Pet Corner: Pet fish?

Your child has fur allergies, so fuzzy little pets are not an option. Your family has decided they are not a good candidate for a dog — even a hypoallergenic breed of dog. You still want to get your child a pet. You do not want the mess and time involved in caring for a bird. Having a reptile is definitely not appealing to several family members. So what is left? Fish.

There are saltwater and freshwater fish. On the freshwater side, there are tropical and cool-water fish.

You have never had fish, so you are not sure what is involved. You remember the little goldfish you had as a child that you had won at the local fair, but you also remember they didn’t last very long.

Fish are actually more fun than many people realize. If you choose live-bearers, you can see the babies being born and then grow. You can watch fish chase each other around the tank. Some fish will actually gather their babies into their mouths when they sense danger and then “spit” them back out when the danger has passed. Some fish will eat their young. Some fish will swim in schools, some will swim solo, and some will guard their space.

Different kinds of fish behave differently and learning how they all react is fun. Fish can actually be rather soothing and relaxing too. And, in the winter months, they add humidity to the air, helping to eliminate that nasty static electricity in your home.

Well, good news: Both of the local pet stores, House Pets and Millville Pet Stop, sell fish and fish supplies. Their staff can guide you through the process of selecting and purchasing the supplies and then choosing your fish. I personally recommend setting up your tank completely first, without the fish, and letting it run for a week or so.

If you are inexperienced with fish, I would recommend doing either goldfish, a cool-water fish, or tropical fish. I feel saltwater tanks take more time and abilities, and I do not recommend them for novice fish people.

The first thing you will need to decide is what size tank you will have. Too many people decide to start small, like a 10-gallon tank. But then they want too many fish and they overcrowd the tank, causing many problems, and they become quickly disappointed and frustrated and then quit.

The general rule of thumb is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. Then you need to know how large the fish will eventually grow to, so they will not outgrow their tank. If you have the room, I would recommend going one size larger than you think you need. I would not start with anything smaller than a 20- or 29-gallon tank.

The supplies you will need are a tank, a filter and pump system, gravel or some other kind of substrate for the bottom of the tank, tank decorations, a heater (if doing tropicals), a hood and light system, and some chemicals — and, of course, fish.

If you go with tropicals, you can do a community tank with friendly-type fish, or you can choose a more aggressive fish, like cichlids. There are live-bearers, egg-layers and more.

Before you start picking fish, go to the store and look at the different fish. Choose a few that you like, then talk to the store employees and show them the ones you like. Find out if they will get along together. Ask them what chemicals or such that you need to add to your tank for the type of fish you have chosen. Tell them your tank size and then ask how many fish you can have total.

Then, buy one to three of the lower-costing fish. Take them home; place them in your tank. Follow the stores instructions for feeding them. Wait at least a week, preferably two weeks, before adding more fish. (I know this is hard — you want a couple dozen fish right away, but believe me, start slow.)

Add fish slowly, just a couple at a time. By doing this slowly, you have a better chance of your fish surviving and of your tank remaining stable. If you add too many fish at once, you can mess up the balance and you will lose fish, cloud your tank’s water and more. You will only be setting yourself up for failure. Go slowly. Test your water regularly. Do not overfeed your fish. Overfeeding is the second-worst thing you can do, with the first being overcrowding.

Choose your fish carefully, with the guidance of the pet store employees. Keep a list of what fish you already have so you can show the employee and then they can guide you to what other fish will get along in your tank.

Ask questions of the store employee. They will guide you to which fish need what type of hiding places. They can help you determine which fish are bottom-swimmers, middle-swimmers and top-swimmers. They can direct you to which fish like live plants to eat or to hide behind. If you want your fish to breed and have live babies, they can help you choose the right ones. They can also guide you as to what type of food to buy for different types of fish.

Having a fish tank is relatively easy. The initial cost is a substantial investment, but maintenance is quite reasonable. If you remember the rules of no overcrowding and no overfeeding, you shouldn’t have too many problems and, if you do run into problems, both of the local pet stores can guide you through them.

Cheryl Loveland is a dog groomer, pet-sitter, dog trainer and fosterer for many unwanted animals. She does rescue work for all types of animals and has owned or fostered most types of domestic animals and many wild ones. She currently resides with two bloodhounds, which she has shown in conformation and is currently training her male bloodhound for search-and-rescue work. Also residing with her are a bichon frisée, two cats and two birds. She welcomes comments, questions and suggestions for future articles at Remember, she is not an expert: she offers her opinions and suggestions from her experience and research.