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.

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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.

Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #10

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
  • ______ Live plants, if you likeRead 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!

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!

Stay tuned for Mistake #2 – Adding Fish Too Early

Don’t Flush That Fish!

Don’t Flush That Fish!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Plan out your maintenance schedule. We’ve generated a handy checklist, but be sure to put it on YOUR calendar. Here’s a step-by-step cleaning guide in case you need some help.
  4. Start with a beginner-friendly species, such as a betta or comet goldfish. Don’t go for the super picky, super specific species right off. Assume that any new fish might be carrying some bug from the pet store. Since they don’t stay there that long, disease signs may not occur until you get the fish home.
  5. 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.

The Secret to Getting More Fish Clients

The Secret to Getting More Fish Clients

Hello fellow Veterinarians.

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.

Tah dah!

Don’t think fish are worth your time? Well, let’s look at the numbers:

Total Number of Pets Owned in the U.S. (millions)

Bird                               20.3
Cat                                94.2
Dog                               89.7
Horse                            7.6
Freshwater Fish        139.3
Saltwater Fish           18.8
Reptile                         9.4
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!

Why not add fish? It’s certainly worth your time.

Find your best resources below:

American Association of Fish Veterinarians

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association

AQUAVET

Wet Vet Weekend

Aquatic Veterinary Education Resources

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!