How to Take Care of Fish

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 11, 2016

By Kali Wyrosdic

Are you thinking about getting a fish but aren’t sure whether or not a fish would make the best pet? No matter what type of fish you’re thinking about, there are some basic fish-care facts that apply. Once you’ve made your decision, make sure to research the type of fish and it’s individual needs. Below, you’ll find answers to several of the most common fish-care questions to help you decide whether or not a fish is the right type of pet for you.

Are Fish Really a Low-Maintenance Pet?

Generally speaking, freshwater fish are less expensive and easier to care for than other types of pets, leading to the perception that they’re easy to keep. While they can be less trouble than other types of animals, that doesn’t exactly make them low-maintenance pets.

Fish have the same basic needs as other animals, including food, water and a proper habitat, but because fish live in completely different environments than humans and other mammals, they are dependent on us to provide everything they need to live happily.

Whereas dogs and cats won’t die if they aren’t washed regularly (although appropriate grooming for your pet is encouraged), regular aquarium cleanings are a must for keeping a healthy fish. Once you decide what type of fish to get, you can determine which aquarium will be most appropriate for you and what type of maintenance it requires.

What are the Most Common Types of Pet Fish?

The most popular types of pet fish include betta fish (also known as Siamese fighting fish), common goldfish, Achilles tang, fantail goldfish, and angelfish. Part of the reason why goldfish and bettas are so popular is because they can live in water temperatures that don’t always require heaters (depending on where you live), can tolerate some variation in water chemistry compared to other fish, are generally healthy eaters and are hardier than other fish.

How Often Do Fish Need to be Fed?

Fish don’t have stomachs, so they never know when to stop eating. When feeding your fish, only feed it as much as it will eat in two or three minutes once or twice per day. Some types of fish, like goldfish, should only be fed as much as they can eat in one minute, while other types have different requirements. Overfeeding is one of the most common mistakes fish owners make.

A nice plus about fish ownership is that you can provide your fish with an automatic feeder or food block inside its aquarium when you go away, rather than having to find someone to feed your cat or dog. Goldfish are especially easygoing and can survive up to two weeks without food (although it’s not recommended to wait that long between feedings).

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Fish?

It depends what type of fish you’re looking to buy, but pet stores typically have wide selections of fish. Aquarium stores have employees well-trained in educating new fish owners and can make sure you select the right fish and equipment. Another option is to seek out a fish breeder for more specialized types or specific colors of fish. Many popular types of pet fish are commercially bred, and most pet stores get their fish from commercial breeders.

What Type of Equipment Does My Fish Need?

Food, water, filtration and heat are the basic elements you’ll need to provide for your pet fish, but the exact specifications will depend on the type of fish you choose, how big it grows and a number of other factors. Depending on the type of fish you choose, you’ll need an aquarium large enough to support the fish’s growth, with an air pump and submersible heater. A good rule of thumb for aquarium size is one gallon of water per every inch of full-grown fish. Tropical fish require heating elements in their habitats, but there are some freshwater fish (like goldfish) that prefer cooler temperatures and may not need a heater. It’s crucial that you do your research to find out what specific equipment the pet fish you’re considering needs.

As for food, there are commercial fish foods available that are manufactured to meet the nutritional needs of specific types of fish. Fish foods usually come in flake form, as pellets, or freeze dried. Special treats, like bloodworms and brine shrimp, can also be purchased from pet stores freeze dried and frozen. Feeding your fish freeze-dried food is preferred over live fish as it removes the risk of disease transmission. Make sure the food you purchase is appropriate for your fish species.


How Often do Fish Tanks Need to be Cleaned?

Aquariums require regular water changes and pH testing in order to ensure fish are living in the proper conditions. Depending on the size of the aquarium and filtration system you have set up, you’ll need to perform weekly partial water replacement, as well as clean the tank and change the water about once per month.

Some fish, like goldfish, are known for being extra messy and may require more frequent water changes and tank cleanings. Overfeeding will also quickly pollute water. Monitoring the pH levels of your aquarium and keeping an eye on any visible contaminants and pollutants should give you a good idea as to how often you’ll need to clean your fish tank.

What Else Can I Get for My Fish Tank?

When it comes to decorating your aquarium, the sky’s the limit, just keep in mind that whatever you put in the tank you’ll need to clean when you conduct regular aquarium cleanings. Some fish really like plants, either live or plastic. If you choose live plants, you’ll need a bit of gravel at the bottom of the tank (which can be dangerous to some fish that mistakenly eat it).

Other tank decorations are fun to look at and provide some beneficial function for your fish, like treasure chests that open and also provide oxygen-rich bubbles. Regardless what you choose, try and mimic the fish’s natural habitat.

Image:  / Shutterstock

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