One of the more common “healthy” pet issues we see in all of veterinary medicine is obesity, and fish are no exception. They may have better control than your golden retriever, but overfeeding your fish can have more severe consequences than just rounder fish.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute calculation to tell you how much to feed your fish. It depends on their species, temperature, water quality, other stressors, the type of food, formulation and current disease processes. For cats and dogs, it all depends on body size and life stage. If you take any bag of cat or dog food and look at the back, it will tell you what life stage the food is intended for and what amount to feed for body weight. (This assumes that your pet is the correct weight for the body type and structure.) But when was the last time you weighed your pet fish? Fish should be fed based on body size, but we know this is an impossible task for most owners. Thankfully, fish are pretty good at determining when they are full. A bigger problem is what happens when there is too much food in the tank.
So what should I do to ensure my fish are not overfed? We recommend using the 5-Minute Method. It is very simple:
Sprinkle a little bit of food into your tank. We recommend mixing it close to the filter return so all fish can get a fair share.
When all the food is eaten, sprinkle a little bit more. If the food is not completely consumed, WAIT.
Continue for 5 minutes or until the fish stop eating.
NOTE: Some species, like betta fish, are not great at regulating their intake. Keep in mind that their stomachs are about the same size as their eyeballs. Only a few pellets once or twice a day is adequate!
Why does this method work?
The biggest problem with overfeeding a fish tank is not just fat fish, but increased stress on your biological filtration. The breakdown of fish food, since it contains a lot of protein, causes an increase in the ammonia levels in your tank. Using this method makes sure that the food ends up in the fish, not the bottom of their tank. If you’re unfamiliar with ammonia and the nitrogen cycle, read this explanation.
For more information on fish food in general, watch our webinar.
I’m very sorry to have to tell you that if you have fish in water, algae will grow. There is no way around it. Fish produce the perfect fertilizer for algae, nitrate. You may not be able to avoid it, but there are ways to mitigate it.
However, remind yourself that fish don’t care about algae, people do. Just because your tank is a little bit green does NOT mean that you are a terrible fish parent. It means your tank is healthy! But this does not apply to a tank so thick with slimy green scum that you cannot even see your fish.
Algae is a single-celled plant that can replicate very quickly. It may clip together with similar cells to produce hair or string algae, or it may stay singularly suspended in solution. During the daylight hours, algae converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and water, a process known as photosynthesis. However, once the sun goes down, the algae start to use the oxygen in the water to respirate, converting oxygen back into carbon dioxide. This can produce respiratory acidosis, where the carbon dioxide levels start to drop the pH. In tanks that are very, very green, the algae can out-compete with fish for oxygen AND start to decrease you pH. As long as you kH or alkalinity is sufficient, your pH will not drop drastically. Having sufficient aeration in your tank will make sure there is plenty of oxygen to go around.
So, how do you keep algae from getting out of control?
Keep up with your regular water changes. Algae uses nitrate as a food source, so by limiting your nitrates by doing regular water changes, you will keep your algae in check.
Try to minimize direct sunlight on your tank. Not only will it keep your temperature from spiking, removing sunlight will help keep the algae from growing too quickly.
Scrub your tank walls regularly. Once the algae is loosened and sent into the filter, it will die from lack of sunlight.
Out-compete the algae with aquatic plants. Aquatic plants work the same as algae, just on a larger scale. For everything you want to know about aquatic plants, check out our webinar on Plants in Fish Systems. They will not rectify the entire problem, but will give minor assistance.
What should you not rely on?
Chemical additives are rampant on store shelves. These have NOT been tested on all species of fish. They are NOT controlled by any governing body.
UV lights only catch particulates in suspension. They will have NO affect on any algae trapped to the sides of your tank. But they will help zap it if you scrub.
Need help cleaning your tank properly? Check out our How-To video!
You have a plan, you got your tank and all the additional items, so it’s time to add the fish! But how many fish do you add? In what order do you add them? In the beginning, your biggest hurdle will be establishing your nitrogen cycle. This cycle is made up of commensal bacteria living in your substrate and biological filtration media (sponges, matting, bio balls, ceramic cubes etc). These helpful bacteria convert the primary fish waste of ammonia into nitrite and from there into nitrate. Ammonia and nitrite are highly toxic to fish, and can cause lethargy, loss of appetite and death.
When a tank is brand new, the bacteria have not been colonized. There are many commercial starters promising to “instantly start” your tank, but they are the aquatic equivalent to snake oil. Our office tested over half a dozen of these products with no decrease in time to conversion. You do NOT need to add these products to your tank, they will come with the fish; they just take time to become established. It will take 4-6 weeks for your tank to go through all the necessary steps to become established. If you follow your tank’s progression with your water quality testing kit, you will yield a graph like this:
You will see spikes in ammonia, nitrite and then nitrate. When you see this DO NOT PANIC. It is a normal occurrence in EVERY new fish tank. It is called “New Tank Syndrome” and there is no way around it unless you have another established tank with similar water parameter requirements that you can steal some filter media from.
The best way to combat New Tank Syndrome and avoid crashing your tank with a major ammonia spike is by starting with just a few fish in your new tank. Start with one or two goldfish or 3-4 tropicals, like zebrafish or tetras, before your tank is established. Slowly increase your fish levels from there and you will never have an issue.
Be patient! It is extra work, but I guarantee by following these steps, you will not lose a fish from New Tank Syndrome. Buy a test kit, know how to use it and don’t panic when those spikes hit. By having fewer fish in a larger volume of water, you will produce a smaller, more tolerable spike, keeping your fish alive.
Happy New Year to all you fish lovers! We hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season with your family, friends and fish. To start off our new year, we want to take a closer look at our Top 10 Mistakes. You may have read the shortlist, but there’s a lot more to learn! Read along with us as we count down from #10 to #1.
The #10 Mistake – Lack of Planning
Unlike purchasing a cat or a dog, usually adding a fish tank is a spur of the moment decision. Your kids have been begging you for a puppy or a kitten and you go with a smart compromise – A FISH! Well, I’m very sorry to tell you that fish can be just as much trouble as a cat or dog. Yes, they don’t need regular walks and won’t leave “surprises” in your bed, but they require regular care just like any other pet. BEFORE you go out and buy the new tank, make a plan.
#1: How big of a tank do you think you can manage? The size of the tank you plan on will determine what species of fish you can have. If you can go big – GO BIG! The more water you have and the fewer fish, the less stressful the first few months will be. Once you know how big a tank you want, does the item of furniture you are planning on setting it support the weight of the tank? (Remember: 1 gallon of water = 8.34 lbs or 3.78 kg) This is not the time to show off that antique table. Fish tanks are wet and any item a tank sits on WILL GET WET. Wood is probably not a good idea unless its sealed.
Got your tank size and a place to put it? GREAT! Here’s the rest of the checklist to include on your shopping list:
Check List for New Tank
_____ Fish tank of _______ gallons
_____ Table that can hold ______ gallons fish tank (1 gallon of water = 3.78 kg or 8.34 lbs)
_____ Lid for tank with light
_____ Filter capable of volume 1.5x ______ gallons (canister or hang-on)
_____ If tank is >30 gallons, consider adding aerator or powerhead to improve water flow
______ Substrate (gravel, rocks, sand, etc.)
______ Gravel vacuum
______ Decor items (must be FISH SAFE) – for bettas, stick with items that will not snag fins
______ Fish food (enough for 6 months), you may want to try a variety to start to see what they like
______ Fish, obviously
Notice that we did NOT have bacterial starter, water conditioner other than dechlorinator or additional filter media. YOU DO NOT NEED IT!
Planning your tank in advance takes 90% of the stress out of fish keeping. You are WAY ahead of most novice fish keepers if you make a plan and stick to it. And a lot of stores allow you to shop online and swing by to pick it up!
It’s almost that time of year again, where many families will be bringing new pet fish into their homes as holiday presents. Unfortunately, many of these new endeavors tend to end disastrously. But this doesn’t have to be the case for YOU! With our helpful guide, your fish can live a long a happy life.
Plan ahead. We all know the thrill of walking into the pet store and loading up on everything a fish could possibly want. You can still get that rush, but go in with a plan. Read this checklist to make sure you have everything you need to keep your fish happy for those first few critical weeks of life. Here’s how to set everything up once you’ve worked through your checklist.
Understand how tank cycling works. New tank syndrome is the downfall of many holiday fish systems. By starting with a low bioload for the first few weeks, you will save yourself the hassle of having to start over. Buy a reliable test kit and watch your parameters closely.
Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed, and this does NOT mean scrolling through the internet! There is a TON of misinformation on the internet. Call your local fish professional and have their number ready, just in case. Our office fields calls from all over the country on a daily basis for people needing help with the next step. Call us if you need help –> (831) 728-7000.
By working through these 5 simple steps, you have ensured your holiday fish will be a member of the family through the next holiday season. Need more? Be sure to read through our Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make.
And flushing dead fish is NOT a sanitary method of disposal. After you have made sure they are dead, through prolonged drug exposure or cervical spine separation, place dead fish in the trash or bury them at least 12″ in the yard. Putting almost dead fish in the freezer is not humane.
When you set up a new fish tank for the first time, there are a few things you can expect to happen.
With a brand new filter, your nitrogen cycle has not been established. It will take 4-6 weeks MINIMUM to start cycling your new tank. There are countless products who claim they can instantly start your cycle, but they DO NOT WORK. We tested many products and only one was able to shorten our cycle by one week.
During those sensitive weeks, your tank will undergo the following spikes in ammonia, nitrite and finally, nitrate, as those bacteria colonies are established. You tank’s temperature and filtration capacity will determine how fast your cycle is established.
As your nitrogen cycle is established, your fish can be in danger of toxic levels of ammonia and nitrite. Therefore, it is essential to keep you bioload low in those first few weeks! Rather than fully stocking your tank from the get-go, start with only a few, hardy fish until your cycle is established. Keep a close eye on your parameters with a water quality test kit. Plot your readings and you will match the graph above.
Ammonia-binding products will prevent this cycle from occurring. Your tank will be stuck in perpetual “new tank” standing. We understand that it can be very scary to see your new tank spike with ammonia, but you cannot get to the end stage without the journey in between. Keep a close eye on your parameters and bioload low in the first 4-6 weeks and you’ll be all set from then on! If you’re really worried, or your fish start to act sickly, do a small water change to decrease the spike. And if you decide to replace your filter media every month, your tank will be continually cycling. So, ignore the box, and invest in a sturdy sponge instead.
I know a lot of you out there are interested in seeing fish patients, but don’t know where to start. Getting training can be a little daunting, but check out our Aquatic Education Resources page. Once you have the skills, it’s super easy to start seeing clients. Aside from some drugs, nets and buckets, you have everything else you need already! Here’s the secret to increasing your fish clients:
Put a fish tank in your waiting room.
Yes, that is it. I suggest you keep it simple. A basic 10 gallon tank with a few tropical fish or 1-2 goldfish and some decor is all you need. Since most pet fish are kept in multi-pet households with dogs and cats, you already know who your clients are. When anyone asks about the tank, have your staff tell them you see pet fish.
Don’t think fish are worth your time? Well, let’s look at the numbers:
Horse 7.6 Freshwater Fish 139.3 Saltwater Fish 18.8
Small Animal 14.0
Although only 12.5 million households own fish compared to 94 and 90 million households for cats and dogs, respectively, the total number of potential fish patients is significantly more than any other pet. And most pet fish are IN households with cats and dogs!