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the best possible care of your new fish, including: • The best places to acquire a koi
published by Barnes & Noble
Learn how to care for these stunning, elegant fish.
Koi make beautiful, docile, and interesting pets. This guide shows you how to take
• The gear you need to create the right environment for your koi • Feeding and healthcare tips to prolong your koi’s life
Meet the Koi
The keeping of koi is a hobby that can last a lifetime: wellcared-for koi can live for decades. The care of these beautiful fish is relatively basic, but they require an enormous amount of space in which to live, so koi are almost always kept in large outdoor ponds. Keeping koi can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, but the high cost of the fish themselves and the construction of their habitat makes koi ownership a task that no one should enter into lightly.
As juveniles, koi have an inferior mouth—a mouth pointed downward that helps the fish feed off the bottom of the pond. As the koi age, their mouths gradually turn upward.
Although all koi are of the same species (Cyprinus carpio), there are countless different types of koi within that species. The terms used to describe different koi are class and variety. Each class comprises one or many varieties. For example, Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa are all single-variety classes, while the Kawarimono class includes dozens of unique varieties of koi. There are also subvarieties within each group, with Japanese terminology to distinguish them from other, similar koi. The Kohaku class alone has distinct terms for two, three, and four-step-pattern koi; words to describe their scalation; and other terms that describe their markings. This system can seem a bit overwhelming for people new to the hobby: for example, a Doitsu Sandan Maruten Kuchibeni Kohaku is a white and red nonmetallic fish (Kohaku) with mirror scales (Doitsu), a three-step pattern (Sandan), a separate patch of red on the head (Maruten), and red lips (Kuchibeni). Fortunately, you don’t need to know all of this terminology to select a quality fish. But being able to at least recognize some of the different classes of koi will help you choose the type that’s most aesthetically pleasing to you. The following are just a few of the different koi classes available for purchase. • Bekko: Koi with a white, red, or yellow base and black markings are classified as Bekko. The Shiro Bekko, a white koi with black markings in the same configuration as a Sanke, is the most common. Other varieties include the Aka Bekko, a red fish with black markings and no traces of white; and a Ki Bekko, a lemon-yellow koi with black, Sanke-type markings.
• Kohaku: The first and most common koi variety, Kohaku are white fish with overlying red patterns in various shapes and sizes. Even distribution and high intensity of the red markings (hi in Japanese) are the signs of a good-quality Kohaku.
Koi are descendants of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). They originated in China and first appeared in Chinese writings dating from around 300 CE. When the common carp arrived in Japan roughly 1,000 years ago, farmers kept the fish in their mud ponds to supplement their daily diet of rice and vegetables. After several centuries, reportedly around 1840 CE, the carp produced mutations that formed the beginning of the modern koi’s colorful appearance. These first “colored carp” originated in the Niigata prefecture of Japan, where fish farmers produced and kept the fish as a hobby (rather than eating them). A process of selective breeding over the following decades produced the many color and pattern variations that exist among the different strains of koi now available.
• Sanke: A Sanke is essentially a Kohaku with additional black markings that shouldn’t extend below the lateral line. (The lateral line is a narrow canal under the scales that begins behind the gill cover and extends the entire length of the body to the base of the tail. It is made of small sensory pores that can detect the slightest vibration in the water.) Variations of Sanke include Matsunosuke Sanke, which show faint blue-gray colors that gradually deepen to black; Aka Sanke, which have large areas of red uninterrupted by the pattern; and Maruten Sanke, which have self-contained red markings on the head and elsewhere on the body.
• Showa: First developed in 1927, the traditional Showa is predominantly red, with black and white in roughly equal proportions throughout the body. If more than half the body appears red when viewed from above, the fish is referred to as a Hi Showa.
Koi vary a great deal in terms of coloration and pattern, but in general they are very large fish capable of reaching up to 40" (1 m) in length. They have two pairs of barbels (slender protrusions covered in taste buds that help the koi find food), one pair on either side of the mouth. These barbels help differentiate koi from goldfish, which some koi can resemble.
• Utsurimono: Although there are three varieties of koi classified as Utsurimono, only one, the Shiro Utsuri, is common to the pet trade. A Shiro Utsuri is a glossy, jetblack fish with white markings. The amount of black increases as the fish ages. Utsurimono with red as the secondary color instead of white are known as Hi Utsuri and closely resemble Hi Showa except that they lack white coloration.
How to Obtain a Koi
You can obtain koi from a variety of sources, including: • Aquarium stores • Internet vendors • Specialist dealers Until you gain experience in the hobby, ask a seasoned koi keeper to assist you in making the best possible choice. Allow yourself plenty of time to view the fish, ask questions of the vendor, and avoid making a purchase unless you see a fish you really want. If you choose to acquire a fish from a dealer, find a reputable one through an aquarium club or organization, or research fish breeders on the internet. When visiting a new dealer for the first time, keep an eye out for the following: • Are the premises nicely laid-out and tidy? • Does the staff use separate nets for each pond or vat and disinfect them between uses? • Does the dealer stock all the necessary equipment for koi care as well as the fish? • Is the holding water in which the koi are kept well filtered and clear? • Do all the fish appear healthy? A dealer who meets all these criteria is likely to be an excellent source for koi.
Koi are among the most social of fish, especially with regard to their keepers. They possess an impressive ability to recognize their owner from other humans, and it’s not uncommon for koi to come to the surface of their pond when their favorite human passes by (and ignore the presence of other people altogether). Koi are relatively docile fish and can’t share a pond with more aggressive types. Their placid nature, coupled with their bright colors, make them likely targets for bullies and other predatory fish.
Koi are available for purchase both in large chains and local fish stores. If you buy your koi from one of these stores, it’s likely to be less expensive than it would be from a specialized dealer, but the fish itself will be of lesser quality, and the employees aren’t likely to know much about the proper way to keep koi. Aquarium stores are good sources for koi if you’re unable to purchase from a dealer or are new to koi ownership and inexperienced in caring for these fish. If you buy a fish from an aquarium store, you can take it home that day.
How to Choose a Healthy Koi
As with any animal, it’s important to pick a healthy individual. This is especially true for koi, which are more expensive than most other aquarium fish. When examining prospective koi, look for the following characteristics: • Good body shape and skin quality • Well-distributed pattern along the full length of the body • Nicely shaped head • Fins that are in proportion to the body • Straight spine • Lively, energetic behavior • No signs of illness, injury, or parasites No koi is perfect—all fish exhibit both good and bad qualities. But the merits of top-quality koi invariably outweigh their faults. Even koi with minor abrasions and splits in their fins can heal with proper treatment. Still, try to purchase koi that are as healthy and free of blemishes as possible.
Many koi retailers worldwide now have their own websites, enabling you to purchase koi online. These sites usually feature a description of the company, a list of available koi and associated products for sale by mail order, and images of available fish. However, even the best photos can give a misleading impression of the fish, so be cautious about buying a koi without seeing it first, especially if you lack experience with the fish. Before you make an online purchase, research any dealers that interest you to make sure that they are reputable. If you buy a fish in this manner, you’ll probably have to pay additional shipping charges to ensure speedy delivery.
Gear for Your Koi
Because koi are such large fish, the setup you must provide for them is considerably different from that required for a smaller aquarium fish. The biggest difference is how koi are housed: rather than keep an indoor aquarium, most people keep koi in outdoor ponds that are much larger than the average fish tank.
Where to Get a Koi
Although koi are expensive, in the long term the cost of the actual fish is small compared to the outlay of the pond and the ongoing bills for food, medications, and electricity place. When purchasing koi, buy the best one you can afford. Japanese koi are considered the finest in the world and are consequently the most difficult and expensive to acquire. Even ordinary-grade Japanese koi compare favorably with the best koi from other countries such as Israel, the United States, South Africa, China, Singapore, and Cyprus. As the quality of the fish improves, the asking price rises, so when acquiring a koi you must balance the fish you want against the fish you can afford.
A dealer is the ideal place to purchase your koi. Reputable dealers care about their fish and are a valuable source of advice and assistance to those who purchase from them. Good dealers only sell to buyers they feel will take proper care of their fish, and they will likely refuse to sell until they are convinced the buyer’s pond is suitable for koi.
A koi pond is a large and expensive undertaking. Whether you purchase a precast fiberglass pond, design and build a pond on your own, or hire a professional to install a pond for you, it must be well built, sturdy, easy to access and maintain, and of the right size to hold the number of koi you plan to purchase. If you choose to design and build your own pond, consult a professional about your plans before you attempt the project and as you proceed.
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Content derived from the book The Essential Book of Koi: A Complete Guide to Keeping and Care ISBN: 978-0-7938-0623-2 This document has been published with the intent to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter within. While every reasonable precaution has been taken in preparation of this document, the author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any errors, omissions, or adverse effects arising from the use or application of the information contained herein. The techniques and suggestions are used at the reader’s discretion and are not to be considered a substitute for veterinary care. If you suspect a medical problem consult your veterinarian.
Also, because your pond will become a major feature of your yard, consider how it will affect the other aspects of your yard (and vice versa). For example, when you mow your lawn, will the grass clippings fall into the water? Could any pesticides you use in your yard pollute the water? Will you need to prune any trees that would hang over the pond? If you build the pond using a liner, are there any roots from nearby trees and large shrubs that could puncture it? You must address these questions before installing your pond. If you have young children or pets, locate your pond carefully to prevent accidents. A raised pond with a decorative pattern on the wall around the perimeter is an ideal design. When your children are old enough that the pond no longer poses a danger, you can remove the paneling.
Water temperature has a profound influence on the physiology and health of koi. Warmer temperatures cause koi to become more active, eat more, grow, produce more waste, and spawn. Decreased temperatures, on the other hand, cause koi to become less active, and their appetites decline, as does the efficiency of their immune systems. Although heating your pond isn’t absolutely essential— as long as the water doesn’t freeze in the winter, your koi will adjust to seasonal temperatures—it does give you the ability to control your fish’s environment completely. Also, if you acquire your koi from a breeder who keeps his fish in heated ponds, your fish has never experienced cold water conditions and should live in water at the temperature to which it’s accustomed. You can either acclimate your fish to colder temperatures over time or simply maintain a constant temperature by heating your pond. However you choose to heat your pond, the heater must have a thermostat that allows you to adjust the water temperature. Because your pond is outdoors and exposed to the elements, keep a thermometer in the pond and check the water temperature daily, adjusting the heat as needed.
Plan to provide a minimum of 300 gallons (1136 L) per fish, but even more than this is ideal for allowing your koi ample room to grow. An improperly sized or overcrowded pond can lead not only to stunted growth but often chronic diseases such as fin rot or ich due to poor water quality and high stress levels. If you don’t have room in your yard or garden for a very large koi pond, adjust the number of fish you plan to keep in your pond according to the space you do have.
Koi have considerable body mass and consume food accordingly, thus producing a lot of waste, which they expel into the water. A filter is the most important piece of equipment you will purchase for your pond because it removes toxins and impurities from the water that these wastes cause. There are three basic pond filtration methods: • Mechanical: This filter removes matter in the pond, such as excrement, uneaten food, and old vegetation from aquatic plants. The water passes through a sponge or floss medium inside the filter and then flows back into the pond, capturing these waste particles. • Biological: The most important filter in your pond, a biological filter is a special bacterial colony growing in a medium through which the pond water is directed to pass. Some good bacteria eat ammonia produced by the fish, changing it to nitrite, which is eaten by other bacteria, turning it into far less harmful nitrate. Biofiltration bacteria must attach to a surface. Porous materials such as sponges and lava rocks provide an abundant surface area on which good bacteria can grow. • Chemical: Chemical filtration removes unwanted substances from the water by chemical means. The most common medium is activated carbon, but resins are available to remove specific contaminants such as phosphate or ammonia. A chemical filter won’t remove all the pollutants in the water, however, and must be used in conjunction with other filter types.
A number of factors will determine the shape of your pond, including the amount of space it can occupy, the existing landscaping in your yard, and your own tastes. For example, if your pond will be built within or adjacent to a patio, the design is likely to be very formal: rectangular, L-shaped, aboveground with brick walling, or something similar. Informal circular or kidney shapes are usually associated with a more natural design, and it’s easier to control water flow with these types than with rectangular ponds.
How you decorate or landscape your pond and the surrounding area is entirely up to you, as long as nothing that you add can be harmful to your fish. For example, before adding any live plants, research the type you are thinking of including to make sure that it isn’t toxic to fish. Also, avoid including anything with sharp edges that your koi could scrape up against and hurt itself on. As long as your decorative ideas are safe for your fish, you’re limited by only your imagination (and your budget).
When building a new koi pond, your first consideration must be what materials to use. Your decision should take into account the ground conditions in the intended location, financial constraints, and the planned shape of your pond. The following are the three most popular pond types: • Liner ponds: The quickest and least expensive method of building a pond is to dig a hole and fit a liner into it. The three main options are PVC (for small ponds only), butyl rubber, and EPDM rubber. Even though installing a liner is an easier method of building a koi pond, it’s still a large undertaking for which you will likely require professional help. • Precast fiberglass: Precast ponds are tough, durable, and quick to fit. Not much building knowledge is necessary to install them, and they are available in a variety of shapes and designs from several manufacturers. However, they are also relatively expensive, and most are too shallow to be suitable for koi. If you choose to install a precast pond, use one that can hold an excess of 1,000 gallons (3,785 L), because this volume reacts more slowly to temperature variations. (It also may be a good idea to add an inline heater to stabilize the water temperature.) • Rendered block-built: Built out of cement blocks and then lined on the inside, this type of pond is strong and lacks the creases that might form in a liner pond. However, they are expensive, time-consuming, and demand a wide range of skills, including bricklaying, plastering, plumbing, fiberglassing, and carpentry, as well as a thorough understanding of electricity supply, loading, and wiring. This type of pond requires professional installation.
With any aquarium comes a certain amount of necessary maintenance tasks that you must perform on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the chore.
You’ll need to perform the following tasks on a daily basis: • Check the water level of the pond. • Observe each inhabitant to see if any are behaving strangely or appear to have health problems. • Glance at the thermometer to make sure that the water temperature is adequate. • Check the filter to make sure that it is running properly—and that a particularly rambunctious fish hasn’t damaged it.
How to Select a Filter
You can choose from a variety of commercially available filters. Some of these filters are basic and only provide one means of filtration, while others combine more than one or all three. These are the ideal filters for your koi pond. You want a filter that can keep up with the large amount of waste that koi produce, with an abundant surface area for colonization by good bacteria. Also, the filter should be easy enough to maintain that you won’t dread having to clean it (and thus do so less frequently). Choosing the correct system can be a difficult decision, especially if you’re on a limited budget. Remember that this is the single most important purchase you’re likely to make when constructing your pond, and any mistake could be extremely costly in the long run. Research possible filters thoroughly before deciding which system is best for you.
Weekly maintenance of your koi pond should include: • • • • Perform a partial water change. Inspect filter cartridges to see if they need replacing. Inspect hoses and the pond itself for leakage. Offer your fish a treat in the form of live insects or orange slices. • Test the water quality to make sure that the pH, oxygen, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are acceptable.
Build your pond as close as possible to your home so that you can view the fish all year long and in all weather conditions. However, the excavation must be at least 39" (1 m) away from the house, or you’ll risk undermining your house’s foundation.
Perform the following tasks once every month: • Perform a major water change. • Service the filter thoroughly (not at the same time as the water change). • Check all air hoses and connections. This method equalizes all water conditions, including temperature, between the pond and the water in which the new koi has been swimming. It takes a while, but it’s time and effort well spent.
the fish you have in mind would be a suitable pondmate for your koi. Even then, remember that each fish has its own personality, and you must watch them carefully when kept with other fish to see how they get along.
Regardless of where a koi originates or how expensive it is, there’s always the potential for it to be carrying serious bacterial infections or viral diseases upon arrival. If you are adding a new koi to an existing koi pond, you must quarantine your new arrival before introducing it to its new environment so that you can watch for signs of any illness the new koi might be carrying.
How to Feed Your Koi
Koi are omnivorous, meaning they feed on both plant and animal material, although they tend to prefer aquatic insects and larvae. However, few koi ponds contain aquatic plants because the koi are typically the main focus of the feature, and owners don’t like to distract from the fish. This absence of plant life means you must provide your koi with an adequate diet.
Clean your filters about once every month, but don’t clean them completely. A perfectly clean pond with an immaculate filter is actually not healthy for your fish. Without the good bacteria that can grow on filters and other surfaces, toxins such as ammonia are more likely to thrive. Rinse sponge filters gently in pond water so that the good bacteria remain undisturbed. Mechanical filters require more thorough cleaning so that the filter doesn’t get clogged and leave excess wastes in the water, producing more toxins than the good bacteria in the pond can handle. If your filter contains a cartridge, take the cartridge out and discard it, then replace it with a new cartridge that has first been run under treated water (water with chlorine and chloramine removed with commercially available chemicals) at the same temperature as the water in the pond. Clean only one filter at a time in old pond water to remove as few beneficial bacteria from the pond as possible.
How to Quarantine Your Koi
A quarantine facility should provide a pond environment on a smaller scale, but not too small. The more swimming space you can afford your koi in quarantine, the better. Keep equipment solely for use in the quarantine phase, and mark it as such so that it doesn’t come into contact with your main pond. Fish don’t have to come into contact with one another to spread disease. Nets, hoses, or even your hands can transfer pathogens from one container to another. The length of the quarantine period is up to the individual hobbyist: some koi keepers hold fish back from their ponds for up to a year to minimize the risk, while others quarantine for just a few weeks. Of course, the length of quarantine is not the only issue. The care of the koi, the quality of its accommodations, and other factors such as water quality and temperature all play a part in the manifestation of illness.
What to Feed Your Koi
Koi are enthusiastic eaters, but it’s up to you to provide your fish with a balanced and nutritious diet to keep it healthy and happy. You can feed your koi commercially available food items, live insects, or a combination of both, as well as occasional fresh foods, treats, and dietary supplements.
How to Acclimate Your Koi
The process of acclimating a new koi helps it adjust to the water in the new pond where it will live. Acclimation is absolutely necessary for all new fish: if the chemistry of the water in your pond is drastically different from that of the water in which the koi arrived, the chemical shock can kill the koi outright or weaken it so badly that it succumbs in a short while. Acclimation not only keeps a new koi from receiving these severe shocks but also prevents the introduction of any outside disease organisms or unwanted chemicals into your pond. The following method of acclimation takes a little time but requires only a container and some airline tubing. 1. Place the koi in a large, shallow container with all the transport water. 2. Remove some of the transport water until it slightly exposes the back of the koi. 3. Tie a loose knot in the length of airline tubing. 4. Put one end of the tube into the pond, and suck on the other end to start a siphon. 5. As soon as the water begins to flow through the tube, tighten the knot until the water is merely dripping slowly from the tubing into the container. (You want just a drop or two to escape per second.) 6. When the volume of water in the container has doubled or tripled, stop the drip and remove the volume of water needed to slightly expose the fish’s back again. 7. Repeat the siphoning process at least two more times to ensure that the majority of the old water has been removed. 8. Allow the koi to sit in the container (which now contains mostly new pond water) for another 10–15 minutes. 9. Carefully net the koi out of the container, then release the fish into the pond.
Prepared dry foods manufactured for use with koi are the most common and convenient to give to your fish. These products come in a variety of sizes and shapes, typically pellets, granules, tablets, flakes, and chunks. They are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, nutritious, and easily stored. The best type and size of food to offer your koi depends on its age, size, and even the time of year. For example, smaller-sized pellets are usually given to koi two years of age or younger, while large pellets are best for larger adult koi. Also, koi require more protein in their diet during the summer and less during the autumn and spring, so you should feed products high in protein during warmer weather and use a different food item (such as wheat germ sticks) during the cooler months. Changing suddenly to a new brand or different type of food often results in a koi refusing to feed. When switching from one type of food to another, always begin by mixing a little of the new food in with the original one. Over a period of 7–10 days, gradually increase the amount of new food and reduce the original feed.
Koi are relatively docile fish that get along well with one another but may have problems sharing a pond with more aggressive or smaller types of fish.
Compatibility with Other Koi
Your biggest concern when keeping multiple koi is the size of your pond. Koi of all different varieties can happily share the same space, but overcrowding reduces water quality and stresses the fish. As long as there is ample room in your pond to accommodate them, koi kept together will be peaceful and form social bonds that can last their entire lifetime.
Insects and larvae make excellent additions to a koi’s diet, although your koi pond is likely to attract insects on its own. If you choose to offer your koi insects, then mealworms, waxworms, bloodworms, blackworms, tubifex worms, and soft-shelled crickets are all suitable food items. Feed insects sparingly, and don’t feed them to your koi if you can’t guarantee they were collected in a pesticide-free environment. Avoid stinging insects such as bees, wasps, and biting flies. Fireflies are also dangerous to feed your koi. The chemicals that cause them to glow are toxic and can kill your fish if ingested.
Compatibility with Other Types of Fish
Most koi owners only keep koi in their ponds, but you can mix different types of fish with your koi as long as you choose them properly. Koi can’t coexist with any larger or more aggressive fish because they will either be eaten or injured. Conversely, fish that are significantly smaller than your koi are likely to be eaten themselves. Any fish you select for your pond not only must be as peaceful as koi but must also be capable of thriving in the environment provided by your pond. Before adding new species of fish to your pond, find out everything you can about the type of fish you’re considering. Talk to other koi keepers, pet shop employees, and anyone else you think could help you learn about whether
Koi relish many fresh foods that provide vitamins and minerals. The following are some fresh foods you can offer your koi. Keep in mind that these are meant to be occasional treats and shouldn’t function as a dietary staple. • Garlic: Koi love garlic and are attracted to any food coated with it. Coating food with garlic is a good way to entice your koi to eat out of your hand. • Lettuce: Lettuce is an excellent treat for koi. At first, serve lettuce by shredding the leaves yourself and floating them on the pond. After several weeks, you can float a whole head of lettuce on the water, and your koi will enjoy tearing off the pieces on its own. Once all the leaves have been eaten, remove the stalk from the water. • Oranges: Another koi favorite, oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps reduce stress and improves the immune system. You can serve these by cutting them into segments and putting them in the pond with the rind left intact. Your koi will tear away the flesh, leaving the rind, which you should remove once your fish is finished eating. • Prawns: Koi thoroughly enjoy prawns, which are a good source of protein. Feed these to your koi in the summer, when the water temperature is higher and your fish can better digest protein.
The amount of food that koi consume varies according to the season—or specifically, the temperature of their water. Koi in heated ponds can have a regular, year-round diet because they don’t have to adjust to a change in their water temperature. In unheated ponds, koi are most active in the summer and feed hungrily several times each day. With optimum temperatures and food availability, this is the season in which koi grow the most rapidly. Conversely, in the winter months, koi in unheated ponds consume little, and their growth is very slow.
The Dangers of Overfeeding
Rather than feeding too much at once, it’s better to feed your koi sparingly but frequently, and to offer more food only if it’s consumed very quickly. Excess food won’t necessarily harm your koi, but it doesn’t get digested efficiently and is simply voided as a waste product. This excess waste pollutes the water and places a burden on the filtration system. If you spot any uneaten food in your koi pond, remove it immediately. Uneaten food decomposes in the water, producing toxins that diminish the quality of the water and harm your fish.
How to Feed During the Summer
Food consumed during the summer provides energy, aids tissue maintenance and repair, spurs growth, and provides nutrients the fish can store to help it survive the winter. When water temperatures are 64–68°F (18–20°C), your koi should eat a high-protein diet designed to promote growth. In cooler temperatures, protein becomes more difficult for a koi to digest and is simply excreted, which not only does nothing to benefit your koi nutritionally but also pollutes the pond water.
How Often to Feed
At temperatures around 68°F (20°C), koi should eat 2–3 times a day. Koi living in colder temperatures (50–59°F or 10–15°C) require feeding only once a day. If you keep your koi in a heated pond, feed it according to the temperature of the water in which you keep it.
Keeping koi is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, but whenever animals are held in a captive environment, there may be occasions when one becomes sick. Most of the illnesses a koi might experience are caused by poor water conditions and stress, so taking proper care of your pond and your fish should be enough to prevent most health issues. Test your water regularly, ensure that the filters are clean and well maintained, and observe your koi every day. Watching and learning your koi’s normal behavior will help you recognize signs of illness more readily. You should also find a local veterinarian to whom you can bring your fish should it become ill. When keeping other, less expensive types of fish, aquarists can handle many health problems themselves by raising the water temperature slightly, adding a small amount of salt, or by administering medication. In the case of a koi, however, it’s best to have professional help when dealing with health problems to ensure that it receives the best treatment possible.
Additives and Supplements
Dietary additives can enhance the natural coloration of your fish. In the summer, hobbyists often mix color-enhancing feeds, which typically contain shrimp meal and spirulina extract, into their fish’s diet. However, the red color patterns of koi are determined genetically, and although these colorenhancing feeds provide the raw ingredients necessary to enhance that color, if the red fades, these additives won’t restore it. Supplements boost the immune system and general health of koi. Some of these supplements are already incorporated into commercial foods, but manufacturers have developed new and more effective products in powdered form that you can mix with existing feeds. You may want to speak to your veterinarian before introducing a dietary supplement to your koi, however. Just as too little of any nutrient can be dangerous for your pet, so can too much of one be detrimental to its health.
How to Feed in Autumn and Spring
As the water temperature drops in the cooler months, koi appetites gradually decline. During this time, reduce the amount of food you offer and gradually change from a highprotein feed to a wheat germ–based diet, which is easier to digest in lower temperatures. At temperatures of less than 46–50°F (8–10°C), koi cease to feed altogether. During the coldest periods of the year, a koi in an unheated pond won’t feed at all and will rely on the nutrients it’s already stored to last it through the winter. As the weather turns warmer again and the koi begins seeking out food, offer the wheat germ–based diet again and gradually mix it with the summer feed as the water warms up.
Just as you would quarantine a new fish before introducing it to a new pond, so should you quarantine a sick koi to prevent it from infecting other fish in the pond. The hospital container should be large enough to comfortably accommodate a single koi and should have a bare, easy-toclean setup that doesn’t offer parasites or other pathogens places to hide and reproduce. Whenever you need to isolate and treat a sick fish, you need only fill this container with water from your pond to have it ready in minutes.
How Much to Feed
How much and how often to feed your koi depends on its age and body temperature. Koi fry (newly hatched koi) and fish up to one year old eat 5–10% of their body weight on days when the water temperature is around 68°F (20°C). At these same temperatures, koi that are between one and three years of age consume about 5% of their body weight daily, and adult fish—three years of age or older—consume about 2%. In other words, an adult koi weighing 2.2 pounds (1 kg) should consume 0.7 oz (20 g) of food on a daily basis in 68°F (20°C) weather. A good rule of thumb to follow when feeding your koi is to offer as much as your fish consumes within 2–3 minutes at each feeding. When you first offer the food, you’ll notice a surge of activity in your koi, but as it gets enough to eat it will begin to feed more lazily. The point at which your fish begins to feed more casually is the moment to stop adding more food.
Foods to Avoid
Certain foods often used with many other pond fish are not suitable for koi. These include: • • • • • • Birdseed Bread Corn Peanuts Peas Rice
How to Administer Medication
On occasions when you need to treat a condition or illness with medication, any medicine required by a single sick fish should be administered in a hospital container. If you need to treat your entire fish population, you can add the medicine to your pond, but adding medicine to an environment that contains one sick fish among several healthy ones can hurt or kill the healthy fish and any live plants you might be keeping in the pond. Be sure to use the correct dose when administering medication. Overmedicating the water runs the risk of creating stronger bacteria that are resistant to the medication.
Bread-based foods and rice swell when exposed to water and can cause an intestinal blockage in your fish. Corn, peanuts, and seeds can also cause a blockage because koi can’t digest them. Peas and other foods rich in carbohydrates can lead to obesity in your fish.
Signs of Illness
Paying regular attention to your fish and its behavior patterns will make you more aware of small changes that may be the first signs of illness. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your koi, it is likely due to a health problem. • • • • • • • • • • • • Bloating or emaciation Folded or clamped fins Hanging from the surface of the water Lesions, spots, or bumps Loss of appetite Loss of luster Lying on the bottom of the pond Pale gills Ragged fins Rubbing against surfaces (“glancing”) Slow reaction to disturbances Sluggish or aimless swimming are most often found on the belly and throat of a koi, and occasionally at the base of the fins. Infected koi may rub themselves against the walls of the pond in an attempt to scrape the parasites from their bodies, but doing so often causes more damage to the fish than the parasites themselves. Infected areas appear inflamed and flushed in color, and in severe cases, the fish can become so weak that they die. If you find lice on your fish, you can remove them individually with a pair of tweezers, then treat the attachment spot with commercially available medication. You’ll have to repeat the treatment several times because the lice lay rows of tiny eggs along the pond walls that hatch and attach themselves to the fish. You can reduce the number of eggs in the pond by tying pieces of plants or even twigs into bundles and placing them in the water. Female lice will lay their eggs on the bundles, and you can remove and destroy them every week or so to gradually reduce the number of lice hatching in the pond.
The symptoms of KHV include rapid breathing; a patchy, pimply white appearance on the skin; eroded gills; and sunken eyes. There is no cure for this or any other viral infection, but you can reduce the likelihood of your koi contracting KHV by refraining from sharing equipment with other hobbyists, disinfecting your own equipment regularly, and quarantining any new fish you acquire (and keeping equipment associated with your quarantine facility separate from that used in your pond).
Stress, which can be brought on by many things, can lead to serious illness or even death in koi. When a fish experiences repeated or long-term stress, its immune system is compromised and it becomes susceptible to many illnesses. If your koi is not in optimal health, there is a good chance it’s being exposed to stress in one form or another.
Potential Stress Factors
Most stressors for your fish are the product of its environment. If your fish is behaving abnormally, evaluate the way you have been maintaining your pond. • Have you been overfeeding your koi, and are you feeding it the proper diet? • Is your pond overcrowded? Overcrowding your koi can cause a breakdown in water quality and place major stress on inhabitants. • Is the pond of a proper size for the fish you’re keeping? • Are your biofilters properly maintained? Good bacteria must flourish in abundance to keep up with ammonia and nitrates in the pond, and poor water quality is a major stressor for fish. • Is the water temperature at the right level?
If your fish has white spots that almost make it look like it’s been salted, a protozoan called ich (pronounced “ick”) is most likely the culprit. Ich spots are formed by parasites embedded in the fish’s skin. These parasites also attack the gills, where they’re much more difficult to detect and much more dangerous to the fish. Ich is common and highly curable, but it’s also very contagious and usually fatal if left untreated. For most fish, you can often eliminate ich by raising the water temperature and adding a bit of salt to the water. However, with koi it’s best to consult a veterinarian, who will give you medication that you can add to the water to eliminate ich. Be very careful to add the correct dose to your koi’s water, because too much can harm the fish. You may be able to put a single afflicted fish in a hospital container and treat it there, but chances are if you have one fish infected with ich, the other fish in your pond are also infected or will be soon, so it may be necessary to treat your entire pond.
Common Diseases and Conditions
Fish ailments are frequently misdiagnosed, and pet fish are often overmedicated or treated with the wrong medications as a result. If you suspect that your koi is sick, contact your veterinarian to determine the illness and proper treatment, but also check your water quality and address any environmental problems that may be at the root of the illness. The following are some of the conditions and illnesses common to koi.
Koi keepers commonly notice injuries among their fish. Injuries can result from sharp rocks in the pond, bad netting, spawning activity, being poorly transported, or predator attacks, among other possible causes. Obvious signs of injury include missing scales, reddened areas, split fins, and grazes on nonscaled areas such as the mouth. If spotted early, most injuries are easy to treat with topical medications. However, if injuries go unnoticed for a length of time, bacterial or fungal infections may develop and require veterinary attention. The best step to take to prevent the occurrence of injury is to reduce the objects in the pond on which a koi can hurt itself. If predators are the problem, consider netting the pond or installing another type of deterrent device.
Bacterial and Fungal Infections
There are many species of bacteria and fungi that can infect koi. Symptoms of bacterial infection include open lesions and ulcerations, while fungal infections appear as a gray, brown, or green (in severe cases) cottonlike web growing over the fish’s body. Both bacterial and fungal infections can become dangerous, even fatal, but in some cases the treatment can be more problematic than the infection itself. Some medications are so strong that they can harm the fish. If you think your koi has an infection, isolate it from other fish immediately and contact your veterinarian to determine the best method of treatment. However, the safest way to combat infection is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To do so, simply maintain suitable water quality in your pond by keeping your filters clean and functioning properly. And don’t overfeed your fish—this will keep uneaten food from decomposing inside the pond.
How to Maintain Water Quality
Nothing matters more to the health of a fish than proper water conditions. Quality filters do an excellent job of purifying water in a pond, but changing the water regularly removes impurities that even filters won’t remove. Test your koi’s water quality at least once a week. It’s easy to monitor ammonia and nitrite levels, which should remain as close to zero as possible at all times in your fish’s water. You can also purchase a test kit that shows results categorized within ranges of “safe,” “concern,” and “danger.” If you ever get measurable levels of ammonia or nitrite in your koi’s water, perform a water change immediately to correct the situation and step up your changing regimen so that it doesn’t happen again.
The best way to maintain healthy and clean pond water is to change it regularly. Ideally, you should drain 20–50% of the pond water and replace it with fresh water once a week, and perform more substantial water changes on a monthly basis. This is crucial even for very large ponds. Over time, many chemicals and fish wastes build up in the water and the pond becomes unhealthy. Before adding fresh water to your pond, treat it chemically to remove chlorine and chloramines. You can do this with products available from your local pet retailer or a pond-supply catalog. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using these products.
Koi Herpes Virus (KHV)
Koi herpes is a serious, potenially fatal disease that causes significant mortalities among koi and carp populations. It spread worldwide in a matter of years after first appearing in 1996. The disease, which appears to affect only koi and carp, spreads through feces and mucus, and is capable of surviving outside of a host for at least four hours. This virus is highly infectious and requires exposure of just a few minutes to spread to an uninfected koi.
Fish lice are small, round, free-swimming crustaceans about 1/8" (3 mm) long. These tiny, saucer-shaped parasites (known as Argulus) can be difficult to deal with because they are fairly translucent and hard to see, and they fasten themselves tightly against the body of the afflicted fish. Once attached, they insert a short proboscis through the skin to extract blood and other fluids from the host. They
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