Pet Fish: Reasons to Own and How to Care For

Back in my teaching days, fish were the most common pet my students owned next to dogs and cats. Why do fish make good pets and how do you care for them? Read on to find out!

Stock Image, Pixabay, Used with permission.
Stock Image, Pixabay, Used with permission.

Pet fish enthusiasts say that fish make good pets for many of the same reasons other domesticated animals make good pets. For example, fish will look forward to your presence. Fish will also keep you company. Whether you’re waking up after a restful sleep or coming home after a long day, fish will be swimming in their bowl and ready to welcome you.

Pet fish enthusiasts also say that fish also make good pets for reasons that are unique to them. For example, fish are one of the easiest pets to care for, taking less time and money than many other pets. They don’t need to be walked or groomed, won’t track in dirt from the outside or litter from their paws, or shed or slobber. Calm creatures with simple needs, you won’t have to worry about them developing destructive behaviors or upsetting neighbors with noise. Fish have a tranquil effect on anyone who watches them glide serenely through the water. They can even charm you into a smile on a sad day. At the same time, fish can entertain guests. They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and vibrant colors, and are pleasing to the eye. Some types of fish interact with their owners, are playful, and can even be trained to do tricks. Finally, you can try out your decorator skills on your fish by adding plants, rocks, gem stones, statues, and even little lights to their aquarium.

Perhaps because fish are one of the easier pets to care for, there are many online articles about why parents should consider fish as their child’s first pet. The website I Can Teach My Child listed four reasons:

  1. Having a pet fish teaches a child responsibility. Feeding fish daily, changing their water, and cleaning its tank and accessories are all essential to being a good pet owner. Parents can even create a laminated “Did You Feed for Your Fish Today?” schedule that their children can use to help them remember this crucial chore. Learning to care for a pet fish can be an important towards a child’s gaining greater responsibility.
  2. Having a pet fish teaches a child to think of someone/something in addition to themselves. “Once children realize that another living thing is dependent on them for survival, they begin to take pride and ownership in caring for their pet.” Pets teach compassion and a nurturing spirit.
  3. Having a pet fish teaches compromise and teamwork. Decisions must be made about the size of the aquarium, the type of fish, and even what to name the fish. All this takes negotiating and willingness to listen to everyone involved in the purchase. Also, unless just one family member will be responsible, having a pet fish will provide the perfect opportunity to work together to ensure the best care.
  4. Having a pet fish teaches a child that death is a natural part of life. This sounds like a morbid reason, but it showed up in more than one list of why parents should consider fish as their child’s first pet. The reasoning seems to be that experiencing a small loss, such as that of an animal with a relatively short lifespan, will help a child to recognize the process of grief.

If you’ve never kept fish before, you should start with research. Initial questions to ask are:

  • Are you interested in tropical freshwater fish, cold water fish, or tropical marine fish? There are more than 25,000 known species of fish and over 2,000 of these can potentially survive in an aquarium.
  • What do you know about the kinds of fish that interest you? Healthy Pets suggests that you consider the following: How big will the fish get? If it’s a large fish, will it see smaller fish in the tank as prey? If it’s a small fish, will it become prey for larger fish? Will it eat live plants in your aquarium? What kind of water does it need? Does it need to live alone or with other fish?
  • How much space do your fish need? What size of tank do you want and how much does it cost? What is the maximum number of fish your tank can safely hold?
  • How much space do you have for an aquarium? The size of the tank will be an important factor in choosing your fish. Some fish will outgrow their starter aquariums while others, such as goldfish, will remain happy in a simple fish bowl.
  • What’s your budget for your aquarium? Even the most basic models come equipped with filtration systems, artificial lighting systems, a heater or chiller, and some have hoods.
  • What sort of water suits the fish you’re interested in? Managing the water temperature, hardness, and pH level is considered one of the biggest challenges in owning a fish. Fish are sensitive to their environment; understanding the conditions they need to thrive will be essential.

If you’ve never kept fish before, you should also start small. The standard advice is to invest in a fish bowl or small aquarium and two or three hardy and low-maintenance varieties of fish. This will enable you to learn basic care and how to properly maintain the water environment. She Knows recommends that freshwater fish that prefer cold water and require less maintenance. Parenting also advises that while a large tank can seem like a lot to deal with, they have some advantages. If the filter clogs or the heater breaks, a larger tank will be more forgiving: the water will remain stable much longer in a larger tank, giving you a larger window to discover and fix any problems. Should your interest in fish grow, you can upgrade later to a bigger, more expensive, or unusual aquarium, and try your hand at more exotic varieties of fish. The bottom line is you’re committing to the care of another living creature, and so you need to make careful decisions.

Should you embark on the adventure of being a pet fish owner, here are some final tips from Pet Helpful for helping your fish to live optimal lives.

Before you purchase or add new fish, start a new aquarium the right way. How? By cycling it or taking the steps necessary to bring the water conditions up to where they are healthy for the fish. Cycling involves the growth of healthy micro-organisms within the tank, which will break down waste and help keep the water safe for fish. Many new aquarium kits come with a packet you can use to add the necessary elements for cycling, but you can also purchase a packet separately at the pet store, or cycle the tank simply by adding a little fish food. This process can take at least a week.

Know the safe water parameters for your fish. How? By purchasing an inexpensive water testing kit and monitoring the levels of ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and pH of your water. The first three are natural chemical compounds that result from the lifecycles in your tank and, left unchecked, can build up to unhealthy amounts. If you find your water parameters out of line, you can invest in over-the-counter products or simply develop the habit of removing about one-third of the water from your tank every week and replacing it with fresh, clean water. Testing the pH of your water will need to be done with a kit and it may be necessary to bring the pH down with chemicals.

Manage the light in your aquarium. This is key to minimizing the propagation of algae. How do you manage light? By keeping your tank away from areas that will get strong sunlight throughout the day. Algae loves sunlight and will flourish if given the chance. PetHelpful encourages owners to keep the tank light on for a maximum of twelve hours every day, and cautions that the light in the fish tank is for owners—not the fish. “The moderate lighting of daylight is plenty for them, and about what they would experience in the wild.” On the other hand, if you have live plants in your tank, those plants will require a full twelve hours of overhead lighting per day. Fortunately, by sucking up nutrients that algae need for survival, lives plants will keep algae levels in check.

Avoid overfeeding your fish. PetHelpful stresses that one feeding per day is plenty, if you provide food items for each type of fish. PetHelpful also recommends not to feed more than the fish will eat in a few minutes. Excess food can lead to disease, as well as dirty the aquarium and lead to spikes in chemicals. The best practice is to measure the amount of food you give so that feedings are consistent.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors believes in responsible ownership of all pets. For that reason, we’re attempting to offer advice about more than just dogs and cats. However, I must admit that my experience is limited to dogs, cats, and guinea pigs. If you’ve ever owned fish and would be willing to share your expertise, please drop us a line.

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