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Tropical Fish Care Guide


If you choose the types of fish carefully, Tropical Fish are great pets for almost any household. Check out our Tropical Fish care tips for beginners.

You’ve been eyeing the lovely aquarium of tropical fish at a friend’s house or even your dentist’s office, and now you’re thinking you’d like one of your own. If you choose the types of fish carefully, tropical fish are great pets for almost any household.

There’s a trick to keeping a beautiful tank of tropical fish. Here it is, in a nutshell:

  • Start with a freshwater tank of 20-50 gallons;
  • Set it up with the gravel, filter, plants, “cycling” fluid, rocks, and so on before choosing your fish;
  • Allow it to sit and “age” for at least a week;
  • Choose an appropriate number of small river fish; and
  • Do routine maintenance regularly, instead of waiting for something to go wrong.

Why should you choose river fish for your first fish tank? They are the easiest to keep healthy in a small body of water such as an aquarium. Most popular lake fish and marine critters need the water conditions to remain perfectly stable. River fish can handle fluctuations in acidity and temperature more easily than the others. As a result, adding water to the tank each week or two is less of a risk, you’re less likely to kill your fish be changing the medium in the filter, and a heatwave or sudden winter “cold snap” will be less likely to make your fish sick.

Starting with small fish (specifically, small fish that will stay small) makes sense unless you can afford a truly gigantic tank. Most popular fish need to live in groups, and the fastest way to a smelly, unhealthy mess of a tank is to overcrowd it. One inch of fish-length per gallon of water is a good rule of thumb.

Before choosing your fish, make a trip to the pet store and see what fish appeal to you. Make a list of the names of the fish. Now, go home again and look up these fish on a decent website. How big do they get? For example, black ghost knifefish are beautiful and fascinating, and the little 3″/7cm babies are the cutest fish ever, but do you have room a school of 18″/45cm adults? On the flipside, the cherry barbs and cardinal tetras aren’t going to grow much. If you plan to have more than one kind of fish in your tank, also check how many you’ll need per species (count on at least five, for schooling species) and whether the water requirements are compatible…and whether the fish themselves are compatible.


The bare essentials for keeping tropical fish looks like quite a list, but any pet store that deals in pet fish will have almost everything you need:

  • Tank and canopy with light, usually sold as a set;
  • Gravel, enough for a depth of at least an inch (2.5cm) in the front and three inches (7cm) in the back;
  • Water filter and filter media (which might or might not need a separate water pump), often sold as part of a set with the fish tank;
  • Water thermometer and water heater;
  • Rocks or ceramic tank ornaments for the fish to hide in or behind (you’ll see them more often if they know they can hide);
  • Fish food;
  • “Cycling” fluid, which sets up the essential bacteria in the water before the fish move in;
  • Water conditioning fluid, which “takes out” the chlorine and chloramines from tap water;
  • Fish net of appropriate size for your fish;
  • Siphon and hose, to “vacuum” the gravel, and a clean bucket that has never had soap in it (traces of soap will destroy your fishes’ gills) for water changes.


Left to their own devices, your fish will get enough exercise simply swimming around attending to their fishy activities. The slim breeds are much more active than the rounder, long-finned varieties.


If you’ve chosen nice, easy-to-care-for fish, feeding will not be a problem. A high-quality package of tropical fish food and a package of bloodworms or tubifex worms will keep your fish fed. Start by giving them just enough to gobble down in two minutes. It is safer to give them too little than too much. You can always add more.

Fish food goes stale relatively quickly, so choose a small package and replace it as it runs low every few months.


Siphon out some water each week, using the siphon to pull up the debris that accumulates at the bottom of the “slope” at the front of the tank. Count on changing at least two gallons per week. For larger tanks, more is better to a point, but don’t change more than a quarter of the water at once. It’s important to make sure the water you put back in isn’t too cold and doesn’t have chlorine in it. Filling the bucket and letting it sit overnight will usually do the trick. Otherwise, use some water conditioner, and let it sit half an hour before pouring the water into the tank. Let the water fall onto your hand or a clean bowl (remember: no soap!) in the tank water, to keep the flow of falling water from disturbing the gravel.

Rinse or replace the filter media each week, as well. The filter package will tell you how to clean the particular type you have.


A canopied fish tank is fine in any home, unless airborne chemicals might be a problem: no insect sprays or air fresheners in the fish room! Other than that, there aren’t too worries about the home environment. There are service companies in many cities which will even come to your home and do fish tank maintenance for you, if you have more money than time.


You won’t need to train your fish. They’ll just do their thing.


Don’t expect tropical fish to interact with you much. And, you certainly shouldn’t snuggle them. However, fish can be easy to keep healthy and comfortable. Are they right for you?

If they are, the next step is to set up a tank and let it stabilize while you consider which types of fish you’d like to keep.

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