How to Take Care of Freshwater Aquatic Life: Tips for New Fish Parents
According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, approximately 13.1 million American households keep fish as pets, making them the third most popular type of pet after cats and dogs. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be! With engaging antics and graceful beauty, aquatic life can make a wonderful addition to your home—as long as you understand how to properly care for them.
If you’re considering bringing aquatic life into your home, the best way to prepare is to first set up your aquarium. This, plus understanding what ongoing work will be required, will help set you and your aquarium up for success. Maintaining an aquarium can be fairly easy and stress-free, as long as you know the right steps to follow. To start, think about the below.
Pick the right aquarium
The size of the aquarium that you need will depend on the type of fish you decide to bring home (consider if it will be a freshwater fish, saltwater fish and the individual species), and how many you will want to get. With fish tank sizes ranging from desktop aquariums for a single betta on up to a large aquarium appropriate for multiple types of fish, it’s important to put a little thought into the habitat prior to bringing home any aquatic life. Overcrowding can lead to low oxygen levels in the water, excess waste and even, in extreme cases, fatalities. Stop into your local Petco store for advice on which size aquarium or tank will be right for you based on your space availability and the type of fish you were hoping to get.
Set up optimal aquarium water conditions
Different types of aquatic life will require different water conditions, but for any underwater creature, a proper environment is critical. A few factors to consider include:
- Conditioning the water. Tap water comes with countless properties that need to be balanced in an aquarium to support aquatic life. To condition water properly, use a dechlorinating agent along with a biological aquarium supplement.
- Maintaining proper pH levels. pH is an indicator of the acidity or alkalinity of your tank water. Buy a pH test kit to check the pH level. Freshwater fish typically thrive when the pH level is between 6.8 and 7.5, depending on the species, as it is the range that will offer a natural environment that helps your fish resist illness. Check regularly for fluctuations and make the necessary changes to recalibrate as a change in pH greater than 0.3 in a 24-hour period can cause a fish to become stressed or susceptible to disease.
- Stabilizing temperature. Changes in water temperature can also wreak havoc on aquatic life, so never place your aquarium near a window that gets a lot of sun, or next to heating or air vents that can change water temperatures quickly. Tropical freshwater fish require a constant temperature of 72 °F – 82 °F, depending on the species. An aquatic heater will help you maintain the proper temperature.
Prepare for proper fish tank maintenance
Regular monitoring of the water conditions in your aquarium or tank is a good start for proper maintenance, but there are other things you can do, including regular cleanings.
Plan to replace 25 percent of the water in your aquarium once a month. This will help keep your tank’s water clean and nitrate concentrations at a safe level. A gravel vacuum can help siphon out water and debris—especially that along the bottom of your tank. Keep an eye out for algae buildup, as well. This might appear as cloud on the glass of your tank, or the water itself could look murky, which will lead to decreased oxygen levels in the water. To help clean the algae from your aquarium, use a tank scrub brush or aquarium algae magnet.
Practice proper aquarium acclimation
Aquatic life can be sensitive to dramatic environmental changes, so be sure to ask the store partner what the water parameters for nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and pH levels are for the species you get, and test your setup at home to ensure that it matches as closely as possible. Once you get your aquatic life home, float the sealed bag containing your aquatic life in your aquarium for at least 15 minutes, but no longer than an hour, to allow for temperature acclimation. Open the bag and slowly add a quarter-cup of water from your aquarium. Repeat the process of adding a quarter cup of water every five minutes until the bag is full. This brings the temperature and chemistry together slowly, which allows the new aquatic life to acclimate to their new aquatic home without being shocked by sudden changes. Remove the bag from the aquarium and slowly pour off as much water as possible without exposing the aquatic life to the air. Lower the bag into the aquarium and allow your new aquatic friend to enter into their new home.
Observe your aquatic life for changes
Take a few moments to observe your aquatic life on a regular basis. Watch for changes in appearance, behavior or appetite so that you’ll immediately notice if something is amiss.
With a little planning and forethought, you can prepare a well-managed aquarium before you even bring your aquatic life home. Then, with proper maintenance, you will be provided with many hours of watching your aquatic life swim in their glorious new habitat. Petco has a variety of helpful resources and supplies for all of your aquarium needs. Shop online or stop into your local store for more advice.