Ann Eliopulos | Pets
When I meet someone, one of the first questions I ask is, “Do you have a pet?” The answer tells me so much, and not just because I’m a veterinarian. The health and emotional benefits of keeping pets is well documented, from lowered blood pressure and slower heart rate to overall calming. For me, the saddest answer I hear is when someone tells me they either don’t have the space or the time.
Mammals need time for exercise, litter box cleaning, walking, cage cleaning, vet trips and whatever else that specific species requires for maintenance and upkeep. But fish have the same health benefits without needing a lot of space, vet trips, petting or grooming.
First it is important to determine the type of fish you want to keep. Most fish are tropical, meaning that they come from a region of the world where the water hovers between 78 – 82 degrees year round. To achieve this stability in your tank, you will need a heater. Goldfish and Carp are not tropical, and don’t need supplemental heat. If you are interested in a saltwater or marine tank and have never kept fish before, I recommend that you become proficient with freshwater first. There are more things to pay attention to wtih a marine tank, and doing so can be a bit challenging.
Fish, like most other animals, can be solitary or communal, peaceful or aggressive, predatory or non-predatory. Schooling fish interact with each other rather than with you. Non-schooling fish — predatory or not — tend to interact more with their keepers. Many Cichlids, African or South American, develop relationships outside of the tank, as it were, but can be aggressive and territorial with each other. They also tend to wreak havoc on live plants. Small schooling fish, such as tetras, when mixed with a few bottom feeders such as Corydoras catfish, and a display fish such as a beta, can be part of a beautifully planted tank.
Even within the schooling fish, it is important to note that some are fin nippers, or can be more aggressive than others. Barbs don’t mix with Angels or other long-finned fish. A good, reliable fish store should be able to help you pick fish that can cohabitate together. After all, the goal is peace and minimizing stress, not having your fish beat each other up.
Every fish tank or habitat requires an initial four to five weeks of developing the bacteria in the environment and gravel or sand that will break down fish waste into a less toxic product. A filtration system of some sort is needed to facilitate degradation of fish waste. To achieve this, you start with only a few, hardy fish — fish that are known to be able to tolerate ammonia and its breakdown product, nitrite. After a month or so, whenever the fish excrete, within an almost immeasurable period of time, the waste is converted to a relatively harmless byproduct: nitrate. At this time, you can start adding more fish to the tank, as you now have a sustainable system with a “bio-filter.”
Of course, waste is waste, and even nitrates are harmful in large amounts. To keep nitrate levels where they need to be, partial water changes on a weekly or bimonthly basis are necessary. How frequent the changes need to happen will be determined by the number of fish and the size of the tank. Don’t throw this water away. Plants love nitrates, you can use your dirty tank water to make happy house plants.
Fish keeping can be addictive. I know many people who, once they master one tank, can’t help but get more. The white noise from the pumps and the beauty of the tanks can be hard to beat for relaxation. Even if you just start with a Beta, or Siamese Fighting fish, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you had the time and space for a pet after all.