Perhaps you remember going to a local bazaar as a kid and winning a goldfish in a plastic bag. You had all the excitement and exuberance about your new pet, but invariably the poor thing had to be flushed the next day. Owning a fish tank needn't be filled with heartbreak and disappointment, but it does take a bit more planning than bringing home the bagged goldfish and putting it into the nearest bowl you can find.
Do a bit of research before you actually invest in a fish and fish tank. Most pet stores that sell fish will have someone on hand who can offer you advice. Some of the decisions to make include the type of fish you want to keep, how many you want and how much you are looking to spend. In addition to the fish and fish tank, you will need to purchase a filtration system, heater, air pump, hoods and lights, water testing kit, fish net, gravel and aquarium-safe decorations.
Aquarium supply store owner Frank Fonze says a freshwater fish tank is generally easier to maintain. Freshwater fish are found in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes; saltwater fish are collected from oceans and seas. Your tank supplies may differ between a freshwater tank and a saltwater one. Fish tanks come in varying sizes, so make sure that you get one that will suit your needs. Whether your tank is new or used, check for leaks before you begin filling it with supplies and fish.
Fonze recommends setting your tank up first and bringing a sample of your water to the store for testing before you purchase any fish. "One of the biggest mistakes new fish owners make is putting the fish in the water too soon." Allow the tank to run, and first make sure the water's pH level is right. If your tap water is chlorinated, you must use a dechlorinator before adding fish.
Even stocking the same species of multiple fish in a tank may not work out peacefully. Fish have three basic personalities -- community, semi-aggressive and aggressive. Make sure the fish you buy will get along with fellow residents. Also, take care to choose fish that share the same temperature, pH and nutrient needs. Speaking with other fish owners and asking questions at your local aquarium supply store will help prepare you.
Placement of your fish tank is crucial. If your tank is exposed to too much direct sunlight, it will build up algae too quickly. There are algae-eating fish available, but again, make sure the fish are compatible with the other tank occupants. Make sure that the tank is not kept near external heat or cooling sources, so you won't experience too many fluctuations in water temperature. And something extremely important and often overlooked: Once your aquarium is filled with water, it is very heavy and needs a strong and solid base to sit on.
Be sure to inquire about the reputation of dealers before purchasing any fish to ensure the safety of your tank. If you put a sick fish into the water, it can quickly infect all the other fish. There are useful products on the market that will help your fish maintain their natural slime coats. Ask the dealer about beneficial bacteria and which products are recommended.
When you are ready to introduce fish into the tank, let the bag you bring home from the store sit in the water for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the temperature to even out. Add a few tablespoons of tank water into the bag, and let the fish stay in the mixed water. Finally, remove the fish from the bag using a net. Never pour the water from the pet store into your tank, as it may carry disease.
Wait a day before feeding your fish the first time to allow them to adapt to their new environment. Watch them carefully for color changes or hiding. If they don't seem to be adapting well, check the temperature and water levels immediately. Don't overfeed your fish, and be sure to keep the tank covered to prevent them from jumping out.