So You Want A Goldfish Part II: Moving In

Hydra enjoys interacting with the plants around the air stone in their tank.

In part one of this series, I spent a lot of time focusing on the size of tank that is considered appropriate for a goldfish home. Now we are going to get that new tank set up so that your fish can move in without too much stress. Getting things ready takes more time than you think, but isn’t necessarily a hassle. Most importantly, if you go through the process carefully, the transition from starter tank to permanent home should be smooth flowing for your finned friends.

One of the most important things about new tank setup from your goldfish’s perspective is the type of habitat you create for them. You are going to need gravel, plants, some kind of air supply, a net, at least one filter, tank cleaning tools, and some decorative objects that are more interactive, which I tend to refer to as “toys.” I could go on for days about brands and styles, but I’d rather let you do your own research on equipment and pick what is right for you. However, I will be giving some very necessary tips for decoration and installation that are important to the health and well-being of your fish.


Let’s start with what most people choose to begin with: gravel. Whatever you put in the bottom of the new tank for your goldfish should be 1/8 of an inch or larger. Gravel size is important because your fish can swallow smaller stones or even get them stuck in their mouths. I use pebble sized rocks because Nix and Hydra are big enough now that anything else can easily be swallowed. If it ever looks like your fish could be swallowing gravel, change it out for something larger. Better yet, start with larger gravel and there will be no need to deal with the hassle later on.

This image shows an inappropriate setup for goldfish. The gravel is much too small and there is inadequate plant arrangement to provide them with proper shelter.


Fish owners usually go for the plants next. Goldfish need multiple plants to feel secure, not just one little thing that they can swim circles around. A variety of different sizes and shapes are necessary to give them proper hiding places and shelter. Goldfish don’t have eyelids, which means that when you suddenly flick a light on, it is startlingly bright and there is nothing they can do about it but dash around in the tank, unless they have plants to provide shadow and a place to hide that lessens the sudden light intensity. They also need to feel a sense of security and too little foliage leaves them feeling constantly vulnerable, which elevates their stress level, lowering their health drastically over time.

You can choose live or fake plants for your new tank, but keep in mind that plants are a part of the natural diet of goldfish, so live ones will most likely be replaced often. Live plants help with the biological balance of the tank, but you can meet these needs with pumps and filters, in which case plastic or silk plants will do just fine. If you decide on live plants, make sure to research which plants are the best match. Never use a plant that has opposite requirements to your fish. You need a live plant that has similar pH, temperature, and light requirements to your goldfish, otherwise you will find yourself unable to make both your fish and your plants happy at the same time. Plants that need artificial light should mostly be avoided because the artificial lights can heat the water, making it too warm and uncomfortable for goldfish. When purchasing fake plants, keep the “stocking test” in mind. If you run pantyhose over the plants and they snag, they are going to be too harsh on your fish when they swim around them.

The plastic plants included in this shot passed the pantyhose test, though they look as if they would not. Always watch your fish for signs of injury and replace plants if torn fins or missing scales are noticed.


The final item you are going to need for your new tank is some form of decorative object for landscaping. Sure, you can go without these, but who wants to see an unhappy fish that is losing color and sulking around their tank because they have nothing to explore? Adding some kind of interactive decoration provides the security and mental stimulation that your fish needs to be happy. The most important thing to remember about goldfish is to NEVER (let me say this again: NEVER!) use seashells in your goldfish aquarium! Seashells and pieces of coral are sharp and porous, meaning they could hurt your fish and will collect food and other debris, upsetting the cleanliness of your water. These items also break down naturally, making the water alkaline, which is not healthy for your fish.

It is always best to buy your decorations from a store that sells aquarium equipment, since they should only be selling items made of safe substances. If you chose to put something natural in your aquarium, look for rocks like slate, hard sandstone, and red shale, making certain they are smooth. When placing your landscaping rocks, be careful that you do not set larger stones in such a way that they could topple over and trap your fish or that the gaps could catch their delicate fins. You can also use petrified wood in your landscape design, but the same rules about sharp edges and toppling apply. Any decoration that has an entrance, such as a cave or building, should be chosen carefully. You need to be sure that your fish can not swim into the opening only to become trapped inside. After a while it is very hard to find objects large enough for growing goldfish to fit through, so don’t be afraid to arrange your tank so that they have a natural cave of sorts in a place between a decorative object and a plant. If they can’t have a real cave, that is the closest thing.

Nix and Hydra used to swim inside this house, now they are as big as it is. They became stressed when I removed this favorite object, so I use plants to create shelter around it. (Some were moved to better display the house for this image.)


Now before you put any of these items into your new tank, you need to clean everything, even if items claim they have already been cleaned. There is no way to know what these items have come in contact with between distribution and the time you picked them up in the store and you don’t want these things getting into the water of your newly created habitat. When it comes to gravel, the stones in those bags are always rubbing against each other, creating dust or breaking rocks, and as I have said before, any particles that are small or sharp could harm your fish.

The most important thing about cleaning items is that you NEVER use soaps and NEVER clean your tank or the items in it with hot water. Hot water will change the bacteria necessary in your tank and while there aren’t any on first set up, there will be some good, helpful bacteria in subsequent tank changes, which the hot water will kill. Soaps and other cleaners should be avoided for the same reasons and because of the chemicals they can introduce into your water. The same rule goes for items that you use to scrub or wipe with. If you decide to use a sponge to clean your tank, make certain you use one that is from the pet store. Any sponge or cleaning tool not made for fish could contain chemicals or glues that should never be placed in your fish tank.

Soaps, sponges, and cloth towels should never be used on your fish tank.

If you want to sterilize something in your tank, use an aquarium salt solution of 6 tablespoons per gallon of water and soak your items in this solution for one hour, then rinse them all THOROUGHLY. Anything you want to dry should be dried with paper towels only, since fibers from cloth become trapped on items and are transferred into your tank. One of the most overlooked items that needs consistent cleaning is the fish net. Don’t forget to clean this EVERY time before you use it. You can also use the net to help you rinse out gravel. If you don’t want to use a net for gravel cleaning, a bucket will do. Just be sure to use a NEW bucket that has NEVER come into contact with soaps or cleaners of any kind, and designate that bucket as the only one to use for tank cleaning.

While all of these steps are extremely important, there is more to come! Keep an eye out for part three which will be out soon!

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at

Preparing for the Passing of your Cat

Your feline once had you running around the house with feathers in your hands and throwing mouse toys across the room. They might have run around corners and chased you when they were kittens, or crawled up your pant legs all the way to your shoulder! You used to pick out new cat beds and scratching posts for them, and the two of you might have walked through parks, or even gone shopping together. The early years were full of excitement, and the last ones calmed down a bit. Throughout the years, you might have noticed that your cat sleeps more during the day and they may be eating less food, too. They may be less social and cry out loud at night. Less energy, fast weight loss, losing control of bowels, or urination problems are signs that your beloved pet may be getting ready to move on. This might be a painful time for you; your best friend, your long-time companion, will be passing on soon. You may be feeling intense grief and possibly denial, but this is an important time to put your cat first. There are ways to help your pet become more comfortable before they pass on, ways you can be there for them when their time comes, and many ways to celebrate their life and remember them afterwards.

Elanda, her brother Will, and their precious Yellow Kitty.

 Keeping your Cat Comfortable

It’s important to keep your elderly cat happy and to give them the most peaceful environment you can provide. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind and activities you can implement for your cat.

Be gentle with your cat; in the past, they may not have had injuries if you shoo-ed them off the refrigerator and they jumped off, but now your cat could become injured and be in pain if you make them jump from high areas. Pick up your cat from tall areas and gently place him or her on the floor. Make sure to also pick him or her up and place them onto their favorite spots, like a cat tree. Your aging cat isn’t as agile as he or she used to be, so remember to carry him or her and purchase steps and ramps for your cat to get to their favorite high places.

Every kitty deserves to be THIS cozy in their senior years.

Don’t forget to provide your cat with regular visits to the veterinarian; it’s important to know that one year for a cat equals about four human years. Frequent visits to the veterinarian can keep you informed of your aging cat’s health, and it can give you an opportunity to ask a professional for further advice. Your cat may cry in the middle of the night, seek extra attention, or they may sleep for long periods of time. Be kind to your aging cat, try not to let the small annoyances get to you. He or she is scared about the change in their body and mind and they need your comfort and love during this transition.

He may have become a grumpy old man, but he’s still your baby.

Your cat may start using the bathroom outside of the litter box. Make sure to watch your aging cat as much as you can while they use the restroom. If they’re having problem squatting, purchase a cat box with a lower entrance and high walls for support. If you would rather deal without litter, you can always purchase puppy pads for your cat to use the restroom. Don’t forget to provide your cat with comfy spots around the house with pillows and blankets for them to relax and sleep on. And remember to keep your cat hydrated by placing plenty of water bowls around the house, particularly near their favorite spots.

When Their Time Comes

You know your cat the best, and you will know when their time is coming to leave this earth. Putting your cat to sleep is a personal and intense choice that only you can make for them. Your veterinarian might suggest that your cat should be put down because of their quality of life, but ultimately it is your decision to make for your beloved cat. Having an understanding of the symptoms of old age will help you make the choice decision for your cat.

One early symptom you may see in your aging cat when they are ready to move on is, when your cat uses the restroom, there may be a foul odor after their bathroom time. This happens when toxins begin building up in your cat’s body. This smell may also occur in their breath, and eventually will emit from their body. Later symptoms will be a loss of appetite, and your cat may stop eating and drinking all together. Towards the time of their departure, your cat will also have lower respiration. They will take fewer breaths, and there will be more time between breaths than before. You might also notice a lower body temperature due to their dropping heart rate as well. When your cat’s body temperature drops to 98 fahrenheit or lower, their body will feel cool to your touch.

Always take your cat to the vet upon any sign of trouble.

When your cat is showing these signs, you should take them to the veterinarian. If you do so, you have the option to put your cat to sleep. If you choose this option, your veterinarian will administer an injection that will slow your cat’s heart – this is not a painful procedure at all. You will be able to stay with your cat through the process, and when you do say goodbye, hold your cat, give him or her kisses, and tell them that you love them. Sing to your cat, pet him or her, and do everything you can to make them feel loved and safe on this day.


Once you have put your cat to peace and relieved them of their pain, learn to understand your own feelings about the loss of your beloved cat. It is normal for you to feel anger or deep sadness, these feelings are a part of the framework that helps us learn to live without the loved ones we have lost. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and make sure not to repress them. Cry and mourn your cat, but always remember the wonderful moments you two shared. To honor your cat, you have a few options of what you can do after putting them to sleep.

You can provide a proper burial for your cat. Pick a site where you would like to have your cat placed. Maybe in your backyard, or at your cat’s favorite park. Wherever you decide, pick a special or symbolic place where it can be decorated with photos of your cat or where you can place their favorite toys. You can also order a grave marker for your cat, with their name and an etching. Don’t forget to pick a container for your cat’s body; there are Paw Pet Burial Pods and Pet Caskets available to purchase online for your cat. But if you prefer no box that is perfectly fine too. Some honor their cat by placing flower seeds or a small tree over their burial site.

Paw Pods could be a good choice for your beloved kitty.

Of course you always have the option to cremate your cat and you can order vases online. You can place the vase in their favorite window sill or above your fireplace. Some owners have a difficult time with the idea of parting with their pet and decide to have their cat cremated and turned into jewels. Heart in Diamond will “immortalize your pet’s beautiful life with a Heart in Diamond that will allow you to feel like your best fur friend is with you every day”. If you decide this is your option you can select a portion of your cat’s remains to create the jewel that represents them, or the love you feel for them.

You can keep your pet in a necklace next to your heart forever.

In the end, always remember your cat for who he or she was to you, and remember the life you gave them. When my old cat Yellow Kitty passed away, I wasn’t able to be there for him in his last days. Thankfully he lived a long life; one of freedom and strength. I miss and love him, and hold his memory in my heart daily. Remember to give your cats love, and be devoted to them. After all, they are your furry babies.

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at