Choosing Your New Fish | Companion Care
fish in tank

Choosing Your New Fish

Finding the right fish to suit you depends very much on the level of time and commitment you have, and choosing the right type of fish for you is an important first decision.

It can be tempting to think that fish don’t have much personality, but anyone who has studied a tank can tell you that actually fish can have a range of personalities – down to species, but also individuals!

Read more about the right diet for your fish

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More about choosing your fish

  • Goldfish. Cold water tanks are relatively easy to maintain, have the lowest running costs and make good starter projects. This doesn't make them a small commitment however goldfish can live up to twenty years in the right conditions, are messy so need good filtration and frequent partial water changes, and require a large tank to allow them to grow.
  • Temperate Fish. Suitable for an unheated aquarium located in a warm centrally heated room, the temperate fish are small, active, colourful and hardy, and so are ideal for smaller aquariums without a heater such as desk top and kids tanks. These are a much better choice than goldfish for a first aquarium and especially a small child's tank as these little fish won't out grow their tank like goldfish will.
  • Freshwater Tropical. Needing a little more care than their cold-water counterparts, freshwater tropical fish are a staple type of fish seen across the UK. Needing more equipment and care, due to requiring heated water and a finer balance of water condition, they also usually have a bright and wide variety of fish species and can be great fun for a family.
  • Saltwater (Marine) The most complicated of tanks, marine tanks need close regulation and are expensive to run, maintain and stock. That being said, the variety of incredible inhabitants these environments can sustain make them a fascinating project for a serious enthusiast.
  • Pond. A pond environment can allow you to have much bigger species, such as carp, and stable ponds can do a good job of regulating themselves to a degree. It can be difficult to set up a new pond that is suitable for some species, and regular quality feeding should be part of your routine.
It’s important to consider the species of fish that you buy, especially when you are considering a multi-species environment. Some species are aggressive, and can bully other fish, and certain species like different areas of the tank – it’s sensible to get fish that aren’t going to be competing for the same areas. Some species can also be nippers, and cause problems for fish species with longer fins. Doing research into the types of species available, and who gets on with who, will be an important step towards getting a harmonious, relaxing tank environment.

Pet stores such as Pets At Home and aquatic stores are naturally common places to source pet fish, and can be fascinating places to visit with so many species and colours to choose from. In fact, it can be easy to get overwhelmed or overexcited by the choice on offer, so making sure to have all the facts about which fish can co-habit and the care they need is really important.

Speaking to a good and reputable aquatic store or pet shop can be really helpful. Importantly, these establishments are not all the same, and getting your new fish from a high quality place is critical – a happy, healthy start in life is as important for fish as for any pet.

So, how do you identify a ‘good’ pet shop?

  • The fish receive regular health checks. Fish should be checked regularly, fish fall ill very rapidly, and can go from looking healthy to being very ill in a matter of minutes. Unwell fish should be isolated immediately, and any tanks under treatment should be clearly signed and off limits for sale. Sadly, given the large numbers of stock, you may sometimes see dead fish at a pet shop or aquatic store but this should be dealt with swiftly and these should be in low numbers.
  • There is plenty of information available. A good pet shop will want make sure you know everything you need to about caring for your fish. This means that there should be plenty of information available both from the people working with them, and available as leaflets or information sheets to take away. If you have questions, for example about which fish species can co-habit, expect full and knowledgeable answers.
  • They ask questions. Just like with anyone selling pets, the long-term health and welfare of the fish should be the number one consideration for pet shops and aquatic stores. This means if you don't fit the bill as an owner for a specific species, you should expect to be refused a pet, or redirected towards a more suitable pet type. If selling you pets seems more important than checking the pet is right for you, this should be a red flag. This will also include having the right equipment, for example, if you don't have a filter in your tank, reputable pet stores should refuse to sell you fish.
  • Enrichment. Enrichment means providing interesting furniture and challenges in the enclosure to keep pets stimulated. For fish this will depend on their needs, but can include places to hide, plant-life and live foods (such as daphnia) for appropriate species.
  • Space. The amount of space needed will depend on the number and size of fish but you should expect to see fish not being overcrowded.
  • Clean. Good pet shops should be cleaning their fish tanks regularly, so you shouldn't see any large build ups of algae.
  • Training. If you have to wait for a specific member of staff to help you with picking your pet, this is a good sign. Training for employees is a great way to identify that the pet shop prioritises the needs of the pets, and while you might have to wait longer to speak to the right person, you'll know they have the knowledge and expertise you need to help you make the right decisions.

We recommend speaking to Pets At Home if you are interested in setting up a new fish tank. They will be able to help you decide on the right type of tank for you, and help you pick appropriate species once you are set up and ready to go!

It is estimated that more than 90% of ornamental marine fish and invertebrates, and between five and 10% of freshwater fish entering the pet fish trade are caught in the wild. This is because of the difficulty of breeding these species in captivity. While there are regulations in place to protect these fish, and many are on the CITES list, if you would prefer only to use fish that have been bred rather than taken from the wild it is important to discuss this with your pet shop or aquatic store.

Although it can be difficult to examine fish in detail, if you can you should have a check over of your potential new family member before you bring them home to make sure you can’t spot any warning signs of them being unhealthy.

  • Scales. Scales should be smooth with no visible growths, swellings, white spots or ulcerations.
  • Faeces. Long trails of faeces indicate constipation, which usually stems from the wrong diet.
  • Eyes. Eyes should be bright, with no dulling, swelling or discolouration.
  • Movement. Fish should be moving freely, and not struggling to stay upright.
  • Fins. Fins should be intact, not ragged, as ragged fins can indicate territorial disputes.
  • Behaviour. Fish should inhabit the area of the tank they would normally for example, most fish spend most of their time either at the top, middle or bottom of the tank.
Wherever you get your new pet from, it should be an enjoyable experience. Bringing a new family member home is a fantastic moment and something to treasure, wherever you get them from. For more information on setting up for your new pet, check out our bringing home your new fish page.