So, You Want a Goldfish…

Part One – The Housing Market

Be honest. When you read the title of this article, what came to mind? Did you see a bright orange or golden fish swimming around in a bowl? Maybe the bowl had some rocks and one plant in it, maybe it didn’t, but the point is that for most of the general public, that sort of image is what comes to mind. In fact, when I did a Google search on just the word goldfish in the images category, that very image wasn’t that far down on the image list:

goldfish Search

Even in the suggestions bar, the goldfish bowl is one of the top three options. Right behind those yummy crackers and a collection of photos based on the types of goldfish, sits one word with the accompanying images: “Bowl.” For true goldfish lovers, this very idea causes a twinge of pain or sadness. Not many people really know why, since everywhere we look the human race is bombarded with the traditional image of a goldfish looking perky in the middle of a bowl that is usually devoid of any decoration what so ever. What is wrong with this idea? It is everywhere. Even Elmo from Sesame Street has a goldfish in a bowl!  Well, as a goldfish owner for many, many years, let me tell you what I see when you say the word goldfish: I see a colorful fish, about the size of my hand, swimming around in a giant tank, full of plants, rocks and other interesting items to interact with.

fish Tank

Goldfish tank being set up in a school classroom.

Goldfish Are In The Carp Family

Surprised? Sadly, most people will be. As a society we are so bombarded with the bowl image that we have forgotten the origin of these beautiful fish. These guys belong in the CARP family. Sure, they’re on the small side, but they ARE carp. They belong in the same family as Koi, the same family as that fish someone’s uncle Joe just caught at the lake the other day. They were one of the first types of fish to be domesticated and in many years of breeding for beauty, we humans have forgotten the idea that these guys belong in ponds and large bodies of water. I am always saddened to be standing at the koi pond at Biltmore and hear visitors from ages five to fifty five point out the goldfish swimming among the koi and exclaim their surprise at the smaller fish being there. Yes, keeping goldfish in a pond takes a special climate and certain knowledge, but the truth is that a pond is where they are most happy and healthy.

Now, some of you are reading this and you just got a fish or are looking at a fish care book and are pointing at the image of a goldfish (or two or three) in a ten gallon tank or in a bowl and saying to yourselves, “This says you are wrong. This picture in this book, and the picture on my new tank from the fish store shows goldfish living like this. The tank even says it is for goldfish.” Check those items again. Chances are your ten gallon tank is called a “starter” tank and that image of the goldfish bowl probably has an unexpected caption or has a better explanation within the text.

Starter fish tank

Three goldfish in a starter tank. Charon, Nix and Hydra check out their new accommodations after leaving the pet store. Though Charon will pass away from illness acquired at the store, Nix and Hydra will be transferred from this tank to their regular home in the 60 gallon tank in my classroom.

Researching Your Fish Care

I recently went to the library to do some research on additional food supplements for my goldfish, Nix and Hydra. Our library had only two books on the subject of goldfish, one for adults, and one for children. I checked out both, but for the purposes of this article, I will focus mostly on Goldfish: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, by Marshall E. Ostrow, since the children’s version was nearly identical in contents, only written for a younger reader. As soon as I opened the book I was horrified to see the image of a fish bowl with more than one fish in it, but on further inspection I relaxed a little, as the caption clearly stated there were TOO MANY fish in the bowl. Reading further, though it did describe how to set up a bowl for your goldfish, it emphasized that this was best only as a temporary residence, such as in instances of sickness, when a fish must be quarantined. Following that introductory chapter, the author chose to discuss only the setup of tanks, much to my relief.

Getting your goldfish a large tank is necessary for several reasons beyond allowing for proper growth and happiness. First of all, goldfish are awesome waste producers and too much waste in the tank can alter your water’s pH to a point that is dangerous for your fish. The smaller the tank, the faster this can occur, meaning you are constantly having to change out water to keep the balance in check, which can be a major stressor for your fish. Secondly, goldfish need a lot of oxygen in their water and the more surface area they have the better, as a small surface area lowers the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, sometimes quite drastically. This is another reason I cringe at images of goldfish bowls, as most of those images show the water all the way at the top, where there is far less water surface area due to the small opening. If you are keeping a goldfish in a quarantine bowl, it is better to fill the bowl to the most round part. Even though this means less water and swim area, it gives them more surface area for oxygen.

Travel fish tank

Charon, Nix, and Hydra inside a tiny 3.5 gallon tank used for transportation or quarantine. They quickly outgrew this tank and needed their 10 gallon starter tank for this purpose.

Now that we know goldfish need a lot of space, the next step is to figure out how big your tank should really be. There are many ways to calculate the size of your future aquarium, one of which is to say that one inch of fish equals one gallon of water. Here is where all those ten gallon tanks come in at the pet store. Measure them and think about it. Sure, having ten gallons means you could have two or three fish in there if they were about a month old and only one inch long. However, in one year your average goldfish could grow to be about five inches long. Your two fish would suddenly be very cramped and miserable, if they had managed to grow as normal. One of the major disadvantages to giving your goldfish less room than they need is that it will stunt their growth, something that can become painful over time, as their internal organs keep growing even if the rest of them does not. Should you decide to use a ten gallon tank as a starter tank, keep a close eye on the behavior of your fish.  If they become less active or seem lethargic at the bottom of the tank, chances are they are already outgrowing the tank. Sometimes the easiest way to perk up your goldfish is to upgrade the size of their home.

Hydra the goldfish

Hydra, about, 6 inches long from nose to tail, watches through her tank as children read a book at circle time.

Measuring by inch means that you have to keep measuring and keep upgrading in order for your fish to be healthy and maintain their proper growth rate. I find it much more practical to think along the lines of what you will need in the future. My motto for goldfish is 50 gallons for the first fish and 10 gallons per fish after that. This seems like a lot and there are people who have managed to keep a fish mostly healthy in a smaller home. It certainly looks ridiculous when you put two small fish in a tank of such a massive size. The purpose of this plan is actually to keep things simple in the long run. Nix and Hydra are both comets, a longer, larger type of goldfish that is also one of the most common. When I bought them they were “babies” at about an inch long, but in ten years a comet can grow to be ten inches long. That is already a 20 gallon tank for two fish, if you are still calculating one inch of fish per gallon. Now, where are they going to swim? Most 20 gallon tanks are only about 24 or 30 inches long, so that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a ten inch fish, not to mention the fact that bigger fish make bigger poops, so you need more than 20 gallons to help dilute that waste and make the situation livable.

A 36 gallon tank at my local pet store is about 20 inches long and 30 inches wide. Nix and Hydra would be happy for maybe a year, when they both reached five inches in length, at which point it is only a matter of months before they start to feel cramped. Once they reach the ten inch growth mark they will be able to line up, nose to tail and fill the length of their home, which doesn’t give them swimming space or the stimulation of exploration. Once you go past the 36 gallon tanks, your options for size start to become limited and you need to keep in mind that a captive comet goldfish can reach a maximum of 13 inches in length. Using a 50 gallon tank for one goldfish gives them 13 gallons of water for their full growth and that 36 gallon swimming space to keep them active and healthy, with an extra gallon left over for rocks and the rest. With a tank this size, another ten gallons per fish, even at their largest size, should be just fine, but keep surface area in mind. Your tank should have a nice long shape to it, rather than a boxy one. Not only does this spread out the weight of your tank (a 55 gallon tank usually weighs around 600 pounds!), it gives them more surface area and oxygen for their water. Plus, what fish doesn’t want play room?


Nix, about 6 inches from nose to tail, foraging at the bottom of the 60 gallon aquarium he calls home.

Once you decide how many fish you are going to have, don’t just dash out and buy the first setup you see that meets the gallon per fish requirement. The next step to goldfish ownership is working out where you are putting your tank, because it is better to buy a tank to fit a location than to force a location to conform to your tank. There are many factors that go into tank placement, such as water temperature, available light sources, the size of your room, and the location of windows, outlets and furniture.

Probably the most important part of placing your tank is the actual floor under it. It is typically recommended that you put your tank near an outside wall, in a place that is structurally sound and able to take on several hundred pounds of regular weight. The floor in this location should be as level as possible, so that stress is not put on one part of the tank over another due to uneven weight distribution. With goldfish you are going to have filters and you will most likely have some form of bubbler, so having an outlet near the tank is a must. If you choose to use the lights on your aquarium, that will require even more power. Your tank should be kept away from the air vents in your room, to prevent sudden changes in temperature, and it should not be placed directly in front of the window for the same reasons, though some sunlight is acceptable and helpful, which I will discuss in another area of this series. Finally, the best place for your tank is in a low traffic area, where it cannot be bumped, bashed or cracked by random objects or people. Your fish will want to be interactive and will become a part of your family more than you realize, but they won’t be happy if they join you in the outside world.

Goldfish Neptune and Pluto

Neptune and Pluto catching some natural light in the corner of their tank near the window.

So, you want to get a goldfish. (Hopefully, since fish are schooling animals, you are actually thinking of getting two or three.) Now you have an idea about where that fish should live. It sounds like keeping a goldfish is something hard to do, but honestly it isn’t. Even though the cultural idea of a bowl has now been thrown out the window, these guys are still a lot easier to care for than fish who need constant monitoring when it comes to temperature, salt content, and all the other things that make keeping a fish much more complicated than anyone expects. Still, as simple as it is to keep a goldfish, we can’t just stop here. In later posts I will cover aquarium setup, care and feeding, and try and cover some of the most common types of goldfish out there.

If you can’t wait to get your next fish, I strongly suggest researching what I have yet to cover, but if you can wait, I’ll see you all next time, when I talk about “Moving In.”

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

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

Panchatantra: Animal Fables From India

Animal fables have evergreen popularity, all over the world. Follies, foibles and sins of human beings are explored through animal characters in these stories, so that readers don’t take these tales personally. India also has its plethora of endearing animal fables, the Panchatantra being one of these volumes.

The Panchatantra can be dated back to the second century B.C. In the sixth century A.D. it was translated to Persian. Later, the stories featured in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and various other European languages.

How did these stories come into being? Mahilaroopya, king of South India or of Pataliputra in Bihar had three sons who had little brains. He was at his wit’s end on as to how he’d infuse even a grain of wisdom in their bird brains. Pandit (learned scholar) Vishnu Sharma assured the king that he had thought of a unique way of teaching his sons, so that the naive lads acquired grey matter in a matter of six months. The king promised him 100 villages in return. The sweet and simple Panchatantra tales were easily grasped by the princes. The moral that came with each of the tales made them conversant in topics like human relationships, astronomy, psychology, philosophy, music and politics.

Some of the Panchatantra tales have very grotesque endings with animals being killed. Others are with happier endings. Animals native to India are obviously featured in the stories. Foolishness and gullibility are punished even with death in some of the stories. Common sense, wit and the ability to be composed are rewarded amply. Selfishness and betrayal are taken as grave offences.

All the stories of the Panchatantra make interesting reading. Here are the summaries of ten of them:

The Jackal and The Drum

1. The Jackal and the Drum:
A jackal was wandering in an erstwhile battle ground in search for food. The armies who had fought a battle had left a drum there. The wind played on the drum, thereby making it beat out loud. On hearing the drum beats, the jackal first thought that humans who were playing the drum would surely bring trouble to him. His immediate instinct was that he should flee the venue. On second thought, he felt that he should investigate the source of the noise carefully, before making any hasty decision. To his relief he found that the wind was causing drum beats. Better still, he found ample food and water near the drum.
Moral: Success is for the brave alone.

2. The Flea, the Bug and the King:
In a royal bed, lived a flea. She lived a parasitic life consistently sucking blue blood. When she stung the king, she was however gentle and nimble, so much so the king didn’t realize that he was being bitten. One fine day a plump bug crawled on to the bed. The flea knew well that the bug had a sharp sting. She correctly anticipated that its sting would be so painful, that the king would clearly understand that he was being bitten, unless of course the king was stung when he was fast asleep. The bug promised that he’d nip the king only after he fell asleep. However, he was too impatient to wait for the king to doze off. The king ordered his servants to search for the creature which had caused him pain. The cunning bug hid himself in a nook where he could not be found, whereas the flea was unable to find a safe haven and was consequently caught and killed.
Moral: You will suffer if you trust the false assurance of friends and strangers.


3. Killed by a Shadow
A proud and lazy lion lived in a jungle. He announced to all the animals in the forest that every day a different animal would have to come right up to his cave. The animal would serve as a source of food to him. He threatened that if even one day was skipped, he would devour all the animals of the forest. A hare thought of an ingenious plan to outwit the lion. He arrived at the lion’s dwelling albeit late. The lion question him in an infuriated manner as to why he had arrived late. The hare lied that he had been chased by another lion. The lion who wanted to be the monarch of the jungle alone, wanted to meet this lion to put him in his place. The hare concocted a story that the lion lived in a well. The lion looked into the well and mistook his reflection for another lion. He pounced into the well, thinking he was attacking the lion. He drowned to death in the process.
Moral: Physical prowess may be defeated by wisdom alone.

4. Man Alone Ungrateful
A man who was wandering by himself in the forest came across a pit in which a monkey, tiger, snake and man were trapped. The tiger and snake pleaded to the man to be pulled out from the cliff. They assured him that they wouldn’t kill him if rescued, and stuck to their promise. He helped the monkey to get out of the pit as well. He then helped out the man despite being warned that he was up to no good. Whereas the animals on being rescued vowed to help the man when he was in need, the man he rescued selfishly said that as he was a goldsmith, the man should remember him if he required any handicraft on gold.
When the hungry man could find nothing to eat in the jungle, he went to the monkey’s home who offered him plentiful sweet fruits and promised to give him more of them whenever he wanted to eat. The tiger gifted him an expensive necklace which belonged to a prince who had died in the forest. The man took it to the goldsmith, hoping that he’d help him to sell the necklace. The goldsmith instantly recognized the necklace as belonging to the prince. He had after all worked on the ornament. He went right up to the king and complained that the man who had killed his son had given this to him. The innocent man was consequently captured.
The snake thought of working together to save the man. The snake bit the queen in such a manner that only the man’s touch would neutralize the venom. Assured that the man actually had a good heart, he asked him as to how he had found the gold. As credibility had already been built up, the king believed his story. He put the goldsmith behind bars. He rewarded the man with 1000 villages and made him the privy counsellor.
Moral: Man despite being supposedly superior to animals may at times be more bestial than them.


5. The Foolish Turtle
A turtle and two swans were close buddies. Their home was a lake. When the lake began to dry, the swans decided to fly the turtle to a safe haven. They asked the turtle to grip a stick firmly with his teeth as they flew him to a lake brimming with water. They cautioned him not to open his mouth during the flight. As the swans flew over a town with the turtle, the town folks pointed upwards and animatedly discussed the bewildering sight they saw. The turtle open his mouth to ask what the commotion down below was all about. He fell down. The town people roasted him for supper.
Moral: Heed the wise counsel of good friends.

6. The Story of Three Fishes
Fishermen chanced upon a pond which was teeming with fishes. They discussed amongst themselves that they would come the next day to the pond to lower their nets. Three fishes overheard them speaking. Two of the fishes took this very seriously. They decided to escape to a safer pond with their families immediately. The third fish took this very casually. He decided to stay on in the pond as he refused to believe that the fishermen really meant what they said. The fishes in the lake were divided into groups. One group fled to safety through an outlet which led to a secure lake. The other fishes lingered on in the hazardous pond. The next day the fishermen caught each and every fish that remained in the lake.
Moral: When you sense danger, act instantly.

7. The King of Mice and the Elephants
Mice inhabited a deserted village. A herd of elephants would frequent the village to bathe and drink water. Unfortunately, many of the mice were trampled to death by the footfalls of the elephants. The king of mice entreated the elephants to change their route so that the lives of the mice were spared. The mouse king promised the elephants that the mice would surely return this favor if the elephants complied. Though the elephants could hardly believe that creatures as tiny could help them, they changed their tracks. Later the elephants were trapped in nets laid by an elephant hunter. They struggled to free themselves. The mice cut the nets into shreds by their razor sharp teeth, thereby freeing the elephants.
Moral: Don’t underestimate anyone on the basis of appearance.


8. The Crocodile and the Monkey
A monkey would inhabit a tree where he would devour the delicious berries which grew on its branches. A crocodile came out of the water to rest under the tree. The monkey treated the crocodile as his guest and graciously offered him fruits. The two animals formed a rapport. The crocodile came regularly to eat the tasty fruits. He took some of the fruits for his spouse. The crocodile’s wife felt that if indeed the fruits the monkey would eat were so sweet, his heart would be extremely saccharine to taste. She suggested that her husband killed the monkey and they devoured his heart.
The crocodile lied to the monkey that his wife had invited him to dinner. He carried him on his back through the river. While in the middle of the river from where the monkey couldn’t physically escape, the crocodile told him his true intentions. The monkey composedly lied that he had kept his heart in the trunk of the tree he lived in. On returning to the river bank, the monkey hopped on to a spot away from the reach of the slimy crocodile and told him that they ceased to be friends.
Moral: Avail of wit to get out of tricky situations.

9. The Mongoose and the Woman
A mongoose and a human woman gave birth on the same day. The mongoose died in child birth leaving a baby. The woman adopted the infant mongoose. She nurtured him as her own son. She fed both the mongoose and her own child breast milk. She bathed both of them and massaged them with oil. The mongoose and her baby boy grew as close as siblings.
The woman was however sceptical that as the mongoose would grow older, animal instincts would overpower him and maybe he would harm the child. She left her baby boy in the care of her husband, while she went to fetch water. Her careless husband however left the house before she returned. The lady knew that her husband was absent minded, so she was returning to her home tensed. She was shocked to see the mongoose outside the house with blood smeared on his face. She panicked thinking that the mongoose had killed the child. She threw the pitcher on the poor animal thereby killing it.
When she went to the child’s room, she found him safe and sound. Beside his crib lay a snake in pieces. The mongoose had killed the snake which had attacked her baby. The blood on his face was of that of the dead snake. The mongoose had saved the life of the baby whom he regarded as his dear brother. The woman and her husband deeply mourned the death of the mongoose, as they had regarded him as their son.
Moral: Don’t act in haste.

Mouse and Sage

10. The Mouse’s Wedding

A mouse slipped the grasp of a hawk and fell in the proximity of a wise sage. The sage with his magical powers transformed the mouse into a little girl, for he knew that if she remained a mouse the hawk would try to snack on it again. He taught the girl wise teachings and when she came of age, he decided to find the best ever groom for her. He first asked the sun god to marry her. The girl however thought that the sun was too fiery tempered. Her father asked her if she’d marry the rain god instead, but she could simply associate him with darkness and dampness. Her father then suggested the wind god. She however regarded him as finicky as the wind always changed its direction. When the sage then put forward the idea that she married the mountain god, she dismissed it saying that mountains were too resolute as they were rooted to one place. The sage smiled and asked her if she would marry a mouse, his daughter found the idea brilliant. Her father then turned her into a mouse, she wedded a mouse and lived happily ever after.
Moral: What you are born with won’t change.

All pictures in this article courtesy of

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life.

My Animal Talks!


Stories Of How My Pets Communicate

We have all seen videos of pets making a noise that sounds like human speech. Dogs howling “I love you”, cats yowling “Hello”, and of course we all expect birds to pick up some vocabulary when they are around us. Do these animals really know what they are doing? Most don’t, of course, but there are some animals that do communicate in ways we consider to be language, like the gorillas that have learned to sign. So unless you have a gorilla, you’re out of luck when it comes to communicating with your pet, right? Not if you learn to talk the way your pet talks.

Animals have a language that is all their own and each species often has a different kind of language from the others. Just like humans, some are capable of learning how to “talk” in other languages, which is usually when you see those mixed species animal friend videos go viral on YouTube. How does that dog seem so happy with that deer? They have found that common ground in language between their species. I watch the videos and though my eye is untrained, I have no problems picking up some ideas rather quickly. Among other observations, the most obvious is that the deer has learned some of the dog’s playful body language and the dog has learned some of the deer’s neck grooming behaviours. There is just enough common ground between them to maintain that friendship, partly because they have learned to “talk” in the other’s language.


It is possible for humans to do the same thing, if we allow ourselves the time to learn.  Animals will quite happily study our behaviours, mostly out of genetic necessity.  Take our local deer; they freeze in place and stare at whatever strange thing is moving around them to try and decide if they should dash away for their lives. This is their nature. It is what keeps them alive. If the deer in your neighbourhood don’t do this, they have probably become too used to the human activities around them, which can be a dangerous situation with any wild animals.

We are lucky enough to live out beyond the rural boundary, where the deer haven’t adjusted to life with humans in a way that is unnatural for them. Still, loving animal communication since I was a child, I wanted a way to let them go about their lives while we went about ours without disturbing them too much, the way they would coexist with a bird or a squirrel. I didn’t want to open my door and walk to my car, terrifying an entire herd of deer in the process, so I began whistling when I saw them.  It wasn’t a tune or anything, just a note once or twice, occasionally making sound. In this way I would move about my yard, not really looking at them or paying them too much attention at all. At first this confused them, but after some time they began to appreciate it. They are still wild animals, they remain unsure about my intentions and they do move deeper into the woods when they see me, but they aren’t dashing out into the country roads in a panic, to be hit by an unsuspecting driver who is coming around the bend at 45 miles an hour. They have learned that my typical behaviour is to exist in the yard, occasionally making a whistle sound and that this particular behaviour doesn’t harm them. They hear me and will casually wander into the woods, flicking their tails a little in agitation that I have disturbed their peace. The same trick also lets them know I am coming down the private drive we share with other families. A short whistle out the window lets them know I see them and I move forward while they shuffle into the trees. Most astonishingly, in recent years, the older deer have actually come to expect that we should announce ourselves to each other. If I do not see them, they will snort at me to let me know they are there, then flick their tails straight up and trot off into the woods, alerting that they aren’t comfortable with this unusually quiet behaviour on my part. This actually startles some guests at night, so be aware if you come visiting.


The deer aren’t my pets, and I wouldn’t ever want them to be, but I use them to prove the point that all animals have the capability to learn the behaviours of others, even the human variety. If we think about it, this should be obvious.  When we see a bird in our yard, don’t we expect it to eventually fly off? Don’t we all know that a fish out of water is going to flop around in a desperate struggle to get back in? We know these things because we experience them in some way, either in life or on video.  Well, our pets experience us regularly too. They have seen us get food from containers, they expect that we will sleep in the big rectangular fluffy thing instead of on the floor, and they know that we all love looking at that noisy light box on the wall or tapping our fingers on the smaller light boxes that we hold in our hands. If we are doing these things regularly, that must be the way of life.  So when my rats, for example, hear me shuffle boxes around or move a plastic bag, they instantly expect that food is being handled, even if the plastic bag is being put in a pocket to use for the dog’s walk.

How do we increase our communication with our pets?

Some animals can be trained to respond to commands.  Dogs are trained to sit, stay, beg, and do any other number of nifty things. They hear a word, they learn the behaviour that is expected at the mention of that word, then they do the thing required.  It’s that simple. Sometimes you can go beyond that training and teach them to express themselves with the word they have learned.  For example, one of our dogs, Sahara, loves belly rubs.  She flops over, holds her short little leg up in the air and waits.  You rub, then stop, and she turns to look at you as if to say, “Well?  Where’s the rest?” I went a little farther with this expression, knowing that she was trying to ask for more. I taught her that if she touched her cheek when someone had given her a belly rub, she would get more belly rubs. It was an extension of the paw waving behaviour she was already displaying, so she picked it up quickly.  When she realized I only rubbed her belly when she touched her cheek, and not when she put her paw in the air and looked at me, she transitioned to asking for “more” on a regular basis. Recently she has tried this once or twice when getting treats or dinner, all on her own, without prompting.  We have created a monster.

sekhemkare the cat

I have also learned to “talk” with my cat, Sekhemkare, and some of my fish.  With cats, of course, there are usually no issues at all in communication, since they either leave humans alone entirely or have no problem what so ever in telling us what to do. In the case of our cat, the story comes from replacing his favourite toy, “Piggy”, which had become filthy. We got him a new one and picked up the old one to throw away, only to discover in the morning that the old Piggy was happily resting in the middle of the living room floor while the new Piggy was drowned in the cat’s water dish.  That message was clear; death to all imposters.

spit the fish

With my fish, communication has been an interesting ride.  The best results came from Nix, Hydra, Pluto, and LaForge, who all learned how to get my attention by spitting into the corner of their tank.  They quickly discovered that this sound would instigate my making sounds (talking to them) and moving closer to where they were. Each of them began to use this technique to “call” me the way you would call a dog or cat.  LaForge was an only fish and Pluto was also alone for a time, and they were often perfectly content to have me walk over to the tank and sit beside them for a while. In their case this was a way of saying they wanted that “schooling” feeling of having another living thing there with them.  Nix and Hydra are my current fish and use this “call” to tell me that I have forgotten to feed them at exactly the time that they expect to be fed.  If I ignore the “call” they will often leap slightly from the water and knock into the lid of the tank, which I have decided must be their version of swearing at me for not hurrying up about it.

Deimos the rat


How My Pets Communicate: The Rats

Now we come back to the rats, who are probably the best communicators of any of the pets that I have. Their minds work more like human minds than just about any animal I have ever encountered. This is one of the reasons rats are so often studied in order to help humans.  There are so many stories when it comes to rats talking with us that it is hard to pick one or two to share. We have had rats tap our cheeks or pull on our clothes to tell us where they want us to take them, we have had rats who have dictated exactly where they expect us to leave their food by dragging their dish to the proper place until we finally got the idea, we have a rat who learned to let himself out of his cage, but would only chew a tiny notch in the furniture, then go back inside and wait for us to notice.  “See? I let myself out again. That’s three times this week, in case you are counting, like I am.”

Two of our rats have been such good communicators that I gave serious thought to teaching them to use technology to actually speak.  Archie was the first of these and sadly he passed away at a very young age, before his training went very far. I learned of his abilities when I realized that he would actually listen to individual words and seemed to work out their meaning within a week or so. I would talk to him and when there was a word he was unfamiliar with, he would tilt his head and look very intent.  He would do this repeatedly until he had learned the word. What do I mean by this?  Take the word “water” for example. To sum up his vocabulary skills quickly, I will shorten his learning process to a few sentences, but it went something along these lines… I would be talking to him and say something like, “I’m going to get your water, be right back.” He would tilt his head and shift his ears forward, a clear sign he was listening to me. I would repeat the word I thought he was trying to learn: “Water?” If he repeated the head tilt, I knew this was the thing he was focused on, so I would then go and get the water bottle, put it in his cage and repeat the word “water”, usually in a sentence, sometimes on its own.  After about a week, if he heard the word water, he would go to either his bottle or the sink, even if we weren’t talking to him. After some time of this, he began to tell us when he wanted fresh water by bonking his head under the bottle if we didn’t talk about water when cleaned his cage.  He would stick his head under the bottle, lift it up, drop it and wait.  If nothing happened he would do it again and repeat the action until someone said the word “water.”  Usually in the form of the sentence: “Okay, Archie, I’ll get you water, just wait a minute!”

archie the rat


In a few months there were many words that Archie knew and several he was fond of. “Water”, “treats”, “kisses” and “snuggles” were all favourites, but he also knew the meanings of “yes” and “no”, along with many other useful words.  He could also tell the difference between a single “no”, which we used to emphasize new rules, and “no, no, no”, which we used to remind him of rules he already knew how to follow (like no rats on the floor).  I began to work with this increasing vocabulary, certain that there would be a way to help him call to us like the fish did or to express his needs.  I bought little jar lid attachments, intended to help the blind label things.  You record a short message then push the button to play it back.  I began teaching Archie to push the buttons and that pushing the buttons would give him the reward of the thing that he had “requested.”  The hardest part was helping him understand that when he heard the word “kisses” come out of the device, it meant he would GET kisses, not that he should GIVE them.  Sadly, just as he was learning this he became sick and then passed away, so I will never know how far this training could have gone with him.

north the rat


Our latest boy, North, will be featured in another article about helping animals adjust to new routines because his communication is the strongest when something is supposed to happen and doesn’t.  For instance, when the power goes out and we then can’t turn the lights on when it gets dark, he dashes around looking up at light bulbs and pulling on our arms. His communication is always very clear.  In this case you can almost see the speech bubble over his head: “Stupid humans.  It’s dark, make it light again!”

The point of all of this is that I have had many people tell me they wished they could have the same connection with animals that I do. Often they ask me what my secret is. How is it that even as a three year old child I seemed to be able to interact with animals in a way that they completely understood? How did I get them following me around or “listening” to what I was telling them to do? There is only one answer: observation. It’s something you need for any language. In order to learn how to say “teddy bear” in such a way that someone else understands it, you have to figure out what word the other person uses for “teddy bear.” The same is true when “talking” with animals; you just have to switch your mind into a different, physical, form of communication.  Sometimes “I’m so glad you’re here!” really sounds like water slapping against the glass of a fish tank. Accepting that is the first step to really “talking” with the animals around us.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

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

Product Review: Top Fin Large Aquarium Vacuum

Regular readers will recall a similar post that I made some time at the end of last year.  In my review of the smaller vacuum, I had stated I would be needing a larger one and would review that product as well.  Now that my goldfish, Nix and Hydra, are permanently moved from their “starter tank” to their home in a 60 gallon aquarium at school, I needed to upgrade my gravel vacuum, so here I am again.

Assembling The Aquarium Vacuum

Assembly of this vacuum is exactly the same as the smaller variety, a very simple process that even my pre-schoolers could figure out rather quickly.  The kit consists of two tubes, one longer, one shorter, the bulb, and a clip to hold the longer tube in your bucket, all the same parts as the smaller version, they’re just bigger. This can make them a little harder to fit together tightly, but with the proper fiddling and a little bit of extra squeezing, it works out in the end.  Remember you want a tight fit between the bulb and the hoses so that they don’t fall apart on you while you are using them. Also, make sure you follow the arrows that are printed on the side of the bulb. You want the water to follow the in/out direction indicated on the side.

bulb to top fin vacuum

I found that the longer tube on the x-large version doesn’t seem to have the extra length to it that the small version did. When I cleaned Nix and Hydra’s tank with the small vacuum, I seemed to have extra tubing winding all around the inside of my bucket, but there have been a few times when I have almost pulled the tubing out of the bucket when using the x-large vacuum, so be aware that it is somewhat easier to accidentally pull your tube from your bucket when you are cleaning. Normally I would put this down to being an issue with the height of my tank, however it is on average the same height of other tanks of comparable size and volume, so I’m not sure that is the entire cause of the seeming lack in hose length.

top fin vacuum clip

The speed of the water flow seems to be much more rapid compared to the smaller vacuum, probably due to the larger size of the intake nozzle. This is both a help and a hindrance, since I have had to empty my bucket much more frequently than with the smaller version. With the small vacuum I was able to watch the intake tube, but with the larger one I find myself putting more attention on the bucket, which between pulling the tube out and overflowing from rapid intake, can become a distraction to the actual removal of waste from the tank. After many tries, I have found that the trick to slowing down the flow is to actually encourage the intake hose to become partly filled with gravel. Water still comes through, but at a much slower pace, however, this means you are not taking out as much waste as you would like. It isn’t ideal, but it does work. Figuring out what works best for you might be a little bit of a puzzle, but it shouldn’t take long to come up with your own tricks of the trade.

Water Replenishment In Your Aquarium

aquarium setup

The overall amount of waste that the x-large vacuum collects seems to be proportionally equal to that of the small vacuum, meaning I am spending as much time and effort per gallon as I was with the smaller tank setup. Having changed Nix and Hydra’s water regularly since January, I can say that the tank continues to look as fresh as the day I moved it in to my classroom. It should be noted that I vacuum the tank once (sometimes twice) a week, which brings me to the only serious issue that I have with using this vacuum on a large aquarium: Water Replenishment

Nix and Hydra live on well water, which comes from my house, outside of town. Their tank is a good 10 minutes away from the water that fills it. This is my choice, because to me this is the healthiest option for my fish. I have never fully trusted purifying droplets or evaporation techniques that are supposed to make city water safe for my fish to swim in. The down side of this healthier way of living for them means that I have to haul over 36 litres of water per tank change from house to car, from car to school and up a flight of stairs to the tank.  That number is for only a quick, sloppy job, if I intend to do a more complete cleaning, I have to make several trips back and forth. This is a process that I am quickly losing fondness for, but it is one of my own making, so I can’t really complain. What I can do, though, is contemplate how others would refill the aquarium after cleaning it out.  I would suggest that before fish owners purchase this vacuum, they consider their water source carefully. It is important to freshen the water in the tank, so changing the water out when you vacuum the gravel makes a lot of sense, but if you are looking for a vacuum that will take out less water and more gunk, you might want to find another version. Personally, I would love to have one, slower vacuum for cleaning the waste only where it piles up frequently, and another for actually cleaning the tank with. For now, the setup I am using works, but I am giving serious consideration to finding yet another vacuum that can conserve water on the days when I need to.

pumping out aquarium

Overall, I’m really happy with the x-large vacuum. It is still safe for the fish and is just as easy to use, even if it takes a little bit more getting used to than the small size. It’s a great vacuum for total tank cleaning, but I’d find another if you intend to use it for spot-cleaning.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

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

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

nimoy with his cat and dog

Nimoy, with his own cat and dog.

Sadly, I’ve been saying I was going to get around to this post for more than a year–and now it’s happening in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death.  Sorry, old friend.  But I know somehow you’ll understand…

Nimoy with horse

Sometimes we forget that this business was created to be not only about pets and the people that love them, but also our branding grew out of our deep love of science and science fiction.  No one in science fiction was unfamiliar with who Leonard Nimoy was.  And when he died, every single fan felt it as though he was truly a part of their family.

Because you see, Leonard Nimoy belonged to us–and us to him.

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

Would you be surprised then to learn, that Leonard Nimoy had a pet shop?  I was!  I actually learned this in the same way that most online wisdom is gleaned–from googling something else.  🙂

nimoy in catspaw

In her 1970 article on Nimoy’s Pet Pad, Michele Jaques says, “Nimoy would have liked Mr. Spock to have a cat or dog on board the ‘Enterprise’.”  For most of his fans, this brings up the Star Trek episode “Catspaw,” where Spock is shown stroking a lovely black cat, who later turned into a woman.  Me-ow, right?  It is obvious though, from his handling of the cat that Leonard loved animals and they loved him.

In the episode “The Enemy Within”, a dog is dressed as a space alien, and once again Nimoy holds a small, furry one in his arms.  This time he looks worried, and rightly so!  In the story, the dog has been divided by the transporter into one angel and one devil dog!

alien dog

According to Jaques, Nimoy went through a bit of a spiritual transformation when Star Trek was cancelled in 1969.  Above all, he spent the years after dedicating himself to doing things that had meaning.  And he considered his pet shop in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley a spiritual venture.  There, he had such animals as chipmunks, monkeys, crocodiles, boa constrictors, even a South American otter!  Leonard himself had a dog and cat, a hamster, two rabbits and a tank full of fish.  His children had a pet tortoise that lived in the back yard.

Nimoy’s Pet Pad lasted only a couple of years…but it was a worthy effort made by a truly Renaissance Man.  Thank you, Leonard.  Thanks for letting all of us know you–really know you.

nimoy with wife and dog


 Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.

Who Knows The Best Places To Shop For Pets? We do!

We are required to let readers know that we are compensated for our product reviews. We personally test the products to be able to provide the honest reviews you will read of products offered through our website.
question markIt occurred to me the other day that I’ve been adding affiliates left and right to our pages over the last year.  I know every one inside out…but if I were just coming to our site for the first time, would I know how to choose the best place to pet shop?  Probably not.  So…that’s what this post is all about.

Our Pet Food Providers

Dave and I use a variety of pet food providers–and we like to change things up once in awhile–either to give our pets some variety, or for nutritional reasons.  For instance, I just started giving our dogs ground flax seed with their food again–they’ve been getting some dry skin since we moved to New Mexico.  In the past, we only might have to give them this ingredient in the dead of an Ohio Winter.  But with less humidity here, we’ll need to give them this all year long.  In addition, Hoagy, our basset hound, and Little Dingle, our European tabby cat, need weight control food.

Because we need a variety of foods, we shop at a few different places through our website.  Let me highlight a few and their best features…

petbrosiaPet Food Providers For Dogs or Cats With Allergies, Special Diet Needs or a Nutritional Issue

We recommend Petbrosia–for food custom designed for your dog or cat. Their wholesome diets are matched to your pet’s health needs, made from all-natural ingredients grown and raised in America. Petbrosia matches your pet’s diet according to their breed, age, weight, and other health needs.

You can read here about our dog Hoagy’s vomiting issue and how it was solved with this product. Buy Petbrosia at Your Pet Food Space.

Only-Natural-Pet-StoreNatural Treats And Foods For Dogs And Cats

We buy from Only Natural Pet.  Our dogs love their natural training treats!  They have an unacceptable ingredients list you can view, so you fully understand what’s in your pet’s food.  They offer a 100% guarantee, support sustainability with their natural treats and foods for dogs and cats, and often feature sales of overstocked items. Shop Only Natural Pet at Your Pet Supply Space.

pet food direct logoIf Cost Is Your Main Concern, Try These Pet Food Providers

Pet Food Direct–Run by the same company as Only Natural Pet (Pet 360), they have an auto ship option on the least expensive foods so you get the best deal and never run out.  They also feature small pet food and accessories for birds, reptiles and fish.  And every purchase earns you PFD rewards–which can be used to get discounted items for your own pets, or donate food to shelter animals.  Shop Pet Food Direct in Your Pet Food Space.

petsmartPetsmart–A large variety of top brands and they often run specials through our website.  If you want to purchase products you saw in your local store but want the convenience of having them shipped to your door, buy at Petsmart through Your Pet Supply Space.

I want to also put in a plug here for the Petsmart training program, of which our training editor Tina Caldwell, is a member. With the SmartPet PromiseSM policy, training customers are guaranteed 100 percent satisfaction or they can take the class again for free (see your local store for details). And you can read about Tina here.

doggyloot logoDoggyloot–If you love a good deal and like shopping for bargains, you’ll love this! They dreamed up Doggyloot for two reasons: they think dogs make the world a better place, and they wanted to create a new, fun way for dog lovers to discover the very best chews, toys, treats and more at the very best prices.  Doggyloot aims to extend these same good vibes to your shopping experience. They help you find exactly what your hound craves at competitive prices, and then ship it all free, straight to your door. Their product team carefully researches and tests everything they sell–and do not carry any edibles made in China.  You can save up to 75% on treats, beds, even pet themed jewelry!  Check out their Toy Of The Month auto ship in Your Pet Supply Space.  We love it!

amazon logoAnd of course, Amazon!  Have an Amazon Prime Membership?  You can use it right on our site and get free two day shipping on most items.  When it’s critical we find the absolutely best price and the greatest variety of shopping options–we go here.  Shop Amazon at Your Pet Supply Space.

cherrybrookDog Show Supplies

Check out Cherrybrook–They are the exclusive sponsor of the American Kennel Club Online Store, have been the only general grooming and show ring supply vendor at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for over forty years and were named a Retailer of the Year by Pet Product News for their Outstanding Holistic Approach.  They carry everything from tack crates to agility training supplies–and even offer special colognes, stain removers and other enhancing items for your dog’s coat.  In addition, they carry cat supplies. Shop Cherrybrook at Your Pet Supply Space.

I certainly hope you can find everything you need in our shopping areas–and please feel free to drop us a note on the Contact Us page or engage us in Live Chat if there’s ever anything you need and cannot find on our website.  Until then…happy shopping!

Joy JonesJoy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.

Exotic Emergencies

Vet questions: Caduceus

How Prepared Are You?

Everyone plans for the care of their pets when they are away. Almost all pet owners have their list of things to do, posted somewhere for the temporary caregiver to follow. Everyone knows to leave the vet’s contact information and important instructions in case of emergency. The question, now that you are home, is a simple one. How prepared are you to drop everything and run?

No one wants to think about the tragic events that can happen in everyday life. The list of them would probably be infinite even if you sat down and tried to come to the end of it. The truth of the situation of pet ownership is that, just like with children, you never know what is going to happen. You can go from a perfectly normal day to “What did you just eat?!” in the blink of an eye and the best way to save someone in the second situation is to have given it some thought while everything is still in perfectly normal mode.

How prepared are you?

When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets

This is even more necessary when you are dealing with small exotic pets like lizards, birds, rats… even your fish can have an emergency. None of these guys can go to just any vet. So how do you prepare for everything to happen to your small pet while, at the same time, you are hoping for nothing at all to happen to them? Speaking from experience alone, I have a few tips that I can share.

Before I break anything down, I want to start with the most important information you could possibly have at your disposal: the veterinarian. You know your own vet and probably have the number memorized, saved in your phone, or posted somewhere with other important numbers. That’s awesome news. Now, do you know where the closest 24 hour vet is located? Do you know if they take small pets? Do you know about how long it is going to take you to get to this vet? When you have an exotic pet these are the kinds of things you need to be aware of because even if your regular vet keeps emergency hours something might keep them from being available to you, like being at the hospital because they’re having a baby! (Yes, that just happened to us recently.)

It all seems rather drastic, doesn’t it? Spending time and thought thinking about when tragedy might strike? Let me share some of the personal stories that help show why having a back up plan is a good idea at any time.

north on his way to the vet

North on his way to the vet. Doesn’t look like it but he is barely surviving at this point. Still more interested in how the car works than actually being sick.

Situation 1 – Why Time Counts In Exotic Emergencies

This summer my wife and I went to England to visit her family. We got regular updates on the animals and all was okay while we were out of town, so we had no reason to worry. We got home and I went right to the rats, as I usually do, to let them know we were home again. One of our boys, North, was lying in the floor of the cage (not a place he would ever sleep before), fluffed up, barely breathing, and cold to the touch. Our bags barely made it in the house, we were in such a rush to get to our vet.

The diagnosis? Pneumonia, and it was severe. We weren’t certain if he would make it. The vet guessed that it had been slowly developing over a week’s time and that North, who is curious about everything and doesn’t let anything get him down, was so caught up in being with new people and having new routines that he didn’t display symptoms right away, as he normally would have. (The vet wasn’t far off on his thinking. While struggling to keep warm in the car, even knocking on death’s door as he was, North was intensely curious about how the heater worked and why it was on in the middle of summer!)

North the rat

North getting his steam treatments for his lung condition.

The story has a happy ending. North is alive and well, except for having very weak lungs as a result of his ordeal. The humans caring for him confirm that he showed no signs of illness until the last evening of their time with him, at which point we were already on a plane home anyway, so there honestly are no hard feelings there. The story also has a moral: know your travel time. Why is that so important? Going to our regular vet, we knew exactly how long it should take to get from our house to his office, where he could get emergency care. I knew a blanket and some of my own body heat would probably be enough to keep North warm all the way. What if I hadn’t known it would take longer? What if he’d needed a hot water bottle, rice sock, or a pile of blankets?

Keller the rat

Keller after we got back from her emergency surgery. The red stain is not blood, but the purple stitches and the antibiotic solution they apply to the surgical area.

Another important thought comes up when considering the time it takes to get to your vet and that thought deals with bodily fluids. We once had a different situation, dealing with another of our rats, Keller, who got her tail caught in a piece of furniture one night. She got scared and before we could get to her, she yanked her tail free, degloving it in the process. (Trust me, you don’t want me to describe that here.) Needless to say the number of absorbent materials was important in that mad dash to the Rattie ER. We definitely needed to know how long it was going to take in order to properly estimate the number of blankies to bring with us. Because we were prepared, Keller was as comfortable as she could be in the journey to the ER. She soldiered through the situation and kept on dangerously adventuring for the rest of her life, much to the frustration of her human parents.

Phobos (in front of ball) and Deimos (inside ball) after the scuffle. Snuggling together is proof that they're still close, even after their disagreements.

Phobos (in front of ball) and Deimos (inside ball) after the scuffle. Snuggling together is proof that they’re still close, even after their disagreements.

Situation 2 – The Backup Plan When You Are Dealing With Small Exotic Pets

This Thanksgiving, while we were having dinner at my mother’s house, two of our rats were having an argument at our house. This was something we were completely unaware of until we got home and noticed that Phobos was in need of some stitches. Luckily, because his brother Deimos had recently had a minor skin issue dealt with, we already had antibiotic and knew the proper dose to give him, since they weigh about the same. We also keep pain medicine on hand for the rats and know the proper dose to give each if something comes up. Phobos wasn’t bleeding and wasn’t in severe pain, so we eventually determined that because there were only a few more hours until the vet opened, we would simply wait it out for the rest of the night. We monitored him, gave him an initial dose of pain medicine and antibiotic, then called first thing in the morning.

Everything went smoothly until that phone call, when we were told that while the practice was open, our vet was busy at the human hospital… becoming a dad! Great news for him. Bad news for us. The emergency vet we had used in the past was no longer operational and I had no idea where to turn. I was very lucky that we were able to wait for regular operating hours and talk to a human being, who was able to direct me to another small animal vet in the next town. If it had been the kind of emergency where we needed a vet right away, a lot of time would have been lost calling all of the veterinary emergency numbers, trying to find someone who was open and able to see our boy. In this situation, while Phobos did well, I did miserably, letting too much time go between checks for substitute rat vets.

angel fish

Situation 3 – Planning Ahead

Earlier, I had included the fish in my list of pets that could get into trouble. I did this because yes, they can. The most obvious problem anyone can think of has to do with various tank issues. The tank can start to leak, the water can go out of balance, the new water might not be the right temperature or be tainted with chemicals. Those kinds of things are easy to prepare for. Keep a spare tank somewhere for leaking emergencies. Keep spare water around for water emergencies. Don’t let the tank get dirty, don’t let the water stagnate, and you’ll be just fine when you need to quickly dump your little swimmers into some fresh water and make necessary purchases or repairs.

aquarium fish

Now, what if you are transferring your fish for tank cleaning and a five year old comes up behind you, spooking the fish into jumping out of the net, at which point the fish starts flailing around on the bookshelf beside you, putting a gash in his head? Yes, that happened. It actually happened to one of my fish named Pluto. Thankfully Pluto was trained to come to my hand in case of emergency, so he made his way to me and I made my way to the fresh water, where I kept an eye on him and fretted over him for days. (He turned out just fine, though he wore the scar for the rest of his many years.)

Let us all hope that none of you who are reading this are unlucky enough to have such a thing become an experience you are ever dealing with, but in case an illness does befall your fish, know that there ARE vets out there who care for certain fish in certain situations. There have been several instances in the news where goldfish have even gone into surgery to remove tumors so that they can continue to have happy, healthy lives. (There was even a special on NOVA about it.) More and more fish owners are finding that there are vets out there willing to give quality treatment for your fish, and before you start asking, yes, I do know where to take my current fish (Nix and Hydra) in case they should need some specialized attention.

In the end, being prepared works out to be a nice little circle:
Plan Ahead – Know your vet, know an emergency vet, and have some idea of how long it is going to take you to get where you’re going. Have an emergency travel cage or tank that is just big enough to be useful.
Keep an Eye on the Time – Be prepared to journey with your pet for the entire distance in a way that is comfortable for both you and your animal. You are already going to be stressed about the pain your pet is in, don’t make yourself wonder if you have enough towels or temperature control for the journey ahead. Most importantly, don’t further distract yourself by desperately trying to follow directions to an unknown destination or have make up for getting lost on the way into unfamiliar territory.
Have a Backup Plan – You never know what is going to happen in the life of your vet. They are people too, after all. Be ready to get to an alternate location and be aware that that location might be farther from you than your first choice.
All of that cycles right back to planning ahead and I can’t stress enough how much of a help it is to be prepared for the things you don’t want to happen. Running your dog or cat to any old vet is usually something very simple to do and dog and cat owners don’t typically have to think about what to do if their personal vet isn’t available, but when your small animal or exotic pet is in trouble, it isn’t always that simple.

It sounds like I’m calling for exotic pet owners to prepare for the end of the world, but in all honesty, a little thought now saves a lot of stress later. Here’s hoping that you never have to use the emergency plan that you create for your little ones, but take it from one who knows; you’ll be glad you have that plan if you ever need it.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

 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 purchased, 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

Product Review–Top Fin Aquarium Gravel Vacuum

We are required to let readers know that we are compensated for our product reviews. We personally test the products to be able to provide the honest reviews you will read of products offered through our website.

fish tank

In this product review you’ll learn (among other useful tips) that goldfish take quite a lot of water to get clean–and how to handle cleaning if your fish have longer tails and fins.

The Secret To Sucking Up Goldfish Gunk

Having goldfish, who are massive waste producers, I am constantly in search of a way to keep the gravel of their tank as clean as possible. Being a teacher, I need to keep price and storage in mind when finding a product. For these reasons, I recently purchased Top Fin’s gravel vacuum, which is basically a simple tube with a bulb that you hand pump and let gravity do the rest. With all of the more expensive options out there, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but I eventually decided that if it didn’t work, I was only out about $10, so what did I have to lose?

I am actually very glad that I bought it. When properly assembled, the pump works just as it should and does a fairly good job at sucking up the gunk, and when you are finished you simply store the tube. What could be easier? Still, for the sake of review writing, I will try and break down the various aspects of this product for curious consumers.

gravel vacuum for fish tank

How To Assemble The Vacuum

Let’s start at the beginning, with the assembly. Yes, some assembly is required, but it isn’t a complicated thing to do at all. There are only a few parts to your kit, the tubes, the bulb, the strainer, and a clip to hold the tube in place once you put it in your bucket. The strainer connects to a short tube, which connects to the bulb. From the bulb extends a long tube, which can be easily slipped into the black tube holder that clips onto whatever bucket you choose to catch the dirty water in. Tada! It’s done. Some people have complained that the tubes don’t fit properly on the devices and that they slip off or leak easily. The only way I can see that happening is if you aren’t pushing the parts together well enough, because mine were a proper fit, which was a tight squeeze, as it should have been.

gravel vacuum fully assembled

Goldfish Take Quite A Lot Of Water To Get Clean

Once you have your tube assembled and the long end down in the bucket, you’re ready to let gravity work for you. Keep in mind that this is only a vacuum, it doesn’t recycle the water, only drains it from the tank, so you will need to have new, fresh water ready to replace the water that you take out. Some tanks will require removal of more water than others. My goldfish take quite a lot of water to get the gravel clean again.

aquarium with vaccuum

Temporary small tank for Nix and Hydra. They now live in a 60 gallon tank, appropriate for their size.

How To Use The Vacuum

To use the vacuum, simply put the larger strainer end into the water and squeeze the bulb a few times. After a couple of squeezes you should have water flowing down into your bucket. Several other product reviewers have said that they have had trouble with this process and that reassembling the bulb to the tubes worked for them. Some have said that they put the bulb on backwards, though I’m not certain there is a “backwards” for this simple bulb. Personally, I have had no issues what so ever, until the water level gets to a certain point where the angle of the strainer prevents proper suction. At that point, just add more water and continue cleaning if needed.

Sucking Up Goldfish Gunk Can Take Time

The amount of waste in the bottom of each tank will be different depending on the type of fish you have, the number of days you go between cleanings, and so on, so the amount of time it takes to clean your tank will also vary. Me, I’m just fussy about my fish, so I usually do a thorough water change every time rather than just a quick sweep, making the process a lot longer than it typically needs to be.


Pluto And Charon


If Your Fish Have Longer Tails and Fins

Oh, and don’t worry about taking your fish out of your tank when you clean it. Simply unplug your filter, leave the fish as they are and let the water drain. The business end actually does have a strainer in it that prevents anything like fish or their gravel or toys from being sucked up and away. Some fish take better to this process than others. Our Charon doesn’t ever seem to mind having the tube follow him around the tank, Nix tends to race around the tank trying to get away from it, and Hydra, our moody little thing, usually tries to slap at it with her tail and smack at it with her mouth. We have never had an accident or mishap while using this, but I would suggest that if your fish have longer tails and fins that you be careful where you place the tube, so that the tail or fin doesn’t get trapped between the tube and the gravel.

DSCF8739 (225 x 300)

Tips and Tricks

Charon, Nix and Hydra use large rocks in their tank, so I have found that the best way to clean to the bottom is to put the tube all the way down into the bottom of the gravel and shift it around, which stirs up the gravel a little bit, releasing more of the debris that will get sucked up with the other dirty water. They have a pagoda type hiding place in their tank, which tends to collect junk inside the base in a nice little clump. For that area I push the tube straight down and squeeze the pump while the water is still flowing because it helps to quickly pull most of the debris out of the rocks that fill the base of the tube.

And that’s all she wrote! This is a simple pump that is easy to use and worth the money that you put in. You aren’t getting your hands wet and you aren’t sucking on anything to get the water flowing. The bucket clip is a nice bonus that I wasn’t expecting, but is wonderful to have, since it seriously reduces hose movement in the bucket, preventing massive spills. I would put up a list of pros and cons, but I don’t know that I can think of one thing that would go into the “con” category. If you are looking for a simple manual vacuum, look no further.

goldfish in tank

Writer’s Update: As of the posting of this review, we lost our beautiful Charon. Nix and Hydra are about to embark on a journey to a strange new world called Preschool, where a new (and very large) tank awaits them. The product I describe in this article is the smaller of the two vacuums. If I end up purchasing the larger one for the larger tank, I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Where To Buy

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

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 purchased, 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

Betta Fish: Not Always Fighters, Sometime Lovers

Betta fish-- Photographer William Picard

Betta fish– Photographer William Picard

First off, what is a betta fish?  Everyone has seen them in the fish section of the pet store; brightly colored fish with long fins, sitting in tiny little pots.  Most people look and think, “Poor little fish, they’re so cramped and lonely.”  The truth is that betta fish come from Thailand, where their natural habitat consists of locations like shallow ponds, swamps, and rice paddies, and the males are highly aggressive, so the pet store is right about on target when it comes to their display.  But there is more to the story when it comes to keeping them as pets.

The first thing everyone does when they buy a betta fish is pick out the tank and these beautiful fish seem to provide a chance to combine flowers and fish all in one.  Many use a vase and flower setup for their betta fish, thinking it is more natural because of the original habitat, but what you have to remember when selecting any aquarium is that you are providing a CONTAINED environment for your fish, not one where nature has taken action, providing an entire ecosystem.  Most importantly, the betta fish actually requires access to the outside air.  Yes, I said it: air.  They have a special organ that allows them to take in air from the surface and if you block off that access to air, your fish can actually suffer from lack of oxygen.  The quick point: Avoid the vase.  Pick something small to help with mimicking habitat and remember that your fish will prefer water at room temperature (75 or 80 degrees) that isn’t filtered and doesn‘t really have any flow.

Still, once you have your simple tank, you’re going to want to entertain your fish.  Most pet owners agree that intellectual stimulation is very important for any animal and your fish is no exception.  Plus no one wants to see a fish in a box.  It’s just unnatural.  A fish in a box with STUFF, now that’s more like it.  The most important point I can make regarding toys is this: The common misconception is that betta fish WANT to play with a mirror all the time.  These guys are called fighting fish for a reason, they fight, but think of it another way.  Would YOU want to spend every waking minute of your life, trapped in a tiny room, facing the moving image of someone who drove your blood pressure through the roof?  Didn’t think so.  While it is natural for your betta to encounter his reflection every now and then, please remember to remove your mirror after a few minutes.  If you want some more permanent toys, consider the more natural solutions.  There are floating logs and leaf hammocks made for betta fish to interact with, which simulate the natural environment and are far more comfortable for them to use on a permanent basis.

Betta fishNow we come to the part where we talk about food, where most new fish owners see the words “meat” or “live” and begin to get squeamish.  Keep in mind your new betta is a natural at catching mosquitoes and other insects.  He isn’t a vegetarian and you should make certain that the food you are giving him has the right stuff.  They make flakes and pellets for betta fish, but to have a truly healthy fella swimming beside you, it’s best to supplement with brine shrimp, glassworms or other such foods that can be found frozen or freeze dried.

It all sounds complicated, and now you won’t believe me when I say it, but these are actually some of the easiest fish to care for.  If you are unsure of your chosen setup, just ask the people at your pet shop.  Trained professionals can easily point you to the right items to include for a happier, healthier fish friend.  We used to have two betta fish in our home, Eric and Cody.  They’re more social than you would expect.  Our two lived side by side on our computer desk, each in their own setup (Never put two males together in the same tank!) which we could move closer together or farther apart, making their natural interactions replace the need for a mirror.  Eric and Cody knew when we came home and would swim to “meet us at the door.”  They loved humans occupying their space and one even had a “romantic interest” in my computer’s mouse, often flirting with it and making bubble nests in preparation for becoming a fishy father.  (Yes, it’s the men who care for the children when it comes to betta fish.)

To put it all simply, make sure that just like getting a dog or a cat, your betta isn’t a rush purchase.  Take the time to select just the right habitat for your needs and grab a toy or two for the needs of your fish.  Most importantly, if you have a question, ask a professional.  They’re out there to help you and they’re the best resource there is.

Mirrani 300Mirrani Houpe has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade.  Since that time she has purchased, 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

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Fish Tales – Smarter Than You Think

goldfish in tank

Over the course of my lifetime I have had many fish: LaForge, the one-eyed fantail, Cody and Eric, the Beta pair that fell in love with my computer mouse, a whole tank full of starship/crew named fish who behaved just like their namesakes, and Pluto, my classroom fish who had several tank-friends in his long life and loved to play “tag” with the kids.

I wanted to start Fish Tales with a heartwarming story that would also help to encourage people to re-think what they know about fish. Keep in mind the following is a true story and when you reach the end and think, “No WAY!” take some time to glance over at your own tank and change that thought to, “What if…”

Tale One – Rene and Data: Best Friends

Among my fish with Star Trek names I had a pair named Rene and Data who outlived everyone else. Rene was a larger orange colored fantail (named after Rene Auberjonois of DS9 because of his beard-markings) and Data’s body was about half Rene’s size and a silver-white color. They shared food, swam side by side, and rested together in their inactive periods.

One morning I woke up to feed them and noticed instantly that something wasn’t right. Data was zooming around the bottom of the tank in a panic, and Rene was “standing on his head”, mouth down and constantly open. Since this isn’t your typical fish behavior, I instantly began to worry, but couldn’t see anything wrong… until I got down on my knees, at Data’s level and looked up at Rene. He had picked up a pebble from his tank and it was jammed in his mouth. (This is why it is important to make sure your rocks are bigger than the mouths of your fish.) I assumed that Rene was pointed down, open mouthed, to let gravity take the pressure off and hopefully pull the rock down, but I never would have anticipated what happened next.

While I began to grow frantic over what to do, Data, calmed down, came up to where I was, and turned around to look at his friend. He slowly swam to the other side of the tank and looked up again, swam back to me and looked up some more, then gently approached Rene, put his smaller mouth into Rene’s larger one and sucked that pebble right out! Problem solved! Rene took in a few good gulps of un-obstructed water and the two celebrated by swimming around together, Data fussing over Rene until his movements returned to normal.

The moral of this story? Your fish aren’t going to play chess with you, but they probably ARE smarter than you think. While you don’t have to run out and get the training kits that teach your fish to play basketball or football/soccer, you might want to give a little bit of thought to the intellectual stimulation that your tank’s environment provides. These little swimmers aren’t just a nice decoration for your room, they have thoughts and feelings of their own, even if they aren’t at our mental level. Keep in mind that fish are not solitary creatures and they don’t naturally box themselves in to a tiny space with nothing to do. My fish have always had “toys” (little crystalline plastics) that are lightweight enough that they can easily shuffle them around in the water. My current batch of three (Charon, Nix and Hydra) prefer to sort them out from their other objects and push them into a corner, while Pluto preferred to hoard them in his cave, and LaForge took great pains to scatter them evenly throughout his entire tank, each crystal going in exactly the same place it had been in before I cleaned his tank… Which is a story in itself that I promise to share another time.


Mirrani Houpe, Staff Writer.

You can e-mail her with questions at: