Respect Your Betta

There is no fish that lacks respect in the fish kingdom than the amazing betta. Goldfish are a close second, but most people see betta fish as the easiest pet to care for. Just drop it in a vase and poof! Instant fish tank.

Our office gets a lot of calls about betta fish. I do a fair amount of work treating them for various illnesses, most often the misdiagnosed “fin rot.” “Fin rot” is nothing more than your betta is stressed out from dozens of potential causes. Guess what is #1? If you didn’t say “water quality,” read this and get back to me.

A happy betta in his tank

Let me tell you a secret. 95% of my betta calls can save their money by implementing the following changes:

  1. Add a heater.
  2. Add a filter.

Tah dah!

That is seriously how we fix 95% of our betta calls. We can tell you this on the phone for FREE. Well, actually we’ll tell you to visit this page on our website that outlines the exact same plan. If you don’t believe me, I can come to your house and tell you, but I’ll have to charge you.

Here’s how this magic fix works…

Most bettas are NOT kept in standard fish tanks. Everyone believes that what they see on Pinterest and Instagram with bettas in anything that can hold water is gospel. Yes, bettas have that specialized labyrinth organ that essentially acts as a primitive lung, allowing them to breathe air. HOWEVER, this is a short-term survival mechanism! It is not intended to be a way of life. It is the human equivalent of living in a spacious one-bedroom apartment with central air, heat and garbage disposal compared with living in a sealed elevator shaft. Sure, you’ll survive, but you won’t thrive.

And bettas are tropical fish, and therefore, need a heater. That’s about as simple as it is. 80-82F (26-28C) if you please!

Fish bowls are horrible homes for any fish. Get your pet a nice, filtered tank and use your bowl for something else. I recommend tropical beverages.

Proper use of fish bowl to hold fruity cocktail

Regarding betta fish as disposable pets starts now. If you are taking in a living, breathing (WATER) pet, you are responsible for giving it the best life possible. If you can’t get your betta a tank with a heater, feed it properly or take care of it, get a pet rock instead. You can paint it like a betta if you like.

Side note: bettas will eat enough pellets to stuff them end to end in one sitting. Keep in mind that their “stomach” is only as big as their eyeball. Only a few pellets per feeding. And no amount of green peas will save you once the big poo ball forms.

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How Not To Kill Your First Fish

How Not To Kill Your First Fish

It all starts out the same. Kid X begs for a puppy. Kid Y wants a kitty. You barter a fish to “see how it goes.” Tank gets set up, fish gets plunked in, and everything goes swimmingly… for about 2 weeks. Then all hell breaks loose and your fish dies. The tank is tossed and the fish forgotten.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Follow these 4 simple steps and I guarantee that your fish will have a fighting chance!

1. The fish you bought at the pet store are probably already sick.

How do I know this? Given the rapid turn-over at the pet store, most commonly less than 48 hours, stores never know what fun diseases their fish are already carrying! White spot disease in particular is the most common. Only ONE of these little spots can spawn 1,000 babies! At warm temperatures, this can spiral into a pit of death and despair within days. If you see ANY fish in the store with suspicious white spots, dead or listless fish in the tank, go somewhere else or order online. Ask when then fish came in. If they have been there over a week, they are probably healthier. probably… THERE IS NO WHERE YOU CAN GO THAT WILL GUARANTEE HEALTHY FISH. It’s just not profitable; yes, I tried.

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2. Quarantine your new fish.

Yes, it’s a pain in the @$$. Yes, it takes away the instant gratification. But quarantining fish from different stores/batches/yard sales will keep disease from spreading. Ever watched one of those zombie movies where the virus spreads so quickly no one can do anything? It’s the same thing with your fish. You may have gotten lucky with the first batch of fish, but you’ll play Russian Roulette with any new additions. Get another tank, keep it far away from the first tank and USE SEPARATE EQUIPMENT! At least 4-6 weeks (shorter for warmer water). For full rules and restrictions, read this.

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3. New Tank Syndrome is the #1 cause of new fish death.

We are all obsessed with instant gratification. When you first get your tank, you want it full NOW! Well, sorry to say that this is just asking for a disaster. Newbie fish keepers are most likely unfamiliar with the NITROGEN CYCLE. This cycle keeps your fish ALIVE. There is no product you can buy to “short cut” this cycle. Our office tried a dozen products and ONLY ONE shortened the cycle by 1 week. 4-6 weeks MINIMUM are necessary to make your new fish home inhabitable. Starting with just a few fish will get your cycle up and running without sending your toxic ammonia on a mission to kill all your fish. Read this, memorize it and tell everyone you see about it. And you know that 1″ of fish per gallon is bull, yes?

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4. WATER CHEMISTRY

Dedicated followers have heard this before… many times. It’s the most popular topic on our website. Good water quality = happy, healthy fish. I can’t make it easier than that. Get a test kit and use it regularly. In the beginning, this will be DAILY. After your NITROGEN CYCLE is established, scale back to WEEKLY. If your system has remained unchanged in maintenance practices, equipment and fish for 3 months, you can maybe get away with MONTHLY.

Alright, rant over. Please value your fishes’ lives. It pains our service when these calls come in and it’s too late to help.

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Fish Bowl Syndrome

A common problem we see, especially in betta fish, is known as Fish Bowl Syndrome. Essentially, it can be broken down into one main issue:

Your fish is in a bowl.

Problem #1: Your fish has no filtration for processing of dangerous ammonia waste. Without a place for bacteria to grow and filter the water, your nitrogen cycle can never be established. Some may argue that betta fish get pushed around by filters, but if you chose the right one and slow the flow, it is perfectly suited to bettas.

Problem #2: You fish has no oxygen circulation. Fish tank filters are great at adding in oxygen, even in slow-flow mode. In a stagnant bowl, your fish is limited to what air diffuses from the surface. Yes, betta fish have a specialized labyrinth organ used to squeeze oxygen from the air. This is a short-term adaptation mechanism used to survive in drought conditions. It is NOT a long-term survival technique.

Problem #3: Your fish has no temperature stability. We’ll pick on betta fish again. Bettas are tropical and need heat. The small volume of a bowl causes temperatures to fluctuate dramatically. Watch the difference in ambient room temperatures on a 1-gallon fish bowl and a 10-gallon fish tank. It’s the same as you stepping out into freezing temperatures wearing a t-shirt or a coat.

Problem #4: When doing bowl water changes, most often, you will take your fish out of the bowl and put them in a tiny container while you empty all the water out of the bowl and scrub it clean. Since you have no filtration or oxygenation, you can swing the water chemistry parameters, including pH and temperature, very rapidly, causing your fish to stress and possibly die.

Fish bowls are ancient technology invented before there was electricity. With all the modern updates to fish-keeping, isn’t it time to let the fish bowls go? Unless, perhaps, you use them for this purpose:

#BANTHEBOWL

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #2

The #2 Mistake – Not Doing Your Regular Maintenance

Fish are not maintenance free pets. Many owners think this when they first start, but some fish systems require the same care and cleaning as any other pet. Especially when you are first starting out, it is important to keep up with your regular scheduled cleaning. Maintaining a regular maintenance schedule for your aquarium will be of the most benefit to your fish by keeping your water quality within appropriate parameters.

Our best advice: add your regular maintenance to your TO DO list and make it a priority. Get the whole family involved and take the time to give your fish a happy, healthy home. Here is a helpful checklist for everything you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

If you follow the above checklist, get the family involved and make fish care a priority, your fish will have a long, happy life. If you’re confused or unsure the best way to clean your tank, watch our Best Tank Cleaning Practices video.

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #4

The #4 Mistake – Not Testing Your Water

Ponder the following situation: you have two glasses before you. One is tap water and the other is hydrochloric acid.

How do you know which one is safe to drink by looking at them? Which one would you put your fish into?

It is impossible to tell if water is safe for fish by the look of it.

Water that is safe for fish and dangerous for fish will look EXACTLY THE SAME. This is why we always test the water at all of our appointments and why all fish owners should do the same. Fish health is directly tied to certain water quality parameters. If you’re a regular reader, please, list them along with us:

You don’t have to test all of these parameters all the time, but regular tests of AT LEAST ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, kH and temperature are essential.

Test your water AT LEAST once a month. You will need the following tools:

All of these tools are easily purchased at your local pet fish store or online.

Safe levels for fish will vary on the species. For koi, goldfish and most tropical, including bettas, you want your water within the following parameters (please keep in mind that this chart was made using the API kit parameters and are general guidelines):

ParameterKoiGoldfishTropicals
Ammonia<0.25 mg/L<0.25 mg/L <0.25 mg/L
Nitrite0 mg/L 0 mg/L 0 mg/L
Nitrate<40 mg/L <40 mg/L varies
pH6.5-9.06.5-9.0varies
kH>100 mg/L >100 mg/L >100 mg/L
Temperature33-85F (1-29C) 33-85F (1-29C) 74-84F (23-28C)

As your fish systems progress, record your weekly/monthly readings and watch for any trends. How does your regular maintenance change your readings? By keeping a close eye on your parameters, you can significantly improve the overall health of your fish. 

Good water = happy, healthy fish.

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #5

The #5 Mistake – Not Understanding Filtration

Mastering the ins and outs of filtration in aquatic systems can seem a daunting task for new owners, but we’re going to make it SO EASY!! To start out, there are three types of filtration going on in your fish system:

  • Mechanical (floss, sponges, pads) – These components remove particulate from your aquarium. They need to be cleaned regularly to maintain water flow rates throughout your aquarium.
  • Biological (bioballs, ceramic media, strapping, floss, sponges, media bed) – These provide housing for your good bacteria that keep your nitrogen cycle running smoothly. They need to be cleaned carefully so you do not remove too many of them.
  • Chemical (UV, carbon) – These components change the action of particulates in your water. UV lights kill algae and carbon will alter any chemical treatments added to your tank. UV light has NO EFFECT on bacteria or parasites living on your fish.

When you clean your tank, understanding what each part does will illustrate how to clean it. Mechanical filtration can be cleaned fairly thoroughly. Chemical filter components need to be replaced regularly for proper function. Biological filtration needs to be cleaned with old tank water and not until sparkling! 

Watch our video on how to properly clean your fish tank and media.

Combo Filters

These filters come with a combination of filtration types, usually sponges (mechanical/biological), carbon (chemical) and zeolite (chemical – ammonia scrubber). You do not have to use all of the components! Our office just uses the sponges; carbon is not necessary and an ammonia-scrubber isn’t needed for established, well-maintained systems.

Floss Cartridges

These are the most useless filters in the aquarium hobby. They are not meant to last and hemorrhage money. Switch them out for a sturdy sponge that you DO NOT need to replace every month. Only replace your filtration when it is about to fall apart.

Pressurized Filter

This is the most common type of filtration used on outdoor fish ponds. These units contain many small plastic beads used to house good bacteria for ammonia conversion. They need to be backwashed on a weekly basis to make sure the media is not compacted. Once compacted, these units need to be cracked open and cleaned.

To keep your fish happy and healthy, it is important that you do your maintenance regularly! Here’s a handy checklist to make sure you do everything on a regular basis: For Fish Tanks and For Koi Ponds

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #7

The #7 Mistake – Feeding Your Fish Too Much

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:

  1. 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.
  2. When all the food is eaten, sprinkle a little bit more. If the food is not completely consumed, WAIT.
  3. 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.

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make #9

The #9 Mistake – Adding Fish Too Early

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.

New Tank Syndrome

New Tank Syndrome

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.

New Tank Checklist

New Tank Checklist

Thinking about adding a new tank to your home or business? Make sure you have everything you need before you get started. Print this list and bring it with you to the store to make sure you don’t forget anything.

BEFORE YOU GET STARTED: What kind of tank do you want? How big of a tank can you comfortably fit? What kind of fish do you want to have? How many fish of that type can your newly described tank hold? Sorry, but the 1″ of fish per gallon rule does NOT work. Research your species and understand what environment works best for them BEFORE you buy ANYTHING!

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
  • ______ Live plants, if you like. Read this guide before you start with live plants. We do NOT recommend them for beginners.
  • ______ Dechlorinator to treat tap water for chlorine AND chloramine
  • ______ Bucket that can hold at least ~40% of your total water volume (or multiple buckets if necessary)
  • ______ Scrub brush for decor
  • ______ Algae scraper for acrylic or glass tank (they are DIFFERENT)
  • ______ Heater – if your fish need it; did you do your research? Hint: goldfish do NOT, bettas absolutely DO
  • ______ Thermometer – to make sure your heater is working properly
  • ______ Water quality test kit – this is NOT optional
  • ______ 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!

Taking the leap into saltwater? Then you need to read our 10 Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE Getting a Saltwater Tank.

Once you have everything you need, check out our setup demo. And once it’s time to clean, make sure you have our handy How To Clean a Fish Tank and check list ready!