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Old 01-11-2008, 01:36 PM   #1 
amy
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What went wrong this time?

Last night our second betta (female) died after we'd had her for just a month. It looked to me like she had dropsy (raised scales). Our previous female lived 6 months--same tank, same setup. We have neighbors who have the same tank and setup and have had total success keeping male bettas.
We fussed over this fish so much that my husband now says no more bettas. I would like to at least understand what went wrong.
Tank--2.5 gallon Eclipse Discovery (mechanical, chemical and bio-filtering)
Water--Tap (San Diego, at room temp) conditioned with NovAqua.
Temp--Stable 75 degrees; no heater, just a light bulb.
Decorations--Coated gravel, rubber coral, resin log, 2 silk plants.
Food--BettaGold pellets (2 daily) supplemented with some pea once/week.
Water change--Approx 1/5 after 2 weeks.

We did not test for pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, etc., no did we seed or pre-cycle the tank. (Bracing myself for flames, but this amount of testing and monitoring goes beyond the "easy" level in my view.) We did not get either of our fish from a fish store--they came from chain pet stores and we just followed the advice given us by the sales staff. Both fish looked healthy and perky when we got them (and neither ever showed any signs of inflammation or fin rot).

The first one got some sort of tumor after appearing very healthy for 4 months. The second one looked healthy for about 2 weeks, then abruptly stopped eating, appeared very sluggish, and seemed to be struggling with the current generated by the filter, so I switched it between off/on every 12 hours to give her a break. I also left the lid to the tank ajar to make sure she got enough air when the filter was off. I treated the water with BettaFix (mellaleuca oil), and when we set up the tank we only rinsed it and the decorations with hot water, making sure the chlorine had time to dissipate before putting her in. She never came into contact with soap. The only other strange behavior I noted was that after the 2nd week she acted like she was blind--stopped showing interest in us when we were near the tank and acting VERY startled when we touched her with our (clean) fingers or the net. When startled she would zoom around the tank and crash into the glass, then act a little stunned afterwards.

Someone at the pet store told me that the bettas at pet stores are often ones that breeders have decided would not make good breeding stock, so they often have health problems that are not readily apparent to the novice. I'm wondering if our friends who have successfully kept pet store male bettas with minimal maintenance are just incredibly lucky, or whether our females were breeder "rejects". We wanted to "rescue" the females because we thought customers were less likely to choose them.

I would definitely like to keep fish, but if the moral here is that in the absence of incredible luck the water balance must be closely monitored, I should bow to my husband's wisdom that fish keeping is not a good choice for us as a stress-reliever.

Any words of wisdom from the fish community?
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Old 01-11-2008, 03:12 PM   #2 
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Re: What went wrong this time?

Quote:
Originally Posted by amy
Last night our second betta (female) died after we'd had her for just a month. It looked to me like she had dropsy (raised scales). Our previous female lived 6 months--same tank, same setup. We have neighbors who have the same tank and setup and have had total success keeping male bettas.
We fussed over this fish so much that my husband now says no more bettas. I would like to at least understand what went wrong.
Tank--2.5 gallon Eclipse Discovery (mechanical, chemical and bio-filtering)
Water--Tap (San Diego, at room temp) conditioned with NovAqua.
Temp--Stable 75 degrees; no heater, just a light bulb.
Decorations--Coated gravel, rubber coral, resin log, 2 silk plants.
Food--BettaGold pellets (2 daily) supplemented with some pea once/week.
Water change--Approx 1/5 after 2 weeks.

The first thing I notice here is that she was probably starving on only 2 pellets each day. Most betts will eat about 5 pellets/day, which is more than double what you were offering.
The 2nd thing I notice is that water change was not done for 2 weeks, which means the stress of moving, buildup of waste, and natural cycling were probably causing a lot of physical stress on the fish.
The 3rd thing I notice is lack of heater. While you claim the temp stayed stable at 75 degrees, unless you monitored the temp 24/7, there is no way to see any type of fluctuation that likely occurred whenever that light was turned off. Even in CA the temp changes from day to night, which means that unless the room temp never fluctuates (almost impossible), anytime that light was turned off/on, the temp was likely to change at least a few degrees. To us, a few degrees doesn't seem like a drastic change. To a fish, who relies on a stable and warm enough temp for it's organs to function properly, a few degrees can mean life or death. The colder the water the harder the bettas organs have to work to sustain it.

Add those 3 things together and I see a situation where any healthy betta would struggle to survive.


We did not test for pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, etc., no did we seed or pre-cycle the tank. (Bracing myself for flames, but this amount of testing and monitoring goes beyond the "easy" level in my view.) We did not get either of our fish from a fish store--they came from chain pet stores and we just followed the advice given us by the sales staff. Both fish looked healthy and perky when we got them (and neither ever showed any signs of inflammation or fin rot).

Water testing when you keep an aquarium should be standard and expected. Water quality is as important to a fish as air quality is to people. The only way to know that everything is safe inside that aquarium is with the testing. When something is wrong, the first place to check is water quality. When needing to medicate, before doing it, water quality needs to be checked to determine if its safe enough to dose the meds. Ammonia, nitrite, and high levels of nitrate are all toxic to a fish in themselves, but when meds are added to that, it can become instantly lethal.

The first one got some sort of tumor after appearing very healthy for 4 months. The second one looked healthy for about 2 weeks, then abruptly stopped eating, appeared very sluggish, and seemed to be struggling with the current generated by the filter, so I switched it between off/on every 12 hours to give her a break. I also left the lid to the tank ajar to make sure she got enough air when the filter was off. I treated the water with BettaFix (mellaleuca oil), and when we set up the tank we only rinsed it and the decorations with hot water, making sure the chlorine had time to dissipate before putting her in. She never came into contact with soap. The only other strange behavior I noted was that after the 2nd week she acted like she was blind--stopped showing interest in us when we were near the tank and acting VERY startled when we touched her with our (clean) fingers or the net. When startled she would zoom around the tank and crash into the glass, then act a little stunned afterwards.

It is very likely that either a bacterial infection or fungal infection had begun. Both can cause a film to deveolop over the eye, leaving the fish blinded to anything other than shadows. I see nothing wrong with the way you cleaned the tank and decorations, but if the filter was causing stress, it would have been safer for the fish to have left it off and simply changed a few cupfulls of water every other day. A betta does not require a filtered tank if the water is kept clean manually.

Someone at the pet store told me that the bettas at pet stores are often ones that breeders have decided would not make good breeding stock, so they often have health problems that are not readily apparent to the novice. I'm wondering if our friends who have successfully kept pet store male bettas with minimal maintenance are just incredibly lucky, or whether our females were breeder "rejects". We wanted to "rescue" the females because we thought customers were less likely to choose them.

This is true yet untrue. Yes, some bettas, both male and female, are shipped out like that and for those reasons, but most of the bettas are usually about 1 yr old when they get to the store. Because bettas mature so slowly, grow so slowly, it is usually a good sign that you have a young fish if it is smaller than the others. The largest fishes will be the mature fishes, and there is no tell tale sign to determine a bettas exact age. Keep in mind, if a store is stocking unhealthy or "old" fish, customers who continue to purchase them only encourage the store to adopt such practices. As tempting as it is to rescue any fish from a store situation, unfortunately, all it really does is contribute to the problem. If the store makes its money from less than acceptable animals, unhealthy animals, etc, it has no reason to change. If that store begins losing money, stuck with stock they can't sell, it forces them to either stop stocking these animals or to change their practices... sometimes simply a matter of where the fish are coming from. A store won't order new fish until enough of the old ones are sold. It is inhumane by any standard, but unfortunately in our world today, money still talks.
One other thing to remember... if you wish to rescue "distressed" animals, even fish... you have to expect that there will be work involved in "saving" them once you have them home.


I would definitely like to keep fish, but if the moral here is that in the absence of incredible luck the water balance must be closely monitored, I should bow to my husband's wisdom that fish keeping is not a good choice for us as a stress-reliever.

It is what you make it, really. Nobody can expect to keep any live animal as a pet and not have some kind of work and responsibility in its care. Fish keeping can be wonderfully relaxing when every need is met. Clean water, proper temperatures, good food, and attention/love are all needs that must be met. Water doesn't clean itself,leaving a toxic situation for the fish. Fluctuating temperatures harm the immune system, which makes a fish prone to illness, lack of or poor quality food causes starvation and malnutrition. Lack of love/attention causes boredom, which causes stress. Stress wreaks havoc on a fish's immune system, enough to cause death, usually by 2ndary infection.
I had customers ask me to set them up with a "no maintenance fish like the betta", and I always had to laugh. I quite often told them that there was no such thing, and even one of those long tubes full of plastic fish would at least need to be dusted to look good. A cat requires you to clean a litter box, a dog requires you to pick up the yard, a hamster requires you to change the bedding, a fish requires you to change water and test from time to time.

Any words of wisdom from the fish community?
Words of wisdom...
Do some research before buying another fish. Know what to expect before you spend your money. Understand that these are living creatures, which means they can get sick, be sad, be bored, etc. Be prepared to meet these needs, and if you can't, maybe consider that this isn't the proper pet for you.
A tank that is set up properly doesn't have to be a lot of work. Maybe tropical fishes such as danios or tetras would be a better choice for you? Regardless of what type of fish you attempt to keep, weekly water changes are a must, at very least. Filters can only do so much, and over time there are minerals in the water that are broken down and used by various animals and plants in an aquarium. Without these minerals being replenished regularly, and sufficiently, the water quality breaks down to uninhabitable conditions. I have 14 aquariums running right now, ranging in size from 5 gallons to 180 gallons, and everywhere in between. I spend about 1 - 2 hours each week on maintenance, and that is with breeding stock and fry tanks to care for in many of them. I have both freshwater, and saltwater, and yes... even one elderly betta that is almost 5 yrs old now. This fish lived in a cup for about 1 month while we moved last summer, he lived in a bowl for his first 2 yrs while we were so croweded at the in law's house, and now lives in a 5 gallon tank with a tank of dwarf puffers on one side and molly and swordtail fry on the other. This betta has survived and thrived because his needs were always met. When he was put into the cup, his water was changed twice/day and he was kept at 80 degrees, well fed, and doted on for attention. When he was in a bowl, the water was changed 3 times/wk, and again he was kept at 80 degrees and well fed. Now in the 5 gallon tank he gets 1 water change/wk, is well fed, and has a heater keeping him at 80 degrees. Over the past 3 months he has slowed down a bit, finding it harder to swim to the top of 5 gallons, so I dropped his water level to 1/2 in his tank and went back to twice/wk water changes. I don't mind the "work" involved, but it's not for everyone. The size of his environment, and how well his other needs were met determined how often I had to change the water. This fish has never known a filter.

I hope I haven't sounded too harsh, but there is a point in all of this, and in my opinion, you and your husband are both right. If you have other questions or we can help you to maybe find a better choice in fish for you and that same tank, please don't hesitate to ask.
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Old 01-11-2008, 11:52 PM   #3 
amy
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Reply to What Went Wrong?

Wow, Dawn, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful reply--this was exactly what I was looking for. I'm very distressed about not giving our fish what they needed. I agree 100% that folks should be prepared to put the required work into keeping any pet healthy--it's just hard to know for certain what exactly is required since there is so much conflicting information out there. I wish I had encountered this forum sooner.

The only thing I'm certain we did right was keeping the temp stable. We left the light on all the time and she was far from windows and protected from drafts. The 2.5 gallon tank doesn't have a heater--I read somewhere that a heater would make the water too hot in that size. The irony is that the box the tank came in said "Ideal for bettas!" Do you think that any fish would be comfortable in that tank with filtration on? I read that a filter this small shouldn't be strong enough to bother the fish, but this was a VERY small fish (smaller than our previous one, who seemed very happy in the tank).

I was afraid to change the water more often because I read somewhere that water changes alter the pH, which should not be done too frequently in order to avoid stressing the fish. The cleaning, as you said, is not at all onerous, but I am still intimidated by the other factors that affect quality because if you find the balance is wrong, how do you correct it in a way that does not potentially make the situation worse? In a tank that small, a mistake of a few too many drops can have a big effect.

I thought I read the BettaGold feeding instructions thoroughly, but after reading your reply I checked again and found that they are in agreement with you. Again, I read horror stories on the web about the problems caused by overfeeding, and erred too much on the side of caution--one site said don't feed more than the size of one eye, but I don't think that was intended to mean per day, which is unfortunately how I interpreted it. I did indeed underfeed her, and the knowledge that I caused her to suffer this way is very upsetting. I think if I am making mistakes like that it is clearly not the time for me to learn to care for a new type of pet. I think fish keeping will be very rewarding once I am in a position to tackle the learning curve, but I understand now that it is not going to be the quick fix I had imagined for soothing a harried and stressed out family. I think you're right that another type of fish might be a better choice for our starter tank. It's hard to resist a betta, though, since they have so much personality. Sigh. Thanks again for reading my posting so carefully and putting so much into your response.

Amy
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Old 01-12-2008, 12:11 AM   #4 
Holly
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They are very pretty fish and great to watch but they're just not as easy as most make them out to be. Fish keeping isn't that hard. There's things to learn and basic knowledge that you need to know. Most pet stores only worry about thier dollar, not your knowledge. Take sometime and ask a lot of questions. Everyone on here is great and will give you all the info you need.
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Old 01-12-2008, 05:49 AM   #5 
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Re: Reply to What Went Wrong?

Quote:
Originally Posted by amy
Wow, Dawn, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful reply--this was exactly what I was looking for. I'm very distressed about not giving our fish what they needed. I agree 100% that folks should be prepared to put the required work into keeping any pet healthy--it's just hard to know for certain what exactly is required since there is so much conflicting information out there. I wish I had encountered this forum sooner.
The important thing is that you're here now, and in good hands. Yes, I know how much conflicting information is out there, I've spent years sorting and experimenting my way through it. I was lucky, I found good training from educated people (some of the best in the industry)and had a place to try things out and study anytime I wanted or needed. The biggest problem is that it seems many people consider themselves "expert" if they keep a healthy tank... nothing else required. Unfortunately it isn't that easy, and even those of us with the educational background have to keep studying as new things are always being discovered and invented. Maybe that's why I love it so much, it's always changing somehow, and there is so much of it that no one person can learn it all in one lifetime (even if we do try our hardest ) What I tell people to do to help sort it all out: Find 3 different sources of information specific to your needs. Books, forums like this one, internet research, live people with experience and/or training, etc. Take those 3 sources and pick out the main details, make yourself an outline for each of the 3, then compare... see where they match up and where they differ. In doing this you will tend to notice that some things are pretty commonly found if you look. Another suggestion I always make before sending someone to a LFS for something new: Study first, know before you walk through the door the answers to your questions. When you get there, ask the person helping you those specific questions, and gauge the answers according to what you already know. This will give you an idea of the person's general knowledge and whether or not to trust, or keep looking for someone more appropriate to guide you. I do this whenever I go to a fish store... I know the answers but ask the questions anyways, just to hear some of the crazy things some people come up with. Sometimes I will hassle them enough with questions, then stop them and teach them what they "thought" they already knew. I learned how to breed bettas from a customer of mine. A sweet little Asian man who came in one day looking for something special... we started talking and when I realized he really knew his stuff, I paid attention, asked tons of questions, and then went home and tried it myself. He used to bring me special fry from his favorite show fishes. I then taught the rest of our fish room staff and we began breeding our own in store. It's all 1 big chain reaction, so you can help by teaching what you learn, too!

The only thing I'm certain we did right was keeping the temp stable. We left the light on all the time and she was far from windows and protected from drafts. The 2.5 gallon tank doesn't have a heater--I read somewhere that a heater would make the water too hot in that size. The irony is that the box the tank came in said "Ideal for bettas!" Do you think that any fish would be comfortable in that tank with filtration on? I read that a filter this small shouldn't be strong enough to bother the fish, but this was a VERY small fish (smaller than our previous one, who seemed very happy in the tank).
There is a heater made perfectly for a tank like that. It's relatively new, only been on the market for a few years that I'm aware of, but tried and true, it's awesome!
http://www.petco.com/product/102429/...um-Heater.aspx
It's made by Hydor and looks like a small heating pad. It's completely submersible, and works awesome on tanks below 10 gallons, plus it doesn't take up much space, is easy to hide and easy to use.
If you decide to work with an unheated tank, about the only fish I could suggest would be white clouds and gold white clouds.
http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.u...hitecloud1.jpg
http://www.liveaquaria.com/images/pr...ge/p_89797.jpg
These are small fish (about 1 inch full grown) so there would be room for about 3 of them, and yes, the 2 color forms mix fine. This is about as easy as it can get. They eat basic tropical flake food, and only a very very tiny amount each day. (They should be able to completely finish it within 1 - 2 minutes without it sinking to the bottom) Change 30% of the water once/wk, and once each month vac the gravel to pull out any waste that may have been missed. There is still room to add a few ghost shrimp to this, and they will help keep the bottom cleaner if any food manages to fall. Add plenty of decorations for each level of the tank (something short, something tall, etc) and you could have the peaceful stress relieving hobby you had originally hoped for.
Please note, you will still need to invest in water test kits for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH. You should test your water regularly during the cycling process, so that you are alerted in time to do a water change if levels get too high. I can talk you through a pretty easy cycle I'm sure... and would not mind at all... and we don't even need to do it with the fish! Once the cycle is complete, it's a good idea to run a nitrate test about once/month to be sure the levels aren't building over time, and the others if you notice any changes. When you come to a place like this for help, the first quesiton we will usually ask is "what are water params for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH?" Having those numbers handy at any given time will help us to help you and your fish much much quicker.

If you decide a heater is the way to go, your possibilities open up to a wide variety of fishes, and I can make you quite a long list to search for and learn about. If we keep them small, there are a number of very colorful and active fishes that could keep you quite happy, and allow for 2 - 4 fish in that size of a tank.
Take a look at this link, and imagine 4 of them swimming around your tank... not quite the personality of a betta, but not too far off, either.
http://www.guenter-kopic.de/Aquarist...engalensis.jpg
Scarlet badis are one of my favorites for the little tanks, but would require the heater.


I was afraid to change the water more often because I read somewhere that water changes alter the pH, which should not be done too frequently in order to avoid stressing the fish. The cleaning, as you said, is not at all onerous, but I am still intimidated by the other factors that affect quality because if you find the balance is wrong, how do you correct it in a way that does not potentially make the situation worse? In a tank that small, a mistake of a few too many drops can have a big effect.
The way that should read is this: If waste is allowed to build up in an aquarium, break down fully to nitrates and collect for too long, your pH will begin to drop, and this is usually a drasitc drop. Doing large water changes with a normal pH in the tap water will create too much change at once which can harm fish. A good rule of thumb for you to use: Things that go downhill gradually will be dealt with safest for the fish if it's also reversed gradually. The point is in moderation... too much of a good thing is no good.
If, however, you are doing frequent enough water changes to keep up with the waste levels, then when you add the tap water, the pH is the same or close enough to not cause any harm. This is another reason for water testing...


I thought I read the BettaGold feeding instructions thoroughly, but after reading your reply I checked again and found that they are in agreement with you. Again, I read horror stories on the web about the problems caused by overfeeding, and erred too much on the side of caution--one site said don't feed more than the size of one eye, but I don't think that was intended to mean per day, which is unfortunately how I interpreted it. I did indeed underfeed her, and the knowledge that I caused her to suffer this way is very upsetting. I think if I am making mistakes like that it is clearly not the time for me to learn to care for a new type of pet. I think fish keeping will be very rewarding once I am in a position to tackle the learning curve, but I understand now that it is not going to be the quick fix I had imagined for soothing a harried and stressed out family. I think you're right that another type of fish might be a better choice for our starter tank. It's hard to resist a betta, though, since they have so much personality. Sigh. Thanks again for reading my posting so carefully and putting so much into your response.
As for the feeding thing about the eyeball... chances are (at least it should have been) that the point was about digestion, and noting that the stomach is about the size of the eyeball. This is true, and I have been in a huge debate about it on another site. I am scheduled this coming Thursday to pick up some "freshly deceased" bettas at the store where I used to work. They have been saving them all for me for the past week now. I called, mentioned I needed them for research, so the boss was happy to send me his "bodies" for such a cause. I intend to go through a process of disection, identifying each part and at end, show size comparison between the eyeball and stomach. I will post the picture here as well, it's good information for everyone to have.
While overfeeding can cause major problems for any fish/tank, here again we get back to the number of water changes and gravel vacs needed to keep balance. Anything a fish doesn't eat within the first 1 - 2 minutes is typically waste. Watch your fish... time it 1 - 2 minutes, and then the next feeding, fix how much you are offering at a time. It may take a few days to get a feel for it, but this is important interaction with your pet, and good for you both in so many ways. (I call it my excuse to play with my fish) I have mollys that sit in my hand to eat, adults and fry together. I have dwarf puffers that chase in and out of my fingers in a game of tag, and I have a saltwater shrimp that "cleans me" everytime I reach into the tank. This is the stuff most people miss out on... and where you learn the most about your specific pet and it's specific needs. This is also the part that makes it all fun and so worth while.
I am here to teach, its what I do, and I enjoy it.... especially with people like you who are so eager to learn. Knowing the fish will be properly cared for is so much of a reward, it always keeps me going. As for your family, I have another suggestion for you...
Include them in everything you are learning, in choosing the new fish, learning about the new fish. Make this a family project to be done "the right way", with patience and attention to detail. This can be a great adventure to share, and will help to calm their impatience (kids are always wanting everything now... but sometimes I think it's the adults who have a harder time waiting for things that just need to be) Start a notebook for the tank. Write down anything anyone does to it, date, time, what they did, and any other details you can note. This makes for a great record to go back to later if there's a problem. It is always much easier to pinpoint or trace a problem so as to fix it asap before it becomes deadly. This is also a great way to keep the family involved together!
Take a look at the links I put here, let me know what you decide is the way to go (heater or no heater) and we'll go on from there.
Ask any questions you need to, I will answer them as completely as I have thus far. There are some people here who don't care for my long posts, but I find it can be quite useful for later reference, and I am better able to help people avoid problems if they are forewarned.
Relax, this doesn't have to be work!! Fish are fun... and you're about to learn how much!
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Old 01-12-2008, 08:53 AM   #6 
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Dawn, I love your long posts. I learn so much. And now I have an idea of what to put in my unheated 5 gal. snail tank, white clouds and ghost shrimp. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
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Old 01-12-2008, 10:14 PM   #7 
amy
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Lovin' the fish help

Yes, thanks again--I love long replies and it's so much more motivating to learn from someone like you who wants to help. Even though my problems were really due to being an idiot rather than wanting to avoid work, I wouldn't have been so ready to 'fess up my mistakes without your kind and gentle correction approach.

Starting to regain some confidence and will most likely try the clouds, but thanks for the tip on the heater because I know I'll want another betta someday (after I've had some practice with test kits).

By the way, I did show your posts to my family and they are showing signs of coming on board, as well.

Amy
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Old 01-12-2008, 11:16 PM   #8 
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Amy,
That's great to hear! I wish you the best of luck with the white clouds. A tip for you before you decide to spend your money... Buy 1 fish first, put it into the tank to get your through cycling. (Yes, white clouds can thrive alone, especially if its only temporary) Once the cycle is over and you've done your first real water change, then add the other 2 fish.
This will help the tank to cycle much easier, making it safer for all of the fish!
Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help and keep us posted, I'll be very interested in talking to you once you have the white clouds... I think you'll enjoy them!
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