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How to choose a freshwater fish as a pet

Pet fish aren’t just for apartment dwellers and people with allergies. With a little planning, your next pet fish can be part of the family instead of part of the decor.

Woman selecting fish

Photo credit: Manchan/Photodisc/Getty images

Freshwater fish are a wonderful addition to many homes. They’re easy to care for, interesting to look at and have their own personalities that make them easy to love.

They’re also extremely popular pets. According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, there are 145 million pet freshwater fish in the U.S., living in 14.3 million American households. That’s a lot of fish to love. But if you’re new to the idea of pet fish, how do you go about selecting the right one? We talked with Francis Yupangco of National Geographic Wild’s Fish Tank Kings to find out.


Stick with cold-water species

Freshwater fish that prefer cold water require less maintenance than freshwater fish that need their water to be warm. “You definitely want your first fish to be easy to maintain,” said Yupangco. Depending on your environment and the season, you may still need a heater to keep the water temperature perfect for your fish.

Looking to branch out to warm water varieties? Once you get the hang of maintaining a freshwater aquarium with cold-water fish, then consider trying a warm-water aquarium. Do not mix the two environments. Zebra danios are a great warm-water variety for beginners.


Consider fish compatibility

Some species of fish can be more aggressive than others, so consider temperament and compatibility when choosing fish. Betta fish, for instance, are aggressive towards other bettas. Other breeds, like African cichlids or oscars (South American cichlids), can be aggressive to other fish species but coexist with other cichlids as long as they’re about the same size and have furniture and décor for hiding spots in aquariums.

Want to ensure a peaceful environment? “Look for tiger or cherry barbs,” suggested Yupangco. “These types of fish are available in a variety of colors, and like tetras, they like to school.”


Know your own limits

“The trick to a successful aquarium is starting slow and being patient when adding new fish,” said Yupangco. “It’s a good idea to consult with a local fish store to find the right starter fish for you and your new aquarium.” It’s also important to prepare aquarium water by removing harmful chemicals and growing beneficial bacteria, which supports the nitrogen cycle.

Aqua oasis starter kit

Do you want to create a large school of fish? First, make sure you have ample space by purchasing a largish aquarium like the Aqua Oasis Starter Kit at Petsmart. Then, add a variety of peaceful fish. Tetras are great for schooling and add a lot of fabulous movement to an aquarium, said Yupangco.


Suggested picks for beginners

Yupangco has a special place in his heart for several freshwater fish, because they bring unique liveliness to any size aquarium. “When in doubt, go with black skirt tetras, platys and swordtails. I am personally a huge fan of powder blue gouramies.” Check out his picks to see if your choice matches up with the Fish Tank King.

This post was sponsored by PetSmart.

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