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



Top 5 Fish Mistakes – #2: Disorganized Cleaning

Top 5 Fish Mistakes – #2: Disorganized Cleaning

Top Fish Mistake #2: Disorganized Cleaning

How often do you clean your fish’s home? Do you have a regular schedule or do it whenever? No matter what kind of fish you have in either a tank or a pond, a routine cleaning regimen is essential to good fish health.

Go through the following checklist and see how much you do:

  • Clean filtration by backwashing sand or bead filter or rinsing or shaking matting or bio balls
  • Scrub the sides of the tank/pond
  • Clean the bottom of the pond using a vacuum or gravel siphon your tank
  • Water change through backwashing or siphoning
  • Check water chemistry using a drop-based test kit

If you’ve never heard of some or any of the above checklist items, now’s the time to start. Buy the equipment you need to get going and start with removing about 10% of the tank/pond water every other week. Get your kids or help or hire a maintenance service if you are unable or don’t want to clean it yourself. Purchase a test kit so you can follow your water chemistry as your system changes. Buy a test kit here.

Minimal or no system cleaning can lead to “Old Tank/Pond Syndrome.” In these cases, the water has sat around for so long that it’s eaten up all of its buffering capabilities, sending your pH crashing into the 6.0 range. Your fish are fine for now, since they’ve slowly adapted to the change and the low pH protects their gills from absorbing the toxic levels of ammonia wafting around your system. But I bet you’ve seen some low levels of chronic disease and death for the last few months? Don’t just go dumping a bunch of buffers or 100% water changes and expect your fish to survive! When correcting this problem, slow and steady water changes are what will get your fish through this problem alive.

If you do everything on our checklist, and on a regular basis, we are so thrilled to hear it! But did you know that you could be over cleaning your system if you do it too regularly or too thoroughly? Your filtration needs to have some layer of scum on it where those good bacteria can live and thrive. If you blast your filters until they’re pristine, you’re hitting the reset button on your whole filtration system. It’s the same as starting with a completely new system. It takes 4-6 weeks minimum for those good bacteria to start colonizing your filters. You can try quick start bacteria products, but we’ve tried them ourselves and seen no escape from that 4-6 week time frame.

Similar to not cleaning enough, over-cleaning can resemble “New Tank/Pond Syndrome.” In a system where bacteria have not been able to colonize or are never given the chance, you’re looking at a lot of ammonia and nothing else. No nitrite or nitrate will appear in your testing until those bacteria get to munching. In order to avoid this, try to avoid over cleaning with your trusty power washer and instead give your filtration a good shaking or very light rinse.

Here’s our friend, the Nitrogen Cycle, for reference.

Review your nitrogen cycle!
Review your nitrogen cycle!

Your maintenance regimen will vary with daily to weekly to monthly chores. Clean off floating debris daily and check your skimmer. Always check that your equipment is functioning properly. Make sure you have the contact information for a pond professional on hand to help with any emergencies. Follow our checklist for every two weeks to start, then start extending it by a week and keep an eye on your water chemistry. This will get you on the path for good water quality and happy fish!

Watch the complete FREE webinar here