We have dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters. And then we have fish. Keeping pet fish can be a great way to get started if you've never had a pet before, as they need little to no work to maintain and offer a low-maintenance pet option. They also make it easy to learn about freshwater aquatic life and are a great conversation starter too! Fish also, like many pets, come with their own therapeutic value. However, most of us may plunge into keeping pet fish without much thought.
Fish, just like other pets, require some planning, care, and a lot of love.
We help you avoid the big beginner mistakes with these suggestions. Find out how you can make your pet fish's life easy with our beginner's guide to keeping fish.
What is a beginner fish?
Choosing the best fish for beginners can be confusing with the many different types of fish out there. Not all fish are suited for beginners, and care needs to be taken to ensure the fish get along with their tank mates. We considered factors like maintenance, personality, and friendliness with other fish in building this guide.
Here, we recommend three of the most common fish that are easy to start with for beginners.
Goldfish are probably the most common pet fish around. They are found everywhere: from rivers to lakes to the ubiquitous goldfish bowl. Goldfish come in as many vibrant colors as you want, although you may often confuse the koi or common carp for them. Goldfish, though, have these cute whiskers in the corner of their mouth that the koi or carp don’t have.
Goldfish are low-maintenance, but you do need some knowledge of fishkeeping. If you care for goldfish properly, they are known to live as long as 20 years!
Guppies are ornamental fishes belonging to the family of fish called livebearers. Along with guppies, you have swordtails, mosquito fish, mollies, and platies.
Guppies are great for beginners; they are peaceful and tend to be hardy, more accepting of the mistakes of beginner pet parents. Guppies also can live as long as 4 or 5 years if you take care of them properly.
They also come in a variety of vibrant colors, brightening an aquarium. Guppies can also be kept with other livebearers, such as swordtails.
Not as well known as the goldfish or guppies, Danios are quite hardy fish, doing well in cooler climes. There are many varieties of the Danios with such poetic names such as White Cloud Mountain Minnow even! Zebra Danios are among the easiest to care for. These have black and white stripes, just as Zebras do.
Danios are resilient fish and are known to live for 5-6 years on minimum. They are known for their darting behavior, and you can spend hours watching them busily go by.
WAGR TIP: Always make sure that you get your first fish from a reputed seller. Get a friend’s referral or check social reviews before choosing a seller. Watch out for fish that are sinking or which have lumps or bumps.
Maintaining the fish in your aquarium
You can keep more than one goldfish, of course. They are a fun-loving sort and like to hang out together. Goldfish usually get along with most other fish. Still, since you are starting out, we suggest you don’t mix other fish until you know how to handle the goldfish very well.
Guppies are friendly, but it’s also fine to keep just one guppy. If you have a tiny tank, it might be cramped to have more than one or two. If you are keeping more than one guppy, you can choose to keep only male or female guppies. Try mixing them as you gain more experience. We recommend that you keep only male guppies initially, as guppies can breed easily.
Pet owner Mahesh Kumaraswamy found out the hard way. “Male guppies can harass female guppies. This made my female guppies stressed and ill. I realized that it’s important to have a good ratio and a large enough tank as guppies breed easily. Keep a ratio of two females to each male. This saves your fish and yourself a lot of stress in the long run!”
These are schooling fish, so don’t isolate the Danios, or they might be quite lonely! We suggest keeping a school of at least 6. That isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Don’t consider mixing your Danios with other fish at this stage.
Feeding your fish as a beginner pet owner
Goldfish are omnivores. They can feed on insects, plant food, flakes, and crustaceans. We also suggest that you pre-soak flaky food so that the food floats down and enables the goldfish, who are bottom-feeders, to feed more easily.
WAGR TIP: Don’t overfeed the goldfish. Stick to whatever food they can consume in 2-3 minutes. They are voracious feeders and don’t know how to stop eating!
Guppies are flexible and can eat a wide variety of fish foods. They are also known to have an affinity for worms, including shredded earthworms.
You may not know that guppies can eat fresh vegetables like tomatoes or spinach (Don’t throw them in whole, though! Remember to remove the leftovers to prevent any rot). Feed your guppies two small meals a day rather than one larger one. They can go for up to a week without food, in case you are thinking of that vacation.
Use high-quality flakes as the major portion of their diet with occasional treats such as worms, peas, and spinach. You can get live foods from any aquatic store. Danios also like fresh vegetables such as cucumber or zucchini. As with the goldfish, keep your feeds small and regular and the portion size such that they can consume within 3 minutes.
Aquarium size and environment
Don’t keep goldfish in a bowl. Yes, you may have seen them swimming around in one. But fishbowls are not what we recommend for any aquatic animal. Start the right way with an aquarium. The larger the tank, the better for your goldfish. Start with at least 20 gallons of space for each goldfish.
We recommend larger aquariums because goldfish tend to expel large amounts of waste.
“I kept my goldfish in a bowl. The breeder gave me the bowl and the fish. But two of the fish died in a few months. Since then, I have kept my goldfish in a tank and they are all still alive and swimming!” says Anusha Singh from Bangalore who now has as many 9 goldfish and a few guppies as her pets.
Guppies are small fish. But there’s something that you must remember: each guppy must have at least 1 gallon of space. Also, most of our expert aquatic hobbyists recommend that you use sand in your aquarium when housing guppies.
Gravel or crushed coral works fine too. We recommend you choose a filtration system to make sure that guppies have clean water at all times. And you don’t really need sophisticated lighting - guppies thrive in natural light. By all means, add a few plants such as ferns or moss. You will find that guppies love to hide among plants. Artificial plants are ok.
These Zebra fishes love swimming, so you are better off keeping a larger tank for them to start with. They are also tolerant to large variations in temperature. Use a tank that can hold at least 25 gallons of water. Use sand as the base layer for the aquarium or tank.
Consider adding freshwater plants to give some vital oxygen and a dash of green for the Danios to play around in. We find that pebbles at the bottom are quite good in mimicking the natural habit of your Danios fish, especially that of river beds.
WAGR TIP: Don’t place your aquarium in a place that receives direct sunlight. This can use algae to grow, which can be very annoying.
Regular water changes and dechlorination are a must for all aquariums. It might seem a bit daunting, but you will get the hang of it. Meanwhile, this brilliant guide on nitrogen cycling is a must if you want to catch up more on keeping your tank fresh and clean for your fish.
And don’t buy your tank and fish on the same day! This is a common mistake. Experts recommend “cycling a tank” before adding fish. This usually takes a week and allows for the natural growth of healthy organisms before you add your fish.
Tips for beginners keeping fish
No matter what fish you choose, you are on the way to a new joy: the experience of fish keeping is beautiful and nourishing. Keep in mind these final tips to get you started on a rewarding experience.
Gravel: Coated gravel is best.
Fish food: Depending on the fish you are getting, choose your food wisely. Ask the breeder or friends if you are still unsure.
Net: Most breeders will give you a fishnet. This is good for transferring fish to another bowl or tank temporarily while cleaning your tank. A net is also great for scooping out unwanted debris.
Water conditioner: This ensures that you de-chlorinate tap water to keep your pet fish ultra-safe and happy.
Still have questions?
What is the best fish for kids?
Will the kids take care of the fish too? If they are, then we think it’s a great way to introduce children to understanding responsibility. Guppies, Mollies, and Swordtails are all great fish for kids to handle.
What is the cheapest fish to buy as a pet?
This is a tough one! The cheapest fish may not be the easiest to care for if you are a beginner! Swordtails, tetras, and Danios won’t break the bank.
What fish can survive in a bowl?
We don’t want you to start off with keeping fish in a bowl. But we understand that some of us may have space or other constraints. Guppies and tetras and probably your best bet.
What pet fish lives the longest?
Well, if you want a fish around for at least 10 years, then you can try angelfish or goldfish. Considering that this is a beginner’s guide, then try the goldfish.
Do fish get bored?
Don’t we all! You can get toys for your fish to play with. Ping pong balls are a cheap and easy hack, and even mirrors make life a lot more fun for fish.
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