Stop Keeping Fish In Your Dorm!*

*Unless you can take care of them properly.


I've been in the aquarium hobby for nearly three years. As much as I love it, and as much as I'll (sometimes rather annoyingly) talk about it, I will also be the first to tell you that fishkeeping requires lots of dedication, research, money, time and hard work. Fish are some of the most beautiful creatures you can have in your home, but because they're not the same type of experience you'd get from a dog or a cat, people don't really seem to care that they are among the most abused of all the animals sold in pet stores. Today, I hope to debunk some of the most common misconceptions people believe about these creatures, why you should think twice before making the initial investment and how you can fix it if you already own a finned friend that's not receiving the proper care. I'll also be mostly focusing on bettas since they're the most commonly available (and abused).

Imagine this:

You go to Walmart. You see a pretty fish, sitting on the shelf in a cup, take it home and put it in a vase, clean the water when it looks gross, and flush him down the toilet when he dies in a couple weeks or months. Right? Wrong.

You may have heard "bettas in the wild live in shallow, dirty mud puddles, and they only live a few months anyway!" This is untrue. Bettas are native to shallow rice paddies in southeast Asia, which have clean water and stretch for miles and miles. As such, any responsible betta owner won't have them in anything less than a tank that is at minimum 2.5 gallons, but preferably five. They are tropical fish, so unless your dorm is pretty toasty, they will need an aquarium heater to regulate the temperature of the water, best between 76-78 degrees Fahrenheit.

                                       A betta's natural habitat, a heavily-vegetated rice paddy like this one in Vietnam. (Image credit: Flickr)

They have long fins and aren't very strong swimmers, so they need a filter in their tank, one that isn't too powerful, so they'll be able to swim without fighting an intense current. They need gravel or sand for the bottom of the tank, a light over the top of the tank to simulate the sun, regular feedings with high protein and the tank will need a 10%-20% water change and cleaning every week. The cost of all this? At least $75, and probably more like $100-$120. Not to mention the fact that before you even put a fish in the tank, you have to "cycle" the water, meaning you have to wait for beneficial bacteria to grow in the filter so that the toxic ammonia produced by the fish's waste can be converted into nitrates, which are less toxic and manageable in small doses. What happens if you don't have all this? A lethargic, sickly animal that dies incredibly young. Imagine keeping a German Shepherd in a closet its whole life, only for it to die after two years, and saying "well, it lived a good life".

Does all this sound like a lot? Good, because it should, because it is.

You may be thinking "it's just a fish, and it doesn't even cost that much. Why does it matter?"

It matters because that fish is an animal you brought into your home, with the implied promise you would provide it with everything it needs to live out its natural lifespan, to the best of your ability. It's easy to be ignorant, and that's okay. But now that you've read that little rant, hopefully, you know that jumping into this hobby is a real investment. And if you don't have the resources, then it isn't for you.

So what can you do if you already have one of these fish in your possession and its living arrangements are not up to par? You can try to rehome them, meaning you can find someone who is able to take care of the fish properly. If the place you purchased the fish from is reputable, you can try to return it. Or, you can take the leap and make your wallet cry a little. Buy the necessary equipment and do the research online or in a book from the library. Find someone experienced in the hobby who lives near you and enlist their help. But above all, remember: you may not be able to pet or cuddle them, but any animal you elect to care for deserves the best you can give it, always. 


And don't even get me started on goldfish.