The purpose of this article is to assist the Koi keeper during those stressful situations when a “dead” Koi is discovered in or outside a pond. Take heart, it may not be dead but indecision or a lack of knowledge may be the reason that it will soon be really dead.
Jumping out of the pond
We call it “doing a fatal flop”. There are many reasons why a fish would jump out of the secure environment of a pond. The most frequent jumping occurs within a few days after a fish has been released into a new pond. Another reason may be the frantic activity during spawning time. Parasites can also irritate a fish to such an extent that it jumps up and out.
Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of a Koi jumping out of the pond for whatever reason. Some were fortunate enough to notice it in time to return the fish to the water soon after the near fatal jump. Then there are those happy stories where a favourite fish has jumped out and the dedicated owner was able to resuscitate the fish after going through a long nerve-wrecking process.
On the other side of the coin there are the horror stories of Koi that could have been saved but owners did not know how, the fish was discovered hours too late or where a cat/dog got there first. Recently I encountered a classic example where children found the fish struggling next to the pond. In a panic and through ignorance, they placed it into a bowl and proceeded to fill it with water from a nearby tap. Obviously the unfortunate fish did not survive.
Accidental draining of a pond
It happens! Most pond designs nowadays are such that if anything goes wrong after the settlement chamber, the pond cannot drain completely. The worst thing that can happen is a burnt-out pump, but the fish will be safe for a while. In those ponds where the pump is connected to a bottom drain, the pond may empty completely in a short space of time if something goes wrong with the plumbing. The result is the same as jumping out of a pond, but in this instance it may be fish flopping around on a massive scale.
Resuscitating a fish
There are several ways of resuscitating a fish, but the main objective is always to get water flowing over the gills and to try and separate the gill filament from each other because it will be covered with slime and stuck together. It is also important to make sure the gill covers are not sealed close by the sticky/drying slime. I have used the following techniques successfully:
Hold the fish with its mouth open for a short while under a waterfall or in front of the venturi to clear the mucus, separate the gill filaments, to ensure that the gill covers are open and water flows freely through his gills. Then proceed with one of the following.
Hold the fish at the peduncle with one hand and support it with the other hand below, just behind the pectoral fins and “swim” it FORWARDS ONLY by guiding it through the water. Make sure the mouth is open!
Hold the fish over the bubbles of an air stone.
If it is a fairly big fish, support it in the pond with one hand underneath the ventral area and hook the thumb of the other hand over the lower lip. Keep the mouth open with the thumb and push with the index/middle finger the area at the throat between the gill plates. You will notice that the gill plates will open and close, drawing water over the gills. Keep this up until the fish is able to open and close its gill plates by itself.
Fish are not used to the effects of gravity and when a fish has been flopping on the ground for a while, it may sustain some internal damage/injury. Unfortunately such cases may only resolve over time, or the fish may later succumb to such injuries. Mostly however the injuries may just be superficial wounds as well as lost scales. It is therefore critical that topical applications to wounds be applied as soon as the fish has recovered sufficiently to be handled. Any fish that has been placed back into the pond should be monitored for the next few days to ensure that it recovers completely.
Strong medications and health treatments may push a weakened fish over the edge. The treatment described next will often get it past the critical stage so the health treatment can benefit it.
There are some instances where a fish cannot be brought to life. If for instance the fish’s eyes are clouded over, it is stiff and the skin is completely dried out, the fish may be truly dead. In other cases one will be surprised how resilient Koi are. It may appear to be quite dead with sticky cuticle, gill covers not moving, body limp, etc. The fish may appear to be dead, but the heart is still beating.
Dexamethasone is the answer to revive a dying fish.The most important aspects of it are the following:
Dexamethasone is known as a corticosteroid. Corticosteroids are derivatives from cortisol and aldosterone that are produced naturally by the adrenal glands. Please note they are very different from anabolic steroids.
Corticosteroids affect the strength of heart muscle, the water and salt balance in the body and also enable the body to cope with stress like changes in temperature, pain, fear, anxiety, shock and illness. During stressful situations, Corticosteroids increase the rate and force of the heartbeat, increase blood supply to essential tissues (muscle, heart, brain), increase the body's supply of energy by raising blood sugar and by several other effects on body systems.
Dexamethasone injection is used in serious or emergency situations when rapid control of symptoms is needed. Dying Koi often have diminishing steroid and therefore a single shot of Dexamethasone will sufficiently revive a dying fish and get it up and swimming until medication or treatment that address the original cause of the situation takes effect.
Dexamethasone can be dosed at a wide range but I have found an injection, IM or IP, of 2 mg per kg sufficient.
Although you will have to obtain it from a vet, it will be wise to have Dexamethasone ready as part of your first aid kit at all times!
By: Chris Neaves