Looking for small, low maintenance pets?
Pets can be a great addition to any family. They can also serve as a great way to teach your children responsibility and compassion. Furry pets like dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters are great, but may not be the best for young children or kids who have dander allergies. If you’re looking for low maintenance, small pets for your family, you really can’t do any better than fish in my opinion.
Keeping an aquarium can be an extremely enjoyable hobby for you to share with your child. Watching your fish can be very relaxing and intriguing for adults and children, alike. Keeping your aquarium in a central location within your home can make it a great conversation piece whenever you have visitors.
What do your kids get out of it?
Involving your kids in the initial planning for your fish tank can be a lot of fun. Having them help with the feeding of the fish, along with the required maintenance of the aquarium, can be an important way to teach them responsibility. Letting your kids help name the fish, care for them and occasionally share in administering the last rights teaches them compassion for living creatures. Researching your fish species to understand their native habitat and unique characteristics can be an excellent shared learning experience. You and your children can share together in so many aspects of maintaining an aquarium:
- Plan the decoration of your tank (this can be really fun!)
- Research and plan which fish species you will get
- Decide if you will try to raise live plants in your aquarium
- Work together to ensure that your fish are comfortable in their new environment by monitoring the water temperature and other conditions.
- Spend time together enjoying the underwater world that you’ve created!
If you’ve never raised fish before, you probably don’t want to dive in on the deep end (pun intended). You will probably want to start with a small, low-maintenance tank, or even a fish bowl. You will also want to start with a hardy variety of fish. If you want to keep a small tank or bowl without the need to invest in a filtration system, you probably need to stick with goldfish or betas. However, if you’re willing to invest in a suitable filter, you open up your options to a wider variety of interesting, tropical fish. Generally, freshwater tanks are easier to maintain than saltwater tanks, but some people prefer the wider variety of colorful saltwater species of fish available.
Do your Research
As with most hobbies, the more up-front planning you do, the more successful you will be. When dealing with living creatures, it is best not to leave your learning to trial and error. Though keeping fish does not have to be difficult, there is more to it than meets the eye, including
- Maintaining healthy water condition, based on the fish species you are keeping. Different species thrive under different temperature and pH conditions.
- Keeping fish that are compatible with each other
- Understanding what species are communal versus aggressive
- Keeping the proper number of fish based on your tank size
There are a lot of resources available for you to learn how to establish and maintain a healthy environment for your little finned friends. Involving your children in this research is a great way to enhance their education and increase their investment in the project. Check out some of the recommended book picks in the right column.
My Freshwater Fish Tanks
I had kept goldfish and molly’s in the past, due to advice I had received that they were very hardy freshwater aquarium fish and made for good “starter” fish. I enjoyed this, but was interested in graduating to a larger tank with a wider variety of fish. I moved to a 59 gallon tank with African Cichlids, which I enjoyed quite a bit and was even able to have some breed in my tank with the young growing to maturity. I found the African Cichlids to be fun to watch as they tended to interact with each other a lot and were quite active in moving gravel around in the tank.
I subsequently bought a second, 125 gallon tank which I populated with South/Central American varieties of fish. The larger tank enabled me to get a few larger fish: a couple Parrot Cichlids, two Severums, a Firemouth Cichlid and two Dinosaur Bichirs. I also have some smaller Red Point Hondurans, a Festivum, two Plecostomus (algae eaters), two small catfish (bottom feeders) and a number of Zebra Danios (i.e., the recommended “dither” fish).
You can watch a brief slideshow describing these fish HERE and a brief video below:
When I moved, I ended up giving my African Cichlids to a friend, but I kept both of my tanks and now maintain Red Point Hondurans that were born in my tank in the smaller of the two tanks.
Best Pets for Children
In my opinion, fish are one of the best pets for children. They are relatively low maintenance. They don’t make messes all over the house. You don’t have to let them outside or take them for walks. I’ve never heard of anyone being allergic to fish. Still, they are fun and relaxing to watch. Their is a ton to learn about fish and different species behave differently: different mating behaviors, different social behaviors, different parenting and breeding characteristics.
Maintaining Freshwater Aquarium Fish
Here is a list of the basic equipment you’re going to need to get started. There is an initial investment, but once established an aquarium is relatively inexpensive to maintain.
- A tank and a suitable stand. Make sure that the stand is rated to support the size tank you get. A gallon of water weighs over 8 pounds, so a 120 gallon tank is going to require a sturdy stand to safely hold it.
- Some type of medium for the bottom of the tank, like sand or pebbles. I personally prefer pebbles for larger tanks as they are easier to suction clean without vacuuming them up or stirring up a lot of debris.
- A filter with filter media. On my larger tank, I use a Fluval canister filter (model 406) rated at 100 gallons, plus a Marineland Penguin Power filter rated for up to 50 gallons. Between the two of them, I get plenty of filtration for my 125 gallon tank. I generally change the Penguin filters a couple times per month and only change the media in the Fluval filter once every 6 to 8 weeks.
- A heating element (heater) rated to the size of your tank.
- A fluorescent lighting system. Many tanks that you buy today come with the required fluorescent lighting, though you may want to upgrade if you are planning to raise live plants in your aquarium.
- A bottle of water conditioner to remove chlorine from your tap water during tank setup and periodic water changes.
- A water test kit to periodically check the pH, Nitrate, Nitrite and Ammonia levels.
- I recommend a power strip with built in day/night outlets. This enables you to set some of your devices to turn on only during the day (e.g., the lights), others only at night (e.g., night lighting), and still others (like the filter and heater) 24/7.
Other things you may want to invest in to beautify your tank and make it more interesting for both you and your fish include:
- Decorations such as real or artificial driftwood and/or rocks
- Live or artificial plants
- A colorful backdrop scene for your tank
- Other tank ornaments that allow smaller fish to hide and give all of your fish a more interesting home
- Air pump with tubing and air stones to create bubble features
- Underwater fan to generate current in the tank and keep the water circulating
Also, a few maintenance items you may need/want:
- Fish net(s)
- Algae scrubber to clean the glass if algae forms
- Siphon vacuum to make periodic water changes a breeze
- Replacement filters and filter media
If you’ve never kept fish before, perhaps this list of suggested materials sounds a bit overwhelming; however, setting up and designing your own tank can be a great deal of fun and extremely rewarding. The creative process of planning out your fish tank and decorating it can be a great family activity. Creating a unique and fascinating ecosystem and then populating it with the fish of your choosing is more rewarding than I can express.
Once everything is setup, maintenance of a freshwater aquarium is generally not very time-consuming or costly. It takes less than 30 minutes on average per week to clean my tanks: I siphon out and replace about 10 gallons from the large tank and 5 gallons from the small tank: this results in over 25% of the water being changed out per month, which I have found keeps the water at healthy levels for my fish. As mentioned above, I put new carbon filters in the Marineland filtration pump every other week and replace the filter media in the Fluval canisters once every 6 to 8 weeks. Once in a while, additional cleaning (e.g., algae on the glass, tank ornaments or hood) needs to be done, but nothing substantial.
Between fish food, filters, water conditioner and the occasional replacement fluorescent light bulb, I’d say I spend $35 / month on supplies. However, keep in mind that this is for two fairly large tanks: you can spend much less on a single, smaller tank.
A Few Miscellaneous Tips
- Carefully consider the location of the tank within your home BEFORE you set it up. You’re going to want it in a location where you and your family can see and enjoy the fish throughout the day.
- Moving a fish tank is a fair amount of work, as you should never move a tank once it has water, fish, rocks or ornaments inside of it. I have successfully moved my large tanks by putting the fish in 5 gallon buckets with water from the aquarium and removing everything from the tanks (including rocks and gravel. However, the fish cannot remain in stagnant water for too many hours and the temperature must also be monitored. The tanks must be moved and re-setup relatively quickly so that the fish can be reintroduced. I moved my fish over 360 miles, so they were out of the tank for close to 12 hours — this was really pushing it.
- If you’re going to have a scenery backdrop on your tank, apply it BEFORE you add water and gravel to the tank.
- Leave enough room behind the tank to run (or adjust) cables and tubing.
- Make sure your water has “cycled” before adding fish.
If you’ve ever considered fish as pets, I hope this post has been instructive. I can tell you that my kids and I have spent countless hours together watching and enjoying the fish. We had a brood of 100 or so Red Point Hondurans born in my smaller tank and my daughter and I designed a home-made device to keep the young fry from being sucked into the filter. She presented it at her school “invention” fair. We ended up giving away over half of the young Red Points, but still have the other half: they are beginning to outgrow the tank so we will have to find homes for the rest of them. But my point is, that fish are a more interesting pet than you might imagine and offer a great experience to share with your kids.
Please leave your questions & comments below: I always enjoy receiving feedback from my readers.