A Beginners’ Guide To Fish Keeping

FISH KEEPING can be divided into four main groups:

  1. Freshwater cold (e.g., goldfish);
  2. Freshwater tropical (e.g., tetras);
  3. Marine cold (some gobies), and
  4. Marine tropical (e.g. clowns).

Within each of these, there are myriads of variations. For the beginner, I would recommend that you start off with a freshwater set-up. Freshwater fish tend to be more tolerant to environmental changes. Because fish swim, live, eat and defecate in the water, the quality of the water becomes very important. Smaller tanks can hold only small volumes of water, and the water quality can fluctuate very quickly with little warning. Larger tanks tend to be more stable (in terms of water quality parameters), and so you are less likely to end up with disasters. So, the best tank size to start with is the largest tank that you can afford to buy.

A starter tank should be at least a standard three-foot. Glass aquarium or plastic? Glass aquariums are heavier, you can get them in larger sizes and they do not scratch as easily. Plastic ones cannot withstand large volumes of water. But, the story does not end there. You cannot just add water and fish like any instant noodle packet directions.

You are creating a real living underwater world. It needs time to simmer, and you need to have a taste every so often before it is ready. The same applies to setting up an aquarium (although, I would advise against tasting the water — it is better to get it tested). The fish tank and stand should be situated on a strong, stable and level floor. A sheet of polystyrene foam should be placed between the aquarium and the stand to absorb any unevenness and to spread the entire weight of the tank more equally. The tank should not be placed in direct sunlight (to prevent excessive algal growth) and not along corridors where it is drafty.

Make sure that you are happy with the location of your tank before filling it because once water and aquarium furniture are added, the tank becomes very heavy and even dangerous to move. Always drain the tank and remove as much aquarium furniture as possible before relocating an aquarium.

Other things you need are listed on the next page:


Once the tank is in place, gravel should be added (if using an under-gravel filter, place the filter plate before adding gravel). Gravel should be from an aquarium shop since those sold in garden shops may leach out harmful chemicals. Gravel should be arranged such that it slopes towards the front. This helps to channel rubbish to the front where you can clean more easily.

You can add aquarium furniture and plants in the tank either before or after adding water. It is usually easier to plant in a dry tank, but you cannot usually see what it will look like. Heavier aquarium furniture like rocks should only be added after the tank is filled with water, to spread the load across the base of the tank more evenly.

Water should be conditioned before adding to the tank. Water needs to be conditioned because the level of chlorine it contains is toxic to fish (even though it does not harm us). To avoid stirring up the gravel, place an ice-cream container in the tank and pour the water into this receptacle. It will absorb most of the force of the water and overflow into the tank in a gentler stream.

Turn on the heater and set to the desired temperature depending on the type of fish. A good starting point is 25 degrees C. Your filtration system should be started, and the bacteria starter added. Never turn on the heater outside of water because it will be damaged. If live plants were planted, you should wait at least two weeks before the first fish is introduced. This will give the plants time to establish themselves. If no plants were planted, it is a good idea to give the tank a week to stabilize.



Now the exciting part; what fish and how many? There are so many to choose from. The best place to seek advice is at a good aquarium shop. A very important piece of advice is not to buy on impulse. Do a thorough research, taking into account their diet, size and their compatibility. The order you introduce them into the tank is also very important. More dominant and slightly aggressive fish should be the last additions. The number of fish should be introduced over a period of at least one month before the final stocking density is reached. This gives time for the good bugs in your filter to adjust to the new load.

When introducing fish into the tank, the bag should be floated horizontally in the aquarium for about 10 minutes (five minutes longer for larger bags) to equalize the temperature. Then open the bag and gradually add tank water to it for the next 15 minutes to double its original volume. This will slowly acclimatize the fish to the new water conditions. Then, turn the bag on its side to allow the fish to swim out on their own. It is a good idea to feed resident fish in the opposite corner of the tank at the time new fish are released. This gives the new fish some time to wander around the tank without getting hassled by curious residents.


The gold standard is to change 25% of the water every week. However, if your filter is rinsed regularly and you do not overfeed, water changes can be done less often (once a month). Water changes should be should be carried out together with a gravel clean. However, if you are using an under-gravel filter, the gravel bed should not be disturbed as frequently.

Your tank should then be re-filled with conditioned water. This water should come from your cold water tap, and not the hot tap (hot water dissolves the heavy metals in the piping that can harm your fish). This water should then be heated using your aquarium heater before adding it into your tank.


Fish should only be fed as much as they will consume within two minutes. Any uneaten food should be removed after such time. A rule-of-thumb is that the size of a fish’s stomach is as big as its eye. This means that fish do not need to be fed too much. More often than not, fish die from overfeeding than underfeeding. Some fish can over-eat and die. Uneaten food will pollute the water and create poor water conditions, and the entire tank of fish will be unduly stressed, predisposing them to disease.

The Fish Vet at www.thefishvet.com.au, and their YouTube channel tinyurl.com/thefishdoctor.

Dr. Richmond Loh DipProjMgt, BSc, BVMS, MPhil (Pathology) Murdoch, MANZCVS (Aquatics & Pathobiology), CertAqV, NATA Sig. is an aquatic veterinarian and veterinary pathologist in Perth, Western Australia.


Training The Untrainable

When an owner tells me that their dog is impossible to train, or that the dog isn’t motivated by food, what I hear is that the owner hasn’t yet found a way to reach the dog. Training isn’t simply an owner giving a cue and the dog complying because they should; dogs have their own interests and desires. The simple truth is, you’re not going to get what you want out of your pet’s behaviour unless you know how to reach the dog on their level.

Certain breeds are going to be more diffi- cult to reach due to their genetics. A good example of hard-to-train breeds is any dog that was specifically bred to be independent (hounds and Mastiffs being the two most common). These dogs were meant to work on their own and think independently, meaning they don’t need a human to complete their job.

True, we don’t necessarily bring home a Beagle or Bloodhound to go hunting, but owners need to understand that the dog has been bred to be independent for hundreds of years, and they still possess those independent traits. What does it mean for us? We need to be clever when training them.

On the other hand, we have dogs that were specifically bred to work with humans, such as Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Huskies and others. These breeds will be more inclined to want to listen to their owner and work with them.


For hard-to-train dogs, this is crucial for success.

STEP 1: You need to understand what your dog wants and what they like, which will involve recording the activities you see your dog engaging in. Is she smelling the ground, playing with other dogs, playing with sticks, sleeping, going for walks, herding a group of dogs, running wildly across a meadow?

STEP 2: Now, take those “likes” and put them in priority of the ones your dog likes best, second best, and so on. You now have your rewards list from high value to lower value (#1 being the crème de la crème; #2 being darn good, but if #1 is around, #2 takes a back seat; and so forth). These rewards will be your tools for training, so remember them well.


You can successfully utilize your rewards in realistic situations using what’s called the Premack Principle, which tells us that dogs (people, too!) can be driven to perform a particular activity if they know they will consequently be able to do something even more desirable to them. Here’s how:

  • Management must be 100%. This means you need to keep the dog away from their desired “like” unless you give it to them.
  • Ask for the behaviour you’d like.
  • Wait for the dog to perform the desired behaviour (this may take upward of 20 minutes for some dogs, so be patient).
  • Once the dog has given you the behaviour, give them what they want.

Here’s an example: A dog likes to sniff on walks. We will keep the leash short and don’t allow sniffing (management) until we give the cue — “go sniff” — after asking for a behaviour we want (pick simple behaviours to start, such as sit, eye contact, down, etc.).

Repeating every time you see that something they like is within the vicinity will greatly increase your success and create a more attentive dog.

dogs are and what they like, training can be very successful — you just need the time and patience to complete it.


Kristin Crestejo, CDBC, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Kamloops, BC. www.moderncaninetraining.com


Dog Park Etiquette

Does your dog need a change of scenery? Consider taking Fido to the dog park, where he or she can play, exercise and socialize with other dogs and people. These activities can benefit your dog both physically and mentally

But that doesn’t mean Fido should be free to roam the park without your supervision.

supervision. Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offered a few tips to keep your pet safe at the dog park.

“You should watch your dog at the park, and don’t be distracted,” Darling said. “Pay close attention to the dogs and their body language. Interrupt play if necessary to calm their behaviour, and remove your dog if it is afraid or being bullied by others. In addition, it can be helpful to leave toys at home to avoid your pet from guarding their toys.”

How do you know when to break up a play-date? Darling said any play that seems questionable should be stopped because it could lead to a fight. Questionable behaviours include stalking, possessiveness over a toy (such as aggressive tug-of-war) and wrestling, if more than two dogs are involved or if one dog is always on the bottom. Aggressive behaviour, such as neck biting, excessive barking, pinning another dog down and snapping at other dogs are inappropriate for the dog park and should be stopped immediately.

Other safety concerns for the dog park include the spread of infectious disease and parasites. Darling said it is important for dogs going to parks to be on medications that prevent heartworms, fleas and intestinal parasites. Dogs should also be up-to-date on their vaccinations, so it is best to leave puppies at home until they have all their shots. If you plan on visiting the dog park often, ask your veterinarian about Bordetella and leptospirosis vaccines.

“It is advisable for dogs that have contact with other dogs to be vaccinated for Bordetella, commonly known as kennel cough, a contagious respiratory disease,” Darling said. “In addition, consider vaccinating for the leptospira bacteria, which can be exposed to your dog in ponds with stagnant water or by contaminated urine from wildlife.”

adventure, you may find one at the dog park. But before you grab your leash and head out the door, make sure your pet’s health is protected and you are ready to supervise your pet.

Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. etmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk.


Backyard Hazards Series: Preventing Disease Transmission Between Kids And Dogs

Pets make great companions and are most often an integral part of our family. As pet companionship has evolved, pets now more than ever spend time in close proximity to their human family members. These days it is common for children to grow up side by side with their cherished pets, often sharing a snack together or exchanging kisses. Although your pet may appear outwardly healthy, it is possible that they can carry bacteria, viruses and parasites that can be transmitted to people during these simple daily interactions.


The World Organisation for Animal Health (OiE) recognizes that, “Most of the recent emerging diseases have an animal origin, and almost all of them have zoonotic [Ed.: the ability to pass from animals to humans] potential.” So what can we do as pet parents to keep our families healthy when living so closely with our pets?



The easiest and likely most-effective measure we can take is to ensure our children get into the routine of washing their hands after handling and interacting with their dog. Dogs are self-groomers and it is possible for bacterial from their mouths to be deposited onto their fur when grooming. All we have to do is pet them and then rub our eyes, nose or mouth to allow that same bacteria to enter our bodies through our mucous membranes. Handwashing for 20 seconds with soap in warm or cold water after touching a dog, their food or collecting their waste is a great way to get rid of any unwanted germs.


It is important to recognize that, similar to our own food, from time to time pet food may also be contaminated with organisms such as salmonella and listeria monocytogenes. The prevalence of these organisms is higher in raw food diets. If you are feeding raw food diets to your dog, it is important to thoroughly wash all counters, dishes and utensils that have been used to prepare the food and keep them separate from your family’s dishes and utensils. If raw food is being fed in your household, the task of feeding pets should be left to the adults in the house. Handwashing afterward is highly recommended.


Making sure your dog regularly visits your veterinarian is a great way to prevent potential disease spread to your family members. Because most dogs spend time both inside and outside, they can often be the go between for disease spread. Preventive vaccinations, such as the vaccine for rabies virus, can ensure that not only your dog is protected from acquiring rabies through interactions with wildlife, but your family stays safe and free of rabies, too. Preventive treatments for parasites, such as ticks, fleas and intestinal worms, can also aid in keeping your pet healthy and preventing disease transmission between your dog and family members.

Next time you visit your veterinary healthcare team inquire about what you can do to prevent the spread of infection between your pets and family members.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health, she is currently the provincial manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at krizzteena@hotmail.com.

Allergy Shots May Bring Relief To Itchy Dogs


If an allergy is to blame, it probably falls into one of three categories, according to Dr. Scott Miller, who recently completed an internship in small animal dermatology at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. The options are flea allergic dermatitis, food allergies and environmental allergies, also called “atopy” and “atopic dermatitis.”

“Flea allergy is considered the most common allergy affecting dogs, though that varies based on geography,” says Dr. Miller. “For example, fleas do not survive well in the southwest. Environmental allergies are more common there.”

Food allergies are less common. When they do occur, these allergies are most often tied to a specific protein source, such as chicken or beef, rather than to a grain, like corn or rice.



“Immunotherapy, commonly known as ‘allergy shots,’ is one of the oldest and still most-effective treatment options for environmental allergies in dogs,” says Dr. Miller. “It is the only natural way to truly try to change the immune system’s response to allergens, but it requires a long-term commitment on the part of the pet owner.”



Immunotherapy is delivered by a specialist in veterinary dermatology working together with the pet’s general practice veterinarian to ensure continuity of care. Immunotherapy is a good choice for a dog that has not responded well to basic allergy medications or a dog that has frequent, severe allergic signs throughout the year.

“Overall, 60% to 80% of dogs with environmental allergy will respond very well to allergy shots, often eliminating the need for other medications the pet may have been given to control signs,” says Dr. Miller. “Young dogs may respond better to immunotherapy than do older dogs.”

Immunotherapy works by introducing small amounts of what the pet is allergic to and gradually increasing the dose over time, so that the pet builds a tolerance to these allergens. This is most often done via injections under the skin, but in some instances is completed via drops placed under the tongue, usually twice a day. Frequency of shots can vary, but most often they are given every other day initially and then decreased to once or twice weekly.

Immunotherapy must be continued for at least one year before effectiveness can be determined. During this first year, the pet will also take medication to control the allergic signs.



As in human medicine, skin testing is used to identify an individualized formulation of allergens the animal reacts to. The dog is placed under sedation during skin testing. A trained veterinary dermatologist uses tiny needles to introduce small amounts of potential allergens under the skin. The dermatologist then watches for a skin reaction, indicating a positive allergy.

“Skin testing is the gold standard. Blood tests are also available, but reactions in the blood and the skin are not always the same. When investigating symptoms on the skin, we want to go directly to the skin to test reactions,” explains Dr. Miller.

Dr. Miller wants owners to understand that skin testing does not diagnose allergies. Testing is done only in the context of pursuing immunotherapy treatment. In some circumstances, a dog can be allergic yet have normal or negative allergy test results. This does not mean the dog is not allergic. Rather, it means that allergy shots are not a treatment option for that patient.

“After one year of shots, we start to wean the pet off the other allergy medication to see if any improvements have been made to the allergic signs. If there has been no change, we may stop giving shots and choose a different therapy. If the shots appear to be working, they may be continued for life,” explains Dr. Miller.

The goal of immunotherapy is to control the allergies, not to cure them. With proper treatment and owner education, many dogs with allergies can have perfectly normal, happy lives.

If you have questions about allergies and immunotherapy, contact your veterinarian or the veterinary dermatology service at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

From Pet Columns at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns.

Coping With Canine Kennel Cough

Thinking of travelling somewhere without your pooch this winter? If so, canine kennel cough is something you should be aware of if you are planning on sending Fido on a vacation of his own.

Canine kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, causes irritation and inflammation of the upper airway, including the trachea and bronchi. It can be passed along from dog to dog in environments where multiple dogs have contact, including boarding kennels, doggy daycares, grooming salons, training facilities, animal shelters and off-leash dog parks.


Like the common cold in people, kennel cough is most commonly caused by viruses, and in some cases bacteria such as:

  • Canine adenovirus,
  • Canine parainfluenza virus, and
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacterium).


Kennel cough is most easily distinguished by the loud, hoarse and hacking cough that resembles a certain goose-like honking sound.

Although no symptoms other than the cough may be present, some dogs will also develop the following:

  • Runny nose,
  • Runny eyes,
  • Sneezing,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Fever,
  • Lethargy, and
  • Difficulty breathing.



If the cause is viral, no treatment may be needed at all and the virus will run its course in about three weeks. If the cause is bacterial, antibiotic treatment may be prescribed. Keeping your pet’s environment warm and humidified and allowing them lots of rest can also be helpful.

In some cases, animals that are immune compromised (e.g., puppies who have not fully developed their immune systems, senior dogs who have weakened immune systems and those suffering other diseases) may develop more of the symptoms of canine cough and require supportive care. In these cases, it may take up to six weeks for the cough to clear. In rare cases, canine kennel cough can lead to pneumonia.

If your pet is experiencing signs of canine kennel cough, it is a wise idea to make an appointment with your veterinary healthcare team to determine what course of treatment may be required.



Canine kennel cough is very contagious and transmitted similarly to how humans catch colds. When droplets containing the virus or bacteria responsible for kennel cough are expelled into the air by an infected dog’s cough, they are transmitted to other dogs via inhaled air. These viruses and bacteria then have an entry way into the body through the mucous membranes of the upper airway. Once inside the body the virus replicates and the dog becomes symptomatic.

If your dog has canine kennel cough it is best to keep them isolated from other dogs until their symptoms have passed to prevent further spread.


The great news is that there are vaccines to prevent the most common causes of canine kennel cough. Vaccinations may be given by injection, or as drops into the nose or by mouth. Vaccine boosters will be required to ensure your dog’s immunity remains protective. If you are planning a vacation and know that your dog will require a stay at a boarding facility, it most helpful to get these vaccines a couple of weeks prior to boarding.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health, she is currently the provincial manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at krizzteena@hotmail.com.