Sample Collection - Fish
It is critical that the fish are collected properly. Live fish showing clinical signs of the disease will greatly increase the chances of an accurate diagnosis. Fish that are freshly dead (clear eyes, red gills, and slimy skin) are the second choice, however even at this stage several diseases cannot be diagnosed due to invasion of environmental bacteria, decomposition of tissue, and loss of external parasites. Fish that are beginning to decompose are as difficult as live-healthy fish with no clinical signs of disease.
To increase the probability of catching sick fish, first try finding them swimming slowly near the edge of the pond/lake near the surface. When none are seen, catching fish randomly (snagging/netting) is best. Feeding fish is not recommended, since sick fish rarely take feed.
Sample Collection - Water
Water samples should accompany unhealthy fish sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory or the water data from the time the fish are collected. At least eight ounces of water should be collected one foot below the surface of the water as far from the shoreline as you can reach. The water should be in a clean bottle that can seal tight. Water in the bag or bucket of fish is not suitable for many water quality tests. In addition, if plants or algae are sent, they should be in their own bag or bottle.
Personal delivery (Recommended): Delivering the fish personally to the Diagnostic Laboratory will greatly reduce the shipping stresses and possibility of death in transit. At least one pathologist is on staff from 7:45 am to 4:30 pm Monday thru Friday to assist you with your fish upon arrival. However, calling the Diagnostic Laboratory prior to your arrival will help ensure immediate attention. If the fish are expected to die in route, putting them in a clear plastic bag without water on frozen cold-packs is the best option, as dead fish in water are rarely suitable for diagnosis. Wet ice may be used (personal delivery only) if kept separate from the fish and not allowed to leak from the container.
Shipping by mail: If a trip to the Diagnostic Laboratory is not an option, shipping the fish overnight express is an alternative. Live fish must be in a bag of water with oxygen to sustain them for the trip. Fish too sick to survive or freshly dead fish should be placed in a clear plastic bag without water and buried among frozen ice packs. Wet ice should not be used because it commonly leaks from shipping containers. Fish may also be sent frozen, but dry ice must be used. Another alternative is to place small fish or pieces of large fish in a formaldehyde solution. If formaldehyde is to be used, it should be clearly marked in a sealable container, then triple bagged to prevent leaks and contact with the skin of carriers or Laboratory personnel. Formaldehyde and containers are provided by the Diagnostic Laboratory (pick-up only).
It is always recommended that you notify the Diagnostic Laboratory prior to shipping fish so proper attention can be given upon their arrival.