Old Tank Syndrome and its Prevention

Never heard about it? Well, if you are a new aquarist, this term might be new for you. However, it could be a situation that you have to face in the coming few days. So, here we are with essential information that you, being an aquarist, know about it. Keep reading to find out!

Old Tank Syndrome is a condition wherein the water chemistry alters, and the water ambiance changes completely. In a nutshell, in an Old Tank Syndrome, the aquarium water and environment degrades, posing a threat to the lives of the tank.

While some of the symptoms of Old Tank Syndrome are pretty visible, the others are known only after performing a water test. The most prominent indication of OTS is algae growth which is easily noticeable. Once you do the water test, it will show an entirely different picture.

Let us know the major signs and symptoms of OTS and how one can prevent and overcome it.

What are the signs and symptoms of Old Tank Syndrome?

Some of the components that will show a drastic change include:

  • Nitrate
  • Phosphate
  • pH
  • General hardness
  • Carbonate hardness

The level of nitrate and phosphate will increase significantly, while the pH of the water will fall. In fact, the water will tend to get more acidic with time. It is one of the major signs indicating the occurrence of Old Tank Syndrome. Moreover, if you compare the general hardness and carbonate hardness of the tank’s water with that of the tap water, it will show a huge difference.

This change in water happens slowly to which the fish already in the tank try to adapt. However, as soon a new fish is introduced, it dies within a short span. Generally, the owners assume that everything is fine with their tank because other fish are doing pretty well. However, over time, they also start showing the signs of distress and eventually die.

The underlying reason for such havoc could be possibly due to Old Tank Syndrome. Even if some people get clues of altered water parameters, they perform a massive cleanup. This results in even more death of the fish due to sudden and abrupt changes in the entire water quality.

What causes Old Tank Syndrome?

Old Tank Syndrome is the result of no cleanup or irregular cleaning of the tank. An aquarium is a closed water environment in which different water creatures reside. It is something as close as the house we live in. The way it becomes essential for us to clean up the mess and throw the garbage it is indispensable for the tank to get clean as well.

Although there are filters in the tank, the need for manual cleaning remains equally important. While the newly set tank looks pristine, things get messier inside it with time which calls for cleaning. The leftover food of fish and their excreta start getting accumulated at the bottom of the tank. Some of the debris gets sucked in the filter, and the rest reside on the gravel, harboring harmful bacteria.

Everything that goes in the tank remains in the tank in one form or other until you don’t remove it. If you don’t take steps to eliminate this residue, they keep amassing, gradually changing the water chemistry altogether.

Filters help getting rid of leftovers and excreta to some extent. Likewise, beneficial bacterial coverts the toxic form of ammonia and nitrate into a usable form. However, this conversion leads to the formation of many byproducts. Once the level of these byproducts rises higher, it creates distress for the fish.

How fish reacts to Old tank Syndrome?

The change in water chemistry happens slowly when it is left unclean. This slow process gives time to the fish to adapt to this new water environment. While fish try to accustom to the changed water, the weaker ones often die. The stronger fish that have high immunity survive; however, they become susceptible to different diseases, and their immune system is badly affected.

As soon a new fish is added in the tank, they perish within a few hours. They struggle and eventually fail to adjust in the unsuitable water chemistry.

How to correct the Old Tank Syndrome?

The two most important things to keep in mind are:

  • Do not make a massive change in water
  • Proceed slowly and steadily to correct the water parameters

If you make a massive change, the fish that were trying to survive in degraded water will die. It will happen due to sudden and abrupt changes to which fish will not be able to cope. Your tank might look new, clear, and clean, but every fish will be dead soon.

Therefore, the best way to correct the Old Tank Syndrome is by changing 10 to 15% of the water daily. Doing it for at least 4 to 5 days will bring the water parameters to a normal level. Check the pH and level of nitrates and ammonia in the tank regularly. Take time for the water to stabilize slowly. This way, fish will also get the time to acclimatize to the new but improved water quality.

As soon as you witness the water parameters improving, you have to change or thoroughly clean the filter media and the tank. At the same time, keep an eye on the water parameter to ensure that they are not showing any drastic changes. The goal is to have water with:

  • pH close to that of the original water source, suitable for the lives
  • Low nitrates
  • No ammonia

What can be done to prevent Old Tank Syndrome? 

The three steps that can keep Old Tank Syndrome at bay include the following:

  • Changing some portion of water on a regular basis
  • Cleaning the tank
  • Keeping an eye on the water parameters

Regular maintenance of the tank and water is the key to prevent Old Tank Syndrome. If you check the water parameters at least once in a week and perform 10-15% water change weekly depending upon the density of stock, you can avoid Old Tank Syndrome.

Other than this, you also need to observe the working of your filter. Clean the tank once in 15 days and remove all the uneaten food particles. At the same time, check the filter, whether it is working properly or not. Even if you are maintaining a regular cleanup, perform water tests to catch the potential problem, if any.

However, if you are following the basic cleaning rules and doing a monthly testing cycle, it will be sufficient. For a better clearance, log your data of different tests and compare them to see any drastic changes happening in water quality.

As soon as you witness some distortions in the water parameters, follow the right measures to nullify them. All that you need is a careful observation and a proper maintenance schedule to prevent Old Tank Syndrome.



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