hardcore medicating your fish with no signs of disease, if you're going to be putting them into a display where ich is already dormant anyways. It entirely depends on your tank-care philosophies, how sterile you keep your main display, and how you want to condition and prepare your fish for what lies ahead in your display tank.


So let's have a live case study.

Some general notes about my personal tank strategy:
I see certain diseases entering my tank as inevitable, thus they are not my primary concern. I do not provide a sterile environment. My focus is on raising strong fish that are capable at fending off these inevitable diseases, such as ich. Ich is dormant in my tank, in every tank I've ever kept, and in every LFS ever made. Since I am already quarantining for 8-12 weeks, I will have plenty of time to identify and medicate the serious parasites, velvet, flukes, or brooklynella, and reset the quarantine period to 8 weeks.

While purchasing a new 75G tank to make a sump, I came across a lawn mower blenny and maroon clown marked 50% off due to the store closing for remodel (and two 5gal buckets of coralife salt for 50% off :D). Unfortunately, both of these fish were under extreme stress as the blenny was wild caught and had a long journey from wherever. The store clerk taking 15 minutes to catch them only made this much worse (given the clerk's best efforts).

Upon observing them at the pet store, both fish had ripped fins, and both were breathing heavily from ammonia poisoning. The blenny's tail fin was almost nonexistent (due to ammonia burn) but had no signs of disease. The maroon clown had a single spot of ich on his dorsal fin and shredded fins. Depending on who you ask, many people do not have the time to deal with sick and beaten up fish. I decided I could commit to them since they're affordable, I've been researching and looking for these two, and I've got spare time.

A typical response to this situation would be to dip them into a chemical dip or freshwater, toss them into a tank already medicated with copper and under hypo salinity, and throw in some pvc 90's. Others may wait a few days before adding medication, regardless of diseases being present. The goal being to create a completely sterile environment....

The approach I took was to rehabilitate these two fish over the course of twelve weeks, together, in a 20G tall quarantine tank, 20lbs of healthy mature live rock with a GHA population for the blenny, and no immediate medications. The pet store already keeps their fish in hypo-salinity and copper, so I only brought salinity to 1.020. I will bring the salinity up over the course of the next four weeks.

It has already been three weeks, with both fish already showing their personality and swimming around again. It took two weeks for the lawnmower blenny to not run for his life as soon as I entered the door threshold. For the first two weeks, he would hide under the rock and stick against the rock upside down as much as possible to hide, literally glued onto the rock--a survival tactic common among camouflaged blennys due to being stressed beyond the limits.

I feel like this process was very successful for integrating the wild-caught blenny. The clown was tank raised and very friendly after only a few days, but the blenny was much slower to adjust. The clown's spot of ich dropped off within 1 hour. Ich has always been dormant inside my main display, if I focus on removing all the ich from the qt and then add them to my main display, the medication only has a negative effect in slowing down their rehabilitation. When more serious diseases or parasites arise and take hold, I will intervene accordingly, and if required, administer medication.

I wouldn't recommend this process if the fish you purchase is severely ill, is covered in parasites, or if you are dealing with disease-sensitive fish. In that case, I would most likely perform a dip and administer medication at the start of QT. But in my case, I saw very limited possibility for disease overtaking these two hardy marine creatures and decided to try a low-stress quarantine. This process does not entirely prevent diseases and parasites from hitchhiking into the main display, even after 8-12 weeks; however, my tank strategy is to reduce fish stress as much as possible so that they have a better chance at fighting disease on their own and at competing against the fish already in my main display.


Hopefully the clouds part and the biggest benefit for quarantining, rehabilitation, shows itself to you. Whether you wish to take the sterile route, or the low-stress route is entirely up to you; however, I am sure we can all agree that an 8-week quarantine should be a standard process to ensure your fish are strong and ready for integration to your main display. Rehabilitation should not be forgotten or ignored, regardless of how much you want to roll the disease dice. No matter how beat up and broken a fish may be, they all deserve the best fighting chance they can get.

Thank you for reading. This has been another long article and I would recommend more than one quick pass through before commenting. This topic deserves some serious thought and discussion. As always, I am looking forward to the discussions that follow. Come join us in the comments!

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This image was created by @Fish_Sticks, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
13453592_2019-02-06 14_51_46.jpg

This image was created by @Fish_Sticks, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

A freshwater rehabilitation performed by reddit user /u/ErrantWhimsy
This is his photo of Phoenix, one of six bettas ErrantWhimsy has rehabilitated.
Thank you for letting us use this photo. ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

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Author Profile: @Fish_Sticks

With a decade of experience keeping small ponds, arrays of juvenile wild caught freshwater species, freshwater planted aquariums, and reefs, my goal is to spark interesting and productive discussions in hopes that we each learn something new. In addition to patience, getting involved in discussions is the best way to find success with your reef!

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