This will be something of a beginner’s guide to getting a fish tank or an aquarium. It might look easy and is certainly easier than getting a puppy or kitten. However, there are still a few things to consider before you buy a fish tank. Is caring for fish actually easy?

Here’s a scenario. You impulsively buy a fish tank because getting a dog looked hard. You chuck in some water and a load of fish recommended by the man at the pet store. There was something fishy about him but that comes with the territory, so you thought nothing of it. For a few minutes you have a glorious aquarium, it’s colourful and verdant. Then the infighting starts. The Siamese Fighting Fish are scrapping, the guppies are crying, the blowfish explode, the clown fish makes a break to reunite with his father, the dogfish chases the catfish out of the water, the angelfish depart. The goldfish is the only survivor. To avoid such misfortune, keep reading.

Fish Tank Tips For Beginners

Fish Tank Size

Pick the right size aquarium for your home and the number of fish you want. Bear in mind that beginners are recommended a 20 gallon or larger tank as it’s actually easier to balance water temperature and chemistry to keep those swimmers happy. Look for a tank that’s longer than it is high so the fishies have plenty of room to go back and forth. If your pet store only has a little tank, keep looking. You want to do this right.

Aquarium Placement

You don’t want your fish tank in direct sunlight, near heaters, or air vents. You don’t want people walking past a lot disturbing or knocking into the tank so find a low-traffic space. Make sure it’s on a level surface that can take its weight long term and when filled with water. If it’s not stable it puts a lot of pressure on one part of the tank which over time could cause it to break – which is a nightmare.

Know Your Fish

This goes beyond their names and their love lives. Before all of that you want to be sure your fish are compatible with each other and the tank you’ve prepared for them. How big are they going to get? What do they eat? Not all tropical fish are made equal, so they may have special needs. Try to choose fish that come from the same geographic region as they will have similar requirements.

golden fish in tank

Some fish are really beneficial and will eat excess food and algae from the bed, which helps to keep your tank clean. Other fish are predatory so make sure your new pets aren’t out to eat each other. Some will also fight others to the death, even within their own species, so do your research into their behaviour. Look into what area of the tank your fish will hang out in. Some prefer up top, others comb the bed.

Related: Top 10 EASY Fish That Every BEGINNER Needs

Condition Your Water

Unfortunately, once you’ve found your big, beautiful tank and placed it in a low-traffic spot with many outlets and little light, you still have work to do. You can’t just chuck any old water in there for your fish. The water needs to be healthy for your fish to thrive. A water conditioner will dechlorinate the water from your tap. Chlorine leads to the death of fish, so this stage is vital.

Cycle Your Tank

Cycling your fish tank is vital. There’s no way around this process but if you just put your fish in it’s likely most of them will die during the cycle. It can take up to 8 weeks to cycle a fish tank properly. Cycling is essentially kickstarting a chemical process where helpful bacteria forms to convert ammonia into nitrite – still toxic to fish – which is then converted to nitrates which are fine at low levels. When these helpful bacteria have built up in your filter then it’s safe to put your fish into the aquarium.

Ammonia becomes present in the tank from food, pee, poop, and plants breaking down. You can start cycling your tank with fish in it to achieve this, but that puts a lot of strain on them and they could die, so we’re not fans of that way. You can add in 2-4ppm of ammonia and then top it up every few days.

After 2-3 weeks the nitrite levels should spike and begin converting to nitrates. When you notice first a spike and then a drop in nitrites you can begin adding in your fish. Add them in slowly to avoid a fast rise in ammonia which triggers a new cycle. Test the water regularly for nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia to keep it healthy and take action if any of the levels are overly high.

Regularly Change the Water

There’s a balance to be struck between keeping your water clean and keeping the bacteria within at healthy levels. You want to change out 10-15% of the water each week or a little more if you have a lot of fish in there. If your fish tank is sparsely populated you can leave it 2 weeks between changes.

When cleaning your filter, wash it in tank water to keep the beneficial bacteria inside it alive. Only use utensils and water to clean the tank – no chemicals or products. If you siphon the water from the bottom of the tank rather than the top it will help to clear debris. Alternate cleaning the filter and gravel so you don’t reduce your bacteria levels and trigger a new cycle.

Easy on the Fish Food

Feeding your fish twice a day should be enough, with freeze dried foods as an occasional treat. With a new tank, research what your specific fish needs to eat but also try to vary their diet to keep them healthy. Take notice of how much food your fish eat as it enters the tank. Start in small quantities. If they’re leaving any then you know that’s too much. You don’t want the excess in the tank as it breaks down and messes with the water health.

Use Caution With New Fish

When buying a new fish look for signs of sickness such as damaged gills or missing fins. If you spot any lost souls floating in the same tank you may want to give it a couple of days before committing. You don’t want a sick fish killing off the ones you’ve kept alive so dutifully.

It’s good practice to keep a quarantine tank on hand when you plan to introduce a new fish to your aquarium. This can be a mini tank with a few places for a single fish to hide and be comfortable. Some people use a second filter in their main tank for a time before transferring it to the quarantine tank, so it has enough healthy live bacteria to support the fish. Use some water from the main tank too. Float your new fish with the bag in the quarantine tank for at least 15 minutes so that the water temperatures can start to match. Keep the new fella in lockdown for 2-4 weeks and treat him for parasites if he’s showing symptoms.

The extra tank can be used to treat other sick fish in isolation if they start showing symptoms. This will avoid a spread through your main tank. If you’re then adding medication to this tank then you shouldn’t use a carbon filter. A carbon filter will neutralize medications and they will have no effect. Frequently change the water while medicating a fish as the chemicals will quickly kill off your beneficial bacteria. This tank will need its own net and siphon, so the tanks don’t cross contaminate.

Don’t Have Too Many Fish

Try not to overcrowd your aquarium. While it’s satisfying to look at a wall of colourful fish, you won’t feel that way once they start fighting for space and dying in spades. A general guideline is 1 inch of fish per gallon. But that isn’t to say you should put a fish that will grow to 5 inches into a 5-gallon tank. Do extensive research on how much space your preferred species will thrive in, don’t just force them to exist in the bare minimum. This results in deformities, reduced lifespans, sickness, and stunted growth.

Fish Tank Tips For Beginners: Takeaways

So, is owning fish easy? Not as easy as it may seem. But having them around is good for your mental health, teaches you responsibility and patience, and can be a beautiful ongoing project to cultivate.

Thanks for reading our beginner’s guide to fish. Check back at our pet store blog soon as we have a lot more in-depth content on the way. If you’re thinking of getting pets in Canada, our online pet store is here to support you.