Beginning a Freshwater Aquarium

by ​Susan Horton, DVM

Day 1- Set up the aquarium

  • Adjust the water temperature to 76-80 degrees. Make sure it stays in this area for 24 hours.
  • De-chlorinate and condition the water with chemicals
  • Confirm that all equipment is running correctly by letting the filter run for 24 hours.

Day 10-12 add started fish

  • Limit fish purchases. 1-2 fish per 10 gallons every 10-14 days.
  • Choose hardy fish.
  • Add live plants (optional).
  • Do not feed the same day fish are purchased.

Day 10-12

  • Begin light feedings. Feed every other day, once a day for the first month.
  • Observe fish for stress (rapid breathing, lethargy, clamped fins).

Day 14

  • Recommended water change, 1/3 water change with a gravel cleaner


  • Purchase new fish (optional) using a ratio of 1-2  fish per 10 gallons.
  • As you enjoy watching your new pets, look out for signs of illness.

Day 15-30

  • Observe fish daily for signs of stress or illness.
  • Have water tested at least once a month

Day 30 cleaning (Refer to our free how to clean sheet)

  • Do 1/3 water change with a gravel cleaner.
  • Change filter cartridges.
  • Have water tested one week after this water change.

Important Notes

The first 4-6 weeks a tank is set up is when most people experience problems. This sheet is designed to help you get through this period. By following the above steps you should do great!


  • Do not overfeed.
  • Buy fish in small quantities.
  • Have your water tested.
  • Observe your fish for stress.
  • ​Have fun & enjoy!
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