There isn’t a lot of point in keeping fish unless you are going to keep happy ones. So aim for much higher than just maintenance – their contentment should be your ultimate goal. Here are 21 important ways to keep your fish happy.
While you don’t often see fish with a big cheeky grin on their faces (and frankly it would be kind of weird if you did!) there are other ways to tell if your fish are happy.
Fish in home or office aquariums are just like any other pets – they thrive on care and attention, and when given the right environment will repay you with their happiness.
Don’t discount how important it is to keep your fish happy, just because they are fish. They have moods and feelings like any living creature, and they will provide you with a far better aquarium experience when they are content.
How can you tell if your fish is happy?
There are several key ways to tell if your fish is a content little fellow.
His physical health is the main way to tell – happy fish are bigger, brighter and have more energy. Their colours look more vibrant and their fins and tails will be shinier and sleeker looking. Happy fish are more attractive, and are generally a better investment for your money and time.
They will eat more and interact better with other fish in the tank. They will swim around and play with items in the tank or other inhabitants of the community.
Why is it important to keep your fish happy?
Fishkeepers who get bored with their tank communities generally do so because they have unhappy fish. Malcontent fish will swim and interact less, and not look as good. They will also not live as long.
Not only a financial investment, keeping an aquarium is also a commitment of time and effort. If you put in the minimum you will have unhappy fish, and these won’t give you any pleasure for your investment.
If you work to maintain their perfect environment, feed them properly and pay attention to their wants and needs then their happiness will repay you over and over. Learn how much and when to feed your fish by reading one of our other articles.
Basically, there isn’t a lot of point in keeping fish unless you are going to keep happy ones. So aim for much higher than just maintenance – their contentment should be your ultimate goal. Here are 21 important ways to keep your fish happy.
21 Ways to make your Fish Happy
It’s more than just Décor
While a stunning aquarium does make for a gorgeous focal piece in your home, you need to make the decision that owning fish is for far more than just pretty décor.
Fish are not décor, they are pets and living creatures with specific needs, that require an ongoing commitment. If you want them to be truly beautiful, you need to treat them as pets, not as artwork. This is an interactive relationship and will repay what you put in. Read BEST FISH TANK ORNAMENTS here.
Understand each Breed
Each breed of fish requires a certain environment and certain kinds of care. You should research the breeds of fish you would like to own before you buy them, and make sure that you can give the environment that your chosen fish needs to thrive.
Treat your fish as Individuals
Each breed of fish is different from every other – sometimes in subtle ways, and sometimes in rather large ones. Never assume that your fish will thrive in the same environments as each other, as they have specific needs in terms of temperature, water type, and condition, space in the tank, plants, and rocks in the tank, co-inhabitants, food and much, much more.
Every fish is individual, this is not a one size fits all, just-bung-a-bunch-of-different-fish-in-the-tank-and-treat-them-all-the-same kind of deal.
Acclimatise and quarantine new fish
When you are introducing each new fish to the tank you need to both acclimatise and quarantine the fish, for the health and benefit of the new member of the community as well as all of the existing ones.
This can include steps like placing new fish in a quarantine tank for 24-48 hours after purchasing them to make sure they are well. Float them in their bags in the tank to adjust to the water temperature for at least 15 minutes, and then open the bag and let the tank water mix with the bag water a little at a time.
Let them get used to the new water for a day or so before introducing them to new friends. Learn how to introduce a new fish to an established aquarium by reading one of our other blogs.
Give them space
This is one of the most important ways to keep your fish happy. You should have the right size tank for your fish, and never overcrowd your tank. If fish are in cramped quarters they become sick as well as unhappy, they won’t grow properly or live as long, they are more stressed and more likely to fight with other fish.
Give them the right friends
Part of understanding each breed includes understanding what friends each fish thrives with. Don’t add fish together that will fight, and give more social fish schools of friends to play with or court. Make sure you research which breeds will live happily with others, and be aware of mixing genders as well. Some male fish, for example, prefer to be the only ones in the tank.
A few good guides for suitable tank mates are below:
Give them the right environment
There are two main kinds of fish – you can broadly categorise them into saltwater fish and freshwater fish, although within those categories their needs will greatly vary. Some will need warmer or tropical temperatures, while others will be happy with room temperature water.
You will need to prepare the right environment for your chosen fish in terms of the base of the tank, plants, rocks and coral in the tank, as well as other decorations. They may need a heater and/or a light.
Every fish breed originates from a different part of the world and has become used to a certain kind of environment in the wild.
Whether they are from flowing rivers, still rice patties or deep under the ocean, their climate and environment will greatly differ. You should be aiming to replicate that natural environment as best as you possibly can to keep your little friends happy.
Condition the water
Water condition also varies dramatically across the globe. The water that comes from your taps will be very different from what your fish is used to swimming in.
You can fix this by conditioning the water to maintain levels of acidity, alkalinity and also chlorine in the mix. You can buy water testing kits from the aquarium stores and make sure that you test the water whenever you change it.
You can buy the chemicals you need to condition the water as well. We use a freshwater test kit purchased from Chewy.com called API Freshwater Test Kit and the same make but suitable for Saltwater API Saltwater Kits.
Maintain pH levels
Your fish need ideal pH levels in the water to thrive, and again different fish need different pH levels. Some are more fragile and need very specific levels, while other, hardier breeds can adapt to a range of pH levels.
PH can change as your tank gets dirtier as well, so its important both to keep the tank clean and to regularly test the pH levels with a water testing kit.
Maintain the water temperature
Fish need the temperature levels of their water to stay constant as well as the pH and other chemicals in the water. If you are keeping tropical fish this means maintaining their tank at the right level of warmth with a reliable heater. You should also not put warm tanks directly in front of air conditioning vents.
If you have cool temperature fish it also means keeping your tank out of spaces where it can heat up too much such as in front of a heater in your home or in a sunlit place.
Replace the water regularly
You should replace around 25% of the water in the tank every week with new water. Replacing water in parts helps the fish to stay acclimatised while helping to keep the tank relatively clean.
Read how to correctly complete a partial water change in a freshwater aquarium from one of our articles on the topic of water changes.
Clean the tank regularly
You should clean your tank often to keep your fish happy. You wouldn’t want to live in your own filth – right? So why should they? Remove algae from the tank walls and the water every week, and give your tank a more thorough clean at least once every month.
In a monthly clean you should replace most of the water by siphoning out the soiled water first, then rinsing gravel, rocks, plants and other tank items before filling the tank again.
You need to check pH levels and recondition the tank water again any time you change part of the water.
Feed them the right food
Different fish thrive on different kinds of food. Some are herbivores and others are carnivores. Some love fresh or frozen meat while others will be happy with good quality flakes or pellets.
They need different levels of vitamins and minerals and nutrients such as protein. Part of understanding your fish is knowing what food your breed eats and supplying him with that – again you can’t just presume that the one diet will be suitable for everyone in your tank community.
Feed them the right amount and frequency
It is very important not just to feed your fish the right food, but to also feed them the right amount and at the right frequency. Some fish will feed once a day, while others will need smaller meals more often because of their stomachs and the way their bodies metabolise the food.
You should never overfeed your fish as this stops them from being able to swim properly and will essentially kill them.
Treat sick fish
Sick fish aren’t a lost cause, and you don’t have to resign yourself instantly to the loss of a fish friend to fish heaven if he gets sick.
There are many kinds of illnesses, conditions, and infections that fish can suffer from, and many of them can be treated with intervention like medication.
Keep an eye on your fish and note if their habits or look change suddenly, as this can be a sign of illness. Many illnesses are infectious and accordingly, you should quarantine a sick fish immediately from the rest of the tank community. Read our Complete guide to aquarium fish diseases.
Make sure the filter is working
Buy a reasonably good filter to keep your water clean and oxygenated. Clean your filter regularly and replace it if it isn’t working properly. Having air in the water is as necessary for your fish as you having air in your, um, air. So don’t buy the cheapest, nastiest filter you can find and make sure you keep it working well.
Keep them out of direct sun
While sun glinting off the lovely colours of your fish can be beautiful, fish don’t really like it in direct sunlight. When the sun is too warm it can raise the water temperature to an uncomfortable level, and it also greatly speeds up the growth of algae. Too much algae will make your fish unhappy and throw the pH levels out of whack more quickly.
Maintain noise levels
Certain fish thrive better in quieter environments, especially fish that are used to being far under the surface of the ocean. A small fish tank won’t shield fish from family noise anywhere near as well as being leagues under the sea, so keep them away from a high traffic area in the home, try not to vacuum underneath them all the time, etc.
Keep them stress-free
Give them places to hide in their tank when they need some alone time away from people or other inhabitants of the tank. Don’t let cats climb on the tank or kids bang on the sides, and keep an eye on them to see if they are acting out of character in a way that might indicate stress.
Don’t leave them alone
Like any treasured pets, don’t just go away on a holiday and leave your fish to fend for themselves. They literally can’t fend for themselves. Sometimes one night away is ok for tougher breeds, but for most fish, if you won’t be there for a period then you should arrange for someone else to feed them and maintain their environment in your absence.
Can goldfish live alone? Let’s find out, read our related article here.
Talk to them
The more you pay attention to your fish and get to know their little idiosyncrasies, the better you will be at looking after them. Knowing your fish means that you will be able to pick up on when they are happy, and more importantly when they are unhappy. Changes in their daily activities such as eating and swimming, as well as in the way they look, may be a sign that something is wrong.
So get used to interacting with your fish every day to check in and see how they are doing. Happy fish are bright and active, which is all the reward you need for your effort and love.
Conclusion: 21 Ways to make your fish happy.
Now you know exactly how to make your fish happy. As responsible fish keepers we have a duty of care for the fish we keep. In fact, to any pet we own aquatic or not.
Like we said at the start if you’re not prepared to do everything it takes to make your fish happy then why do you own an aquarium?
99.9% Of fish keepers I have ever met wanted to do the best for their fish, the best aquarium, the best food and the best water conditions.
Is it too much to ask for you to at least try and make your fish happy?