Freshwater aquarium fish are beautiful and exciting to own. Their bright colors and playful antics make for a lovely centerpiece to your home decor. Different species of fish have different lifespans, but did you know that there are actually ways you can help them to live even longer?
Read on to find out some general tips to keep your finned friends alive, happy, and healthy for as long as possible.
1. Tank Cycling
One of the most common mistakes new fish owners make is to not cycle their tank. An aquarium needs to fully complete the nitrogen cycle before adding fish, which is what the term cycling means. Without taking this vital step, your fish will not only be less likely to live a full life but could even die very quickly!
The nitrogen cycle helps establish colonies of beneficial bacteria that will help process the waste and mucus that your fish produce. These bacteria need time to grow, develop, and reproduce to be able to deal with an aquarium’s bioload (another term for waste produced by your fish). Having colonies of these helpful bacteria make things more comfortable for your fish and cut down on the number of water changes you will need to perform.
Without cycling your aquarium, there is nowhere for your fish’s waste to go. Living in such unhealthy conditions will surely shorten the life of your pets. For more information, check out our guide to cycling your tank.
2. Proper Feeding
Knowing what to feed your fish and in what amounts can be tricky to determine. Be sure to ask your local fish store if you are in doubt, and do research on your own to discover what types of food your fish will need.
Most freshwater first, especially fish that are common for beginners will readily eat most commercially available dry, flaked food. While this is a good staple for most fish, you should occasionally switch up their diet and give them treats.
Using freeze-dried and frozen foods such as bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp provide extra protein that are great supplements to a flaked diet. You wouldn’t want to eat the same food every day for every meal, would you? Of course not, and neither do your fish! Every few days, give them a little treat in the form of a different kind of diet.
This will help give your fish a long, healthy life, and fish with properly balanced diets also show their best coloration and activity level.
3. Keep Your Tank Maintained
Aquariums are not set-it-and-forget-it type projects. You will need to perform maintenance regularly to keep all tank inhabitants healthy. Fish tanks are never sparkling clean, and they shouldn’t be! Fish need to live in water conditions similar to their home environment, which means they should never be too clean, but they also can’t live in tanks that are too dirty.
First, you will need to do regular water changes of at least 20-25%. This helps to remove waste in the water and replaces it with oxygen-rich, clean water. Still, it is not a significant enough amount to remove all the beneficial bacteria established in the cycling process. While you are doing water changes, you should use a siphon or gravel vacuum to remove fish waste and uneaten food from the bottom of your tank and in the substrate.
Then, make sure to gently remove algae from tank walls and decorations with a soft sponge.
4. Get a Bigger Tank Than You ‘Need’
When it comes to how many fish to keep, a famous rule of thumb is only one inch of fish per gallon your tank folds. However, the more space your fish have, the happier they will be. Now, this doesn’t mean you should only have one or two fish, especially if they are schooling or shoaling fish, but keep in mind that many fish are very active and need lots of space to exercise and explore.
Have a great idea for stocking a 20-gallon tank? Why not get a 30 instead and give your fin friends room to swim and play? Overcrowding, also called overstocking, is a common problem for fishkeepers. Fish get stressed out if they have too many tankmates, and stress can lead to shortened lifespans.
5. Keep the Temperature Stable
There are many freshwater fish that will do fine in room temperature water, but having a heater is the safest bet in maintaining proper water temps. Make sure your aquarium is set up in an appropriate location. Being under heating and cooling vents can cause fluctuations in temperature – so can being near windows.
Once your tank is in a spot that is safe from fluctuations, use a heater to maintain optimal temperature 24/7. Rapid temperature changes can kill your fish at the worst and, at best, cause them stress. As we know, stressed fish do not live as long.
Suppose your fish are native to areas with seasonally changing temperatures. In that case, it can be a good idea to follow those changes in the home aquarium. If you stepped outside on what was supposed to be a balmy summer day and saw snow everywhere, that would be a little confusing!
Although it isn’t strictly necessary, many aquarists swear that this heating method is the key to their pets’ longevity.
6. Use Proper Equipment
There is little else that angers experienced aquarists more than seeing a fish in a bowl, vase, or other tiny containers with no filter or water movement. These things are essential to the health of your fish. You may be able to get by without a heater. Still, without filtration and current in the water, your pets’ lifespan will be significantly shortened. There are all kinds of filters and pumps available, so there is sure to be one that suits your tastes.
Aerator stones are also not strictly necessary but can significantly improve the quality of life for your fish. Adding an aerator is beneficial for two main reasons – 1) it increases the oxygen levels in your tank water, making it easier for your fish to breathe. 2) It’s a ton of fun for them! Many fish absolutely love playing in the bubble streams that aerators create (which is also why they are sometimes called ‘bubblers’).
Fish that can breathe easy and have fun in their environment are sure to live longer than those who don’t. If you’d like more information on what you need to set up a new aquarium, check out this guide.
7. Choose Tankmates with Care
Aside from water quality, choosing compatible tank mates is probably the most important thing when planning an aquarium. You might think two kinds of fish would look fantastic together, but everyone will be unhappy if they don’t get along. Incompatible fish will often fight, which results in torn fins and scales. If this doesn’t cause death immediately, it creates open wounds that can quickly get infected.
Another consideration of tankmates is how many to have. It might look cool for an aquarium to have tons of different fish, but not seeing themselves in any other fish in the tank can make some fish depressed. Look into the type of fish you want to keep to see how many they need in a group to be comfortable. For many, this is around 6-10, although more is usually encouraged if you have enough space. Then, look into what other fish they get along with to ensure all community members will be happy together.
8. Provide an Enriching Environment
As mentioned when discussing aerators, fish that can have fun in their environment, feel safe, and have lots of things to explore will be happier and live longer than those that don’t. All of this adds up to providing an enriching environment. Having small caves or crevices in rocks will make those in the tank’s bottom swim level feel safe, as they have a hiding spot if they sense any danger.
Adding plastic or ceramic decorations not only makes it look more attractive to you, but it also gives your fish an exciting thing to explore. Driftwood and live plants are very beneficial for several reasons. Still, they will give your fish more places to explore and an atmosphere similar to their native homes.
Recreating their natural habitat with lots to see and do will absolutely help extend your pets’ lives.
9. Use Live Plants
As just mentioned, live plants have many health benefits. They provide a natural-looking home for your fish, but because they are also living, growing things, they can be a ton of fun for you to grow as well! They also help to reduce waste (and water changes!) by using it as nutrients to feed them and releasing oxygen into the water. You can also be sure that they will not injure your fish, as aquarium plants are nearly always too soft and pliable to harm delicate fins.
10. Make your Tank a Safe Environment
So we now know that live plants are safe for your fish, but what else can cause the environment to be harmful? Unfortunately, lots of things. Plastic plants, decorations of any material, driftwood, and course substrate are all potential dangers. Before adding any of these things to your tank, take a tissue, toilet paper, or thin tissue paper and run it over all surface areas of the (dry) decoration. If it is sharp enough to tear the paper, it is sharp enough to tear delicate fins.
Research the kind of substrate your fish prefer. Some like to root around in bigger gravel pieces, while others may be easily injured by this and need fine-grained sand. Make sure your substrate type is preferred by all tank mates. If you put in soft sand to accommodate for more easily harmed fish, but his tankmates prefer gravel, they will not be as content as they could be, which can shorten lifespans.
Some water additives, like de-chlorinator, are essential for the health of your fish. Other kinds or those that are misused can be deadly. If you have an ill fish, it is best to consult with a veterinarian until you know how to identify and treat certain diseases and parasites. Always make sure you read the directions carefully before administering. Reading the ingredients is also very important.
Some fish are susceptible to certain elements, and adding the ‘medicine’ to the tank can cause more harm than good. One ingredient to watch for is copper. Many freshwater fish can perish if they interact with even a tiny bit of copper.
11. Research your Fish, Equipment, and Plants
Yes, it’s been said before in this article, but I’ll repeat it: ALWAYS, do your research. You absolutely must know ahead of time what kind of fish and plants you will be purchasing before any other decisions are made. The reason for this is because different species will need different things. Some may need a ton of plant cover to hide in. In contrast, others dislike that environment as it impedes their highly active lifestyle.
It is always best when considering getting a new aquarium to plan everything out from start to finish before making even a single purchase. You will know this way before even beginning what types of decorations, substrate, equipment, and water parameters you will need. In addition to all this research making your tank a safe home for your fish, it takes out any guesswork you may have along the way.
Additionally, it will help you keep track of how much money the project will cost, as keeping fish as pets can get quite costly.
12. Have a ‘Fish First Aid Kit’
Knowing what to look for if a fish is ill and tools on hand to nurse them to health is a great way to extend the life of your fish. If one or more of your fish falls ill, the time it takes for you to research the issue, find the appropriate treatment, buy it and get back home can be all the time it takes for things to go from bad to irreparable. Stock some treatments for common fish illnesses so you can act swiftly if you notice something is off.
Another great idea for a fish first aid kit is to have a quarantine tank. This is usually a small tank that has already been set up and cycled in case you find a sick fish. Many diseases and parasites can spread quickly throughout the aquarium population, so removing ill individuals will slow or even stop it from making other fish sick.
I like to keep just a small tank of about five gallons that only has beautiful, live plants. The plants keep it from looking dull, I get to develop my freshwater green thumb, and sick babies have a ready-made, safe place to spend their recovery.
Owning freshwater aquarium fish can be a challenge, but it is so remarkably rewarding and relaxing to watch. Of course, we all want our pets to live as long as they can! While, unfortunately, there is no fountain of youth for aquarium pets, there are some steps we can take to increase their lifespan as much as possible.