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Now that you've decided that the colorful, self-enclosed world of fish is for you, getting ready for their arrival is half the fun. It is said that fish tanks are like snowflakes: no two will ever be exactly alike. This living piece of art will be a focal point of the room in which it is placed, and guarantees hours of enjoyment to all members of your family. If children are part of your household, involving them in the preparations is an excellent way to teach responsibility. When your tank is up and running and ready for the big event, turn their trip to the pet store into a special occasion with photos, videos and a celebration.

Keep in mind that fish are easily stressed and that the environment awaiting them should be as ideal as possible. Just as if you were preparing for a new baby, you'll want to have the "nursery" ready well in advance. Talk to your children about the needs of your fish so that they understand what is required to maintain a "healthy" tank that's not only safe and secure, but stimulating. One of the most important things you must do as you prepare is ask questions, read about and research the habits and requirements of the breeds of fish you are planning to keep. Complete information on caring for many different breeds of fish, both freshwater and saltwater, can be found throughout this website.

To cut down on stress (for both you and your fish), do your homework and then set up a properly heated, pH-balanced tank that will be ready for your fish to explore the moment they arrive. It's usually recommended that first-time fish owners begin with freshwater aquariums, but beginners can successfully maintain saltwater tanks with the right knowledge and equipment. Whichever you choose, take time to ensure that the environment is ideal and your choice of fish appropriate.

The Bare Necessities

Having made the decision on whether you are going to have a freshwater or a saltwater tank (if you're a beginner, it's advisable to cut your teeth on freshwater), you're going to need the following supplies:

  • Tank (as large as you can possibly afford, and with the largest possible surface area)
  • Tank hood and lights
  • Tank stand
  • Some kind of filtration system incorporating (at minimum) biological and mechanical filtration
  • Gravel
  • In-tank heater, thermostat and thermometer
  • Plastic or live plants
  • A few decorations and rocks for hiding places
  • Water treatment and test kits
  • Basic maintenance equipment
Time was, we needed to make several trips to the pet store to assemble all these elements for a healthy fish habitat. Luckily, now we can order what we need online and have it delivered-everything from the tank to the fish food. Try to get all the necessities before you buy your fish. PETCO does not recommend buying fish online due to the high mortality rate of shipped live fish. Besides, don't you want the pleasure of picking out your pets?

A Little Something Extra

Having done your research, you'll know that new fish should be quarantined. It's wise to invest in a 10-gallon tank and the equipment for quarantining your fish, including a few basic medications, at this stage. Yes, you'll be able to put your first fish purchases straight into your new aquarium, but future additions will have to be kept separate at first to avoid the risk of introducing parasites or disease into your tank. If you start to cycle a quarantine tank now, you'll be ready to accept these new inhabitants.

Bringing It All Together

Now your living room is cluttered with packages. Where are you going to put your tank, and how are you going to set it all up?

  • Choose a draft-free wall, close to electrical outlets and away from direct sunlight (algae just love the sun).
  • Support the tank from the bottom when you're carrying it and place it on a sufficiently sturdy, level, stable and safe stand.
  • Clean the new tank thoroughly using a damp cloth or paper towel, but never soap or detergents.
  • If you have an undergravel filter, you'll need to put it in before the gravel, following the manufacturer's instructions. If you have a power filter, don't switch it on until your aquarium is full.
  • You need a 2" depth of gravel in the bottom. Use approximately 1.5 pounds of gravel for every gallon of water and rinse the gravel thoroughly before adding it, because most gravel contains very fine dust that will cloud the water. Add 5 pounds of gravel at a time.
  • Fill the tank slowly with room temperature, dechlorinated water, leaving the level 2" to 3" lower than the top to allow you to add decorations.
  • Check your heater and thermometer for cracks before putting them into your tank. Allow the tank to stand for an hour before switching the heater and thermometer on, and check the thermostat against a reliable thermometer. Never plug in a heater that's out of the water. For tropical fish, you'll need to maintain a temperature of between 76F and 78 F.
  • Arrange your decorations and plants before you put any fish in the tank. This will cut down on fish stress.
  • Fit a full, tight-fitting hood over your tank with adequate lights capable of providing lighting for up to 8-10 hours a day. Remember that too much light will encourage algae growth and that different species require different lighting conditions.
  • Explain to the children, before the fish arrive, that they can stress the fish by tapping on the glass or pressing their faces to the glass.
  • Keep all your fish chemicals and food safely out of reach of the children, just as you would all cleaning materials and medicines.
After setting up your tank and conditioning the fresh water for a week to ten days, you're ready to bring home your fish. This website contains detailed information on species and their traits. Do your homework so that your new arrivals won't harm each other. When planning to buy your fish, consider the following factors:
  • Size. Your fish must be able to live comfortably in the size of tank you own.
  • Activity level. Some fish are active, while others are docile or aggressive.
  • Reproduction. Some fish lay eggs, while others bear their young alive.
  • Number. The number of fish you buy must be appropriate for the species as well as tank size.
Depending on the requirements of your particular fish, you may want to purchase additional items to augment your supplies or the contents of your tank.

Storing Supplies

Keep food in a secure container where you can get to it easily. For your own convenience, non-perishable items should be stored in one area devoted to the needs of your fish. A tackle box or cabinet with divisions is the ideal place. Your supplies should probably include the following items:

  • Nets
  • Toothbrushes
  • Tank vacuuming device
  • Extra gravel and plastic plants
  • Five-gallon bucket used only for this tank
  • Clean containers to temporarily hold fish
Remember that chemicals, cleaning supplies and any fish medications must be kept safely out of reach of children.

Getting Acquainted

At the store, your fish will be netted and given to you in plastic bags with a little water from their tanks. To avoid stressing your fish:

  • Jostle your fish as little as possible while transporting them.
  • Get home as quickly as possible (although there should be enough air in each bag to last your fish an hour or more).
  • Leave the bag or bags sealed and let them float in your own tank for about fifteen minutes to let the water temperature adjust.
  • Read the PETCO bag your new fish are in - you'll find instructions on how to acclimate your new fish printed right on the bag.
  • Keep the tank light low or off and keep your distance for the first few hours.
  • Offer a light feeding after this initial period.
Now it's time to enjoy your fish, their antics and the environment you've created. You will need to spend a minimum of thirty minutes a week maintaining your tank, but your reward will be hours of enjoyment. Tropical fish are soothing to the soul, and the simple joy of observation can be a respite from the rigors of life. Take the time to enjoy your aquarium. Prepare and then relax so that getting your fish will be a special occasion filled with great expectations.