New Tank Syndrome, How to Overcome it

How to overcome new tank syndrome,

Did you know that aquarium changes pose certain health risks to your fish? One of the threats that could be awaiting fish in a brand-new aquarium is the new tank syndrome.

If you don’t take preventative measures and don’t prepare the new aquarium properly, you will most likely encounter the new tank syndrome.

Sometimes, the new tank syndrome affects established tanks too! If you don’t take action, your fish may suffer grave injuries and even die.

With that, below, let’s try to understand what the new tank syndrome is and how to deal with it!

What Is The New Tank Syndrome

The new tank syndrome occurs when the so-called nitrogen cycle is disrupted. In an aquarium ecosystem that is more or less balanced, the nitrogen cycle occurs as follows:

  1. Fish waste, dead organisms, and leftover food break down, producing ammonium (NH4+) and ammonia (NH3).
  2. Beneficial bacteria in the tank – called nitrifying bacteria – consume ammonia and ammonium, producing nitrite (NO2-) as a result.
  3. The nitrite is then consumed by Nitrobacter microorganisms, which results in the conversion of nitrite to nitrate (NO3-).
  4. Nitrates are then removed from the tank as you change the water. Additionally, some aquarium plants consume nitrates as food.

Nitrites and nitrates are significantly less toxic than ammonia and ammonium, but they can harm fish too in high concentrations.

If the nitrogen cycle is disrupted, the harmful substances in the water are not removed. If left untreated, your fish will become intoxicated.

Well, how does this fit into the concept of the “new” tank syndrome? Well, in a new tank with clean water, there are too few nitrifying bacteria in the aquarium. With that, the ammonium, ammonia, and nitrites produced by fish waste are not filtered from the water. As these substances build-up, they increase the toxicity of the water for fish.

How To Identify The New Tank Syndrome

To be able to spot and then prevent the new tank syndrome, you should monitor the water quality for 6-12 weeks after you’ve switched aquariums. Make use of ammonia and nitrite test kits to keep track of the water condition in the tank.

Initially, the ammonia level should be kept below 1ppm, while nitrites should be below 1.5ppm. But ideally, both should be nearly zero. And as nitrifying bacteria colonies develop in the tank, ammonia and nitrites will plummet down.

Aside from test kits, you may also keep an eye out for symptoms of the new tank syndrome in fish:

  • Gasping at the surface.
  • Damaged gill membranes.
  • Moving the gills vigorously.
  • Heavy breathing.
  • Staying at the surface longer than usual.

How To Prevent And Deal With The New Tank Syndrome

Here are a few things that you could do to prevent the new tank syndrome when switching aquariums.

Cycling the aquarium

With slow cycling, you cycle the new aquarium with the fish in the water. Generally, it’s recommended to start cycling with hardy fish that will better tolerate elevated ammonia and nitrite levels. Once their levels normalize, you may add more delicate fish to the tank.

For slow cycling in freshwater tanks, fish species like Bettas and Guppies are commonly used. In saltwater tanks, you may use Damselfish.

It will take 1-3 months until a substantial population of nitrifying bacteria is established in your fish tank. Fortunately, you may make use of fishless cycling to bypass this problem.

With fishless cycling, you keep your fish in the old tank – in the meantime, you should manually add ammonia to the new tank. Usually, 3-5 drops of ammonia per 10 gallons of water are added for fishless cycling. The addition of ammonia to the water will encourage the formation of healthy bacteria.

While adding ammonia to the tank, you should test the water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels daily. Initially, the ammonia levels will be high, while the latter two will be very low.

Once you detect nitrite in the water, you may reduce the ammonia to 3 drops per day, but do continue to test the water.

Ultimately, your goal is to reduce the levels of ammonia and nitrites close to zero. Once you do achieve this, your aquarium will have cycled, and you may safely move your fish.

new tank syndrome mitigation

Seeding the aquarium

Another good option for cycling is to use bacteria from the old tank. This will noticeably boost the process of cycling. You may seed the tank both with and without fish.

Nitrifying bacteria usually find a home inside the tank filter. Have a look at the filter media of the old aquarium – those that are browned have bacteria cultures on them. You may simply drop the media into the new aquarium or use it in the new tank’s filter.

Additionally, you may move plants, substrate, and water from the old tank to accelerate the process.

With that said, avoid seeding the new aquarium if the old tank is infested with aquatic parasites.

Adding cycling bacteria to the tank

Finally, you may just purchase nitrifying bacteria off the shelf and add them to the water. This is the quickest way of cycling a new tank. Some brands claim that you may relocate the fish immediately after adding bacteria to the new tank! However, you should wait for about a week just in case to let the bacteria settle in the filter and substrate.

What To Avoid & Final Words

The new tank syndrome may occur in already established aquariums – most often, this happens after spring cleaning or using antibiotics. These disrupt the established bacteria colonies, which may result in ammonia and nitrite spikes.

No matter what you do, make sure to regularly test the water in the tank and keep an eye on your fish. If you see any symptoms of breathing difficulties or gill damage, then you are most likely dealing with the new tank syndrome.

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Sujit Modak Aquarium Tales Owner
Sujit Modak

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my aquarium blog. Fishkeeping is my passion, and I started this fascinating hobby back in 2006. Besides my engineering profession, I deeply studied many fishkeeping topics since I started building my home aquarium. I researched effective aquarium filtration and lighting of planted aquariums. I am keeping 20+ species of freshwater and saltwater fish as my aquatic pet collection. I successfully experimented with a complex ecosystem inside the aquarium, biotope aquariums, aquaponics, etc. I would love to share some learnings from my hands-on experience of the last 14 years. Hopefully, my sharing will be somewhat helpful to make your aquarium journey awesome! 

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