• June 8, 2023

How to Take Care of a Pet Fish

Keeping a pet fish isn't as hard as you might think.  If you follow these basic guidelines, you'll be able to keep a healthy, vibrant pet fish alive for years to come.

The first thing you need to do when buying any type of fish is to research the species.  There are many different types of fish that live in various environments, so it's important for you to know what kind of fish you have before making any purchases. 

In this article, we will discuss how to choose a good aquarium set up, how to maintain an aquarium, and what to look out for if there are problems with your fish.

Once you've decided which kind of fish you want (and purchased them), you're ready to start setting up your new home.  But before diving into getting everything together, there are a few things you should consider.

What You Need To Know About Your Fish Before Buying

There are several factors to consider when choosing a fish tank or pond system such as size, lighting, filtration, temperature, etc.  Most importantly, make sure you buy only from reputable sources.  It's very easy for unscrupulous dealers to sell sickly fish and other aquatic life forms that can spread disease through contact with contaminated pond water.  Avoid cheap, poorly maintained ponds and tanks – they may just kill your fish!

Some people like to use small aquariums called "nooks" because they are easier to transport and less expensive than larger systems.  These little glass containers aren't bad for one person but they don't provide enough room for more than one fish.  They also waste too much space by having air gaps around the sides of the nook.  This causes the water to stagnate and eventually bacteria build up.  For most purposes, especially those who plan on breeding their fish, it is best to stick with large aquariums.

If possible, get a fish tank with plenty of surface area to allow proper circulation of fresh water and oxygen throughout the tank. This helps prevent algae growth and ensures that the fish stay well-oxygenated. Make sure to check the filters and pumps used to filter and circulate the water. Poor quality equipment won't work properly and could end up killing your fish.

Also, make sure that the lights used inside the tank fit the wattage requirements of your fish.  Many hobbyists use fluorescent tubes instead of incandescent bulbs because they last longer and consume less energy.

Fluorescent lights emit far fewer harmful chemicals known to cause cancer in humans.  Some people even go so far as to avoid using electricity altogether by installing solar panels or wind generators. Now that you've considered all of these issues, let's move onto the next page where we talk about maintaining your aquarium.

Aquarium Setup & Maintenance

An aquarium requires regular maintenance to ensure that it stays clean and free of toxic substances.  Proper cleaning involves removing debris, siphoning off accumulated wastes, replacing dirty filter media, discarding old food scraps, and replenishing the number of dissolved minerals needed to support living organisms.

Cleaning your aquarium removes organic matter and leaves behind ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Ammonia and nitrites combine to form nitrates which are poisonous to fish.  Cleaning prevents the buildup of these toxins.  Also, remove any dead animals, plants, and uneaten food.  All of these materials introduce nutrients and decompose over time, increasing the number of pollutants available to harm your fish.  Finally, clean the gravel, changing it every 2 months at least.

Do not dump or pour anything directly into the gravel bed.  Instead, use a scoop to gently stir the gravel while pouring water back in.  Afterward, vacuum the gravel thoroughly.

Proper filtration is essential for a healthy aquarium. An effective filter must remove solid particles and break down suspended solids to release necessary nutrients.  The most common method of filtering water is through activated carbon.  Activated carbon has tiny pores that trap pollutants.

When the carbon becomes saturated with contaminants, however, it needs to be cleaned or replaced.  Filters with poor flow rates or clogged by debris require frequent replacement of spent carbon.  Another popular filter medium is sponge cubes soaked in special cleaning solutions.

These dissolve contaminants and help reduce odors. A third option is biological filters made from colonies of beneficial microorganisms. Bacteria, protozoa, worms, and rotifers convert waste products into usable nitrogen and phosphorus for plant life.  Biological filters are relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain.  Unfortunately, they cannot completely eliminate pollution as they rely on biofilms to process waste.  Biofilms are layers of slime composed mostly of dirt and organic material.

In addition to filtration, aeration is necessary to ensure that water remains aerobic (filled with oxygen) rather than anaerobic (full of hydrogen sulfide).  Aeration occurs naturally through the evaporation of water through the surface of the aquarium.

However, natural aeration alone does not always meet the demand of fast-growing fish. A submersible pump installed near the bottom of the tank provides additional circulation. Submerged pumps force water up towards the top of the tank, allowing it to mix with ambient air for better aeration.

Finally, heaters are necessary to regulate the water temperature.  Cold temperatures slow metabolism and reproduction while warm conditions increase activity levels.  Heaters vary widely depending upon the type of fish being kept.  Smaller ones can tolerate lower temperatures whereas bigger fish prefer warmer water.  Choose a heater that matches the specific needs of your fish.

Water Changes

While it is recommended to change 20% of the total volume per week, the actual percentage depends on the species of fish and its environment.  Water changes should occur at night when the fish are inactive.  Never perform water changes during the day or right after feeding your fish.  Doing so stresses the fish and disrupts digestion.  Feeding your fish raw foods eliminates the problem entirely.

It is also important to monitor the pH level of your aquarium.  Too much acidity or alkalinity can stress fish.  Monitor pH levels once every two weeks.  Use test strips to measure the pH of your water.  Adjustments can be made easily by adding drops of concentrated base or acid solution.

Feeding Your Pet Fish

Many experts recommend supplementing your fish's diet with commercial pellets.  Pellets contain balanced amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.  Pellet brands vary according to their ingredients.  Always read labels carefully to determine nutritional content.

Keep in mind that pellets are not necessarily healthier than fish foods.  Both include similar levels of fat, protein, and calcium.  What sets apart pellet diets is that they usually contain higher concentrations of phosphates and potassium.  Phosphates promote rapid growth and reproduction while high potassium levels improve overall health.

On occasion, you will encounter a situation where no pellet brand contains exactly what your fish needs.  In cases like this, it is advisable to feed your fish specially formulated diets.  Good brands include Fancy Feast, Pond Safe, and Provimi.

Although it is true that artificial food makes it easier to control the diet of your fish, remember that you are ultimately responsible for ensuring their nutrition.  Don't skimp on what goes into your fish's stomach.  Remember, a healthy fish starts with a healthy meal.

Health Problems Caused By Keeping A Pet Fish

As mentioned earlier, some varieties of fish are prone to certain diseases.  One example is fin rot, which affects goldfish and koi.  Symptoms include sores along with the fins and tail. Other examples include Ichthyophthirius multifillis, also known as white spot syndrome, caused by a virus transmitted between individuals through infected feces.

White spots appear on the body of the affected fish.  Treatment includes complete removal of the diseased fish and quarantine to stop further transmission of the disease.

Another potential hazard is bacterial infections.  Because of improper filtration and inadequate aeration, unhealthy compounds can accumulate within your aquarium.  These compounds include ammonia and nitrite.  High concentrations of these substances can lead to severe burns and death.

Common symptoms include excessive gasping, loss of appetite, weakness, lethargy, and lack of movement.  Remove fish exhibiting these symptoms immediately and treat with medications.

For information on preventing and treating aquarium illnesses, please see our articles on the following pages:

Fungi And Algae Growth In Aquariums — Fungus and algae can grow unchecked in a stagnant pool of water.  Learn how to prevent fungal outbreaks in aquaria.

Treating Sick Aquatic Animals — If your pet animal suffers from an illness, learn ways to help it recover from its condition quickly.

Preventive Care Of Freshwater Aquariums — Preventative measures are often overlooked until something goes wrong.  Read this informative article to find

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