Caring for Your Fish
Here’s what you need to care for your new finned friend. Information was reviewed by AAHA Veterinary and Professional Education Manager, Erin E. Newport, DVM.
There’s a lot of information. But having a beautiful – healthy – tank is worth it!
Fish Care Sheet (pdf)
- At least a 10-gallon tank. The bigger, the better. Small tanks need frequent water exchanges to keep fish healthy.
- Gravel – for decoration only. Under gravel filters don’t work well.
- Rocks and other tank decorations – make sure they are smooth with no sharp edges. Nonporus decorations are easier to clean and disinfect.
- Filter types: Box Filters or Outside Filters – use 2 filters (can be the same kind), if possible to keep one running while the other is being cleaned. A good filter has three parts:
- Mechanical (for example, floss or pad to trap particles)
- Chemical (for example, carbon to clean impurities)
- Biological (high surface area for growing bacteria that remove ammonia, nitrite from water like bio-wheels, bio-balls, etc.).
- Note: It is OK and you should clean/replace the mechanical and chemical filters. But, once bacteria are established (about 3-6 weeks), do not do anything to harm the bacterial component of the filter. Alternate cleaning each filter to keep bacterial colonies healthy and maintain good oxygen and water quality.
- Add one or more aerators or bubblers to circulate water and keep oxygen levels up
- Aquarium heater and thermometer
- Fish food
- Algae scraper (use special tools for acrylic tanks)
- Water testing kits
- Water conditioner – multi-purpose to remove ammonia, nitrite, chlorine/chloramines is best
- Aquarium cover/light fixture (fluorescent works best for showing off your fish) – optional unless you’re keeping live plants
Where to Put Your Tank
- Set your tank on sturdy table, stand or counter
- Never put your tank in direct sunlight. This causes algae growth
- Don’t put your tank beside heating or cooling vents
Preparing Your Tank
- Set up your tank. Ideally, you should set up a smaller quarantine tank, too.
- Rinse gravel with clean water before adding it to tank. Empty bottoms with a hiding place work best for quarantine tanks.
- Set up the filtration system, etc. Quarantine tanks may only need a bubbler since they are temporary, and daily water exchanges can be done to keep water safe for fish. Fill your tank with clean tap or well water.
- Add a chemical neutralizer from an aquarium store. Find out the needs of any fish you plan to add to your tank. Test your water before you buy fish to make sure the water is right for your fish. Choose fish that can live in the water you have. Adjusted pH and water hardness is hard to maintain unless you are very experienced.
- Plants should be removable in case fish need to be treated
Adding Your Fish
- It’s best to start with three to four to small, or one or twomedium fish. Make sure all varieties get along. Quarantine (separate) the new fish for a few days to one week to make sure they are healthy before adding them to your main tank. Quarantine live feed and plants, too. Living plants and animals may bring diseases to your tank.
- Float the bagged fish in the tank for 10 to 15 minutes for temperature adjustment
- Open the bags and let the fish swim out. Do not add the bag water to the tank!
- Turn off aquarium light and keep noise low in the room for at least the first day. Feed fish on the second day.
- Add a couple of fish each week if you want
What to Feed Your Fish
- Warning: It is very easy to overfeed and kill a fish. Fish can go several days without eating.
- Dried flakes are more balanced. Live brine shrimp, bloodworms and tubifex worms are OK as supplements. Choose food that has ester-C or vitamin C added.
- Bottom feeders should have a pelleted bottom feed
- Make sure all fish get the right kind of food based on the kind of fish they are
- Feed fish only what they can eat in 5 minutes. Clean/remove uneaten food daily.
- Turn aquarium light on/off. Long daylight causes algae growth.
- Check water temperature to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold. Ask your veterinarian what the right temperature for your fish is.
- At first, check water quality daily when you’re adding fish to the tank or when starting up a tank. Use water conditioner and water exchanges as needed to maintain water quality.
- Remove ¼ to ½ of water from tank and replace it with clean water. Aging is usually not needed when you use the right amount of water conditioner and when water is the same temperature as tank (within 5۫F). Use a water condition.
- Remove algae that builds up on tank
- Replace mechanical/chemical filter as needed. It is best to service one filter at a time to avoid disturbing biological filter
- As Needed: Clean your fish tank (see below)
How to Clean Your Fish Tank
- Scrape/clean tank as needed. To avoid scratching your tank, use special tools for acrylic tanks.
- Never use soap
- Siphon the gravel or rinse off the rocks and decorations with conditioned water
- Replace water removed with conditioned water as part of water exchanges (see above)
Finding the Right Veterinarian
- Choose a veterinarian that specializes in fish (aquatic animal veterinarian).
- Contact an aquatic animal veterinarian when you think your pet might be sick.
How to Tell if Your Fish is Sick
Get to know your fish. If they seem to be acting differently, contact your veterinarian. Here are some signs that your fish may be sick:
- Eating less than normal
- Gasping for oxygen, breathing heavy
- Staying hidden or staying at top or bottom
- Changes in behavior, color, skin or fins
Stressors – Avoid These
- Poor water quality (ammonia, temperature, low oxygen, etc.)
- Not enough space or habitat
- Varieties that don’t get along
- Power failure
- Poor diet/vitamin deficiency
- Netting your fish
- Diseases from not quarantining
Note: All content provided on HealthyPet.com, is meant for educational purposes only on health care and medical issues that may affect pets and should never be used to replace professional veterinary care from a licensed veterinarian. This site and its services do not constitute the practice of any veterinary medical health care advice, diagnosis or treatment.