Stress-free fish are likely to live longer

PETS AT HOME

February 13, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Properly cared for, fish are the most trouble-free of pets -- clean, quiet and beautiful.

They don't roam, don't shed, don't pester guests or claw the furniture. They are perfect for people who want to share their space with living beings but can't handle other pets because of allergies or time constraints. They are so adaptable they can be found in many offices and some restaurants, and studies have shown they are good for your blood pressure.

The bad part is you can't snuggle fish. And for many well-meaning people, they seem to die with predictable regularity. One of the main causes of death is stress.

The key to long-lived fish is allowing them to lead a quiet life. Chronic stress weakens the fish's immune system and hampers digestion. Stressed fish are the first to get sick.

Mixing incompatible fish and having too many fish in the tank can cause stress.

Tanks without rocks and plants do not resemble the fish's natural environment, and that may stress your fish.

Fish also suffer from poor water quality, the wrong water temperature or water with chemical imbalances. And watch for problem signs like loss of color: A washed-out fish is a stressed-out fish.

Fish like to be left alone most of the time, which may be a difficult concept for young children who want to knock on the aquarium glass or stir the water.

Some other causes of fish stress:

* Noise from nearby computers or refrigerators. Keep fish in an undisturbed spot, away from windows or heating vents.

* Turning on a bright light over the aquarium. Scared fish will dart around the tank.

* Dropping the aquarium cover back on the tank; it sends a shock wave through the tank, much like tapping on the glass.

* Crowding: Cold-water fish need 24 square inches of surface area per inch of fish; tropicals need 8 square inches per fish. If crowded, fish may start to harass each other.

* Bullies: Keep fish of a similar size in one tank. Remove bullies to another tank with larger fish.

* Not enough oxygen: Fish use more oxygen in warmer water and will gasp at the surface for air if there's not enough. Remember that it's not the volume of the tank in gallons that determines oxygen supply, but the surface area.

* Touching: Handle fish as little as possible. When catching them, use two rectangular nets -- one to gently guide the fish into the other. Cover the net with your hand when transferring it to another tank or water-filled bag so the fish will not jump out.

If you've unknowingly broken these rules and now have an empty aquarium gathering dust in the garage, why not give fish-keeping another try? A reputable dealer will be able to supply you with good advice and the healthy, compatible fish you need to give this pleasant hobby another chance.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278

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