Dogs and cats may be the world’s favorite pets by a large margin, but if you’re looking for low maintenance pets, you’re going to get a lot of recommendations for fish. It’s almost a visual trope in movies and films to have goldfish in bowls decorated with plastic plants and colorful gravel, but in reality, goldfish are far from being low maintenance fish friends. These bright, orange-yellow fish don’t have any stomachs so they leave a lot of waste in their bowls and tanks that hurt water quality – a difficult thing to track if you’re a first-time fish keeper.
Just so you don’t end up disappointed with your new fish friends and unknowingly hurt them, we’ve put together a list of low maintenance fish that are actually low maintenance, not just advertised that way. We’ll also be setting your expectations on what low maintenance really means in a hobby that’s known to cost hobbyists hundreds to thousands of dollars.
What Low Maintenance Fish Really Means
Buying a fish and a tank is just the first step to keeping healthy, happy fish. While aquariums are generally not difficult to maintain, the amount of new information that you have to learn as a first time owner can still be overwhelming. This is the case even if you go out of your way to buy low maintenance fish. The main thing you need to learn is how to keep an eye on water quality and, following that, signs of common illnesses in your fish.
If you’re keeping betta fish, you want to keep an eye out for fin rot. Another common illness among fish is swim bladder disease. Knowing what causes them and the signs that they’re developing in your fish can go a long way to keeping your fish keeping costs low.
Water quality is the tricker one. It’s always easier to maintain a freshwater tank than a saltwater tank since you don’t have to go through the trouble of salinating your tank. You’ll want to keep an eye on pH levels, nitrate concentration, and water hardness. This can be done with a kit and a digital water quality meter. If you’re getting a digital water monitor, you may want to get one that also tracks temperature since cold water fish and tropical fish prefer different temperature parameters.
On the upside, if you already live in a region where your fish are native to or one with a climate similar to your fish’s native origins, you’ll have an easier time keeping your water in ideal temperature conditions. This is a little divisive among fish keepers, but personally, I keep betta fish without any heaters since the climate keeps water temperatures solidly within the range they thrive in.
5 Low Maintenance Pet Fish for First Time Fish Keepers
With that said, we can narrow down our selection for the best low maintenance pet fish for people who are new to the fish-keeping hobby. Definitely no saltwater fish, no fish that dirty their water fast enough to drastically change water quality, and we’re going with fish that are known to be hardy.
1. Betta Fish
The betta fish is the dog of starter pet fish. You know how dogs look so different from each other even though they’re the same species? If you’re not familiar with betta fish types, you might think they’re not the same species, but they are.
You’ll find bettas in a variety of colors ranging from the common blue and red to exotic shades of luminescent white and pink. They can have massive tails, as in the half-moon and delta tails, or short ones as seen in the plakat varieties.
The betta splendens is a territorial fish. The top thing to keep in mind when caring for them is to never put two of them in the same tank together, especially if they are males. For new betta owners, you might want to keep your betta in a bachelor’s pad without any roommates. While some betta owners keep the fish in community tanks with other non-betta fish or make sorority tanks with several female bettas, these are complicated to pull off without more experience and a backup tank in case they try to rip each other apart.
Hey, they don’t call bettas “Siamese fighting fish” for no reason.
Heard of the phrase “breed like rabbits”? You could replace those rabbits with mollies. These hardy little fish grow up to just a bit under 5 inches and are among the easiest fish to breed in captivity. Keep a male and female in a tiny tank together and you might find yourself buying a 40L aquarium soon.
Like the betta, mollies have been bred from their plain, grayish colors in the wild to colorful varieties. Common colors you’ll find in stores are orange, yellow, and black with some having patterns that mix two or more of these colors. Unlike bettas, however, the molly is known for its relaxed temper so they make great tank mates. They like to be in schools together so try to buy them as a group with only one male to prevent aggression.
3. Cardinal Tetras
Cardinal tetras are another tiny fish with a lot of personality. These 2-inch long fish feature bright blue bodies with a vivid red streak that transitions into a near-transparent tail. Since they originate from Brazil, they like their water on the warmer side. Like mollies, these are fish that like friends so it’s best to keep them in schools in a fairly spacious tank.
Speaking of tanks, while cardinal tetras are low maintenance fish, you’ll want to start their tank ahead of putting them in so look into aquarium cycling to learn how to do that.
4. Platy Fish
The platy looks almost identical to the molly due to their slightly rounded bellies and orange to yellow coloration. A native of Mexico the platy grows to a whopping…3 inches. They’re friendly, lively fish that like to have tank mates but do okay on their own too. That said, they’ll look better in groups so if you have the space, definitely opt to have more of them.
Now comes the fun part: varieties. The platy has striped varieties and white, almost transparent ones. An especially cute version is the tuxedo platy fish which has black patches that make it look like it’s ready to go to prom.
5. Chili Rasbora
Chili rasboras are the smallest fish on our list as they are so small that these low maintenance fish fall short of an inch even when mature. The chili rasbora gets its name from its bright red coloration that makes it look like bird’s eye chili, a type of chili that is also native to its home, Southeast Asia. They may not look as eye-catching as bettas or mollies when they’re alone, but try putting them in a planted tank in big groups and you’ll be amazed at how vibrant these chili red fish can be against a green backdrop.
These freshwater fish like to keep a similar habitat to that of the betta so dark, warm waters are preferred. This can be done with a dark substrate and, if you’re putting them in a community tank with a betta, Indian almond leaves.
Getting Started With Your Low Maintenance Fish Friend
Picked out your preferred fish friend already? If so, it’s time to think about where you’re going to put them and how big your budget is going to be. A quick disclaimer to new fish keepers: your fish need more tank space than you think. No bettas in jars, please. While these hardy fish can probably scrape by in substandard conditions, they’re not going to last, least of all be happy.
For betta fish, you don’t want to go smaller than a 3 gallon tank. A small group of chili rasboras, cardinal tetras, platies, and mollies need a 10 gallon tank. That said, it’s the bigger the better when it comes to tanks. The larger the tank, the more space your fish has and the more water there is to balance your tank’s conditions. Contrary to what you might think, it is actually easier to maintain a large tank compared to a small one because of the stability that large tanks have.
Your fish will need to eat. Some of these fish are omnivores, some aren’t. Generally, when fish eat other animals, it’s going to be bloodworms. These can be purchased live or in freeze-dried cubes. If that’s too icky for you, pellets and flakes work just fine. You can even check out spirulina pellets for your fish.