Children always clamor to have pets—be it a puppy, kitten or pony. Fish are great pets for children to have. There’s a soothing effect to watching fish swim inside an aquarium. Even better, fish tend to take up less room. Another advantage to having pet fish is they are far quieter than a barking dog. Fish don’t require any walking activities or regular visits to the pet spa for grooming. Pet fish also won’t destroy or soil furniture as four-legged pets might.

Of course, families still must learn how to properly care for their fish so that it can thrive as a pet. Fish make wonderful “starter pets” for children to learn about the responsibilities involved with pet ownership. So, if your family has made the decision to care for fish, here are some tips to get you started.

Learn as much as you can about keeping fish—before you go to the fish store.

Together, parents and children can read up on the topic of fishkeeping. Alternatively, your family can even seek out and ask more experienced fishkeepers for recommendations on how to get started. While pet store employees might at first glance seem knowledgeable about fish, it’s far better to ask information from seasoned fishkeeping hobbyists—particularly since employees and store owners might have ulterior motives such as fulfilling quotas or offloading inventory. Seasoned fishkeeping hobbyists are all experienced pet owners of fish. Sometimes your city or town has organizations like a fish society or a fish club where your family can meet up and speak with fishkeeping hobbyists to learn more about how to care for pet fish.

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: Which fish make good pets?

Start with fish that have been bred in captivity rather than those that are wild-caught. Fish bred in captivity are already accustomed to aquarium environments, making it easier for your family to care for them.

The next thing to consider is how large a fish can grow into. Remember: If a fish grows too large, you’ll need to purchase another tank and relocate it to the larger-sized aquarium. Also consider whether you want a lone fish or several fish. Should you want a community of fish, you’ll need to research which fish are suitable companions with one another.

You can begin with hardy starter fish like a single male betta in a three-gallon tank, or five mollies in a ten-gallon tank. After you’ve gotten the knack of caring for a group of mollies, you and your children can advance to include guppies, platies and swordtails to your tank—just don’t overcrowd your tank.

If your family is successful with one tank, you can invest in a second 10-gallon tank or even go for a 29-gallon tank, if you think your family is ready. Your best bet is to start with one fish species then introduce additional species slowly. A 10-gallon tank can support up to 12 fish at once.

Just know that some species need a minimum number for the community of to thrive—some fish, for instance, school together to minimize stress. If you don’t have the minimum number for the species to school properly, it could lead to compromised health for those fish.

Heading to the pet store? Start small.

Freshwater fish are low-maintenance compared to saltwater fish, so it’s best to start with freshwater fish. A saltwater tank requires much more attention to water conditions and temperatures, making it a difficult for kids to take care of.

When you purchase an aquarium, a 10-gallon tank is ideal as a first tank, especially if you plan to have more than one fish. However, if your family prefers having one fish, a three-gallon or five-gallon tank works just fine.

Do you want fake or real plants in your aquarium? Each has their advantages. Fake plants are low-maintenance, but real plants can benefit the tank’s natural ecosystem.

Get to know all about healthy fish tank habits.

You will need to find out what kind of water you have that runs from your faucet tap—is it hard or soft? What’s the pH level? This is important info to have co you can monitor the water quality of your aquarium. Sometimes your community has a fish store that sells water for fish tanks to make it easier to maintain an aquarium’s water quality. Don’t forget to learn how to test the water quality of your tanks with the various test strips and kits available at your local fish store.

Setting up a tank requires having it “cycle” before adding your fish. Cycling a fish tank means that you allow the growth of necessary bacteria in your tank and filter to enable proper breakdown of fish waste. Otherwise, ammonia and other harmful substances can build up in your tank and even poison your fish. To avoid this, cycling your tank must be performed before fish can be introduced. Cycling a tank can take as little as one week or as long as one month.

You might also need filters, lighting or heaters to set up the right environment before you introduce your fish. When your family first sets up your fish tank, the welfare of your fish takes priority over the aesthetic appearance of a tank. In other words, create an aquarium environment that would make your pet fish happiest and healthiest. Preparation of the tank is key to setting the groundwork for a good beginner fish keeping experience.

Don’t neglect safety best practices.

Choose an impact-resistant, sturdy tank that is made of approved acrylic. If you prefer a different material, research it heavily. Similarly, secure all the electrical wiring to minimize any risks, especially if your children will be taking care of the fish, too.

Remind kids not to poke their fingers into the water—not only does it stress the fish, but your child can get sick if he or she has an open wound or scratch. The microscopic organisms (protozoans, bacteria, viruses, etc.) occurring naturally in the tank and water could enter the wound and harm your child’s health.

Healthy water makes for happy fish.

You’ll need to change the water often—more specifically, remove 35 percent of the water and replace it with clean, fresh water, making sure to condition it before pouring it into the tank. Use the test kits to monitor the water’s parameters closely. Sometimes city-treated water can create spikes of certain chemicals that can harm your pet fish. Be vigilant and purchase water from a fish store that has conditioned it appropriately.

What if you fish gets sick?

Watch your fish closely for any signs of disease—the quicker you catch signs of it, the sooner and better you can treat it. There are many online forums and Facebook groups that list all the warning signs that something’s wrong with your fish. Fish are living creatures: They, too, have illnesses to which they can succumb.

Showing the utmost care for your family’s fish goes a long way towards ensuring that they thrive wonderfully, which is ultimately what responsible pet stewardship is all about.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Mariecor Agravante