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July 23, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Your Fish Are Dying Because...

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

Scratch That!

Fish are undeniably great pets. Their vibrant colors coupled with the beauty and tranquility of an aquarium add character to any room. They're a lot of fun to watch and relatively easy to care for.

Wait a second. “Easy to care for” is not quite right. Scratch that out and replace it with “easy to maintain.” Fish seem like they all but care for themselves, but they don’t. Most species are delicate and require great attention to their living conditions. Without this attention, you’re likely to end up with an empty tank and nothing more than several deceased fish.

Poor Introductions

If your fish are dying, you might be surprised by the possible culprits. Bottom feeders are generally thought to improve the cleanliness and aesthetics of aquariums, but they can also carry disease. For example, a pleco can pick up a disease from its aquarium in the pet store. Because this fish is a bottom dweller, it’s likely to come into contact with contaminated feces and food remnants from other fish that are already sick. Once purchased, the pleco can carry the disease to the new aquarium and spread it to others. The best option is to forego bottom dwellers. If you really enjoy this species of fish, keep them in a separate tank to prevent the spread of disease.

It’s also important to avoid adding new fish to an already existing community. Each fish introduced to an aquarium disrupts the water’s ph level. According to Utah State University's Executive Office, pH measures a liquid’s acidity. Each unit change – like from 4 to 5 – equals a tenfold change in the pH level. If your aquarium’s pH level is 6, it is 10 times more acidic than another aquarium with a pH of 7. The normal range is between 6.5 and 8.2. Adding fish creates rapid fluctuations in pH that can be detrimental to the community, so you want to avoid this as much as possible. When you do add fish, quarantine them first in a separate holding tank and discard the water they came in to prevent spread of illness.

Room and Board

Jumping Goldfish

Water temperature can also cause fish to die, especially when it’s inconsistent. Most tropical fish thrive in water that is between 74 and 82 degrees. Variations from this range can cause severe loss to the community. In addition to pH and temperature, you also need to monitor water quality. Clean filters on a regular basis and scrub aquarium walls to remove algae. Also remember to remove plastic plants and other decorations so they can be cleaned.

The food you feed your fish is just as important as the water in the aquarium. Most fish naturally feed on algae, but if your aquarium doesn’t have this, you’ll need to purchase quality algae flakes. Some species, like goldfish, have unique digestive systems and need a variety of nutrients to survive. Ensure the food you give your community is fresh and nutritious by speaking with a fellow fish owner or sales clerk at the pet store who can recommend a brand. Never overfeed; this is the number one cause of fish loss. Instead, establish a regular schedule whereby you feed twice daily. This will help the fish adjust to their new home and also keep them healthy.

Additional Tips

  • Don’t overcrowd your aquarium with too many species. Check guidelines for the proper number of fish for the tank size you have.
  • Know which species cannot inhabit the same aquarium. Most tropical fish can live together harmoniously, provided you don’t put too many together. But a specific group of aggressive fish needs to be kept separate. These include eels, tiger barbs, and most cichlids.
  • If you do lose a fish in your community, change the water and wash all accessories to prevent additional loss.


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