Eeek, cycling with fish! Anything I can do to keep them alive?

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H20girl

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My boyfriend and I decided to set up an aquarium together. I did a lot of reading beforehand and was intent on doing a fishless cycle.

We both had fish during childhood and he had them in college. It sounds to me like he just added fish... didn't test the water or anything, and somehow had no problems. He keeps saying I am worrying too much and against my better judgement, convinced me to cycle the tank with fish. (He doesn't really understand the nitrogen cycle).

Anyways, we bought 5 platys and introduced them to our 20 gallon tank (set up the day before with tap water and water conditioner). The tank has an Aqueon 20 filter, gravel, slate rock formation w/ tunnels, and fake plants.

I'm feeling guilty now that we got too many fish - I didn't know if platys were schooling fish and how many friends they needed to feel comfortable, but am now thinking we should have started with two for cycling. There are 2 males and 3 females and they seem to enjoy each other's company, often swimming together.

When I inquired about what kind of water test kit was best, the guy at Petsmart backed my boyfriend's position and insisted that we didn't need to buy any water test kits... grr! I should have researched the best kind of kit to get, since the store was no help... I did buy a Seachem PH continuous monitor and a Seachem Ammonia continuous monitor... I have no idea how accurate they are though and intend to get a liquid test kit, but right now
the monitor is saying there's basically no ammonia and PH looks to be about 7.6. Temp is 75.

Right now the fish seem happy. They've been eating and swimming all over the tank.

***I really don't want them to suffer from poor water conditions! Is there anything we can do to keep them healthy while the tank is cycling? What about adding Tetra Safe Start or a similar product? Would it screw up the cycle to add any of the products designed to decrease ammonia levels? Will water changes help?

Thanks in advance for any advice!
 
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Lucy

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HI welcome to FishLore!!

The levels of ammonia and nitrite will reach toxic levels.
When cycling with fish, we usually recommend 50% daily water changes and use a conditioner like Prime that will detoxify (not remove) ammonia.

It'll take time and work, but hopefully your fish will get through the process

I like the API Master Test Kit. It's very accurate.

Good luck!
 

Elodea

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Lucy said:
HI welcome to FishLore!!

The levels of ammonia and nitrite will reach toxic levels.
When cycling with fish, we usually recommend 50% daily water changes and use a conditioner like Prime that will detoxify (not remove) ammonia.

It'll take time and work, but hopefully your fish will get through the process

I like the API Master Test Kit. It's very accurate.

Good luck!
+1

Excellently put, Lucy. I use API Master Test and it is very accurate. Don't forget a few important things:

1. I assume you now know about the Nitrogen Cycle? Click the link in my signature even at the slightest doubt.

2. Here's the platy care sheet: https://www.fishlore.com/Profiles-Platy.htm

3. Be diligent with the water changes. 10 gallons daily and the fish won't suffer, like what Lucy said.

4. Feed a bit less than you normally would. And fast them once a week. Feeding less will reduce the ammonia buildup in the tank.

5. Last but not least, live plants will help with the ammonia levels. Look into ones like Java fern and Anubias.
 
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H20girl

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Thanks, Lucy. I will pick up that kit tomorrow and do a water change.

Stupid question, but I'm assuming I leave the fish in the tank during the water change? Does the new water need to be pretty much the same temperature? I put the new tap water in a bucket and then add the conditioner?

Thanks, again.

Thanks, Elodea!

Hello, I've merged your posts since they were back to back.
Thanks!
Ken
 

ppate1977

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Indeed. Try to match the tank temp and useprime to the full amt of water in the tank (not just what you change.
 

Shine

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I haven't moved any fish out yet when doing water changes. lol--the only problem I've had with it is some of the 'friendlier' ones follow the siphon around and I have to be careful not to suck them up! Most move out of the way though
 

Aquarist

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Good morning H20 girl and Welcome to Fish Lore!

I agree with the above posters. In order to keep your fish safe, daily water changes of 30 to 50% are needed to keep your fish safe. Add a water conditioner called Prime or Amquel + to detox ammonia for 24 hours until it's time for the next water change. It's going to take a bit of time and effort on your part to keep your fish in good health. Keep up with your daily water changes until you have 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites and under 20 nitrates. As for pH...usually 6.5 to 8.5 will be ok for most fish (some have their preferences for above or below 7.0) as they can usually adapt to the pH levels right from the tap.

Keep in mind that any amount of ammonia in your tank can cause harm to your fish. The signs of ammonia poisoning may not be immediate. The fish can also suffer long term side effects from ammonia poisoning.

Great suggestion above about the API (liquid) Master Test Kit. It will test for everything mentioned in the Nitrogen Cycle (I see that you are aware of it), ammonia,nitrite, nitrate and pH. Paper test strips are not recommend as they can be inaccurate.

I suggest that the fish remain in the tank when it comes time for water changes. They'll adapt to you being in the tank. Moving them may cause them stress leading to other illnesses. Just be care and watch what you're doing I'm sure a good many of us have sucked up a fish in a siphon hoseops:

It's always a good idea to match the temperature of your tap water to the temperature in the tank. Sudden temperature fluctuations can be harmful to your fish. pH levels should be as close as possible too.

Hang in there! It will get easier once your tank is cycled. Keep it fun
I hope you enjoy the site!

Ken
 

Kunsthure

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I had 3 platys in my daughter's 20 gallon because I didn't know about fishless cycling at the time. They were in about two or three weeks before I learned about Tetra Safe Start. I read the post with an email from Tetra about using it (https://www.fishlore.com/aquariumfishforum/threads/q-a-with-tetra-about-tetra-safestart.58116/) and decided to give it a try. It cycled the tank in less than a week. I think it was so quick because there was already a good supply of ammonia and some bacteria already building up. I suspect you'd have similar results. Just don't use anything else, no other product contains the correct bacteria. The only kicker is no water changes for 7-10 days after adding it unless the ammonia gets over 2 per Tetra's instructions. If you do add it, use enough for twice your tank size, so enough for 40 gallon since you already have fish.

ETA: you can't use any product that gets rid of ammonia or chloramines for 24hrs before adding TSS and definitely not after because it kills the TSS bacteria.

-Lisa
 
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H20girl

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Thanks Lisa. I was actually just reading Lucy's post about Tetra SafeStart and am thinking I may use it. I think I will first see what the current ammonia level is with the API kit. If it is relatively low, I will try the TSS. If it is high, I will do a water change and wait 24 hours. I'm currently using a Seachem continuous ammonia monitor that reads <.02, but I don't really trust it.
 

Flufeeh

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You've got some great responses from everybody else. I can tell you that I also did a fish cycle with 6 platys and a betta.

Every. Single. Day. At the very least I did a 40% water change and most times 50%. Everybody made it through fine. Just be very diligent with the water changes and everything will be alright. I didn't use an detoxifying chemicals as I didn't know they even existed.

The 6 platys I used all died a bit early, they lived for about a year and a half. I'm guessing I put a lot of stress on them with that cycle but the cute part is that the children they had are alive and kicking. I have 5 teen platys now.
 
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H20girl

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Yes, thank you all so much for your responses.

I am still feeling terrible about cycling with fish, but I will try to do what I can with the TSS and/or daily water changes to keep them healthy. Do you think it would speed up the cycling process to raise the temperature a bit (maybe to 78)? Or would changing the temp stress them out even more? The platy care sheet says a temp of 65-78 is good. Right now the tank is at 75.
 

Kunsthure

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All of my tanks are in the 78-80 range and I'm not sure that those temps are high enough to influence the cycle.

-Lisa
 
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H20girl

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I looked at several stores and could not find the Tetra SafeStart. I may try to order it.

In the meantime, I bought the API test kit.
Tank results:
pH: 7.8 (maybe 7.9)
Ammonia: .25 (probably less - it looked like it was somewhere between 0 and .25, closer to .25 than to 0 though, definitely some green) our Seachem ammonia monitor still says zero so it probably is inacurate
Nitrite: between .25 and .50 (poor fish )
Nitrate: 5.0

I did tested twice and got the same results.

I also tested my tap water...
Tap results:
pH: 7.8
Ammonia: 0
Nitrite: 0
Nitrate: 0

After testing I did a 30-40% water change and added Prime to the new water and to the tank.


From these results, it seems to me like the tank has started cycling? I was surprised to see any nitrates after only having the fish for 48 hours. Does this seem right?

The fish are acting normally and are fun to watch! I hope they will be ok. I will test again tomorrow and do another water change (maybe 50%?).

Thanks again for the advice.
 

callichma

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Re the TSS, You can't do water changes or add anything to make the ammonia safe for the fish after you add TSS to the tank. IMO, you should use TSS at the same time you add fish or not at all.
 

Kunsthure

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It does seem odd to have nitrates after only 48 hours. Did you seed the tank with some media from an existing tank?

Be sure to follow the testing directions to the letter with the nitrate test. It's a pain but you really have to mix up the test tube after adding the first chemical. Make sure you really shake the snot out of the nitrate #2 bottle for at least 30 seconds and likewise shake the snot out of the test tube for at least a minute.

The nitrite also seems to be showing up early but don't hold me to that. Maybe someone else can confirm that but I thought it took longer than 48 hours to build up the bacteria.

You won't find TSS in a chain pet store like Petsmart. Check LFS, that's where I found mine.

-Lisa
 
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H20girl

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I am skeptical of the readings as well. It's possible I didn't shake the bottles enough, but my boyfriend and I did the tests independently and got the same results. If the bottles weren't sufficiently shaken, would I have gotten a 0 reading for the tap water?

Will the TSS keep the ammonia levels safe for the fish? Will TSS still work if water changes need to be done? Hmm... maybe I will just do water changes if that would be best for them.

I've read conflicting info. re: how much water to change... does everyone agree that a big change like 40-50% is necessary, or does it depend on the readings? I don't want the water changes to prevent the tank from cycling or add undo stress.

Thanks again.

ETA: No, the tank was not seeded with anything from an established tank.
The slate in the tank was obtained from a nearby stream, but much of it was boiled or at least scrubbed before use. (I read partway though that boiling rocks is dangerous (they can explode?) and that it's unnecessary. All the slate was out of the water for a couple weeks. Do you think something could have survived on a piece that wasn't boiled??? The gravel (more like small pebbles) were from Michael's craft store. I boiled and washed them a number of times.

I just remembered that my boss keeps a bunch of aquariums... maybe I could ask him for some gravel from his tank if that would help at this point.
 

Prince Powder

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How much water to change would depend on your readings, I would suggest changing enough to keep your ammonia and nitrite levels as close to 0 as possible. Keeping it low won't prevent the tank from cycling as your fish will continue to produce waste to keep the cycle fed. TSS is generally recommended to use right before adding fish as opposed to after, but there are several members who have successfully cycled their tanks with TSS when it was added mid cycle. There are a few things that you would need to take into account when adding TSS to an already cycling tank...

Remember, TSS is not very compatible with most water conditioners so it is best to wait at least 24 hours after adding any water conditioner before adding TSS. The day before adding TSS you would want to do a large water change to get your levels as close to 0 as possible. Wait at least 24 hours after the water change, then add the TSS. By waiting the 24 hours, the conditioner will have a much lesser affect on the ammonia in the tank so it won't interfere with the bacteria reproduction.

When adding TSS to an already stocked tank you will be more likely to have success by doing a double dose. For a 20 gallon tank I would recommend the 100mL bottle which is designed for tanks up to 75 gallons. It is impossible to overdose with TSS so don't worry about that. You can also use two of the smaller bottles if you like, but it would probably be cheaper to just get the one larger one.

When using TSS it is not recommended to do any water changes for at least 2 weeks once the product has been added. Water changes during the cycle period are one of the main things that can cause TSS to fail. Because of this it is also not recommended to test during the first 7 days as the numbers will be all over the place and could cause a person to run to do a water change. With TSS, you add the product and visually monitor your fish for the first 7 days. After day 7 you test, if the tank is not cycled then wait another 3 days and test again. If after day 10 the tank is still not properly cycled then it is generally safe to assume that the TSS didn't work and you will have to resume daily water changes at that point. Even if that is the case, the TSS should have provided enough beneficial bacteria to speed up the cycling process so it might be worth a shot either way.

During the cycling process with TSS your fish are exposed to ammonia and nitrite. TSS generally keeps the levels from going above 1-2ppm, but it is still important to visually monitor your fish for signs of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. If at any time during the cycling period your fish become lethargic or show other signs of ammonia or nitrite poisoning I would suggest resuming the daily water changes. If the water changes mean that the TSS will ultimately fail and you will have to cycle the long way, at least you will be protecting your fish which is the entire point anyways.
 
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H20girl

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I really appreciate everyone's responses.

I am going to continue to look for the TSS. Not sure if I will use it, but seems like it would be good to have on hand.

After some of you smart folks questioned whether I was shaking the nitrate solution long enough, I retested my tap water today and it showed nitrates around 10ppm! So that solves that mystery, but I'm not thrilled about the thought trying to maintain the tank at under 20ppm when the water's starting with 10! Oh well, I guess I'd deal with that later. I also rechecked the tap ammonia and nitrites and they were zero.

Tank readings tonight:
ammonia: .25
nitrites: .25 - .50
nitrates: .10 -.20

I changed 30% of the water and added Prime.

Does this seem ok?

Sorry I'm being so neurotic , but I feel like there's so much more I need to know! I cringe at the thought of my poor childhood fish who probably suffered due to my ignorance... I don't want to make the same mistake if I can help it!
 
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jdhef

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My tap water contains 10ppm nitrate also. Most people here recommend keeping nitrates below 20, but the API booklet recommends keeping them under 40. So I strive to stay below 30.

One thing that has helped is switching to Amquel+ as my water conditioner. Amquel+ has the ability to remove nitrates. So with every water change (I change out 15 gallons from my 36 gallon tank every Sunday) I dose enough to treat all 36 gallons.
 

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Sounds like everyone got you covered but I wanted to share that I have used tetra safe start after adding fish they had been in for about a month and my cycle just wasn't happening. My LFS owner (family owned, great place) has a son who works for Tetra so he recommended it. It was worth every penny in my opinion (and saved my fishies!). Before using I did a big water change, used aqua safe (it doesn't detox ammonia), then put in the TSS (I do recommend using the size up from what you need and use the WHOLE bottle). In 10 days my cycle had completed. It worked great! Just test daily and make sure the ammonia doesn't go above 2ppm. Mine never went above 1 and the best part was no water changes (because it can be tiring doing it daily!). I'm putting TSS in the tank again this week (had to medicate the fish and it killed my good bacteria). I recommend it!
 
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