Starting an aquarium for the first time can be exciting but also intimidating. There is so much information on the internet that it can be challenging for novice aquarists to know where to start when setting up a tank. I’ve put together these aquarium care tips for beginners so you can quickly and easily learn how to care for freshwater fish!
Aquarium Basics: What Do Fish Need to Survive and Thrive?
Have you been dreaming of starting a fish tank, but put it off because its care and maintenance seems too complicated? Don’t get stuck in information overload! With these 15 easy tips, you can get your tank up and running in no time and have a healthy and thriving aquatic community!
Before we dive into the list, let’s cover the three critical factors that determine the health of your aquarium and the fish inside. All of the advice below goes back to these key elements. By focusing on the three basic needs, you can avoid most of the major aquarium problems and have a healthy fish tank!
- Design the right habitat for your fish in terms of capacity, temperature, filtration and decoration.
- Provide an adequate, high-quality diet for your tank’s occupants.
- Perform regular aquarium maintenance on your equipment and tank.
Tips for starting a new aquarium
The first thing you will need to do is decide on the type of fish or animals you would like to have in your aquarium. It is much easier for beginning fish keepers to build a tank based on the needs of a specific species. So choose your focus fish or invertebrate and avoid wasting time and money on a setup that isn’t right for your pets!
Choose the right aquarium type and setup
The capacity of your aquarium determines the type of fish you can keep, as each species has an ideal amount of space it needs to swim and explore. For example, while you can keep a male betta in a small 5-gallon tank, you’ll need at least 20 gallons if you want a group of fancy goldfish.
Nano tanks are a popular option for beginners, but they can also be more difficult to maintain than larger aquariums. I recommend getting the largest capacity tank possible to make things easier. Then equip it with the right type of filter, heater, and substrate for your focus fish.
Choose compatible tankmates for your community
The nice thing about building an aquarium around a focus species is that it makes it easy to determine which types of tankmates are compatible and suitable for your setup. By keeping animals that are known to get along with your focus species, you will avoid aggression problems and should have a peaceful community tank.
Avoid overcrowding your tank
Fish experience stress when they don’t have room to swim and explore. The general rule of thumb is to allow 1 gallon of capacity for every inch of fish in the tank, so a fish that reaches 6 inches in length will need at least 6 gallons of water. Active swimmers like freshwater sharks or common goldfish may need even more space.
How to feed your fish for optimal health
Balanced nutrition is an important part of having a healthy aquatic community. Most freshwater fish are either vegetarian, eating algae and plant material, or omnivorous, eating plants and animals. It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to feeding fish, so here are my top 4 tips on aquatic nutrition!
Feed a variety of commercial diets and treat foods
Choose a high-quality commercial fish food as their main diet and switch types or brands to add variety, and provide your fish with a variety of sweet foods as well.
- Choose diets suitable for your animal’s eating behaviors. Fish that swim in the top and middle of the tank often prefer floating flakes or pellets, while bottom feeders benefit from sinking pellet and wafer diets.
- Substitute fresh/frozen/freeze dried treats in place of their usual diet 2-3 meals a week to ensure your fish are getting a balanced diet.
It is very easy to add too much food to your aquarium and that causes problems with the quality of the water. Overweight fish are also much more prone to health problems and reduced lifespans. Unless you are raising fingerlings of young fish, you do not need to feed your aquarium more than once a day.
To avoid overfeeding, add only the amount of food the community can consume in about 2-3 minutes and remove leftovers right away so they don’t start to spoil. Most fish also benefit from a regular fast day once a week. If you are using food to train or play with your fish, then feed them less at their regular feeding times.
Don’t buy dusty old jars of fish food
Commercial diets are made from shellfish, seaweed, and algae and can become rancid and rancid over time. If you’re grocery shopping, avoid grabbing old jars that have been sitting on the shelf for years, and always check expiration dates. Throw away the jars once they have been open for 6 months or any diet that has expired.
Avoid buying fish food in bulk
Once a container of fish food is opened, exposure to light and air degrades the nutrients and causes it to spoil. It’s better and more cost effective to buy small amounts of food rather than a huge jar that will spoil or expire before you can use it all. I only have a month’s worth of food available at a time for my tanks.
Tips for maintaining your fish tank
Aquarium maintenance may seem like a complicated subject, but it is actually quite simple. The easiest way to deal with maintenance is to get into a routine and have a list of daily, weekly and monthly tasks you perform on schedule. To maintain a healthy fish tank:
Check the temperature and check the filter daily
Get in the habit of taking a quick look at your thermometer and checking your heater and filter once a day to make sure everything is working as it should. If your temperature drops or your filter pad gets clogged, you don’t want to find out the problem a week later when you start losing fish or have a puddle on your floor.
Test the quality of the water
I recommend testing your aquarium water once a week for the first few months and then once a month once it’s established. If the pH or ammonia levels change suddenly, you’ll spot the problem before the fish show signs of stress. You can get inexpensive water test kits with a variety of test strips at most aquatic stores.
Make changes slowly and gradually
If you suddenly notice a problem with your aquarium, either through observation or as a result of a test, don’t panic! Make adjustments to your tank patiently and change parameters slowly and gradually. Most fish can survive in a variety of water conditions, but become stressed if things change quickly.
Perform partial water changes on a regular schedule
There are no hard and fast rules about how often or how much water you should change in your tank. It depends on factors like tank capacity, type of filtration system, how many fish and how often they feed, etc. Small tanks may need weekly water changes, while larger tanks may only need once a month.
- A typical water change removes and replaces about 25% of the water in the aquarium and can be done as often as daily, if necessary.
- If you have an algae outbreak or sick fish, you can change up to 50% of the water in the tank every 24 hours, but don’t remove more than that at once, or it could cause your fish more stress.
Remove algae monthly
Algae can become problematic if they take over your entire tank, but having a little algae in your aquarium is not a problem. In fact, algae is a great food source for many aquatic species and some shrimp and fish can starve if you remove it all. Eliminate problem algae once a month by cleaning them from your tank and equipment.
Don’t clean your tank too much
When cleaning your fish tank, it’s a good idea to gently scoop debris out of the gravel and remove algae from the sides of your fish tank. but don’t exaggerate. A fish tank is not a sterile environment. The good bacteria that live in your substrate and filter help keep your ammonia levels in check, so don’t clean too hard or your tank could collapse.
Observe your fish regularly
The best way to avoid problems is to observe healthy fish so you can spot signs of trouble as soon as they appear.
- Monitor your fish’s activity levels and appetite, and make notes of any fish that aren’t acting, swimming, or eating normally.
- Also control the scale color and overall appearance.
- Stressed or sick fish often have a discolored or dull color.
- Look for injuries or signs of disease such as fin rot or white spot disease.
If you detect a problem with your fish:
- Test the water quality and make any necessary adjustments to your tank.
- Isolate diseased fish in a hospital tank separate from healthy animals for treatment.
- Or, if your entire tank is showing signs of disease, diagnose and treat the entire aquarium.
- Look for specific treatment protocols in a good fish care guide, and be sure to adjust your equipment as needed while medicating the tank.
Be careful with copper-based medications
You can often cure a sick fish without using antibiotics or other medications by doing water changes, adjusting your light cycle, or raising or lowering the water temperature. But sometimes these methods do not fix the problem, and you may have to resort to using water-based medications. However, they should be your last resort.
Many freshwater fish and almost all snails and shrimp are sensitive to copper, and copper-containing medications could poison your tank and kill these sensitive species. Never use a drug unless you have confirmed that it does not contain ingredients that are toxic to the species you have in your tank.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these basic aquarium care tips and we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments. Or you can join our social media pages and see what other people are doing with their tanks! By following the tips and suggestions in this article, you will be able to avoid most aquatic problems and easily maintain a beautiful tank.