Aquariums! So what do I need to know about keeping fish?

It has been ordained that my daughter is getting fish for her Christmas present. I have never had any experience with a home aquarium. I’ve done the google and youtube thing to get some basic information, as well as a visit to a couple of aquarium stores. As a neophyte, the recommendation in one store was to go for a bigger tank (like about 29 gallons). That seems counterintuitive to me but the explanation is that the larger volume of water means more fish poop dilution making it easier to keep the water cleaned at an acceptable level. Sounds sort of okay? Or am I just being upsold on the tank?

The planned location for this was on top of a 4 x 2 cube Ikea Kallax shelf turned on its side. But I have been reading that I can expect the tank to weight about 10 pounds per gallon. That’s close to 300 pounds of weight on somewhat dodgy furniture from a stability standpoint. I expect we will buy a dedicated aquarium stand. Is there some specific features to look for?

Also, any particular brands that are good, or to be avoided?

Definitely buy a dedicated stand. Read up on the aquarium cycle of Ammonia, Nitrites, and Nitrates. I may have forgotten a step in that cycle. But read up on it, and make sure you test for those things. Be prepared to lose some fish during the cycling process. Zebra dannios are a pretty hardy fish. Get a decent filter and heater as well. Submersible heaters are the way to go, IMO.

That’s all I got from memory. My wife is that fishkeeper, although we Haven’t had fish in years, just a planted tank. I actually got on her last weekend about either selling it, or getting back in to it.

Kallax is a terrible idea to hold a fish tank. It will collapse. Water weighs a lot! What kind of fish are you planning on getting? The biggest mistake most new aquarium hobbyists make is not cycling a tank. Tanks require multiple types of established bacteria (this takes weeks) otherwise your fish will die of ammonia/ammonia byproduct poisoning.

I’m happy to answer any questions- I had a saltwater reef setup for 8 years until I moved so I know way too much about all of this. Reef keeping is basically an extra full time job so I’m happy to not have it anymore. Maybe when I retire. Having corals was super cool.

We actually don’t know exactly what fish we are getting. The one shop where we had lots of advice said we should probably start with a a couple of rasboras. He also was quite clear that we should set and run the tank for about a week before introducing the rasboras, After some time (I forget how long) we could then think about adding more fish. My daughther likes the neon tetras, and the zebra dannios so it’s good to hear the dannios are hardy fish.

That same shop also had labels on many tanks “Not recommended for new tanks” which I take to mean we shouldn’t be using them as out first fish. There were also several new arrivals all labeled as such with “Not for sale. Inquire on availability” I assume this place is verifying the fish are healthy before selling them?

That cropped up very often in my googling. Definitely will be doing that as it seem to be fundamental to keep the fish alive.

There are product you can buy to accelerate cycling a tank, btw. The most important thing you need though is testing materials. I would avoid the API brand test kits that are very common in mainstream pet stores. They are not very accurate. But basically you set up your aquarium fully, leave everything running, and introduce some small form of ammonia. Some people will throw in a chunk of shrimp to rot, some people will add some fish food daily despite there being no fish, etc.

Like @Vesper said, to do a fishless cycle (the process of getting the bacteria set up) you need to somehow get ammonia into the tank. You can also buy a culture of the bacteria from most pet stores. I think I’ve even seen a bottle of the bacteria combined with dechlorinator.
Water -is- heavy. I’ve had tanks on shelves from Home Depot that had a load rating, but I wouldn’t put a 29 gallon tank on random furniture.
You’re not really being upsold on the tank- the basic idea that the fish waste is more diluted in the larger tank is correct. This is most important when setting up a new tank- up to a point the bacteria which handle the amm/nitrite/nitrate cycle will adjust their population to fix the waste being generated. That said, six guppies in a five gallon tank are not going to overload the tank until they drop lots of babies. :)
All of the fish mentioned should be fine (it sounds to me like you can rely on your pet shop’s labels). The fish that are not for sale are either orders that a customer wanted shipped to the shop or are being held for quarantine to check that they’re healthy. Neon tetras are a little more fragile than most of the rasboras or the zebra danios, and can be susceptible to neon tetra disease.

I didn’t see it mentioned, but if you’re planning to mix species make sure they all get along with each other and whatever else you’re planning to have in your tank. Not every fish plays nice!

If you want to slap together a stand, the big box stores will cut dimensional lumber and sheet goods to your specs, if you don’t have a circular saw.

My son got into fish in a big way while he was in high school. He eventually had 6 tanks and was breeding cichlids, which I guess is not easy to do. He was selling them to a local pet store which kept him well supplied with pocket money.

Then we went on a two week vacation. We arranged for his grandfather to look after the fish. He overfed them and killed them all.

I considered it but there are two reasons I won’t. I won’t have time to put one together. My wife will think it’s not in keeping with the decor. The fish shop is having a Black Friday sale so we plan on buying the tank and stand at the sale.

I’ve been using a 2x2 Kallax for a stand for a 29 gallon tank for 10 years. The 2x2 is more sturdy and the same width as my tank. Your mileage may vary. Ooh, don’t put the tank where it will have direct sunlight or it will be algae city.

The most important thing to realize is that almost all “box store” (Petco, Petsmart, etc) fish either have suppressed ich or have been recently exposed. Knowing that, it’s a really good idea to have a small quarantine tank into which new fish go before introduction to the main tank. It is awful when you have a full blown ich infestation in your tank. It’s treatable if you are on the ball. My favorite treatment is Hikari ICH-X. I recommend having some on hand.

Ask the fish store when they get their fish. Don’t go there until 3-4 days later. Many fish shocked by transport and or that arrived sick will have been identified or died by then. Don’t buy expensive fish until you know what you are doing!

Get a gravel suction/syphon and a 3-5 gallon bucket for water changes.

If you want a planted tank, make sure to get the proper substrate in place at the beginning. It’s a pain to change it later. If you add wood, it can discolor the water (tannins leaching). A Seachem Purigen filter insert will clean that right up.

It’s been a while - but when I did African Cichlids, the reason I got them was because the advice I had at the time was to take your PH of your water at your house and get fish that like that PH value. Otherwise, you’ll be fighting the PH to get it where it needs to be. My home PH is 8.0 (I’m on a well), so I got Cichlids.

The other thing to note is that you can’t do water changes with tap water until you’ve let it stand for a 3-4 days I think? so the chlorine can outgass out of it. I didn’t have to worry about that since I’m on a well, but I think that was what I read at the time. So you’ll need to have buckets to keep water around for a few days before you can do your water changes (1/3 fresh I believe).

Then you really need two tanks - one for your main and one for introducing new fish b/c when you get new fish, there is a risk of introducing them into your main tank and them bringing in diseases. So having a tank set aside for new fish (which you fill with water from your main tank). Tanks for new fish can be small since you’ll only have a few in them. You don’t need this right away, but it’s something to consider.

Good luck. Fish are great. I finally gave in b/c Cichlids are notorious fighters and I had a yellow lab that killed every other fish and when it was down to just him, I gave up the hobby.

Regarding water, if possible you should try to source reverse osmosis water. I had a filter at home and made my own (systems run about $250 and up), but you can also get it from a fish store. They often refer to it as RODI (Reverse Osmosis De-Ionized- the DI is an extra step but not super important if you aren’t doing a reef). Tap water has chlorine products (like @Tman mentioned) that are just problem creators if you can avoid them.

I’v always used the dechlorinator products with tap water, never had a problem with it. Fill a pitcher let it get to room temperature ect. Like any other hobby, you can make it as complicated as you want.

Temperature can be a thing, if your in an area with cold winters, you will need a heater.

You may also want to buy a battery backup for the air pump, I have had a power outage that lasted long enough for all the fish to die, and depending on how many fish you have, costs more then the backup.

When your buying fish, look for dead fish in the tanks. Its not uncommon to see a couple in a store, but if theres a lot try another shop. Also ask when they got their fish delivered. Moving the fish, stresses them out for couple days. You dont want to be buying a fish that was just delivered the day before.

Don’t go crazy, do freshwater. It’s fine to use tap water and run the filter for a day. Get a 20 gallon tank ($80). Put an oscar and a plecostomus in it. Oscars are fun fish to watch. The pleco will clean algae from the sides of your tank. (Make sure the pleco is big enough that the oscar won’t eat it.) Use an aquarium heater ($15) to keep water temp in the mid 70’s. A filter for a 20 gallon tank runs about $20 and will maintain pH levels and remove ammonia. Get a goldfish bowl and keep some breeder goldfish in it. There’s no need to obsess over stuff unless you’re keeping hobbyist fish or have a saltwater tank or something. I suggest making it easy.

Consider a tarantula instead. They’re cheaper and easier and just as hands-off.

The guy at the store said this is fine. I’m sure it is. I’m also sure it helps that I’m buying consumables.

That’s something I hadn’t thought about. How long can a tank go without the pump running?

After some googling, it looks like this product is not allowed for Canada.

That’s definitely not happening unless I want a divorce.

Whatever you choose to do - research it a bit first. Some of the “cure all” tablets are actually some type of chlorine salt and they can poison certain types of fish. It’s worth reading 5 minutes about the lifecycle of Ich so that you understand how to treat, when, and why its done that way.

I have been kind of addicted to youtube aquarium videos, and have learned a lot, but haven’t pulled the trigger on actually getting into the hobby. I have 2 ant colonies that take up my “tank based pets” free time. I used to keep aquariums as a kid, and in college I worked in the bio department and did tank cleaning/upkeep as part of that job.

  1. Larger is better. Smaller tanks are much harder to keep stable, more water means more lee-way for changes in water chemistry. 29 gallons is good, but a 20 gallon would be fine for freshwater too.

  2. Tap water with dechlorinator tabs/liquid is fine.

  3. Battery backup isn’t strictly necessary for a tank unless you plan to be away for a week or more, and at that point you will probably want to have a relative/friend come in and feed your fish anyway, and they can check on the tank. A day or two without a filter is not going to kill things. (unless you are doing a saltwater tank). It might be worth the piece of mind, but it is up to you.

  4. Dedicated stand is worth the buy, as they are often built with storage of accessories in mind, and often just look really nice when you have a tank. Water is heavy, so you need to make sure whatever you are using can handle it. Plus, if you have cats, a dedicated stand will ensure no lip/edges for cats to get up near the tank.

  5. Planted tank. This is the only kind of tank I would ever want to do, but they are much more intermediate in difficulty and probably not good for a first tank. Plastic plants, aquarium gravel and other features will look good too, and be so much easier to take care of. If you have a good filter system, you can cycle tanks without plants just fine. Probably go without plants at first, and if they (or you) get into the hobby, you can plan a future planted tank and try something new.

Sounds like you have done a lot of research, and I think you will be fine. Rasboras are fun and look cool, and are generally hardy. I would also recommend some Corydora catfish, as they are also hardy and really fun to watch (they were my fave as a kid). They also do a great job of keeping the bottom of the tank clean and eating any extra food that gets missed by the other fish.

When our power went out last year, it was about 10-12 hours, and that was enough to kill everything except 1, weird ass fish that I dont know what it was. Looks like a cat fish, but is really long.

So I would say how long depends on what kind of fish you buy. I think the backups are about $80.

Cichlids are fun fish, but they arent compatable with tetras or guppys. Or really any fish they can fit in their mouth. I used to feed an oscor pieces of roast beef out of my fingers. You can get multiple Cichlids, as long as they are about the same size. Angel fish will eat tetras too.

Your daughter may, not be down with fish eating fish.