Last update: November 12, 2022

Is a Fish the Right Pet for You? 7 Reasons Why It Might Not Be

Are you considering buying a pet fish?

Excellent choice!

But they certainly are not for everyone.

I have had pet fish for quite some time now…

Over 30 years, in fact. Where does the time go?

During this time I have actively been involved in online fish forums, local meetups and helped many, many beginners overcome problems with their aquarium setup.

You would be amazed at how often I hear this phrase uttered by beginners after receiving advice:

Ugh… If I knew that, I never would have considered fish as a pet!

What are these deal breakers?

That’s exactly what I am going to reveal in this guide.

If at any point while reading this, you think to yourself:

I don’t like the sound of that…

Then I highly recommend considering a different pet for you and your family.

Which brings me to my first point…

1. A fish is not a temporary pet

Goldfish floating upside down dead inside fish bowl

Perhaps it’s because we also eat fish. Or, because you can buy a pet fish for less than a meal at Chick-fil-A…

Whatever the reason, fish are often treated as a novelty. You keep it for a few weeks until you get bored of it.

When your fish finally dies because you forgot to feed it or change its water, you discreetly flush it down the toilet to humanely get rid of it – No harm done, right?

Would you do the same to a pet dog?

No, of course not!

So, why would you treat a fish the same way? Both are pets after all.

It may surprise you to learn that fish have a long life span.

When properly cared for, a betta can live up to 5 years and goldfish up to 10 years. Not exactly a temporary pet.

And if you are entering this hobby, the goal is to keep your fish alive and healthy for as long as possible.

The takeaway: If you cannot commit to a fish for the length of its average life span, then this isn’t the right pet for you.

2. An aquarium is going to cost money

Hand with money inside fish tank

I know, I know… All pets cost money.

But the ongoing costs of fish can add up, especially if you are on a tight budget.

These costs are all proportional to the size of your fish tank and the amount of fish you keep – the larger the aquarium, the more expensive it will be to maintain.

Food is an obvious cost, but fish also need a lot of other specialized equipment.

Anything you need to do in your aquarium needs a special tool.

Want to catch your fish? You need a net.

Want to clean the bottom of a tank? You need a gravel vac.

Want to change the water? You need to treat the new water with a water conditioner.

…You get the idea.

But at least most of the equipment is a one-time cost. Once it’s up and running, it will not need to be replaced.

An estimated cost for a basic 29-gallon setup will be at least $570.[1]

But unlike many other pets, fish require an ongoing cost…


Essential aquarium equipment, such as filters, heaters, air pumps and lighting, all run on electricity. And as you know every time you get your power bill – electricity costs money.

The takeaway: If your budget won’t cover all the associated equipment and running costs, then fish are not the right pet for you.

3. You will likely have to wait weeks before you can add fish to your tank

Woman carrying brand new empty glass fish tank

Think you’ll have your brand new tank up and running in under a day?

Think again.

Before you can add fish to your aquarium, you need to perform a task called
cycling your aquarium
– forcing your tank to go through the nitrogen cycle.

To put it simply, this process introduces good bacteria into your aquarium. These bacteria help break down harmful chemicals that are given off from waste such as fish poop.

Unfortunately, it can take some time for this bacteria to grow. In fact, the cycling process can take as long as 8 weeks!

While there are tricks you can use to make your tank cycle faster, you are still going to need to wait before you can add fish to your new aquarium.

Cycling a tank is an essential part of setting up a new aquarium. Skipping this process can cause your fish to suffer from stress, sickness and even death.

The takeaway: If you want a pet that you can show off immediately, a fish isn’t the right pet for you.

4. Fish keeping is chemistry

Goldfish swimming inside chemistry flask

The health of your fish entirely depends on the quality of the water they live in.

But to you and me, water just looks like water. You can’t simply glance at your aquarium and determine whether or not the water your fish live in is safe.

That’s where water chemistry comes in.

You will need to regularly test the water to monitor pH, KH, GH, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates among others.

Now, I must stress that the chemistry knowledge required to monitor the water quality in your aquarium is minor. In fact, I have guides on this site that can teach a beginner enough to get by in under an hour.

But even so, I have come across many would-be fish keepers who find this information overwhelming or worse, are just not interested.

The life of your fish depends on water chemistry. It’s not knowledge you can simply skip over.

The takeaway: If you don’t want to learn something new, then a fish is not the right pet for you.

5. More chores!

Woman cleaning fish tank with algae scraper

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Chores suck!

Keeping fish will add maintenance to your ever-growing list of things to do around your home.

In addition to testing the water quality, which I touched on in the last point, you need to perform tasks such as:

  • Feeding your fish
  • Changing the aquarium water
  • Vacuuming the bottom of the aquarium
  • Cleaning the aquarium walls
  • Rinsing the filter

…And more.

These are all essential tasks to ensure your fish live happy and healthy lives.

With practice and the proper equipment, aquarium maintenance should take you less than 30 minutes every two weeks.

The takeaway: If you can’t squeeze regular maintenance into your busy schedule, a fish is not the right pet for you.

6. Fish are not a companion animal

Man sitting next to fish tank watching the fish

A fish isn’t going to interact with you the same way a dog or cat does – don’t expect a fish to follow you from room to room, demanding your attention.

Except for feeding time, most fish swim around doing their own thing, quietly ignoring you.

Fish are an interesting pet in that while they require feeding and care, they are more like a painting – amazing to look at but won’t keep you company on the lonely nights.

The takeaway: If you want a pet to keep you company, a fish is not the right pet for you.

7. Fish need care while you are on vacation!

Woman relaxing in hammock on vacation while dreaming of feeding her fish at home

Planning a vacation or leaving the home for an extended period of time?

Fish are not exactly practical travel pets.

You will need someone to take care of your fish while you are away.

Unfortunately, due to the size and weight of an aquarium, you can’t just leave it at your relatives – someone will have to come to your home to care for your fish.

While there are products like automatic fish feeders and slow release blocks that will feed your fish while you are away, you still need someone to perform regular maintenance such as water changes.

And this requires someone with experience in the hobby – you don’t want to return home to dead fish, do you?

So, if you are someone who spends extended periods of time away from home, you will need a plan in place to look after your fish.

The takeaway: If you are away from home a lot, a fish is not the right pet for you.


Don’t get me wrong, fish are amazing pets.


They are not for everyone.

And, I would rather that you figure it out now instead of wasting time, effort, money and the lives of innocent fish before you realize that fish are not an appropriate pet for you.

Still reading and see no cause for concern?

Fish might be the perfect pet for you!

If that’s the case, then check out the ultimate beginner’s guide to fishkeeping.

In this guide, I teach you everything you need to know from choosing the right aquarium to the proper maintenance to keep fish happy and healthy. If you are new to the hobby, it is a must read.

Do you have another deal breaker that should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Ian Sterling

I've been keeping fish for over 30 years and currently have 4 different aquariums – it's an addiction. I'm here to teach you everything there is to know about fishkeeping.

I also use this site as an excuse to spend lots of money on testing and reviewing different aquarium products! You can find my reviews here.

Comments (29)

Hi Carmelia,

Thanks for your comment. It all depends on your definition of hard work. I find taking a dog for a half hour walk every day hard work, but think nothing of spending the same time caring for my fish tank.

The purpose of this guide is to highlight that while fish make great pets, they certainly are not for everyone. It’s better that you identify this before wasting time and money to buy an aquarium and fish than after.

Great article. Tried dogs twice, found myself keeping fish. The former actually is more time and cost-demanding in my experience. At least my fish just poop in the tank, and let the vacuum from the bottom outflow suck it out hehe. Yes true- sunday afternoon usually goes to the tanks maintenance. And yes, completely agree that once you’ve got everything set-up, minimal maintenance is required. I love the hobby. Its one of the reasons coming home from work seems more exciting haha.

Hoping this article would help create awareness to the people that the hobby really is a commitment and dedication, not just a fad or an impulsive choice.

Whisky and arowanas over tv any time. ????


Hi Bioload Man,

Arowanas, hey? Beautiful fish. I’d enjoy coming home from work to that too!

I completely agree with your feedback – once you get your head around the learning curve, maintenance is minor. I mean, most people spend more time each day walking their dogs. The thing is, everyone already knows how to walk, so this isn’t seen as a challenge. Learning about water quality on the other hand is slightly different.

Dog, cat, fish… Every pet needs maintenance, but for some reason fish are often seen as decorations, rather than pets. Pet stores selling betta by the cup hasn’t helped change this perception either.

I’m glad you saw this article for what it was – a way to create awareness!

Your article was so very helpful! After reading your site I found out my fish had Ick and I was able to get it all cleared up. Thank you very much.

Hi AlexisAnn,

I’m glad you were able to catch ich in the early stages. It’s a death sentence if you don’t fix it quick.

Beautiful article. I have been keeping fish tanks since 19 years and this journey of keeping tanks has been very pleasant and my hobby has now become my passion.
It was good to read in the comments section that there are many more people like me who come home very tired from work and get charged up looking at their tanks.
Sunday afternoons are obviously dedicated to fish tank cleaning, thats a pleasure !!
Thank you for the article.

Hi Sumit,

Just like you, I could stare at my tanks for hours. Well, I could if I had the spare time. It’s the perfect way to relax. You must really enjoy the hobby to still be at it 19 years later. The time flies, huh?

Hmm. While I do love fish, and agree with most everything, I must mention that goldfish live 10-20 years, some have lived to 30, and the oldest was 43 years old. These should not be throw-away pets at all!

I read this article when I thought I wanted a fish tank. I started with a 5 gallon and 3 guppies. Now I have my 5 gallon for my beta, another for guppies and a frog, and a 20 gallon community tank. I am choosing a place to put a 40 gallon. Definitely turning into a passion. I do all the tank maintenance the same day and it’s maybe an hour between them. Check the levels periodically to figure if I need an early water change and then it’s all bubbles and light shows. I love my pet fishies and the cats seem to enjoy looking at them.

Hi Jenisa,

Thanks for sharing! While fish certainly are not for everybody, they make great pets for those who are happy to measure and tinker. In fact, it can become quite an obsession. I’m really happy to hear that you are enjoying fishkeeping!

fish take more time than you think and it can be very sad when a fish dies so some fish can be your friend too. So fish can be a good pet too even with a busy schedule.

I have 5 aquariums set up rangeing in sizes from a 10 gallon to 55 gallon, it’s become quite a great hobby, started it a couple years before I retired, and it has blossomed. It’s a great hobby, it helps fill in my days when there is nothing going on.

Hi Meryl,

Sounds like you have been bitten by the fish keeping bug. While they may not be for everyone, if they click for you then they are arguably the perfect pets! I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the hobby. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Fish will interact with you the same way a dog or a cat would…. Have you kept a flowerhorn before? Or seen someone keep one? Raise one right, and you will see that they are almost dog like.

Hi Omar,

While some fish are certainly more interactive than others, it’s still a stretch to say that they interact with you the same way a dog or cat would – they are confined to a tank.

Do any of you guys mess with native set-ups? You don’t have to spend considerable amounts of cash to have beautiful fish. You don’t even have to buy the deco to have a beautiful tank setup, maybe several different species profile tank setups that are just as beautiful as expensive setups! To me, there’s something different about it & I personally find it more satisfying to catch your own fish and collect the wood & rocks to set a tank up. Then, just make it beautiful! I’m a weirdo I suppose but I love to build little fish caves, sometimes larger caves. It just depends if they’re a schooling species or a larger fish who need more room to hide. The fish seem to know exactly what to do with them and some are like me, not much on roommates! They’ll let others know that this caves mine, maybe there’s a vacancy somewhere else! Others are more like college students lol, roommates are welcome. Like I said, I’m a weirdo & maybe I find it more intriguing because your watching the nature of the beasts that inhabit the waterways near you? Perhaps it’s because the only cash I’m out of is cost of gas, a small fish(minnow)trap or fishing pole(depending on your size preference) & even a crawfish trap(if you’ve never owned a crawfish, they’re quit interesting to have as well). Point is, large or small you can have a great looking tank setup or maybe several different species profiles tank setups for a little cash and the love of being out in the midst of nature collecting what you find beautiful. Then you’re on your way to a setup that your extra proud of because you chased these little boogers down, trapped them, caught them on a rod and reel or even caught them with your own two hands all while doing something you love! If your skeptical and think “no way a fish from a creek can be as pretty as my tropical fish”, google Darter Minnows!

Hi Angie,

Thanks for sharing your awesome experience.

Nothing weird about this at all. However, certain states have laws that prevent this. It’s also a little more difficult than going to a store and buying a fish.

I agree that crawfish are interesting – their obsession with destroying every single plant you add to your tank is frustrating!

I’m glad to hear you have found a way to get involved in the hobby in your own unique way. It sounds like you are having a lot of fun and that’s the whole point of fish keeping – it’s a hobby you should enjoy!

You should really write a book. I would read it. I’m lmao because I got a fish tank nov 2019 and learning the same way you did. Your story gives me hope.

Hi Laura,

Welcome to the hobby, I hope you are enjoying it. There is a lot to learn but trust me, it certainly gets easier. Hang in there! Thanks for the kind words, it means a lot to me.

Hi Alana,

Unfortunately, if you are still under your parents guardianship, it is their decision. They probably want you to be happy, but there are many factors that go into this, for example, they have to pay for the food and equipment, which can be expensive.

I had the choice between getting a pet fish and a pet bird. I wanted to be helpful because my dad said that a fish would be better and I said ok to it. The next day I was going to tell him I changed my mind about it but he already bought the fish tank. Now he has everything and still doesn’t have the fish or even set up the tank. I am now thinking that I will be so bored of it that I might forget about it. I really just want a pet that I will be able to handle with my own hands and can be taught to do things on command. Any advice? Note : it has been over 5 months since he got the supplies.

Hi Amina,

Providing parent + relational is kind of outside of the scope of this blog. I am of the opinion that honesty is always the best thing in relationships. Your dad can’t guess what you are thinking, and you can’t guess what he is thinking. The only way to know for sure is to sit down and have a meaningful discussion about what you want.

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