Why Do Many New Aquarists Fail at Fish Keeping?

Many would be aquarist buy and set up an aquarium only to be frustrated when their fish die soon afterward.

This can be especially frustrating if you've done your homework and did some research on how to care for tropical fish.

I got my first aquarium for my birthday when I was 11 years old. Since then, I've been keeping aquarium fish successfully for the past 39 years. A lot of the credit in my early years of successful fishkeeping are due to my father who helped me set up my first tank and care for my fish. The following is what I've learned about successful fish keeping over the years.

Top Reasons Your Aquarium Fish Die

Water Quality

Water quality issues are the number 1 reason your fish don't survive long. If you look at some of the factors that determine the health of your fish most of them lead back to water quality. For example, here is a list of the top reasons why fish become unhealthy:

  • Overfeeding
  • Overcrowding
  • Not Letting Your New Tank Cycle
  • Not Enough Partial Water Changes
  • Incompatible Tank Mates

All of the factors in the list above, except incompatible tank mates, affect the quality of your aquarium water, but can be easily fixed.

Overfeeding Your Fish

First of all, try not to overfeed your fish. This is harder than it might seem. Because we all like to eat and often overeat, we also like to extend the same courtesy to our fish. I'm sometimes guilty of overfeeding my fish as well. Fish don't need a lot of food (even though your fish will always act like they are starving even if they are not). Don't feed them more than they can consume in just a couple of minutes.

If you accidentally do overfeed. Wait a few minutes and then do a partial water change (about 30 percent). Be sure to add a chlorine/chloramine remover to the new water. This will prevent your tank water from becoming foul.


Another easily preventable aquarium fiasco. Fish need lots of swimming room. Also, the more fish you have, the more waste they produce and the quicker your aquarium water deterioriates.

Not Letting a New Tank Cycle

The water in new aquariums, must go through what is called the The Nitrogen Cycle.

The quick version of this is that beneficial bacteria must build up so that they can break down your fish's waste products and uneaten food into less harmful substances. Read our article on The Nitrogen Cycle to learn how to properly cycle your new tank.

Not Enough Partial Water Changes

Other than cycling your tank, regular partial water changes will fix most of the problems in your aquarium.

By doing daily partial water changes, people have even managed to keep aquarium fish alive with NO filtration. That is how beneficial water changes are, although I do recommend using a filter. Plus you need some sort of aeration / water movement that most filters provide as well.

How To Change Your Aquarium Water

First, unplug your tank. This is very important. The heater may crack if you start removing water while it is still on, causing electrocution. Many people still leave the filter on, but I think it is best to just unplug everything before you start messing around in your tank. By unplugging everything in your tank you don't have to worry about getting shocked and the filter will only be off for a few minutes. It is always best to be safe. Change only about 25-30 percent of the water.

As mentioned above, you must use a water conditioner to remove the chlorine and chloramine from the new water. Also, the temperature of the new water should be about the same as what is already in the tank. Don't change all of the water at once. Don't ever change more than 50 percent of the water at one time. If you perform regular water changes then about 25-30 percent of the water is all you need to change at one time. Do this at least once per week, and 2-3 times per week would be even better.

Watch the You Tube video below for a demonstration and some tips for changing the water as well as her explanation as for why water changes are so important.

Keep in mind there are many variations on how to do this. For example, I often use empty clean plastic 1 gallon water containers to add my fresh water back into the tank. As in the above video, I do mix the water conditioner into the new water before adding it into the tank. I also use a siphon that has a suction on one end to easily start the water flowing into the siphon. It is best NOT to use your mouth to get the water started flowing through the siphon.

To change your aquarium water all you really need are a clean bucket, a siphon, and some water conditioner to remove the chlorine and chloramine.

By doing partial water changes, you remove toxic substances, such as ammonia other other waste products, and your fish will thank you for it by living healthy long lives.