You have fish but they keep dying? Here are 5 tricks to make sure your fish have longer lives!

Published: December 1, 2013

Fish keeping is like taking care of children; one needs to give them love and care, and be patient with them. PHOTO: REUTERS

People, who are passionate about keeping fish as pets lose heart in the hobby, as fish get infections easily or die unexpectedly. Many times, this happens because the aquarium is not well maintained. So an unclean aquarium leads to an unhappy fish, or sometimes dead ones.

Fish keeping is like taking care of children; one needs to give them love and care, and be patient with them. Here are a few economical and easy fish keeping tips for all fish lovers out there:

1. Get an aquarium

The first dilemma faced by fish keepers is the choice between a fish bowl and an aquarium. I believe aquariums are better. They can be small in size, but with aquariums, the oxygen and filtration equipment are easier to use. If you feel that ready-made aquariums are expensive, then you can ask a local glass shop to make you one, by joining glass slabs together with silicon and letting it stand for some time. Once the basic structure of your aquarium is ready, you can get filtration and oxygen pipes attached to it, along with a few ornaments, fake plants and a battery to run the system, from any local aquarium shop.

2. Buy the fish and introduce them to their new habitat

Once you fill the aquarium with lukewarm water, you need to put one drop per litre of anti-chlorine medicine, which is easily available at any pharmacy. Try not to buy expensive species of fish if it’s your first time because chances are, the fish might die while adjusting to the aquarium’s surrounding.

The safest bet for beginners is to go either with the ‘Molly’ or the Gold Fish for their first time. Do not over stock the aquarium. Keep a margin of one fish for every 20 litres of water in your aquarium. This is for those fish that are no longer than about two inches each. For larger fish, different measurements will be used.

When you buy the fish, you get them in a water filled plastic bag from the shop. Put this bag, as it is, in the aquarium you have prepared for at least 30 minutes so that the fish can adjust to the temperature of the aquarium. Once this is done, release the fish into the aquarium, along with the water present in the plastic bag.

3. Homemade fish food

The hard granule fish food sold in shops is useless and your fish will eventually come to hate it if you keep feeding them just that. Like us, fish too like diversity in their food. So here is an easy recipe to make fish food at home.


Gelatine: as required

Lettuce or green peas or carrot (mashed): a little bit

Some fish food granules: crushed

Some dried blood-worms or the regular frozen dead mud worms: crushed


Mix all the ingredients and cook them with water. Quantities will vary according to how much food is required. Put gelatine and allow the concoction to cool a bit. Get a redundant, covered ice tray and pour the mixture into the tray. Freeze the mixture.

4. Fish feeding schedule

One of the main causes of death in fish is over feeding. So keep a scheduled diet for your fish and feed them only once a day.

Your fish feeding schedule for the week should be something like this,

Day one: homemade fish food

Day two: homemade fish food

Day three: a slice of cucumber for the fish to nibble on

Day four: homemade fish food

Day five: one regular pea, lightly boiled, mashed and crushed

Day six: homemade fish food

Day seven: a few tomato or lettuce or cabbage pieces for the fish to nibble on

Fish usually do not have a taste for fruits, so stick to vegetables.

5. The trick to cleaning and changing the water in your aquarium

After every third day, change 1/3 of the aquarium water and refill it with fresh tap water.

After every third week, change 3/4 of the water again and replace it with lukewarm, fresh tap water.

This process will keep the oxygen circulating, all the while ensuring that the healthy bacteria in your aquarium are not washed out completely. While changing water, clean the walls of the aquarium with a sponge. Clean it only with water, never use any detergent.

These are some tried and tested tips that have seemed to work in providing me with some extra time with my fish. Hope they are useful in helping your fish survive longer too.

Here’s to happy and healthy fish keeping!

Quratulain Fatima

Quratulain Fatima

The author is an Oxford Graduate in public policy, a Weidenfeld Scholar and an Oxford Global leadership fellow. She tweets @moodee_q

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad Ahmed

    nice …keep writing and share your Views about this topic.
    I think beginners should go with oscars as they are more strong to resist with climate changes,more aggressive and active than gold fish or molly.the later mentioned fish i think suit for a bowl not aquariumRecommend

  • Akram

    being a fish keeper , i find it very interesting and useful. will use the tricks for my goldies:)Recommend

  • rabia

    Very nicely written,got to know a lot of new things.Recommend

  • Adeel

    Very nice article. One thing you are missing in this article is that in winter season, introduce heater in your aquarium. Without heater your fish will get some disease and die. Another thing is introduce Ampicillin capsules once or twice in month.Recommend

  • IAbdussamad

    I’ve never had any luck with fish. They always die on me. So not going down this road again.Recommend

  • Hani

    Very well written! :)Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    Saad, fish should never be kept in bowl except the lone beta. the fish need a lot of space to swim and a bowl has not that much space that is why goldfish will die early due to stunted growth without one even knowing it.Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    Adeel, thanku for the addition.Recommend

  • Tariq Jameel

    nice to see a different blog than the usual doom and gloom. Being a fish hobbyist for years, I agree with the writer that fish like any other pet requires attention. Most of the people just buy an aquarium and stuff it with fish without taking stock of the requirements. When the stressed out fish begin to die, they lose interest in the hobby.Recommend

  • Rabia Mirza

    Thanx alot for such an informative article.Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    Tariq , it would be great to see some information from your side on the hobby as well..i meant the article for the beginners, else the hobby has lots of great things live plants etc..helps one create a whole lot of mini eco systemRecommend

  • Indian Wisdom

    Well written. Though the article tried to capture a lot of practical tips for healthy fish keeping but left many things wanted (understandable because of space constraints).
    I think before going to local pet shop it is essential to study what kind of fish you want to keep and the kind of ecosystem it needs (pH , level of nitrogen/ammonia etc.). My first fish was discus and neon tetra (though in a 500 litre tank) with lots of plants and driftwood. Later I graduated to different kinds of anemone and associated clone fish with live rock. It is important to study what kind of food , filter/ protein skimmers etc. are needed with the kind of ecosystem you intend to create in your tank.
    Cycling of aquarium for at least 20 days before any any new fish or plants also helps. If you love someone it is important that you understand him/her and its needs!!!! Same go with fishes (and aquarium plants/ live corals………)

    Thanks for sharing………..Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    @f541978e60a0981a800383d9bf0075b2:disqus yeah there is so much to fish keeping, space constraints and wanted to make it a beginners guide. you are absolutely right that one should study and research before getting a fish . it helps alot. and agreed this hobby requires lots of loveRecommend

  • Tariq Jameel

    seems you started a pro…i wouldnt recommend anyone starting the hobby with discus or neon tetra unless one know quite a lot about aquariums…both these species are very sensitive to changes in environment and need a lot of care, although they are some of the most popular fish among hobbyistsRecommend

  • Tariq Jameel

    true that, the world of aquariums never ends…usually hobbyists move from smaller to larger tanks and more complex fish species than normal…
    Well I believe in building aquariums rather than buying stuff as its a lot first tank was built from discarded current 6x2x2 tank has been made from discarded 12mm glass from a showroom…but again all this needs time and efforts, which unfortunately most of us dont want to do. This glass is available in markets at less than the half rates for the new.
    Second i have always made my own undergravel filters with pvc pipes instead of buying those available in the market. Powerheads are a different story.
    I also recommend using groundwater instead of tap water, which can have many additives apart from chlorine and cost you more in neutralizing their effects.
    For food, i used to give my fish minced beef added with eggs and frozen hard into cubes. They loved it. But now I have reverted to smaller species of tetras and barbs.
    I have also made myself a 3D background for my current tank after learning the DIY method from the internet. :)
    I’d be glad to share more information if you want…cheersRecommend

  • Kublai

    Nothing about an air pump. It aerates and filters the water.
    Recirculating it. There is build up of algae,on tank walls. Good n bad

    algae.Some algae eaten by fish. Compatible fish. Some fish will kill each other.Recommend

  • Indian Wisdom

    Thanks for your feedback. Agreed, even I won’t recommend Discus/Neon to start with …… point is, I started after studying fishes, nitrogen/ammonia cycle, kind of filters etc. for around two to three months, took a lot of advice from friends who were already into difficult fishes (including marine fishes) then only I got the confidence that ok, I would start directly with the fish I wanted to keep; though a difficult fish to care for ……Further I went for a large aquarium (500 litres) to minimize the risk as well as to give ample space for discus to roam about….Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    thats awesome. i also wanted to do a DIY CO2 for my planted tank. and a DIY 3D would be awesome too. can u share on that too. DIY makes it more personalized. iam keeping clown loach and they are so characteristic..its fun having them .But they dig on my cabomba alotRecommend