You weren’t expecting to get a pet fish for Christmas, were you? And yet, here you are with a tiny fish in a bowl. Maybe it’s a betta or a goldfish. Either way, if you’re a first-time fishkeeper, you’re probably hurting that poor animal without knowing it. But don’t worry, you’re not the first one. As someone who got her first betta fish from an uncle who said it would be fine to keep it in a jar, I still feel sorry for little Sharkbait who had no idea he was about to be a kid’s Christmas gift
Once you start looking into how to care for your new pet fish, you’ll discover how much big pet stores lie to new pet owners, misleading them into thinking that pets need less care and maintenance than they actually do. That’s why we’re saving you the trouble with this guide on how to keep your new fishy friend happy, healthy, and thriving.
Feeding Your New Pet Fish
There are typically only two things that come with a pet fish: a tiny bowl or tank and fish food. Most fish food come in the form of flakes or pellets. Now which one works best for your fish depends on what kind of feeder they are, that is, what part of the tank they typically pick up food from. You’ve got bottom feeders like snails and loaches, middle feeders such as tetras, and top feeders or surface feeders like betta fish.
Because of this, you need to pick a fish food type that suits your pet’s feeding activity. For this, you can choose between pellet food and flake food. Pellet food typically takes longer to sink to the bottom, giving your surface and middle feeders enough time to catch it before it lands on the substrate. Flake food sinks faster, making it great for bottom feeders. Some tablet foods also stick to the glass of your tank, keeping it in place so your fish have all the time in the world to nibble on it.
Processed Feed, Dried Food, and Live Feeding
You can opt to feed your pet fish with processed tablets and flakes or give them other animals to eat. For processed food, you need to check the composition of your food and how well that suits your species of fish. Fortunately, most fish foods labeled as “for [insert species]” fit the bill.
Some fish like cichlids will enjoy eating other animals, namely worms. These come dried or frozen. Typically, you’ll see cichlid worms in dried form and bloodworms for bettas frozen into cubes.
Live feeding is exactly what it sounds like and, in some cases, you might have to keep your worms alive for a little longer before your fish are ready to eat them. This can be too much work for first-time owners, so don’t feel guilty about sticking to processed and dried food.
Creating an Environment Your Pet Fish Will Thrive In
It’s a common misconception that if a fish is small, it’s okay to put them in a very small container as long as they fit. While it’s true that they will “fit”, your new pet fish isn’t going to thrive in a cereal bowl-sized tank. They likely have barely enough room to turn around in there and no room to stretch their pretty fins in. Not to mention, the smaller the container, the harder it is to keep the water clean. Fish release their waste into the same water they swim in so you’re keeping them in high concentrations of filth if they’re in very small bowls.
Picking a Fish Tank
The smallest tanks you can get and still have your fish be okay are 3 gallon tanks which work for bettas, danios, guppies, and other tiny fish. In case you’re thinking about it, no, it’s not good for your goldfish. Goldfish produce a lot of waste since they have no stomachs so you’ll want a lot more water per fish.
Next, there are tanks in the 5 gallon to 10 gallon range. Some fish keepers believe it’s actually ideal to start with a 5 gallon as the smallest possible tank for tiny fish and 10 gallons as the smallest possible tank for schools of small fish. You’ll see tetras in 10 gallon tanks because of this.
You get into more ideal conditions for fish as you reach the 20 gallon tanks which are just enough for a couple of goldfish.
From there, the sky’s the limit. If you want to have beautiful setups like the planted tanks you see on Pinterest, you’re typically looking at a 50 gallon or so tank. This is because the amount of plants and aquascaping material in the water makes it so that there’s actually less water in there than it seems.
Don’t Put Your Fish in Yet
Dropping your new pet fish into the crystal clear waters of a new tank can be a shock to their systems. Before you put them in, you need to cycle your tank. Cycling refers to the process of ensuring that your tank is developing beneficial bacteria and creating its own little ecosystem in there. Add aquarium plants and monitor your water over the coming days with a water test kit.
How to Change Your Aquarium Water
You aren’t supposed to change all of your tank water in one go. Doing so resets the entire process of setting up your tank because you’ve just thrown out your tank’s nitrate cycle with the old water. Generally, you want to change 15% or so of your tank water every week but you could add in more fresh water if it’s an especially small tank or you have a lot of fish.
Sometimes, your water is clean but you’ll see food particles at the bottom of the tank that could muck up your water. These can be sucked out with a turkey baster or a similar suction tool.
Choosing Tank Mates
Some fish like having company while others don’t. Betta fish are notoriously solitary and territorial fish that won’t appreciate being in the same tank, especially if they’re both males. Though sorority tanks and community tanks shared with non-bettas are common, they’re hard for beginners to start and maintain. Other fish such as tetras and guppies prefer to be in big groups of the same species so putting them in one big tank together with the odd snail or pleco isn’t (likely) going to set them off.
You’ll want to do research into what kind of other fish, shrimp, or snails play nicely with your fish before throwing another critter in there.
I have a great Christmas with my family, and you? Let’s share your Christmas