If you have ever heard of the term “cycling” or “new tank syndrome,” you have heard of the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle is the cycle through which beneficial bacteria in the aquarium convert harmful substances and toxins like ammonia into less harmful substances so the tank is safe for your fish. The nitrogen cycle is a natural, biological process but it is incredibly important. Unfortunately, while your tank is cycling it can become a stressful environment. Read on to learn more about how to reduce the stress your fish experience while you cycle your tank.
Cycling a Tank for the First Time
When you first set up your home aquarium – it doesn’t matter if it is a freshwater or a saltwater tank – it will go through the process of cycling. For a new aquarium, this process can take two weeks or longer to complete, depending what you do (if anything) to speed the process along. Ideally, you shouldn’t put any fish in your tank until it has completely cycled because not only could it interrupt the cycling process, but it can also be dangerous for your fish. There are times, however, when a large-scale cleaning or some mistake on your part results in the tank re-cycling itself. In this case, you may not be able to let the tank cycle apart from your fish.
Tips for Reducing Stress
The reason fish become stressed during cycling is because the water quality and parameters in your tank are constantly changing. As your population of beneficial bacteria grows, ammonia levels are likely to increase – uneaten fish food and excrement is also likely to accumulate in the substrate of the tank which will have an effect on water quality. Ammonia, however, is the more serious danger because it is toxic for fish – exposure to high ammonia levels can kill a fish in a matter of days. If the number of fish in your tank changes during the cycling process, the beneficial bacteria population will have to accommodate for those changes and for the increased biological load – this, too, may result in a change of water parameters.
Because water quality is so important for the health of your fish, it is essential that you monitor your tank water to keep an eye on chemistry levels. During cycling you should test your tank water every few days to make sure the ammonia levels are not getting out of hand – this is also a good way to monitor the progress of your tank as it cycles. During the initial phase of the nitrogen cycle you should see a spike in ammonia and nitrate levels – as the cycle continues, those levels should approach zero and you should start to get a nitrate reading on the water test. If, at any point, the ammonia levels in your tank exceed 1ppm you should remove the fish from the tank to a quarantine tank until the water chemistry stabilizes.
Another way to reduce the stress your fish experience during cycling is to ensure that your tank cycles as quickly as possible. There are several ways you can jumpstart the nitrogen cycle in your tank and many of them are very easy to implement. One method is to purchase live nitrifying bacteria and to following the dosing instructions for your tank. Infusing your tank water with live beneficial bacteria will help to establish an initial colony which will then multiply in your tank. If you or a friend have an aquarium already established, you put this method into place by using some of the substrate or filter media from the established tank in your new aquarium. Substrate and filter media are two of the most common places for beneficial bacteria to multiply so by using these items in your new tank, you can effectively transplant a population of beneficial bacteria.
Understanding the Signs
No matter what you do, your fish are likely to experience some stress during the cycling process. In order to make sure your fish do not become sick, you should take the time to learn the signs of stress in fish. In many cases, stress is not obvious – you have to look for changes in behavior such as erratic swimming, hiding from view, gasping for breath or loss of appetite. Other signs may include listlessness, change in color, or the development of a fungal or parasitic infection. If your fish does fall ill you will need to identify the symptoms in order to make a diagnosis and start the proper treatment.
Hopefully by now you feel equipped with the information you need to cycle your tank properly and to ensure that your fish do not become overly stressed. With this information in hand you can quickly cycle your tank and create a clean and healthy environment for your fish.