Pets and Animals · January 28, 2021

6 Essentials for Your First Pet Fish – A Beginner’s Checklist

Of all the common pets, fish are considered the easiest to take care of. Freshwater fish, tropical fish, saltwater fish – most fish brought home from the pet shop are generally less expensive and are less troublesome to care for (no barking and no litter boxes).

However, this doesn’t necessarily make them maintenance-free. Like any other animal, fish have basic needs that you, as the pet owner, need to provide. It is also a mistake to think that just because they swim all day in their aquarium, they no longer need you.

To become a responsible fish owner, you have to make sure that you know everything there is to know about caring for them, starting with getting the following six essentials:

1.   Aquarium or Fish Tank

Keep in mind that you need to pick an aquarium or tank that is both the right fit for the fish and for the space available in your home.

While larger is better for most cases, you should still make sure that the tank fits the designated area. For instance, a 55-gallon tank is a poor choice for most dorm rooms. In this case, a 20-gallon tank would be better.

You must also avoid tanks that are too tall and too thin. Instead, go with those that are shorter and wider. This allows more space for swimming. It also provides enough surface area for air exchange.

Glass aquariums are quite popular, but they come with several drawbacks. Aside from a higher risk of breaking, these types of aquariums can also be a bit heavy.

This is where acrylic tanks come in. These aquariums are lighter than their glass counterparts. Plus, they are quite resistant to cracks and breakage, making them perfect for places that children frequent (e.g., schools, family homes, etc.). Just remember that acrylic tanks require support for the entire bottom surface and not just their edges.

2.   Filtration System

All fish tanks and aquariums need a filtration system to ensure a healthy environment for fishes. These generate water movement that is crucial for fish survival.

Available in most fish supply stores, filters provide three types of filtration: chemical, mechanical, and biological.

Chemical filtration happens when the water passes through an activated carbon element to remove toxins. Mechanical filtration occurs when the water flows through filter pads that trap debris.

On the other hand, biological filtration entails the use of a medium with nitrifying bacteria. The healthy bacteria break down ammonia upon contact with water, making the tank livable for freshwater fish.

3.   Stand

Regardless of the material, aquariums and fish tanks still weigh significantly because of the water they contain. This means you need an aquarium stand that is sturdy and designed for this very purpose.

While it may be tempting to improvise with a bookcase or table, it would be best to use an actual aquarium stand that is designed to hold the weight of the tank you’ve chosen. This is also more practical, given that most aquarium warranties become void if the tank is placed on surfaces other than the appropriate stand.

4.   Air Pump

Water needs to flow continuously in an aquarium to promote gas exchange. This is where air pumps become useful.

With an air pump, you can ensure that the water your pet fish live in is oxygenated, making it easier for them to breathe. Air pumps also help spread warmth in the tank, ensuring that the water is evenly heated and no stagnant water remains around the heater or other heating elements.

5.   Water Heater

Most fish tanks that require heaters serve as homes to tropical fish that need consistent warmth to survive. Keeping your thermostat at 72 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t enough either.

While fish can survive at room temperature water, it would be better for them to have water heaters that spread the temperature evenly across the tank to ensure that they are healthy and comfortable. This is also ideal in case you need to adjust the temperature based on the specific types of fish you have.

Five watts per gallon should be enough for small tanks, while three watts can work for larger tanks. Just make sure that you factor in the room temperature, too, as colder climates may require more wattage.

Pro Tip: If you’re planning to get an aquarium that can hold more than 40 gallons of water, it would be better to get two smaller heaters rather than a single big one. Place them on each end of the aquarium to ensure better heat distribution throughout the tank.

6.   Lighting

Although lighting may often be packaged with the aquarium lid, buying it separately gives you the freedom to choose the type you prefer based on electricity consumption and other factors. Your options include:

  • Incandescent
  • Halogen
  • Fluorescent
  • Mercury vapor
  • Metal halide
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED)

For beginners, fluorescent light is most recommended as it comes with lower running costs and is cooler than the others. LEDs are also becoming more common, offering another inexpensive choice for fish owners.

Equal Care for Your Fish

Compared to mammals, fish may require a significantly different kind of pet care. Even so, these animals still require a certain level of maintenance and care, so you have to make sure you’re ready to give them what they need.


Sam Saleki is the owner of Paws & Claws, a trusted family-run online pet store in Mirdif, Dubai. A lifelong animal lover, Sam founded the business in 2006 to fill the need for a pet shop offering good-quality dog food, pet accessories and pet grooming products in the area. Sam is an animal welfare advocate and is currently working on an online animal homing platform that helps facilitate the fast rescue and adoption of animals in need.