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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have had a Betta fish for about a year and half and I'm still confused as to the best and easiest way to maintain his tank. We started with a small 1 gallon tank, no filter and a small heater. We upgraded to a 3.5 gallon tank after a year with a whisper filter and heater that regulates the temperature. I still am constantly unsure if I am caring for the fish correctly. I know I have never properly cycled my tank. I had 3 elderly fur babies all die in 2015 and although my daughter and I cared daily for our Betta, we never had time to really figure out a good, easy system and am still confused on several things on tank care.

First substrate, cleaning and water change....

Do most of you suck out poop and debris everyday? I have been but it is so time consuming digging through gravel...I suck it out with a turkey baster. It sounds like some just vacuum every few days?

How often do you remove all the substrate, if at all?

Do you replace substrate with new, or just wash the old? Do you treat gravel and sand the same way as far as replacing and "washing". I currently have gravel and find it hard to get all debris out (hard to see poop and find it daily) so am thinking of switching to sand so poop sits on top but not sure if removing and adding is harder than gravel? Gravel you just rinse but sand sounded like you had to rinse then put tank in a sink or tub and let it overflow with water until sand was settled and water is clear? Do you have to do this regularly? I don't know why but I can't seem to understand substrate care!

If I have a 3.5 gallon tank with a whisper filter and a heater, how often would I do a 100% water change, if at all?

I was removing my fish, doing a water change (more on how often and how much I do water changes in last question section on cycling) and wiping out corners of tank about once a month. The cloth gets black on it when I wipe corners and edges of tank. Should I not do this? I'm guessing that I have been removing all good bacteria when I do this and this is hard on my fish? Even if I see build up that I can't get out with my siphon or turkey baster do I not do 100% water change and wipe tank out?

Filter questions...

I have just been changing my filter cartridge every 2-3 weeks. Rinsed it off before placing the new one in. I have read about swishing filter in old tank water? I completely remove and wash my filter and suction cups about once a month...am I removing too much good bacteria? What is proper protocol for adding new cartridge? Should I not ever rinse off my filter?

Cycle questions...

Since I am realizing I have never fully cycled my tank...I have just been using API Ammo lock if ammonia gets close to .5. I do daily partial water changes. I use turkey baster to get out debris and poop, then scoop out 10-15% of the water, sometimes 25% (I have since read scooping is bad?). Every few days I vacuum bottom of tank using siphon and take about 50% of water with siphon. If I stop totally cleaning out my tank once a month will this be a good enough system to cycle my tank?

I do not condition my water. I have reverse osmosis and tap water that has chlorine filtered out. My tap water seemed high in ammonia so I stopped adding tap water and just use my reverse osmosis. Should I still include tap for minerals and sounds like having ammonia in the water is good for cycling?

Sorry for all the questions. My fish has somehow survived for a year and half without me knowing what I was doing. I feel like I had read lots of conflicting info and so many different ways to care for a betta depending on your set up, that I just tried many different ways and still am not clear on what works best and is healthiest for my fish with my set up.

Thanks for any help! I have had all these questions in my mind and cannot seem to piece together what I should do from all the information out there.
 

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I hope we can help answer all your questions and help you sort through all the information out there.

How often people vacuum substrate depends on the aquarium setup. Generally the smaller the aquarium, the more often you have to vacuum the substrate and do partial water changes. If your Betta is alone in a 3.5 gallon tank with a filter, I'd say you'd only have to do gravel vacuuming every 1-2 weeks. I'd also say you could do a 25% partial water change every 1-2 weeks. Hit two birds with one stone and vacuum while doing a partial water change!

I would read about cycling a fish tank. You can read about it at the following link.
http://www.bettafish.com/showthread.php?t=555434

I wipe the inside walls of my tank whenever I do partial water changes, or whenever I see algae growing. That black stuff is just algae. You can wipe the walls of your tank as often as you'd like.

Most of the good bacteria live in your filter, where fresh oxygenated water runs over the filter medium. Good bacteria also lives in your substrate. The substrate you choose depends on your personal preference. I find that gravel is easier to clean than sand. All you have to do is vacuum what you can from the gravel with a siphon (turkey basters work great too). You never have to completely remove your gravel and "wash" it; that would remove all the good bacteria living in it!

If you have a filter cartridge with carbon in it (most likely), then you should change to a new one about every 3-4 weeks. This is because after 3-4 weeks, the carbon inside the filter is effectively "used up." If the sponge part of the filter starts to look yucky in that 3-4 week period, you can take it out and rub/rinse the debris off in a clean bucket with some water from your tank.

Your tank may already be cycled without you realizing it.



Here is a summary of the nitrogen cycle. Your fish produces ammonia, so when you first start an aquarium with new fish you will see your ammonia levels rise. As your ammonia is rising, nitrites starts to rise. Nitrite is a bacteria that eats the ammonia. Once nitrite levels reach a peak level, you will see the ammonia drop to almost zero because the nitrite is eating the ammonia faster than your fish can produce it. As nitrite levels rise, you start to see nitrates, which eat the nitrites. Once nitrates reach a peak level, you will see the nitrite level drop to almost zero because the nitrates are eating the nitrites faster than they can grow. Once you see nitrates show up, the nitrogen cycle is complete. You can gauge what stage your aquarium is at in the nitrogen cycle by using water test kits. Keep in mind that ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates in high levels are toxic to your fish. This is why partial water changes are so important. It removes enough of the toxic waste to keep your fish healthy, but leaves enough for the nitrogen cycle to take place.

Someone else will have to answer your questions about RO water and adding minerals back to it. I have no experience with using RO water.

Thankfully, Bettas are pretty hardy fish. The fact that he has survived for a year and a half says that you've been doing a pretty good job. :thumbsup:
 

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I will try to answer more of your questions later but this siphon is nice for small tanks it's what I use for all my small tanks.

http://www.amazon.com/LEE-Economy-G...52383977&sr=8-1&keywords=lees+mini+gravel+vac

RO water is not needed for bettas they actually need the minerals in the water to be healthy. The only fish I've ever read that are supposed need RO water is Discus but definitely not bettas. However, since you have an ammonia problem you could try the RO water with part spring water to replace the minerals. There are also mineral blocks that can be added to tanks but I don't know how dependable they are. I think buying spring water for a small tank might be cheaper.

I was curious as to what area you are from (you don't have to be really specific but general) I've seen other people post that they are getting ammonia in their tap water. I finally wondered why that would be. The first few articles I came across mention that there is likely a bacterial bloom in the water supply. That doesn't seem healthy-which would make me call the water company and ask some questions- that is if you live somewhere where there is opportunity to have your water supply improved.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Christinamac...thanks for all those details! I do have a solo betta so it sounds like I don't have to suck out debris everyday? I don't like the thought of him swimming with any waste but sounds like as long as his water is testing in healthy ranges I don't have to do it quite as often. I think I am keeping it to clean for any healthy bacteria to grow. You explained the cycle really well, even though I have read quite a bit about cycling the way you explained what to look for in nitrates and nitrites...it finally sunk in. I am going to keep mty gravel instead of switching to sand and hope cleaning less and getting the siphon jadblu suggested will help make my process easier. Thanks for taking the time to break that all down, I really appreciate it!

jadablu....I live in south west Ohio. I guess I was misleading when I said ammonia was high in tap water...it is higher than the RO water...and since my ammonia always seems borderline in my tank I hated to add more. Our water is not great but I do have a filter on the tap water that removes chlorine but still plenty of stuff that makes it taste not that great, which is why we have RO for drinking and cooking. Now I realize I was probably keeping my tank too clean and not allowing enough healthy bacteria to grow so my ammonia was always going up then I'd bring back down with water change and Ammo lock, but would never stabilize. I should note that my RO has minerals added back in for more alkaline water, but good to know RO isn't necessarily good for my fish! Thanks for the siphon recommendation...I had a make shift one that was just a plain small tube and it always wanted to curl and could be a pain to get going and very slow going with vacuuming. I already ordered the one you suggested and hopefully will be faster than my turkey baster and my plain small tube!
 

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I was curious as to what area you are from (you don't have to be really specific but general) I've seen other people post that they are getting ammonia in their tap water.
You're right, a lot of people on this forum have been reporting ammonia in their tap water lately. Very strange.

You might be able to use a product called Seachem Flourish Trace to add minerals back to RO water. It's just an aquarium product I happen to know of that adds trace minerals to water. I don't know if it provides the right kinds in sufficient amounts to pure water such as RO and distilled.
 

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Brookeleigh, I'm happy to be of help! You mentioned using Ammolock which is a great product. I thought I would briefly explain how this product works, because many people have the misconception that it removes ammonia.

Free ammonia is ammonia in its toxic form; free ammonia is harmful to fish. Ammolock does not remove ammonia, but it does bind to and change the form of the free ammonia into a less toxic form that won't hurt your fish. The ammonia is still there, and live plants can still utilize it as food. But Ammolock can only work for 24-48 hours before it dissipates and then you have toxic free ammonia again.

Products like Ammolock and Seachem Prime are very useful for keeping your fish safe from toxic free ammonia, while allowing enough total ammonia to be present for the nitrogen cycle to complete.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Christinamac...thanks again for explaining what the products do that lower ammonia. The information for one little betta fish is still so overwhelming to me. I think they are listed as "easy" to care for or for beginners...I am sure compared to other fish they are...but if you have never had a fish, it is more complex than I thought! I've done just as much research for this fish as I did when my cats and dogs were old and had various diseases!

One more question....what do you set up for care for your fish when you are out of town? We are going to be gone 5 days in February and 11 days in June. For the 5 days do I just do water change, vacuum and wipe down sides well before we go and have someone come in to feed? But for the 11days do I need to find someone to vacuum and do partial water change? We haven't gone anywhere for more than 2 nights since we got the fish. I'm hoping with all I have learned I can get the aquarium more stable and not constantly checking ammonia and it will be pretty easy for a neighbor to care for our Betta?
 

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My fish-keeping hobby started when I was in middle school, with two little goldfish in a large goldfish bowl. I didn't know anything about keeping fish back then. But I cared deeply about my little fish, and took to learning everything I could about giving them the best care and environment I could. There is a lot of information out there, and a lot to learn. But I have found over the years that there is a basic "formula for success" that applies to all types of fish, you just have to tweak the formula for the specific fish (and plants) you are trying to keep.

Goldfish and Bettas are considered "easy" only because they are hardy fish that can tolerate a wider range of conditions. They give some "room for error," so to speak, compared to more fragile species. Both are great fish to start your fish-keeping hobby with. I will say Bettas are easier than goldfish though. ;-)

Your tank should be cycled and more stable by February. Before leaving town I would do a 25-50% water change, vacuuming the gravel and wiping algae from the sides of the tank. Of course, add Seachem Prime after doing your partial water change.

I would give the caregiver easy, written instructions on how often and how much to feed the fish. I would also instruct them to dose the tank with Seachem Prime every other day just to keep any ammonia bound in its non-toxic form. I'd ask the caregiver to keep a lookout for any sudden or strange changes in behavior, and to call me if they have any questions or concerns. If you had to you could walk them through testing the water or doing a partial water change over the phone. If you wanted to you could take the extra measure of reducing how much and how often the fish is fed while you're gone, so that he will produce less waste. For your current setup, this would be all your caregiver would have to do even if you are gone for 11 days.
 

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Christina has given you a lot of good advice. I would only like to stress a few things:

It is important that you get started cycling your tank. Stop replacing your filter inserts. Take out the charcoal and leave the insert in until it falls apart. Better yet, replace it with filter sponge from you fish-store and never replace it. Stop cleaning your gravel until your cycle is established.

Use the tutorial for instructions. Ammo-lock is a good conditioner, but it does not remove heavy metals. Prime water conditioner does. You should be able to use your dechlorinated (filtered) tapwater with Prime. Tapwater has the minerals that RO does not have.

If you get started right away, your tank would be cycled by time you leave in February. In that case, stop feeding the fish a day or more before you leave, do a large (>60%) water change with double-dose Prime, lights out, cover the tank and leave. No fish-sitter necessary. That's always best.

Same for June. They can go weeks without eating.

I'd like to know what you're feeding him. Also, what kind of filter are you using? (If it's a Whisper 3i with an airpump, you'll want to replace it.) Answer on this thread and we'll offer suggestions.

Welcome to the forum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Hallyx..I do have a whisper filter with airpump and with replaceable cartridges. So this type doesn't allow for leaving insert but replacing charcoal. I tried another filter (cannot remember what kind) and the current was too strong for my Betta. So a quiet(ish) filter that is best for cycling and not too strong of current is what I am looking for. Let me know your recommendations!

I feed my Betta (my daughter named her Sara...even though we know it is a male) Aqueon Betta food. They are not flakes...so I guess round pellets? We tried other foods and even bloodworm treats and her food pellets are the only thing Sara was interested in eating. I feed her 4-5 pellets twice a day but sometimes she gets 8-9 once a day. I feed her one at a time so none go to bottom and if any do, I suck it out right away. So I don't have any decaying food in the tank.

When you say "cover the tank"...just with a towel so the tank stays dark? Does this make them more veggitative (sp?) and need less food? In all my reading I never saw this before! That would be so great if I didn't have to worry about getting someone to come in and feed her. Sara darts around and gets excited when I get her food out and she loves to eat so I feel weird her not eating for so long. We do skip a day every week or so b/c I read it was good to let their digestive system rest, but to go several days stresses me. If we come home to a dead fish my daughter will be devastated! Maybe I should do a trial, before we go, of not feeding or disturbing the tank? It is right in the kitchen by our table so she sees lots of activity... would it stress her to not be feed for more than a day and not have the tank covered? Does the cover also help her to not expect the normal routine with consistent dark and no activity OR do I only cover the tank when gone for longer periods but not necessary for a long weekend? Hope all that made sense!

Thanks so much for your help!
 

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Hallyx..I do have a whisper filter with air pump and with replaceable cartridges. So this type doesn't allow for leaving insert but replacing charcoal. I tried another filter (cannot remember what kind) and the current was too strong for my Betta. So a quiet(ish) filter that is best for cycling and not too strong of current is what I am looking for. Let me know your recommendations!
You may want to consider buying a sponge filter and tubing to replace the charcoal filter. The sponge filter builds a great colony for the beneficial bacteria, and you don't have to replace it every couple of weeks, just swish the sponge around in the tank water you are removing during a water change every couple of weeks or at least in dechlorinated water, just enough to remove debris - don't squeeze it completely dry or scrub to clean, and never any cleaners on it. The sponge filters, if you get one in an appropriate size, cause very little wake in the water and the plus side is that the fins won't get cut on it.

I feed my Betta (my daughter named her Sara...even though we know it is a male) Aqueon Betta food. They are not flakes...so I guess round pellets? We tried other foods and even bloodworm treats and her food pellets are the only thing Sara was interested in eating. I feed her 4-5 pellets twice a day but sometimes she gets 8-9 once a day. I feed her one at a time so none go to bottom and if any do, I suck it out right away. So I don't have any decaying food in the tank.
That seems like a lot of food. Bettas can be, and often are, little pigs when it comes to eating. Their stomachs are roughly the size of their eyes, so depending on the size of the pellet, maybe half of what Sara is getting now is more in line with what the diet should consist of. When I had my first two male bettas, Fred & George (yes, named after the Weasley twins), I fed them morning and night, 3 pellets each time, three days a week. I originally tried every day but they both ended up with SBD three times in 6 months so I cut them back and they never had it again. Too much food caused their constipation. Ironically, they didn't like being fed just once a day every day.

When you say "cover the tank"...just with a towel so the tank stays dark? Does this make them more vegetative (sp?) and need less food? In all my reading I never saw this before! That would be so great if I didn't have to worry about getting someone to come in and feed her. Sara darts around and gets excited when I get her food out and she loves to eat so I feel weird her not eating for so long. We do skip a day every week or so b/c I read it was good to let their digestive system rest, but to go several days stresses me. If we come home to a dead fish my daughter will be devastated! Maybe I should do a trial, before we go, of not feeding or disturbing the tank? It is right in the kitchen by our table so she sees lots of activity... would it stress her to not be feed for more than a day and not have the tank covered? Does the cover also help her to not expect the normal routine with consistent dark and no activity OR do I only cover the tank when gone for longer periods but not necessary for a long weekend? Hope all that made sense!

Thanks so much for your help!
Bettas are jumpers, so if the top of your tank isn't covered in some way, unless your betta just doesn't care, it will likely jump out at some point. I think that's what Hallyx was referring to. Putting a cover over an "off the back" filter or pump is likely a fire hazard, especially for a long period of time, so I definitely wouldn't recommend placing anything on top of/over an entire tank set up.
 

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Good advice from Vanessa. Welcome to the forum, Vanessa.

Everyone here knows my fondness for sponge filters; I use them and I always recommend them. They're the best for Betta tanks. But they do require a level of experience to buy all the parts and to set-up properly. For a new keeper who wants to get a tank cycled soonest, some experienced keepers here have lately been suggesting this one for simplicity, ease of set-up and reliability: Aquarium Internal IF-201 Hard to beat at that price. Internal filters are a lot easier to run and maintain.

I agree with Vanessa that it sounds like you're feeding too much. An eye-sized portion each day should be sufficient. "A hungry fish is a healthy fish." ~ Byron Hosking (master fish-keeper)

Aqueon is not the worst food out there, but you could upgrade his diet to New Life Spectrum (Betta or semi-floating) or Omega One Betta Buffet. With a better quality food, you don't have to fast him -- and you can feed him less. Those are the best foods commonly available.

Covering the tank: a properly set-up tank has a top that prevents him jumping out. I was referring to covering the tank with a towel in order to pacify or relax the fish and slow down his metabolism so he puts out less waste. Also, the tank should be covered (or otherwise made dark) for at least 6-hours every day. They have a day/night cycle just like we do.

Brookeliegh. Assure me that you have read and understand the cycling tutorial. I have further advice to get your tank cycled sooner.
 
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