How to keep fish alive

New tank syndrome & the importance of cycling the aquarium

If your aquarium is brand new, there is a process called cycling which is required to help develop the healthy layer of beneficial bacteria that contribute to regulating the ammonia and nitrate cycle within your mini aquatic habitat. When first set up, the environment is stale, over time with the presence of fish bodies beneficial bacteria will grow across all surfaces. This micro bacteria helps with the natural life cycle in the aquarium by regulating the natural cycle of nitrites and nitrates in relation to ammonia from fish waste.

There are 2 main ways to boost this natural cycle:
First is to add fish. You’ll need to choose wisely however as only hardy tropical fish species will tolerate these conditions. For instance, Zebra Danios would be an ideal choice. Secondly adding a beneficial bacteria booster in liquid form is a big helper. Follow the directions on the bottle and once opened make sure to store in the fridge.

5 week time line for cycling a new aquarium

Day 1: Set up the aquarium 

Day 2: Add Zebra Danios 

Day 5: Feed the zebras – just a snack though, a few crushed flakes only!

Day 9: Change 15% of the water. Add water conditioner and bacteria supplement.

Every 2 days offer a full feeding – (what they can consume within 2 minutes, remove uneaten food)

Day 23: (2 weeks after the initial water change), repeat with another 15% water change.

Every 2 days offer a full feeding again.

Day 37: (2 weeks later) change 15% of the water.

After 5 weeks, it is safe to add more fish. Don’t go crazy and purchase bagfuls however, you’ll still need to nurse the aquarium habitat up to higher levels of self sustenance. Add only a few fish at a time. You can add more slim bodied species or fewer bigger ones. Size matters, 5 zebras usually equal 1 large Tetra. Pre plan what type of fish you want and add a few at a time. If adding schooling fish, it’s always best to add only 1 school at a time as single fish who traditionally school will be stressed out.

If your aquarium is already cycled, here are a few key points on keeping fish alive

Do not over feed. Fish do best when fed 5 days a week. A few days without food is good for their metabolism anyway. Furthermore a fully cycled tank offers a continuous supply of edible microscopic particles so fish pretty much can never starve.

Remove uneaten food. Never let flakes accumulate in the corners after a feeding, scoop out what they don’t eat. Food rots very quickly in the water which causes ammonia spikes, the number 1 killer of fish.

Never remove more then 25% of the water during a water change. Removing more will disturb the natural water chemistry balance which stresses fish. An exception is when medicating the aquarium, directions on the package should be followed.

Never empty and scrub out the tank or clean gravel and ornaments with soap. This will kill beneficial bacteria disrupting the natural cycle. If you are having algae problems on the ornaments, rub the algae off with your finger in the tank, or rub off in the bucket of water that you’ve just removed from a water change. Do not use tap water as the chlorine will kill the good bacteria.

Always use water conditioner when adding new water. Chlorine kills fish. An alternative to water conditioner is leaving the bucket exposed to air overnight, chlorine evaporates. Water conditioner is recommended however as there are usually elements within that maintain fish health.

Don’t tamper with the PH. This rule applies only to regular schooling fish and not specialty species, which are not recommended for beginners anyway. Even though most fish live in an environment with PH different then in the wild, the fish you have purchased form the pet store were bred in captivity and are used to your a city’s PH level.

Add aquarium salt at each water change. Freshwater salt is part of a normal cycle for fish, the slightly saline water helps maintain the equilibrium of their internal organs, helps heal minor scratches or fins tears and reduces stress. Follow directions according to the package. Since salt never evaporates, you will only need to add when doing a water change.

Never purchase a single schooling fish species. Always purchase at least 3 of the same species. One with instinct to school gets very stressed if living alone. This rule can be bent slightly for schooling fish that look similar but are not exactly the same for example, albino barbs, cherry barbs and tiger barbs will school together.

Avoid using sand or crushed gravel as a substrate. Fish can easily ingest causing internal blockages. It is easier for a siphon to vacuum fish waste around large pebbles as opposed to tiny gravel pieces