How to Clean a Fish Tank

Sounds simple? Do it right and keep your stress minimal!

Cleaning the glass
  1. Wash your hands and arms to your elbows.
  2. Unplug filter and lights. If you have any UV lights, unplug those too. Close any valves if you have a sump so it doesn’t overflow.
  3. Remove any synthetic decor and scrub it with hot water and a designated toothbrush.
  4. Clean the glass with an appropriate acrylic-safe or glass scrub.
  5. Use a gravel vacuum to get into the substrate crevices. Do not remove more than 50% of the tank water at a time. Your fish can stay in the tank, just don’t suck them up!

    Scrubbing decor separately using hot water and toothbrush
  6. Remove filter media and rinse gently or squeeze in collected bucket of waste water. Do NOT use tap water. The chlorine can kill your good bacteria. Your filter media does NOT have to be pristine and sparkling. Again, super clean media will reset your biologic filter to ZERO. You do NOT have to replace your filter media every month. If your filter media is falling apart, do not replace more than 1/4-1/3 of the total media at a time. We recommend using sturdy sponges over floss.
  7. Use your waste water to feed your plants. The nitrates make great fertilizer!

    Using a gravel siphon to clean substrate
  8. Re-fill your bucket with tap water. Bottled water can be missing buffers and/or minerals. Make sure it is the same temperature as your tank! An infrared thermometer is great for quickly comparing two temperatures.
  9. Add dechlorinator to your bucket of water and decor that treats chlorine AND chloramine. Chloramine is a more stable form of chlorine mixed with ammonia! Allow a few minutes for the dechlor to do its job.
  10. Replace your decor back in your tank and pour in your treated water. You may need to adjust your decor after adding the water.
  11. Prime your filtration by pouring some tank water into the filter base. Plug in and adjust flow accordingly. Open any valves you previously closed.

    Gently rinse filter media in waste water
  12. Turn on your lights and replace any covers. Watch your tank for a few minutes to make sure everything is working properly.
  13. Wash your hands and arms!

Watch this video for the entire process.



Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make

Top 10 Mistakes All New Fish Owners Make

Keeping fish couldn’t be simpler! Get tank, add water and then add fish, right? Well, I’m sorry to say it just isn’t that easy. Here are the 10 top mistakes that all new fish owners make.

  • Not learning about fish prior to getting them.
    • You wouldn’t get a dog or a cat without some prior knowledge about what to expect, would you? Well, maybe you would, but it is not recommended. Just like adding a furry member to the family, do your research about your fish way before you purchase a tank. Once you know what kind of fish you want and how much maintenance you’re willing to do on a regular basis, you’ll know what size tank to get and what features you’ll need. Read up on what your fish will need to eat, how often and if all the fish you want will even get along in the same system.
  • Adding fish too early.
    • When you first start your system, it’s a clean slate. Brand new from the pet store, you excitedly want to fill it to the brim with fish. Do this, and your fish are guaranteed to die. New tanks need to cycle for a few days without anything in them to make sure that all the decor has been rinsed. Then, it’s time to start culturing your biologic filtration. Your biologic filtration is made up of millions of tiny bacteria living on your filter media pads, substrate and many other nooks and crevices. Best part is, they’re free! Your fish bring them with you when you add them; the trick is to start with a very low load of fish to get things started first. You can try adding bacterial starter, but with few exceptions, these are just a waste of money. Unless you are starting with pre-started media from another system, it will take 4-6 weeks to establish your filters.
  • Feeding too much.
    • All pet owners feed their pets their love. Cats, dogs and even fish can become obese very easily. It is harder for fish, since they use energy constantly to swim, but can happen all the same. If you are concerned about the amount of food your fish are getting, you can try to estimate the total weight of your fish and calculate an exact dose, or just feed slowly over a few minutes until they stop eating. Unlike your Labrador retriever, they will stop when they’re full.
  • Not testing your water.
    • Especially in the beginning, testing your water can be a frightening experience. Your ammonia will shoot up and keep climbing until your biologic filters are established. Regular water changes will help this from getting out of hand. Even if your tank is established, testing your water regularly will be a good indicator of how well you are maintaining your system. You should be testing the following parameters regularly: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, kH and temperature. Salinity is a must for any marine or brackish system. If you’d like more information about water quality, check out this quick reference sheet or our recorded webinar.
  • Not doing regular tank maintenance.
    • You didn’t think a fish tank would be any work? Sorry to tell you, but it’s just as much work as a fluffy pet. You need to take care of your system regularly by vacuuming up poop and debris, rinsing your filters to achieve adequate flow and changing out a percentage of the water. Here’s a helpful checklist of everything you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly schedule.
  • Not storing your food properly.
    • Fish food loses a significant amount of nutritional value if stored improperly. Keep it in an airtight container out of the sun at room temperature. Toss any remaining food after 6 months, since after that time, most of the good water-soluble vitamins are gone. It does not make sense to buy food in bulk unless you are able to repackage it in a vacuum bag. Learn more about fish food in our awesome webinar.
  • Not understanding filtration.
    • In the fish world, some bacteria are good. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in your biological filtration (sponges/matting) help your fish live happy lives. So why would you throw out your filter media every month? The box told you to? Well, ignore the box. By tossing your filter media every month, you are only causing more problems and making more profit for filtration companies. Yes, they may look dirty, but it’s OKAY!! By making your filters pristine once a month, you are doing more harm than good.
  • Worrying too much about algae.
    • Fish tank = algae. Sorry, but there’s just no better home for algae than in a fish tank. Over time, your algae colonies will change depending on what your system behaves. As long as your tank doesn’t look like a giant hairball, your fish are probably fine. A quick, daily scrub will take care of most of it, but without a UV filter, it will just settle somewhere else. If you have a LOT of algae, try to cut down on its food source by feeding your fish less (see point above) or doing more water changes. Maybe try some aquatic plants to put those nutrients somewhere else? Algae will use the light to breathe during the day, but at night, it can suck the oxygen out of your water! Make sure to have adequate aeration so your fish don’t have to compete.
  • Rely too much on internet searches.
    • If it’s on the internet, it must be true, right? Well, sorry to tell all those two-headed alien babies that not everything you read on the internet is true. I’m sure everyone is looking out for your best interests, but a lot of these “home remedies” are untested with only one subject. Even in the same species, not all fish act the same and “normal” can vary widely across the 30,000+ species in the fish kingdom. Many of these quick fixes will help with the visual issue, but do not treat anything underlying that cannot be seen, such as husbandry and water quality. Always approach “miracle” cures on the internet with some skepticism.
  • Not asking for help when you’re in over your head.
    • No matter where you live, there is a professional who can help. Be they an expert hobbyist, maintenance company or veterinarian, there is someone who can help you! Don’t give up and throw in the towel! Our office covers California and Nevada, but there are fish veterinarians all over the world, ready to help you! If you think it’s a stupid question, I guarantee we’ve heard it before. We are just here to help! Call now! (831) 728-7000


Stop Replacing Your Filters!!

Dear Fish Tank Owners,

Please stop replacing your filter media every month.

I know it says to do so on the box! But, guess what? They do that in order to SELL MORE!!

When you take out your old filter media and toss it in the trash, you are discarding all of your good bacteria. These good bacteria maintain your biological filter and keep your nitrogen cycle up and running.

Most of those floss filter pads are designed to fall apart rapidly. Replace your filter media with a sturdy sponge and it will last you for several years! In order to keep them clean, squeeze them out gently in your waste water after siphoning your tank.

I know this goes against everything that is printed on the sides of your box of filter media pads, but you have to trust us. We are telling you this in the best interest of your fish and system. Just try it!

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Everyone always wants to know how to keep their fish system from becoming infested with some horrible disease that puts all their fish at risk. Well, it’s a lot simpler than you think!

  1. Quarantine. Quarantine. Quarantine. This includes plants and ALL NEW FISH. The stress of handling and transport is enough to make even the healthiest of fish turn on your tanks inhabitants. Fish cannot be sterilized and always have pathogens on them, including parasites, bacteria and fungi. Most problems occur when new fish, invertebrates or plants are added to an established system. Set up a separate hospital tank and have it at the ready whenever new fish are on their way in. 4-6 weeks is the MINIMUM requirement for all new additions. For more information, be sure to watch our Quarantine Practices webinar!
  2. Maintain your water quality through consistent maintenance, proper feeding and adequate filtration. Water quality is the #1 thing owners can do to keep their fish healthy. Get a test kit, know how to use it and what normal parameters look like. Not all fish systems will be identical! Keep up with your maintenance. If everything is a bit discombobulated, use these handy checklists for tanks and ponds.
  3. Feed your fish a good quality diet that is species appropriate. Look for a food with appropriate levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We are happy to give consults on diet for FREE. If you want to learn more about fish diets, watch our webinar.
  4. Note any signs of disease early and take precautionary measures. You set up that hospital tank, right? Learn the physical and behavioral signs of disease in fish through our free webinar.
  5. If you think something is wrong, ASK NOW! Don’t wait until a small problem becomes big and hard to manage. Our job is to help you take care of your fish, plain and simple. We can work within your budget to make sure your fish get the care they need. Call us at (831) 346-6151 or email

Follow those rules and your fish will thank you! Being healthy and disease free is the way to be, no matter what your species!

The Truth About Aquatic Plants

The Truth About Aquatic Plants

To plant or not to plant? As is the dilemma facing most freshwater tank and pond owners. Live plants can add beauty and filtration, but come with their own set of issues. If you are interested in pursing adding live plants to your system, be sure to read through the following points.

WAIT! I was told you can’t have plants in koi ponds! No matter what the purists say, you can absolutely have plants and koi together. You can also mix koi and goldfish, but that’s another article.

  • Your system needs to be producing nitrate in order for plants to thrive. If you constantly use an ammonia-binding additive or have a brand new tank, hold off on adding any plant life. Buy yourself a test kit and make sure your nitrogen cycle is established prior to getting those plants in there.
  • Plants can carry pathogens, especially if they were previously housed with fish. That means they need to be quarantined too! Set them up in your quarantine with a few fish to signal if there are any issues. You can also do a hydrogen peroxide dip that will take care of most bugs.
  • You will need to trim your plants regularly as parts die off. If you leave the rotting bits in your tank, you’re only making your ammonia levels worse. Make trimming your plants a regular part of your weekly maintenance and your system will thank you.
  • Fish will try to eat your plants. It doesn’t matter if you feed them the most awesome food on the planet, they will harass your plants if they’re simply bored. Don’t get too attached. You can try to create a buffer zone between plants and fish using mesh or netting. But, be prepared for some losses.
  • If you’re expecting a few plants to significantly decrease your nitrate levels, you will be sadly mistaken. The amount of plants you need to make a dent in your water quality is immense. If you want to use plants for filtration, consider adding a bog filter for ponds or an aquaponic system. Don’t expect those three fronds of anacharis to do the trick.
  • Any medications or treatments you add to the tank or pond will affect the plants. Salt treatments in particular can kill plants. However, if there is a disease in your system, the plants could be harboring pathogens. If you have a disease that could be hiding in your plants, make sure you treat the entire system appropriately. With some diseases, replacing the plants entirely may be the best option.

If you have any interest in adding plants to your system, but aren’t quite sure what to add, please call The Fish Vet Store at 831-728-7003

Don’t Tap on the Tank!

Don’t Tap on the Tank!

How does a fish interact with its watery environment? They have many of the same senses as we do: sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. But, did you know that fish can sense vibrations in the water around them using a special organ called a lateral line? If you look closely at the side of any fish, you will see small holes along the lateral midline.

These little holes contain a gel-like medium and tiny hair cells. These hair cells pick up vibrations in the water and pass them along to the brain. This is how fish are able to school together in tight clumps and can feel your net moving towards them from behind. This the main reasoning behind the “don’t tap on the tank” warning. Tapping on the side of a fish tank is the human equivalent of having your body right next to multiple loudspeakers. You can feel your entire body vibrating from the noise. This is how a fish feels when you tap on the side of their tank and send pulses throughout the water. And remember, water is a much better conductor than air.

The same sensation occurs when you have a speaker with music next to your tank, or a 24-hour gym facility moves next door to your fish hospital. Bass (frequency, not the fish) carries very strong vibrations and with constant bombardment, fish get stressed, and like in humans, decreased immune function. People are able to walk away from sources of stress, but not fish. By continuing to stress out your animals with vibrations, you can kill them. Death occurs secondary to a significantly weakened immune system allowing other bacteria and pathogens to take over.

So, don’t be a Darla. Keep your fingers, speakers and gyms to yourself.


pH and kH

It’s time for everyone’s favorite topic: water quality!

Many of our clients purchase “master” test kits which include: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, low and high pH. This is a great collection of parameters to start with, but what about kH?

For those of you unfamiliar with kH, kH measures the buffering capacity of your water. Buffers bind to free hydrogen ions (H+) and keep them out of solution. Since your pH is a direct measure of [H+] in your system, kH directly impacts pH. And remember that high [H+] = more acidic and low [H+] = more basic.

(For those of you who are confusing this with gH, or total hardness: gH measures the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water. Although this may be a component of your kH, they are separate parameters entirely.)

So, if your kH levels are too low, all the H+ your fish discharge due to metabolic processes can build up and crash your pH. Adequate kH levels will keep your pH consistent throughout the day, regardless of what your fish and filters are doing. Knowing your tanks kH is an essential component to any fish keeper’s database. There are simple tests available that will make your testing a true “master kit.”

A kH value of >50 mg/L is adequate, but >100 mg/L is better. 

If your tank kH is low, test your source water kH. Some city and well systems have low kH coming in and will need buffers to be manually added to your system to maintain adequate levels. Keep an eye on your pH when manually adding buffers in order to make sure your pH will not change too much. Slow and steady is the goal for any pH changes.

Fish Bowls = Bad Idea

Fish Bowls = Bad Idea

If you ask Leroy, he’d much prefer a tank with a filter, not a bowl

Unfortunately, fish bowls are antiquated technology still for sale on your pet store shelf today. It’s an idealized image handed down from Disney movies in our childhoods. Who doesn’t like the cozy image of a happy fish swimming around its bowl? Sorry to tell you that fish bowls are awful for fish. Fish kept as pets need more than a stagnant bowl to live happy, healthy lives. Even if your fish has been “perfectly fine and healthy for years in its bowl,” I guarantee it would thrive in a tank with filtration.

Imagine yourself living inside a clear, sealed box. It’s bare except for a chair. No restroom or showering facilities. No air circulation either. Food is delivered through a shoot daily. Once a week, maybe once every other week, housekeeping comes in and cleans up most of your waste, any leftovers and lets fresh air in. And that’s it until the next time they dain to show up. And you will live like this for 4-5 years if you’re lucky.

Sure, you’d probably be okay. You’d live, but you’d be miserable. 

It’s the exact same for a fish living in a bowl.

No circulation, limited housecleaning with no facilities.

Let’s put you in a roomy tank. Automatically, there’s more air to breathe than in the confines of your tiny bowl. You can get some exercise wandering about.

Adding a filter is the biggest change of all. The filter sucks up your waste and converts it into a compound that does not irritate you. It provides fresh air. You are significantly better off only having two major changes in your life.

Rather than a giant flush of fresh air every so often, once a week, a little bit of the old air is let out and new air comes in. Some of the excess waste gets removed. This is the equivalent of doing small water changes using a gravel siphon in your tank.

So, where would you rather live? In the claustrophobic trash dump with human waste all over and limited air to breathe? Or in the roomy, breathable, tidy room with extra space?

I think your fish would rather have the same. Surviving is not living. Allow your fish to thrive. #banthebowl

P.S. “But my betta fish is adapted to live in small puddles when the tides wash out! A bowl is perfect for him!” This is a survival mechanism for short-term survival, not a life plan. Bettas don’t deserve a bowl more than any other fish. For more info on betta fish, see our betta page.

Water Changes & Fish

Water Changes & Fish

Most fish kept as pets are maintained in artificial systems; tanks and ponds meant to replicate their “wild” environment. In a “wild” environment, water flushes into and out of a system through streams, rivers, brooks, rain or the ocean. In an artificial tank or pond, water will come in and out at the owner’s discretion, commonly called a water change. There are many ways to improve your system by getting it very close to a “wild” system, but it’ll never be the same. Let’s get started with some of the various claims our office has heard over the years.

“I never do water changes and all my fish are fine. The out break of (fill in your chosen disease here) has nothing to do with the water.”

In most of these systems, commonly referred to as “natural” systems, a lot of plant debris and sludge can usually be observed. All the nitrates produced by the fish waste is going into the plant growth. This is a fine way to manage your nitrates. But what about the fishes’ other wastes? How do you remove the hormones they produce? What exactly is living in the sludge from months or years of fish and plant waste? In a “wild” system, hormones and other metabolic wastes are diluted out with the influx and efflux of new water, so why aren’t you doing water changes? Yes, I know water is expensive, especially where we are in California, but you can manage a system very simply with small water changes. Water removed from fish systems should always be used to water plants. Fish health is tied directly to the water chemistry. If you’ve “never had a problem before,” I guarantee everything was building up until a tipping point was reached.

“I remove the fish from the tank and do a big water change every ___ months.”

When you take water from your hose and add it to a fishes’ environment, the metabolic activity of the fish changes the water chemistry over time. By the time you get to your water change, the chemistry in the tank could be significantly different than what you originally added from the tap. When you dump that fish from his tiny bowl into a freshly filled tank, the shock of the differing water parameters can stress them out and potentially kill them. I understand that sometimes, tanks and ponds get beyond your weekly/monthly maintenance and the only way to get in and get the job done properly is to remove the fish. In order to keep your fish from stressing out either from handling, confinement in a tiny tub during maintenance or water shock, keep them in the tank while you work and never remove more than 50% of the water at one time. As long as you aren’t chasing them with the vacuum or siphon, they won’t mind a bit. And yes, you do need to use a gravel siphon.

“It can’t be my filter, because I replace my filter media every month.”

Sorry consumers, but this is only to get you to buy more filter media. By removing your filter pads every month, you essentially set your nitrogen cycle back at zero. I know those flossy pads with carbon pellets tend to fall apart that fast, but switching to a firmer sponge, that could last for several years, will be the best investment you ever make. Your fish will be so much happier not having to go through the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate spikes every month.

If you have any questions about water changes or water quality, please contact our office or comment below.

How Many Fish Per Gallon?

How Many Fish Per Gallon?

One of the most important factors that comes into keeping fish in tanks or ponds is how many fish you can get away with keeping in one system. The tried and true rule is: 1″ of fish per gallon of water.

Well, that’s great and all, but have you ever considered what 1″ of fish actually entails? Is 1″ of neon tetra the same as 1″ of koi? Taking into consideration species different physiology and energy conversion, there is almost no way this rule can hold up. It is a dumb, outdated rule and should be thrown out.

But, then what do we use?

Well, it will depend entirely on the particular species you wish to keep. This decision should be made prior to purchasing any fish supplies. If you want more than one species in a system, make sure they get along first and won’t eat each other. Do they have the same diet? Are their water quality tolerances within the same range? What size tank can you accommodate? Is it big enough for all the fish to feel safe and comfortable?

All fish are different in their body type, energy conversion and territoriality. All of these characteristics can be manipulated by nutrition and water quality. Proper nutrition and excellent water quality will result in fast growth through efficient conversion of food to muscle and fat, although fish that are adequately fed will often run out of space and will feel the need to defend their space. It is a delicate balance to pursue.

One must also take into consideration how big their fish might get. Consider the koi. Although they start as small as a goldfish, they can grow up to 2′ or longer! By keeping koi in an improper size container, you may actually stunt them and keep them from properly developing. Growing to the size of their container” is also a complete myth. If you keep feeding them a high quality diet, they will keep growing and eventually turn into a C- or S-shaped fish. Even just given the basic cyprinids, koi and goldfish, it is hard to guess how big your fish will get. It is always best to plan for the biggest fish you can imagine. The fish will have enough room to stretch out and your filtration will be more than you need (which is always a good idea). Even goldfish can grow to over 12″ long. We had one patient that needed his own 100 gallon tank; he was just that big! Sure, they may start out all cute and little, but I guarantee they will grow.

So, what is a fish owner to do? Well, I wish there was a straightforward rule of thumb, but there are just too many species differences to consider. Try to follow the following guidelines:

  1. Research your intended fish pets before you buy anything.
  2. If you are mixing species, be sure you are aware of their territory requirements. Look here and here for some good species-specific info.
  3. If you are building your own pond, make it bigger than you want with more filtration than you need.
  4. Get expert advice when mixing species or getting started. If not your local fish veterinarian, visit a local pet store that has permanent setups (not large, divided wall units) similar to what you are looking for.
  5. When in doubt, go bigger.

Here are some examples:

This 20 gallon goldfish tank contains 3 goldfish and one long-fin zebra fish who thinks he’s a goldfish. Since this picture, they have gained 1 fancy goldfish friend. At this current size, there is plenty of room for everyone. Since this tank is in our office, we carefully watch their diet and make sure they receive a high-quality diet, but not enough calories to make them grow quickly. They will eventually need to move into one of our larger systems. Several of their friends live in our 500 gallon goldfish pond!

However, this is also a goldfish tank. This fish was a little snug in his 75 gallon tank, so he got upgraded to a 100 gallon! This is a very big goldfish and all comet goldfish have the potential to get to this size. Fancy goldfish, not so much, but they have other issues. A few years ago, due to some problems with water quality, his growth had stopped. Fix the water, give him some more space and a better diet, and he started to grow again!

These 5 koi are in a 5,000 temporary pond. They were upgraded to a 9,000 gallon pond about a year ago and gained 4 friends of similar size. The two white and orange fish won the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion at the ZNA NorCal Koi show this past April. They are both almost 30″ long and weigh over 20 pounds. They need lots of room to swim to produce lots of muscle and have fancy diets that keep them big and strong.

These two koi live by themselves in a 1,000 gallon pond that is divided with a bridge in between. They have been by themselves for a long time and are looking at a cross-country move in the near future. The white koi has a buoyancy disorder where her swim bladder is full of fluid. Despite repeat drainings, she keeps filling up. She requires more calories in order to swim normally like her sister with the long fins. Their owner is able to hand feed them both and knows exactly how much each fish eats. It is a very beneficial behavior when dealing with cases like this.

And these are gouramis. We have had several batches in our hospital in quarantine for a private aquarium breeder. We have found that these guys do not like being in close proximity and like lots of plants to hide in. These 12 fish had a 40 gallon tank to themselves with 3 large plants. With a larger tank and more room to hide, these guys had considerably fewer disease issues and maintained their body condition significantly better.

Hopefully these examples show the many issues with sticking to a clear rule for # of fish per gallon of water. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or contact our office directly.