Fish keeping for beginners

Caroline Cassidy

Fish are perfect for anyone looking to enjoy a relatively undemanding, yet still beautiful pet in their home. Many an enthusiast has no doubt wiled away hours gazing at these beautiful creatures, and though not entirely without the need for care, there's certainly no prospect of cold, rainy walks with an aquatic pet.

Fish keeping for beginners
Fish keeping for beginners

Pic: Getty

If you're considering investing in a tank, big or small, here's what you need to know about getting started.

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Essential equipment
While fish are relatively low maintenance when compared to other pets, it's important to get their habitat right if you are to enjoy them for many years to come.

Starter tanks should be at least two foot in length, but there are a huge range of styles and sizes on the market if you are keen. You will also need gravel, water conditioner, a heater, thermometer, aquarium filter, and plants or other additions depending on your preference.

Proper preparation is key to keeping happy, healthy fish. The tank itself should be placed in a strong, level and stable position, ideally not in direct sunlight, which promotes rapid algae growth, nor in a draughty area. Once you have the tank in place, the gravel, plants and other decorations, all of which should be washed first, can be added. Before adding water to the tank, it must be conditioned using the water conditioner, as the chlorine in tap water is toxic to fish.

With the tank filled, it's time to add the heater. For a typical tropical freshwater tank, 25 degrees C is usually a good place to start, but is always worth checking with the staff when you buy the fish as to what temperature suits. Install the filter and lighting, ensure that any electrical wires have a drip loop, and you're ready to switch your tank on. It is then best to leave the tank running for a few days, or a week, to allow the water to stabilise.

In order to create a healthy environment for your fish, the tank will need to be 'cycled', which means making a bed of good bacteria to help remove toxins created by fish waste. Most pet shops sell 'bacteria starters', such as Tetra SafeStart, which reduce toxic ammonia and nitrite in the water and encourage a healthy environment.

Adding your fish
The best way to decide what fish to add to your tank is to seek advice, and staff at the retailer you choose should be able to help once they know the size of tank and so on.

As a general rule, barbs, such as cherry, gold, rosy or ruby, make an excellent choice, as do danios, catfish such as bronze or gold corys, while white cloud mountain minnows adapt well to differing temperatures, and are hardy enough to survive happily in an unheated tank if that is what you have.

Whatever you choose, it is important to add them in small groups, two or three at a time, to give your filtration system time to accommodate the increased waste. When adding the fish, allow the bag that you bring them home in to float in the tank for 15 minutes or so, giving the fish time to acclimatise to the temperature. Then add a little of the aquarium water to the bag, and wait a little longer before letting your fish into their new home.

Always take care when introducing new fish to an existing group, and be on the look out for those that are harassing others. Fish can easily become stressed, and stress almost inevitably leads to disease.

Once your tank is set up and your fish happily enjoying their new environment, the maintenance needed shouldn't be too taxing. However, it is important to clean your tank regularly, once every week or two weeks, in order to keep your fish healthy. This means removing around 15 per cent of the water and replacing it with fresh, conditioned water. Use a siphon to clean the gravel at the base as you do so.

If algae builds up on the surface of the tank or decorations, clean it off using an algae scrape (available from pet stores) before you replace the water. Remember, if you have a heated tank, any new water added should be brought to the correct temperature before it goes in.
Lastly, take care not to overfeed your fish. It is a common mistake made by fish-keeping newbies, but can lead to water quality issues, as well as damage the health of your fish. Ideally, feed your fish only what they can eat within four or five minutes, and try to remove any leftovers.

It may sound complicated, but keeping fish is easy once you understand the basics, and these beautiful creatures will give you years of enjoyment with the proper care.

What advice would you give to a newcomer to fish keeping? Leave your comments below...