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    A member here whispered me today to ask about goldfish so here is my reply! The messages system only allows 1000 characters (what the heck!?) so I'm posting here instead. Hopefully some other members will appreciate the info, especially if they are planning to get a friend/partner/family member some fish for Christmas!


    First off, please do not get a goldfish if you can only afford a fishbowl or a small tank. Goldfish require a lot of space if they are going to live a long, healthy and pain-free life. For example, I have fancy goldfish (orandas) which are some of the smaller varieties avaliable as they only get to about 10 inches long. Even at 10 inches, these fish need a four foot long tank and a lot of water. 'Normal' goldfish such as the ones that you can get really cheap or from the fair get even bigger and should be kept in a pond. If you want to get her a goldfish, you'll need to be getting her a 20 gallon tank to start with and you'd probably need to make sure she upgrades that to a 30-40 gallon within a couple of years.

    If you still want to go ahead, and can get the proper tank, here is some advice:

    1) Get the tank for her for Xmas but get the fish later. This could still be a great present if you get some lovely decorations (nothing sharp or that the fish can get stuck in) and set it up together. Goldfish love plants sp a few hardy elodea will be great. Once it's set up, fill it with water and add the recommended dose of a good quality water conditioner (something that removes chlorine, heavy metals and chloramine) and then let it settle for a day or so. Once that is done, you need to start preparing it for the fish! The freshly set up tank is believe it or not too clean for the fish - you need to make it more natural! You could do a fishless cycle which is safest for the fish but I'll give you instructions for a fish-in cycle as I think you want to get this set up sooner rather than later. For a fish in cycle you need to make sure you have a good supply of water conditioner, a (liquid) test kit set for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, some buckets for water changes and a syphon to remove the water (you can get a syphon, which is often called a gravel cleaner, for a pet shop). Now it's time to add the fish!

    2) Go out and choose the fish you want. If getting a goldfish, get a small variety such as an oranda, veil-tail, black-moor or other fancy goldfish. Remember, even the smallest one in the shop will grow fairly large and don't listen to any shop assistant that says they stay small and that you don't need a big tank!! When you get the fish home, rest it in the tank (in it's bag) for about 15 minutes to get the water to the same temperature. Then open the bag and add a cup of tank water to it. Keep doing this every 5-10 mins for about 30 mins and then gently scoop the fish out of the bag and let it swim into the tank. This gets it used to both the temperature of the water and the various qualities of the water such as pH and hardness. You don't want to shock it! However, you don't need to spend hours over this process unless you got the fish from somewhere that does not share the same local water as you.

    3) Now the hard part starts. By getting the fish so soon, you have given yourself a lot of work! The fish needs to live in a safe, clean tank but a healthy tank (as in the wild) is stuffed full of bacteria that naturally remove natural toxins that end up in the water. Just like with humans and other animals, fish produce poo and wee so their tank can get really nasty and unlike with humans, you won't really be able to tell that the water is bad until it gets really, really bad. In a freshly set up tank, the environment isn't ready to deal with the toxins naturally so you have to help out and remove them very frequently. To do this, you use your test kit every 12 hours or so and write down how much ammonia, nitrite and nitrate is in the water. After 12-48 hours you'll probably see some ammonia so it is time for a water change! Remove at least 50% of the water (more if the ammonia is above the first level on the test kit) and top it up with fresh water that has been conditioned with the water treatment. This fresh water MUST be matched to the tank temperature by adding a little hot/cold water or you will shock the fish. You must repeat this every time you see *any* ammonia or nitrite as these are toxic to the fish. After several days (maybe even a week or so) you should see the ammonia going down by itself but you will get nitrite as well/instead. This shows the bacteria are growing because the nitrite comes from the ammonia when the bacteria 'eat' it. Keep doing those water changes! In a large goldfish tank all these water changes are a lot of work but you must keep doing it as often as necessary because it would be very cruel to the fish if you didn't. After maybe 4-6 weeks (yes, it takes a while!) you'll find that you no longer see ammonia or nitrite and instead your nitrate reading gets slowly higher. This means you can stop doing the very regular water changes because the tank can naturally keep some of those toxins away. It can't keep the nitrate down though so while nitrite is not too dangerous, you still need to change the water every 1-2 weeks (about 25%) to lower it.

    3) Now your tank is cycled (a word for it having that bacteria living in it), you can focus on normal routines. Change the water, clean off the algae (use a dedicated scrubbing pad) and replace any dying plants. Keep the gravel clean by hoovering over it with the syphon and keep a regular record of water test results so you can start learning about how the tank behaves! Any time the fish looks unwell or does anything unusual, test the water for those three chemicals because sometimes the tank 'breaks down' and the chemicals rise, making the fish ill. Every month or so, open up the filter and clean the sponges gently in old tank water (so it's good to do this during a water change) and then pop them back. No need to keep buying new sponges and it will actually harm the tank if you do as those good bacteria live in the filter.

    4) Feeding! When the tank is cycling in those first few weeks, feed 2-3 times a week. This will not starve the fish and less food means less poo and wee, which means the tank stays safer for longer. If you want to feed every day (twice a day is normal) then you'll probably end up doing those water changes every 12 hours and it will be so much work! In terms of what to feed, don't feed flakes or floating pellets. These can cause the fish to gulp in air and may lead to problems such as swimbladder inflation. The best food is some kind of dedicated goldfish sinking pellet such as Love Fish pellets or Oranda Gold by Hikari. Have a look around and don't be afraid to shop online if it gets you what you want! Goldfish are greedy so feed a few pellets twice a day (I feed about 4-6 pellets each when they are small and slowly add more as they grow) and don't give them too much as over-feeding can be lethal for them. Also mix into that some cooked peas that have had their little shells removed and some frozen food such as bloodworms about once a week.

    5) Sick fish! If your fish gets sick, first check the water with the tests and if the water is bad (should be 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, under 60 nitrate) then do a water change. Your best bet is to get a book on fish diseases or read up online and join a fish forum. It is tempting to buy some medication and see if it works but this can make the problem worse, build up a resistance to the medication or even poison the fish. Just like with people, use medication carefully and ONLY if you know what the problem is!

    6) Decorations - fish need somewhere safe and secure. Make sure all decorations are fairly smooth and provide lots and lots of hiding places in the form of rocks, wood, soft plants or fake plants. The more places the fish have to hide, the safer they feel and the more they come out to play! Try to stick to natural, dark colours for the gravel and put a background on the tank as fish think they can hide up against it. They don't realise it isn't real plants, lol.

    7) Water changes - these are so simple. Turn the heater (if you have one), filter and any air pumps you have off and leave for 15 minutes to cool down (with a heater). Then, prepare one bucket with new water (ideally that has been aged overnight and is the right temperature) and use the other bucket to empty some water from the tank (25% for normal changes, 50-75% for emergencies where there is ammonia/nitrite) using the gravel syphon. Make sure the new water has been treated with water conditioner!! Then tip the old water away and use a jug to gently add the new water to the tank. You can use your hand to splash the water onto to stop it kicking up the gravel! Fill the tank up and then turn the equipment back on. Done!

    All of thos goes for tropical fish as well. Join a good fish forum such as http://www.fishforums.net/ and she'll get loads of help there. If you can only afford a small tank (please, please don't get a bowl for ANY fish) then think about a small fish like a siamese fighting fish. These are tropical fish so you need a heater set to about 26C but are smaller and don't need a huge tank. These will be quite happy in 20-30 litres, while a goldfish would need 150+ litres!

    Hope this has helped =) there are some amazing things you can print out in the Resource Centre on the forum so have a look at the "setting up a new tank" section!
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