Aquariums are a low maintenance alternative to many of the more traditional pets like cats and dogs, but they still require regular care and upkeep. Thankfully, most of the work only has to be done on a weekly basis – especially if you take steps to ensure that the aquarium is set up properly.
When you first look into setting up an aquarium, it can quickly become overwhelming. You will be bombarded with terms like cycling tanks, water parameters and beneficial bacteria. But when it comes right down to it, there are only four aspects of aquarium care that you really need to know when you are first starting out.
The setup of your aquarium will determine how much work is required and even determine what problems you might encounter over time. If you choose the right aquarium and equipment right from the start, you can often avoid many of the more common problems that leave people tearing their hair out in frustration.
Aquarium Size – Strangely enough, the larger the aquarium that you start with, the less work that you will have to put into maintenance and cleaning. Not only do larger aquariums ensure that the water parameters remain stable, they also a give you more breathing space when it comes to water changes – unlike smaller aquariums which tend to crash if you miss the weekly water change.
Because the water tends to remain more stable in larger aquariums, you won’t be presented with nearly as many fish related emergencies, and you can spend more time enjoying your fish – instead of trying to save them. That’s not to say that smaller aquariums won’t work too. They just tend to be a bit more difficult for a beginner.
If you do end up choosing a larger aquarium, you should consider getting a water changer system like the Python Water Changer.
Substrate – When you first walk into a fish store, you are usually confronted with a wall of brightly colored gravel and substrates that promise all sorts of amazing things for your aquarium. Unless you have a specific need for a specialized substrate, you can avoid all of these substrates and find the section where they offer the most basic (and cheapest) substrate.
When choosing a basic substrate, the two best choices are either natural gravel or play sand. Each have their own positive and negative aspects, but gravel is usually the easier of the two to maintain. Not only is it easier to clean, but waste doesn’t accumulate nearly as fast on gravel, which adds a lot to the appearance of the aquarium.
That’s not to say that sand isn’t as good as gravel, and if done property, it can look absolutely stunning and provide a more natural look to the fish tank. It also has the added benefit of being the least expensive of nearly all of the substrate options. But , as previously stated, waste and detritus can quickly accumulate on its surface and nothing looks worse than sand covered in fish poop.
Filters – The expression bigger is better applies to many things, and filters are one of them. When you first purchase a filter, you will save yourself a lot of effort if you choose a filter that over filters your tank. To put it simply, what this means is that the filter that you choose should always be rated for a size slightly larger than the aquarium that it is going to be used on.
For example, if you have a 10 gallon (37 litres) tank, you should try to get a filter that is rated for a 20 gallon tank (75 litres). But before doing this, make sure that your fish aren’t sensitive to the current. Over filtering provides more leeway when it comes to water changes and maintenance, and your tank is less likely to crash if you’re a day or two late for maintenance.
Water quality is the life blood of any aquarium, and most of your efforts towards aquarium care should be directed towards keeping the water in top notch condition. Luckily, this doesn’t require a lot of work, and you can spend less than half an hour a week and still keep your water clear and pristine.
For anyone new to fish keeping, the first thing that you have to do with an aquarium is cycle the tank.
The key with any aquarium is to keep the levels of ammonia and nitrites at zero and to keep the nitrates below 40 ppm. If you start to detect ammonia or nitrites, it usually means that something is seriously wrong with the aquarium, and any level of these – no matter how small, can injure or even kill your fish.
In order to monitor ammonia and nitrites, you should test your water regularly. Thankfully, water testing has become easier and cheaper over the years. Now you can bring in a water sample to most pet stores and they will test your aquarium water for free. Alternatively, you can buy a testing kit that allows you to test the water multiple times from the comfort of your home.
If you do detect ammonia or nitrites, it can be a frustrating experience. It can be caused by so many different things, that it can sometimes take days to figure out the cause of it – all while your fish sicken and die. It could be anything from over feeding the fish, to a fish dying and rotting hidden somewhere in the aquarium. But if you do detect either of these chemicals, you need to deal with it immediately.
Nitrates on the other hand, will always be present to some degree in an aquarium, and won’t affect the fish unless the levels get too high. This is why weekly water changes are necessary, since they remove nitrates from the aquarium. Live plants can also remove nitrates from the aquarium, but water changes will still be required to remove any excess nitrates.
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Choosing the right food for your fish is one of the most important aspects of keeping your fish healthy and happy. You might be tempted to just choose the cheapest food, but like low end dog food, cheap fish food is mostly made up of grade F meat (mostly old circus animals) and filler. Ok – not really, but it’s not far off.
The type of fish that you keep will also have a huge impact on what you feed them, and you should always do some research into what types of food they eat in the wild. Some fish are herbivores and should only eat plant based food, while others only feed at the bottom and will need a sinking pellet so the food can reach them.
When choosing a food, try to avoid ones that are mainly made up of fillers like rice meal, and always look for foods where the first few ingredients are fish or shrimp. If you can afford it, you may also want to try supplementing your fish’s diet with live or frozen foods – both of which will improve the health and color of most fish.
After an aquarium has been setup, it’s important that you stick with a regular maintenance schedule. Most people choose to do maintenance once a week, but if you have a lightly stocked tank with a good filter, you can get away with once every other week.
Water Changes – Nothing contributes to the health of an aquarium more than small, regular water changes. When you are doing weekly water changes, only about 20-30% of the water needs to be changed at any one time. And if you change any more, you risk upsetting the pH balance of the water, which can be harmful to the fish.
Any water that is added to the aquarium should always be treated to remove any chlorine or chloramine, and you should also ensure that the temperature of the water that you add is as close as humanly possible to temperature of water already in the fish tank.
Filter – During weekly maintenance, any filters in use should be thoroughly cleaned. When cleaning the filter, it’s important that the filter is never, ever cleaned with untreated tap water. And just in case you missed that last part – no tap water!
The reasons for this are simple – chlorinated tap water will kill off most, if not all of the beneficial bacteria that process the fish waste in the aquarium and can even start a mini cycle – which can be deadly to fish.
The easiest way to clean a filter is to fill a bucket with water from your aquarium during the water change, and use the tank water to clean the filter. Even though each part of the filter should be thoroughly cleaned, don’t over do it on the filter bio-media. This is where most of the bacteria resides and it should only be gently cleaned to save the bacteria.
Cleaning – When performing weekly water changes, you should always make sure to clean out the aquarium as much as possible. When siphoning out the water from the tank, you should suction out the bottom of the tank – or in the case of sand, suck up all the waste lying on the surface. And if you have a gravel substrate, you should bury the siphon head directly into the gravel to suck out all of the waste that falls between the gravel.
During the water change, you should suck out as much dirt and waste as possible. This contributes to good water quality, and while it is usually impossible to get all of it, just try to get the majority during each aquarium cleaning.
If you follow these simple tips with your aquarium, you should have a relatively trouble free and enjoyable experience – which will allow you to spend most of your time enjoying the aquarium, and not trying to fix problems.