I have been a hobbyist aquarium keeper for many years and love educating people on how to properly care for their fish.
During my time in the hobby I have found that many people think you can simply put a fish in a bowl of water and it will be fine. Unfortunately, this is not the case!
If you are thinking about getting a fish there are three essential things you must consider in order to keep your fish healthy and alive. Additionally, I have outlined some extra things I recommend considering in order to keep your fish as happy as can be.
The essential requirements in a fish tank set up are:
The water that your fish is in needs to be passing through a filter. Like all animals, fish produce waste, if this waste is left to sit in the tank it will produce ammonia which is harmful to the fish.
Filters work on two levels – firstly, filters remove debris from the water which helps to keep your tank clean. Secondly, filters house good bacteria that will convert the harmful ammonia from your fish’s waste into harmless nitrates (this process is called the nitrogen cycle and it is why good bacteria must be established in your tank before adding any fish. See our ‘Setting Up A Fish Tank’ post for more detailed information).
2) Water Parameters
Each fish species has its preferred water PH, temperature and hardness/softness. It is important that you research the ideal parameters for the type of fish you want prior to buying them.
All tropical fish species will require warmer water (often in the range of 22-28 degrees Celsius) which is achieved by adding an in tank heater. The PH of your tank can be easily tested and adjusted with a PH Kit (found at any pet store).
It is also essential that you add a water conditioner to your tank, especially if you are on town water. The chlorine and other chemicals added to town water are very harmful to fish. Adding a water conditioner neutralises these chemicals, making the water safe for your fish.
Saltwater tanks are a little more complicated and have extra parameters to consider such as salinity, calcium and magnesium levels and alkalinity. If you are considering setting up a saltwater tank I recommend doing lots of research first and consulting your local saltwater aquarium specialists.
If you are adding multiple species of fish to the one tank, ensure that their preferred parameters are compatible.
3) Tank Size
Different species of fish require different sized tanks. While it may seem like most fish at the pet store are small, so therefore could fit in a small tank, this is not the case. Placing your fish in a tank that is too small will likely cause stress, stunted growth and premature death.
You also need to consider how many fish you want to put in your tank. If you want multiple fish you will also need to increase your tank size.
Fighting fish (otherwise known as Betta’s) and goldfish are often thought of as easy ‘small tank fish’. Unfortunately this is not true. Betta’s require a tank that has at least 20 Litres but closer to 40 Litres is optimal. Goldfish vary by species but often require a minimum of 50 Litres and often more.
It may be counter-intuitive, but small tanks are actually harder to maintain than larger tanks. With a small tank, there is less water to buffer any changes in parameters that may affect the fish. This often results in poorer water quality requiring more frequent maintenance and care.
If you are a beginner, I recommend starting with a 30L-40L tank as a minimum. This is a good size for fighting fish and other small fish such as guppies and tetras. Make sure to research the tank size requirements for the fish you want before purchasing.
Apart from those essential requirements, I also recommend considering the following in order to make your fish as happy as possible:
Aquascaping is the process of decorating your tank which is arguably one of the funnest parts of the hobby.
Consider the type of fish you want to keep then aquascape accordingly. For example – if you wish to keep loaches you will need a sand substrate. This is because loaches like to eat by filtering the sand and also hide in it. Fish such as Plecos will like rocks and other hiding places because they are quite shy. Goldfish should not be kept with anything sharp (such as rocks) as their fins are very delicate.
The list goes on, but make sure to research the optimal environments for the fish you want to keep.
Good lighting makes a big difference to an aquarium. If you want to have live plants in your tank, a good fish light is essential.
Having good water flow around your aquarium is important for oxygenating the tank and preventing an oily biofilm developing on the surface of the water. Having a filter should provide some flow and an air stone can be added to create even more. Some fish prefer a fast flowing current while others prefer a slower one.
4) Tank Mates
Some fish are much more aggressive than others meaning that not all fish are compatible to share a tank. If you wish to keep multiple species of fish together, make sure you research their compatibility (based on behaviour, tank size and water parameters) first. Having the wrong tank mates can cause fish lots of stress and can also lead to fights, injury and death.
It is important to feed your fish a good diet for optimal health. A mixture of dried fish food, frozen or live bloodworms and brine shrimp is often a good foundational diet. For bottom feeders, ensure food is reaching the bottom of your tank or that you are adding a sinking food for them.