Looking for reasons to die?
Koi do not spend their entire lives looking for reasons to die -in
fact, it is quite difficult to kill them. The fact that health problems,
disease and fatalities are so common in the hobby just confirms, in my
opinion, that many common notions and practices - despite their failure
- are still practiced with almost sacred reverence! I believe the most
important aspect of successful koi-keeping is to recognize that it
requires some degree of skill and knowledge, and we should be realistic
about our individual capabilities, especially when it comes to stocking.
I believe that the headlong rush to get involved with real 'hands-on'
fish-keeping lies at the root of many a health problem. The overwhelming
majority of diseases can be prevented by good pond husbandry and, with
few exceptions, the remainder can usually be resolved by early detection
and taking corrective action.
Early detection is the key
The next, but equally important, stage is learning how to detect when
something isn't right, and what to do before it becomes a serious
problem. A very common cause is a simple failure to spot or confront a
problem soon enough - which of course means that it becomes harder to
solve - and it often leads to other fish in the pond being affected. In
many cases, owners seem blind to problems which may be obvious once
My own theory is that while we spend a lot of time admiring our
'living jewels', we spend very little time 'examining' them. There is,
of course, the added difficulty that we are often unsure about what we
are supposed to be looking for.
Don't underestimate the seriousness of a problem
Another common failing in hobbyist fish-keeping is the tendency to
underestimate the seriousness of an injury or lesion. For instance,
bacterial ulcerations are often attributed to the fish knocking or
cutting themselves, and they are left to 'get better'. In reality, the
situation often worsens and spreads to others.. There is also a failure
to appreciate that the true extent of the problem, which isn't always
apparent when the fish is in the water, and most injuries almost always
looks worse when the fish is examined close up in a bowl.
I recall an occasion when I was asked to look at a cut on a koi's
head, which it had had for several weeks. When we put it in a bowl we
saw that the fish had an ulcer that had gone through to the skull, as
well as severe ulceration on the underside of the body. It was kinder to
put the fish down than attempt to treat it!
How many are affected?
Determining the full extent of a condition, be it parasitic or
bacterial has serious implications for the type and success of any
treatment. It is often this failure to establish how many fish are
affected, and the magnitude of the problem, that leads to stories of
people losing large numbers of fish over a period of months.
When fish are lost in this way it gives the impression that a
succession of fresh outbreaks has been caused (perhaps by some mystery
superbug) when in fact all the deaths had the same original cause. Had
the problem been diagnosed and treated originally the losses would
probably not have occurred.
It is crucial for successful koi-keeping that we owners are aware of
the condition of our fish, especially during spring and early summer.
This means taking the time to have a critical look and carry out a
Understandably, our eye is drawn to their colours, pattern and
graceful body shape - as well as their appealing faces - but it is all
too easy to overlook the tell-tale signs on other parts of the body.
Unfortunately, the charm and attraction of these living jewels can, in
this instance, be to their undoing
Ill health is a fact of life for all animals and koi are no
exception. However, our approach will have a major bearing on how
successful we are in dealing with health problems when they occur.
Problems few and far between
Healthy fish living in optimum conditions are normally able to resist
ill health and diseases. In this respect, they are no different to the
family cat or dog, which generally only requires occasional veterinary
attention. Unfortunately, as far as some owners are concerned, health
problems and losses are an annual event that are accepted as inevitable,
and much of the spring and summer can be spent treating sick fish or
administering chemical treatments to the pond to combat problems.
Success or expertise is judged on how many are 'saved' rather than on
how many become ill or die!
A common approach to health problems is often founded on the
'dartboard' principle. This involves making an educated guess as to the
nature of the problem and then applying a succession of chemical
treatments until they either recover or die. However, it is fair to say
that one of the main reasons why health problems get out of control is
because of failure of many owners to adopt a systematic approach to
health care and disease prevention.
If we think about the various steps involved in routine health care,
irrespective of the species of animal, we can conclude that there are
four basic steps that have to be followed in virtually all cases,
To spot problems as soon as they are
apparent and still minor
To determine exactly what the problem is
To determine and rectify the primary cause
of the problem (e.g. poor water quality)
To treat the patient, having determined what
the problem is and taken steps to eliminate it.
The real skill of koi-keeping is concerned with being able to
identify potential problems at an early stage and taking steps to
rectify the causes before a harsh treatment regime is required. Indeed,
in many cases, when a problem is spotted early enough, no treatment at
all is required, provided that the cause is rectified and optimum
conditions are restored as soon as possible. Applying a treatment
is the simplest thing to do and many fish-keepers seem to judge their
competence purely on that!