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.
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
Sounds simple? Do it right and keep your stress minimal!
Wash your hands and arms to your elbows.
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.
Remove any synthetic decor and scrub it with hot water and a designated toothbrush.
Clean the glass with an appropriate acrylic-safe or glass scrub.
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!
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.
Use your waste water to feed your plants. The nitrates make great fertilizer!
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.
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.
Replace your decor back in your tank and pour in your treated water. You may need to adjust your decor after adding the water.
Prime your filtration by pouring some tank water into the filter base. Plug in and adjust flow accordingly. Open any valves you previously closed.
Turn on your lights and replace any covers. Watch your tank for a few minutes to make sure everything is working properly.
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 notmake 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
Go to any book store and look at the pet section. There are a ton of books on how to make a good home for dogs, cats and horses, but what about fish? Many of us start our careers in fish by having a pet fish when we are very young. Usually, our parents buy us a fish as a “trial” pet, before moving onto cats and dogs. But, there are no good reference books for kids and families to get started in fish. Enter, Boo & Bubbles! In seeing this lack of reference, I went ahead and wrote a complete series for any family looking to get started in fish keeping.
Boo & Bubbles: In the first installment of our series, Boo and her pet cat, George, want to have an underwater friend to play with, so she and her mom are off to the fish store. Boo and her mom load up with all the equipment that they need to take care of their new fish, and safely bring him home. Once the tank is ready and the new fish acclimated, newly christened Bubbles can enjoy his new home! Important topics include all of the equipment required for new fish, how to set up a tank and how to acclimate a fish to a new environment.
Boo & Bubbles: A Visit From the Fish Vet: In part two, Bubbles is sick! Enter the fish vet to deduce why Bubbles doesn’t want to eat or play. In reviewing maintenance protocols, water quality and finally a physical exam, Bubbles is diagnosed and receives treatment. This vital part of the series illustrates the role aquatic veterinarians can have in the care of wet pets.
Boo & Bubbles: Meet Goldie: Bubbles needs a friend, so Boo and her dad are back to the pet store. This story covers the important role of quarantine in order to protect new and old fish from illness. Bubbles and his new friend, Goldie, have to be separated for the full 4-6 week quarantine in order to make sure they are healthy! If we can teach this to children, hopefully our older clients will also understand.
The complete Boo & Bubbles series is available for purchase. All multiple book purchases come with a Bubbles & George plush! They make a great gift for any inspiring fish keepers!