You Are At: AllSands Home > Pets > Fish > Setting up a freshwater fish tank
Fish make excellent pets. They are beautiful, inexpensive to feed, and, generally, require little time. An attractive fish tank makes a wonderful focal point for a quiet room. Many doctors and dentists have fish tanks in their waiting rooms because studies have shown that watching a tank of fish can help lower blood pressure and induce calm.

Freshwater tanks can be either coldwater or tropical (heated). Coldwater tanks are for goldfish. Tropical tanks are for angels to zebra danios and everything in between. Once you have chosen the type of tank you want, you should consider what size your tank will be and where it will be located. It will need to be close to an electrical outlet, but away from direct sunlight and heat sources. A corner of a room is a good location, or any place that meets other requirements and is not in a well-travelled area where the tank could be frequently bumped. The size of tank you choose will determine the type of support you will need. A firm table or counter will support smaller tanks. Large tanks need special stands. The ten gallon tank is the most popular size. In addition to different sizes of tanks, there are also different shapes of tanks, for example, a 20 gallon long or a 20 gallon tall.

There are three basic types of filters: intank filters, exterior filters, and under gravel filters. The type you choose will be based somewhat on personal preference, but mostly on the efficiency of the filter for the size and shape of your tank. If you purchase a packaged tank, hood, filter, pump, heater, thermometer, etc., the filter and pump will be matched to your tank size. Otherwise, consult a pet supplier for recommendations to ensure that your pump and filter are the most efficient for the tank you have chosen.

To allow the tank to stabilize, you should set it up at least two weeks before you bring home your first fish. Start by thoroughly cleaning the tank and all equipment with baking soda and warm water. If you need to scrub any stubborn spots, use plain salt. Rinse everything thoroughly. Be extremely carefully handling the tank to avoid chips and cracks. Larger tanks are obviously a two-person undertaking. Place at least two inches of gravel in the bottom of the tank. Be creative with contouring the gravel and adding rocks. Live plants help keep a tank healthy, provide natural refuges for your fish, and enhance the beauty of this miniature ecosystem. Your pet supplier will have many varieties of plants. Elodea is particularly hardy and is a good choice for beginners. Add water slowly and carefully to your tank. If your water is chlorinated, it may need to be conditioned to remove the chlorine. Additionally, the acidity of the water may need to be adjusted. Water conditioners and test kits are inexpensive and readily available. Follow the written instructions that accompany your filter, pump, and heater when setting them up. Place the thermometer in a location that is easily visible.

Buy a couple of hardy fish, like guppies, to start and allow the tank to stabilize for several weeks. Some of the fancier breeds are more sensitive and may not survive if the tank is not stable. The number of fish your tank will support will depend on the surface area of your tank and the size of fish you intend to keep. The general rule of thumb is that you can keep one inch of fish for each gallon of water in your tank. For example, if each of your fish will grow to two inches in length, a ten gallon tank will support five adult fish. If you want a community tank with several different types of fish, avoid agressive breeds which may bully or even eat smaller fish. Oscars and Siamese fighters are not good choices for community tanks. Tetras, guppies, swordtails, and mollies are among the many tropical favorites. An algae eater and a small catfish will help keep the tank balanced.

Many more fish die of overfeeding than starvation. Feeding little and often (two or three times per day) is the preferred method. Sprinkle just a pinch of flakes on the surface of the tank. If the food is eaten within a minute or two and the fish still seem to be hungry, add another pinch. Never leave stale or rotting food in the tank. If food is left after five minutes, do not feed the following day.

Once your tank is stable, you will need to clean the filter and change approximately 10 to 20% of the water every month or two, depending on the type of filter and pump you have. Be sure to refer to the manufacturer's recommendations for your maintenance schedule. If any of your fish show signs of illness or disease, consult your pet supplier or a reliable reference book for appropriate treatments.