Remember the goldfish from grade school? You won them at a fair, brought them home to a bowl full of water, loved them with all your heart-and they died. Although fish aren’t really hard to care for, if you don’t know a few basic facts you can doom the critters before they ever really have a chance. Keeping your scaly pet alive and swimming isn’t a fishy matter, so read on for the watery basics.
It’s a good idea to set up your tank and let it sit for a week before you anticipate putting Wanda into her new home. This gives the water a chance to dechlorinate and gives the "good" bacteria (we’ll talk about this later) a chance to grow. The absolute minimum for tank size is ten gallons; with anything smaller, you will have problems maintaining stable water chemistry and controlling temperature fluctuations.
When Wanda arrives at her new home, she’ll be a little apprehensive about the impending switch to new waters. You can ease her fishy qualms by making the transition a gradual one. Float Wanda’s bag in the tank for a while to let the temperatures equalize. Then slowly begin adding small amounts of tank water to Wanda’s bag; continue for about an hour before you transfer Wanda to her new home. Avoid mixing the old bag water with the new tank water-you can’t be sure what kinds of parasites you have brought home in the bag.
If you’re planning on having several fish in the tank, don’t overcrowd them when starting out. You can add fish to the tank at a rate of one to two fish every one to two weeks. Try not to have more than one inch of fish per gallon of water, and be sure to research the fish you’re placing together so they don’t eat each other at the first opportunity. Fish that are grouped by their preference for the same water temperature, water type (hard vs. soft), and acidity (or lack thereof) will thank you in the end by living the longest.
Fish get used to the condition of the water they are living in. If you change all the water at once, the shock of an "extra clean" environment may be too much, and you might find your scaly pal doing the dead man’s float. Cleaning overzealously will remove most of the "good" bacteria that Wanda needs to live. Good bacteria breaks down waste and toxins such as ammonia into relatively harmless nitrates. It needs time to grow so it can effectively clean the toxins in the tank.
When it’s time for your weekly water change, remove only one-third of the water to ensure you’re not drastically altering the water chemistry. Never use soap of any kind when you clean Wanda’s home. Although detergents are great for human habitats, Wanda will show her displeasure by floating belly up. After removing the water, replace it with dechlorinated water the same temperature as the water in the tank. About once a week you can "vacuum" the gravel (gravel vacuums are available at the pet store) to remove food and other debris that settles at the bottom.
Gadgets for the tank
To heat or not to heat? Whether you will want to invest in a heater depends on where you live and what types of fish you have. Generally, goldfish and koi do not need a heater. But you will need a heater for any fish requiring water that is warmer than the natural room temperature. Heaters often fail, so invest in a heater of good quality and monitor the tank daily to avoid cooked or frozen fish.
An air pump is generally deemed a good thing: It helps avoid thermal layering, prevents film from forming on the top of the water (which inhibits the carbon dioxide/oxygen exchange), and it helps the good bacteria to grow. It is also a good idea to include foliage, rocks, or another type of cover. Although this really depends on the fish, most fish will strongly appreciate the chance to get out of sight.
You will need a filter for your tank as well, and a good one usually comprises the three types (biological, mechanical, chemical) available. At the very least, a biological filter is necessary as it helps break down the nitrites and ammonia into the more benign nitrates. All filters need to be cleaned regularly.
Lighting may also be necessary-most fish don’t like bright lights, and the light in the room during the day is usually enough to keep fish active. If you do decide you want to light up Wanda’s world, don’t use an incandescent bulb. They’re too hot. Fluorescent bulbs generally fit inside a tank’s hood, which also comes in handy in keeping Wanda from jumping out.
Remember the Dr. Seuss book about the fish who was overfed? Although you probably won’t wake up with a gigantic fish on your staircase, overfeeding can lead to health problems. Feed your fish only as much as they can eat in about three minutes, and then feed them that amount one to two times per day. Although they look like they are still hungry, much of the food will fall to the bottom of the tank. When this food is left to decompose it leads to problems with water cleanliness.
Variety is the spice of life, and your fish wants a piece of the action. Think of fish flakes as you would rice: okay as a staple, but awfully boring day in and day out. Just as you would add veggies or meat to your rice dish, add live worms as well as frozen and freeze-dried foods to your fish’s diet. But be careful! Fish can get fat, and if you feed Wanda an excess of protein-rich foods such as bloodworms, you’ll have a happy but fat fish on your hands. Beware of flake food that is old or has been left open and become damp-it will have less nutritional value.
Although they don’t ever have to deal with rush-hour traffic, fish do suffer from stress. Increased stress inhibits your fish’s ability to heal and to ward off parasites and disease. And as with humans, the less stress on a fish, the happier they are with life. The causes of fish stress are varied (see Fish Stressors, below) but the main stressors involve the condition of the water. Signs that Wanda is suffering are a lack of appetite, gasping for oxygen, staying hidden continuously, or wounds that don’t heal.
But in order to see the signs that your fish may be suffering, you will need to spend a little time each day observing Wanda’s behavior. Get to know the behaviors of the different fish you have so you will be able to tell when something is amiss. While you are monitoring your fish, check the tank, its filter, air pump, and any other gadgets you have installed to ensure they are working properly. Besides that, watching your fish is relaxing and just may lower your blood pressure. All the more reason to find yourself a fish, and call her Wanda.
- Unsuitable water (improper temperature, acidity, salt)
- Physical space
- Mixing species
- Oxygen deficiency
- Poor nutrition
- Sudden changes
- Netting the fish