IN THE SWIM – Finny pets are just the ticket for homes and offices
By Dr. Marty Becker
and Gina SpadaforiUniversal Uclick
If you’re looking for a way to lower your stress, improve your health and get your children off the couch, part of the answer may be fish — not eating them, but keeping them.
Whether you choose a small tank with a few freshwater fish or a stunning saltwater setup that makes you feel like a deep-sea diver without getting wet, you’ll be getting some of the proven benefits of keeping fish. Studies showing the stress-relieving nature of fish-gazing have led to the proliferation of tanks in clinical settings such as dental offices and nursing homes. Tanks have helped calm troubled children and stimulate appetites in adults with diminished brain function.
The benefits of fish extend to the home as well.
“I do think people need contact with nature,” said Dr. Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. “The technology has made it so much easier to keep fish now. Fish can be very low-maintenance, and they are so attractive. Fish are remarkably well-designed, and it’s easy to appreciate that.”
While fish themselves haven’t changed much, how we keep them has evolved. Many of us may remember a simple fish bowl, or a small tank with some colored gravel and a deep-sea diver or castle at the bottom. While glass tanks are still by far the most common, high-tech plastics have released a wave of new designs, making possible seamless tanks that look as if the fish are swimming in air. New technology has also created filtration systems that have made tank maintenance easier.
And, of course, it’s water that really counts when it comes to keeping fish alive, says Dr. Roy Yanong, a veterinarian with a lifelong love of fish-keeping that he turned into a career with the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory at the University of Florida, which helps to support the state’s fish-breeding industry.
“Keeping fish doesn’t have to be difficult,” said Dr. Yanong. “Depending on the species, you can start with a 10-gallon tank. But you always have to think about the water. Fish make ammonia, which is excreted through their gills. You need the right number of fish, and a bio-filter with the right set of bacteria. If you don’t have that, the water will turn toxic, and that’s when fish die.”
But just as you don’t need to be an ichthyologist — a fish expert — to keep healthy fish, you don’t have to be a chemist either, says Dr. Yanong. All you need to make sure the water is right for your fish is to test it yourself with easy-to-find kits, or have it tested at a specialty aquarium store.
“Help with fish-keeping is pretty easy to get,” he said. “You can talk to someone who’s keeping fish successfully. You can also find sites online that can help.”
Dr. Yanong has been working with fish since 1992, which is also when the popularity of keeping aquatic pets started to grow. While the more complicated and expensive saltwater setups have remained the interest of only a tiny percentage of dedicated hobbyists, freshwater fish-keeping has risen steadily for the last two decades.
“Aquaria is where a lot of kids first got their interest in nature,” said Dr. Yanong. “I know I did. And while any pet can be an entry into the world of nature, the fascinating thing about fish is that you’re not just keeping pets, you’re running an ecosystem.”
At a time when it’s hard to get kids to put down the video games and get off the couch, experts say looking into a fish tank may be key to getting youngsters out the door — perhaps to a career in science. And it can all start with a small tank and a couple of guppies.