It's All Connected

It's All Connected

Saturday, February 12, 2011

FYI: Petco is Not for Fishing

I figure every once in a while I will post these little FYI posts, because let's face it, I think I know a lot and feel it my obligation to share said knowledge with the seven people who read my blog.

Twelve days ago we had to send back a fish to it's rightful owner. We had been fostering him since before Thanksgiving, and being the total emo I am, and Jero being the sweet man who wants to see me not crying over a Betta, we decided to go and get ourselves a fishy or two.

We walked into Petco and headed straight for the fancy goldfish. We thought we'd get two, and maybe a snail. There was one there, the only Telescope Goldfish in the bunch. She had HUGE green eyes and the rest of her was orange. She looked like a fish directly out of a Dr. Seuss book. Then there was another little fat orange one with tufts near her eyes that looked like long eyelashes. Needless to say, picking two was going to be difficult. Especially since Jero has weird eye issues and was bound and determined that if we got the one with the big eyes he'd come out one morning to it grotesquely damaged. We decided to pick a bowl first.

Are you kidding me Petco? Twenty dollars for a two gallon goldfish bowl??

Now, I understand that when picking a pet you shouldn't be thinking about money. If you don't have the means to care for an animal, you shouldn't have an animal. That being said, most pet owners worry about possible vet bills and the like. We didn't go out and buy a thousand dollar Irish Wolfhound (my dream dog) because we could not afford an Irish Wolfhound. We went through rescue programs and found two very wonderful additions to our family because that was in our means to do so. Thinking about the cost does not make you a bad pet owner, it makes you financially responsible. It was never a question of if we could feed or shelter our dogs, and though vet bills do make me sweat a lot, we have always found a way to do what our dogs needed.

Fish are different. Fish are not long term pets. Some are. Some can just keep swimming for years. Goldfish do not fall in this category.

I was an avid fish caretaker in my youth. From everything to a few goldfish in a bowl to an elaborate saltwater tank with a live coral reef. The longest I ever had a goldfish was three years. Which is an eternity in goldfish years.

Goldfish die. Why on earth would I spend twenty bucks on a fishbowl? But, at this point we'd seen the fish and were definitely getting one. We decided to ask the fish person what she recommended as far as size. She looked at us like we were the scum of the earth and said, "you can't put two fish in a bowl!"

We did learn something. We learned that for every half inch of fish you need a gallon of water. Wow. That's a lot of space for two fancy goldfish and a snail.

I still think we were suckered. Now, she was probably right about the bowl. But, we ended up buying a ten gallon tank, with filter, light source, sample food and chemicals. Rocks, Mt. Wannahockaloogie and other decorations. Fish food, net, more chemicals, and an air pump.

Folks, the goldfish that lived three years? I won him at a demolition derby at our local fair. I carried him in that sack all day long. Got him home and stuck him in a glass bowl...maybe it held a gallon of water. He eventually did go into a larger tank when I decided I wanted fish that would need a light source and heater, but that was LONG after I got him. I learned to put Start Right in the water when I had two out of the five other goldfish I bought die of bloat. Kiss This (that was his name) lived through it all. I will admit he was a hearty fish.

Come on! We totally got suckered. But, the idea of getting back into this hobby after a decade and a half away from it was kind of clouding my judgment.

She told us that our tank should be set up and running for 24-36 hours before we introduce fish to it. So, we spent too much money and didn't even come home with a fish.

Twenty four hours later, I was back at Petco. The same girl helped me. She informed me that snails required a heat source, but a Plecostomus did not. So, I picked out Tara (big eyes), Willow (Oranda goldfish), and Angel (Plecostomus that lurks). The lady was very nice, she helped me pick out the right air pump and sent me on my way.

Three days later, on Saturday, Kelly got to pick out a fish for remembering three things he learned that week in school. He picked a larger Oranda which he named Daisy Buffy Squarepants. Jero picked a beautiful Shubunkin goldfish we named Spike.

Now, I am going to stop here, because I am about to rip on Petco big time. I know the wonderful things Petco does. I know they help shelter pets until adoption. I understand that when fish are shipped to them they arrive extremely stressed. There is bound to be a high mortality rate in new tanks. Fish who are not hearty cannot handle the stress of new tank after new tank. I get all that.

But I have some justified anger surrounding the way they sold these fish.

The fish food that they sold me told me to feed my fish several times a day in amounts that could be consumed in a few minutes. I did this to the glee of my seemingly always hungry fish. Tara was undeniably my favorite. Her great big eyes and the way she swam made her seem always so happy. She was the first to get sick.

She started having issues with floating. She'd float to the top and would rest there, unable to swim to the center or bottom of the tank. She looked miserable, fins all droopy, big eyes somehow sad.

I went to Petco to get more chemicals so I could change out half the water. I knew she had bloat, and Jero had found that this is a common problem with Telescope goldfish. The site he found online said that you should only feed your goldfish once a day, because they have no stomachs overfeeding can cause constipation. It said to feed her lightly boiled, peeled peas. He did. The young man at Petco was very honest, he said that their fancy tanks had Ick. He told me what treatment chemicals he would use.

I got home, put Tara in her own bowl because the other fish were picking on her, and changed out the water. When I went to put Tara back in, she was dead. I took her to Petco with a sample of my water and was then told that her eyes were far too big, even for Telescopes and that she was probably deformed. They gave me a refund. The nice young man told me what to watch for in my tank to see if I had Ick.

That was last Sunday. I'd had the tank for four days.

Then, on Wednesday, Jero called me at work to tell me that Spike had died. He was having an issue with one of his fins. Buffy, the bully, was really aggressive during feeding times. We had talked to a girl from Petco who told us there wasn't a whole lot of damage goldfish can do to each other, and that he probably wasn't as hurt as he seemed. Spike seemed to perk up the next day, but then when Jero came out of the shower he was dead.

I was furious. I had never lost two fish so closely together. When Jero took him and a water sample back to Petco, they had finally put ONE sign up on ONE tank saying they were under observation. Code for Ick. Jero got to see exactly what Ick looks like. The thing about one sign is that their tanks share a water source.

Our water had a slightly elevated ammonia level, but not high enough to kill Spike. We treated our water to remove the ammonia.

Then, yesterday morning, after picking up Kelly, Jero told me we had Ick.

Basically, due to still not holding down food, I had to pump Jero up to be strong when he went to Petco. We needed the medication to treat the Ick, and I wanted to give that place a piece of my mind through my gentle fiance.

I get the good they do. I get they are a large chain and the bottom line is what matters, but they have a responsibility to sell healthy pets, or to inform a customer of any illness.

We should have been informed that their tanks had Ick. When fish come in, naturally stressed, they should not be immediately put in tanks with healthy fish for sale. They should be quarantined for ten days until they know there is no illness. Tara, so obviously misshapen, should have been sold with a warning that she probably wouldn't last long. A customer should not be told once her fish start dying that they had Ick when she bought them.

Because of these things, we did get the medicine for free, but this is little consolation. Jero and I are animal people. We know fish are not long term pets, but we have had two fish die and two very ill out of the FIVE fish we purchased in less than two weeks.

The moral of this story? Petco is good for many things, but I would not purchase your fish there. If you do, I hope this educates you as to the questions you should ask when you buy your pets (this experience makes me nervous about the rodents they sell as well) there.

When did they come in? Are there illnesses in your tanks? Are the directions on this package correct?

I hope you have better luck than us and your fish just keep swimming on and on.


  1. I am a firm believer they do not make fish as strong as they used to. I, like you, have had goldfish live in a little bowl with the water changed weekly for over a year. Now, when you go buy a goldfish they make you buy a whole tank set up and it still ends up with dead fish. I would suggest seeking out a locally owned fish store (I used to have an awesome one down in Pullman) and talk to them about taking care of fish. The people at Petco don't know jack.

  2. Thanks for the good advice! We were planning on finding a good local pet store to add a new fish when our tank is finally stable and safe. Figured the staff would be more knowledgeable and the fish wouldn't be so stressed out right from the get go. :D