SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Are Fish the Right Companion Animals for You?

A recent survey conducted by Companion Animals New Zealand revealed that there are over 1.37 million pet fish in New Zealand, outnumbering both cats and dogs.

Fish can be fascinating pets! They are intelligent, delightful and charismatic animals. However, they are not an “easy” pet to care for. There are some key factors to consider before choosing to take on the responsibility of a fish.

Requirements Differ Between Species

The needs and wants of fish may differ depending on the species.They rely on you to maintain their optimal water conditions, including pH levels, temperature, dissolved oxygen levels (aeration), removal of waste (filtration) and providing adequate environmental enrichment in their tank. It is also important to have access to a veterinarian who specialises in fish to monitor the physical health of your fish.

We recommend you thoroughly research the species of fish you are interested in caring for and understand their specific water maintenance requirements. Regular testing of water quality is an important role in caring for fish. Some pet retail stores can assist by offering free water testing of your tank water or you can also purchase at home water testing kits.

Requirements Change with Time

Some species of aquarium fish may be small when first acquired but will need a lot of space as they grow older. For example, the South American black pacu, can reach up to 1.1m in length! Even the common goldfish may outgrow their aquarium with time, which goes against the commonly believed myth that they will grow to the size of their tank. Adult goldfish can grow up to 30cm in length and would therefore require a tank size of at least 150 L.

We recommend you consider the long term care of the species, and anticipate the needs and wants of your fish when they are fully grown. The average life-span of fish vary greatly. Betta fish can live between 3- 5 years, whereas goldfish receiving proper care can live for 40+ years!

Appropriate Primary Caregivers

Caring for fish is a very rewarding experience. It is exciting to get to know their individual personalities and observe their body language and they will get to know you too! A study on Archer fish showed that they could recognise and differentiate between 44 human faces!

Aquarium keeping can be a great educational experience for children, as it requires knowledge of biology, chemistry and ecology. It can provide opportunities to learn basic fish anatomy and behaviour, to complex processes such as the nitrogen cycle!

We recommend that adults must always be the primary carers of fish. For further information and to involve your children in the decision making process check out the fish care section on the SPCA Kids Portal!

Fish have adapted to and live in a very different environment to our own. Therefore, it will take a bit more research, time and resources to make sure they are happy and healthy in their homes. Please carefully consider the needs of your fish species before bringing them into your home, to ensure they are a good match for you and/or your family.


Companion Animals New Zealand. (2020). Companion Animals in New Zealand 2016. Auckland, New Zealand: Author. https://www.companionanimals.nz/publications

Newport, C., Wallis, G., Reshitnyk, Y. et al. Discrimination of human faces by archerfish (Toxotes chatareus). Sci Rep 6, 27523 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep27523

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