You have probably already realized that you can’t just toss your fish into a tank full of tap water and have it remain healthy. It’s important to understand the water cycle and how cycling your tank can improve your pet’s chance of survival.
During the first couple of months after an aquarium is set up, many people experience higher than normal rates of fish loss. This has usually been referred to as “new tank syndrome”, and while there are many causes why the fish die, in this instance it’s usually due to ammonia spikes caused by an ineffective biological filter.
The good news is this is usually a temporary problem that goes away with time, and while we’ll explain how this works and what you can do about it, we’ll also recommend against buying any fragile fish for the first couple of months. It is best to start with a couple of cheap, hardy and difficult to kill fish. You can always give them back to the pet store after a couple of months if they are not the type of fish that you want to keep forever.
The biological filter develops over time as bacteria grow inside of your filter (and your water, and your substrate). This bacterium is beneficial to you, attacking the fish wastes in your tank and breaking them down into less harmful chemicals.
The pattern goes from waste to ammonia into nitrites and next into nitrates. Nitrates are the least harmful of these, but can still sicken and damage your fish if not removed by the regular water changes that you must be doing.
This bacterium grows slowly over time, and is odorless and completely safe for your fish. It is present in every fish tank and must be carefully maintained, your fishes’ lives depend on it. So here are a few suggestions that will benefit you and your fish by keeping these bacteria alive.
Never replace more than 50% of your water at any one time. Indeed, 20-25% of your water at one time is probably your best bet. Remember, if you change all of your water, you will also remove the beneficial bacterial colony.
When you establish your tank, make sure that you have some sort of substrate at the bottom: gravel, rocks, sand, any of them will work just fine. You can go with the natural gravel or buy the brightly colored stuff from the pet store. Either way, you will be giving the bacteria a place to live, as well as beautifying your tank.
When you do your water changes, never wash your filters in tap water. The chlorine from the tap will kill the bacteria. Chlorine is good for drinking water, but bad for your fish! Instead, hand-rinse your filters in your bucket of removed water. Rinse out the large particulate matter from the filters and then put them back in the filter unit. If you have a sponge type filter, you will almost never have to replace them, just rinse and replace.
Just follow few simple steps, and most of them require that you do absolutely nothing. It just doesn’t get any easier than that to maintain a healthy water balance in your fish tanks.