How do we know when our fish are happy/content/thriving?

Byron

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So you don't agree with keeping tetras that often live in groups of hundreds in the wild?

If we decide to keep fish we have an obligation to recognize their expectations (in the genetic makeup of the species) and provide the best we can. We know these things matter. A study a few years ago proved without any question that shoaling fish kept in groups of 10 as opposed to groups of 1, 3 and 5, were in better health, had significantly less aggressive tendencies, digested their food better, etc, etc. One of the species studied was the Tiger Barb, and the authors noted that the fish placed together in groups less than 10 became so violent toward each other so rapidly, that they took those tanks/fish out of the study to avoid inhumanity to the fish. They commented that this behaviour supported the general view in the hobby that this species must be kept in larger groups.

The point is though you will never get anywhere close to matching their wild conditions. If you did they would die a lot quicker anyway. Do you think the majority of fish care if the plants and rocks in the tank are the same as they would have in their native habitat? Or do you think maybe all they care about is that they have the right amount of cover, or substrate, or whatever to be close enough for them to go through their normal behavior?

It depends what you mean by "natural conditions." The items I mentioned previously will not shorten their lives, they will allow them to live to and maybe sometimes beyond. The whole point is avoiding stress, so why would one introduce severe stress to replicate the habitat predators? That makes no sense at all. And yes, having the cover, substrate, etc they "expect" because it is inherent to the species is what matters, and what the fish do care about. We all know what placing a fish in a bare tank does. This is all part of the same underlying issue.

Also I really hope this isn't coming across as becoming personal. I'm really enjoy debating this kind of thing and it is something that should be argued from all sides for the sake of the welfare of the animals we keep and the improvement of the hobby.

I certainly agree, thank you.
 

xxBarneyxx

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Jacques Gery said over ten years if it is provided with the water parameters it needs.
Interesting. I have never seen any source that said over 5 years so will look that up. I have had cardinals myself that were over 4 years old and still going strong but had to rehome them.
 

xxBarneyxx

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If we decide to keep fish we have an obligation to recognize their expectations (in the genetic makeup of the species) and provide the best we can. We know these things matter. A study a few years ago proved without any question that shoaling fish kept in groups of 10 as opposed to groups of 1, 3 and 5, were in better health, had significantly less aggressive tendencies, digested their food better, etc, etc. One of the species studied was the Tiger Barb, and the authors noted that the fish placed together in groups less than 10 became so violent toward each other so rapidly, that they took those tanks/fish out of the study to avoid inhumanity to the fish. They commented that this behaviour supported the general view in the hobby that this species must be kept in larger groups.
But there is a line that has to be drawn and as far as I'm aware not a lot of real research to say exactly where that line should be. We can all agree that a small group of tiger barbs is a bad idea but how much difference would it make to their well being if you had a group of 30, or 50 or 300? It would take years of study to truly answer these questions so we do the best with what we know (or think we know). Like you have said we can't talk to them so it comes back to the metric of how do you define a healthy fish.

From an ethical point of view the only 100% sure way to not subject fish to conditions in aquariums that might not be ideal for them is to not keep them in the first place.

It depends what you mean by "natural conditions." The items I mentioned previously will not shorten their lives, they will allow them to live to and maybe sometimes beyond. The whole point is avoiding stress, so why would one introduce severe stress to replicate the habitat predators? That makes no sense at all. And yes, having the cover, substrate, etc they "expect" because it is inherent to the species is what matters, and what the fish do care about. We all know what placing a fish in a bare tank does. This is all part of the same underlying issue.
On the one hand you are advocating precisely replicating their wild conditions they expect. Part of that in the wild in predator evasion. By your own admission you say you don't know what is best for the fish so you should replicate their habit as closely as possible. You don't know if lacking natural predators and the removal of breeding/survival pressures actually increases quality of life or not. Maybe the brain chemistry in fish that are prey species and have that kind of selective pressure put on them is actually conducive to better muscle growth. There is no way to know and that kind of research will probably never actually be done.

IMO I believe that to a fish a cave is a cave, a plant is a plant (unless they are eating it or otherwise have some kind of special relationship with it). As long as it is "close enough" I honestly don't think it effects fish all that much. Obviously there is a minimum requirement depending on species. Like you said a bare tank is almost always a bad idea. However there is again a cut off point were as long as the necessities are met the specifics don't matter. This is unfortunately another of those areas though were the exact answer on where that line needs to be will never be answered. Nobody is going to spend the time and money needed to do the research properly and we are all going to have to go off personal experience and anecdotal evidence for the most part.
 

Byron

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We do know that the "predator escape" reaction in fish is the absolute highest form of stress. This is why chasing a fish around the tank with a net is so detrimental, and the fish once home often have ich. Severe stress. I don't know how you could argue that somehow subjecting fish to this sort of extreme trauma is going to make them stronger or healthier. It does not work with other animals, it cannot work with fish.

There is another aspect to this too, and that is that many of the fish we keep do not really have aggressive predators in the habitat. Birds overhead, yes. But rarely are there predatory fish living in the same habitat. This is what I keep mentioning when it comes to neotropical cichlid species being kept together--no where is there more than one species of cichlid in Central America in the same habitat (so far as I have ever been able to determine) and the larger species of cichlid (and probably the dwarfs too) in SA the same. So just by combining two cichlid species, if one or both are particularly dominant/aggressive, you are putting the fish at serious risk.

For some reason you have misinterpreted my original comments, so I better clarify. When I say we must know the habit conditions and apply them, I do not mean that we must import that particular sand, wood, plant, etc. Sand is sand and the fish like cories must have sand, so any safe sand is giving them what they "expect." Chunks of wood are good, but it can be ceramic chunks. If fish need plants for cover, any plant will provide this. Dim light is dim light due to overhanging forest canopy, but we don't need to construct an amazon forest, we can use floating plants, or less intense light.
 

Byron

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Interesting. I have never seen any source that said over 5 years so will look that up. I have had cardinals myself that were over 4 years old and still going strong but had to rehome them.

Water parameters matter. A study in the 1980's in Germany raised groups of cardinal tetras in tanks, each with a different GH. The fish in the tank with very soft water lived considerably longer, and the authors determined that the length of life was proportional to the GH; the harder the water the shorter the life. Upon death the fish were examined by necropsy, and calcium blockage of the kidneys was the cause; the more calcium in the water, the more blockage and shorter life. There were no external signs of any of this, the fish were alive one day and dead the next. What we provide them in terms of what they need does matter.
 

malfunction

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A couple of things occurred to me as I read through this thread. The first was that there’s sometimes an underlying assumption with hobbyists that fish in their natural environment are always thriving. But can we really say this is the case? Just as we can’t read the mind of a fish in our aquarium, we also can’t read the mind of a wild fish in the Rio Xingu, or any other natural environment. A lot of fish spawn hundreds or thousands of young, simply because so many die from sickness, lack of food or predation. Can we really say that’s thriving?



The other thing that occurred to me is that genetics, and it’s impact on physiology is mutable and complex. Genes change over time, and science increasingly shows that there’s a complex interaction with environmental factors. We know from newer branches of science like epigenetics that environmental factors can directly change how genes are expressed, and that in some cases, these changes are heritable. So it’s perfectly feasible that fish that involved in a particular environment, can adapt and live comfortably in a new environment.



Going back to the original question, I think it’s too difficult for me to personally judge whether my fish are thriving. I’m not aware of any common definition of what fish thriving is, or any definitive criteria for measuring it. I’m sure a suitably determined ichthyologist/scientist could create both, but I suspect this is beyond the skillset of most hobbyists. For me, it’s more about balancing the factors that make my fish comfortable with my personal pleasure. There are basic things I can do to improve the quality of life of my fish. This includes providing clean water, suitable tank mates, nutritious food and sufficient space. I judge the results of this by the absence of disease, relative aggression levels, activity and colourfulness. I think these are good indicators of how comfortable they are. I can’t tell if they’re comfortable to the point of thriving, but I would guess that nobody can.
 

xxBarneyxx

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For some reason you have misinterpreted my original comments, so I better clarify. When I say we must know the habit conditions and apply them, I do not mean that we must import that particular sand, wood, plant, etc. Sand is sand and the fish like cories must have sand, so any safe sand is giving them what they "expect." Chunks of wood are good, but it can be ceramic chunks. If fish need plants for cover, any plant will provide this. Dim light is dim light due to overhanging forest canopy, but we don't need to construct an amazon forest, we can use floating plants, or less intense light.
ahh ok sorry, I had completely misread that and thought you was arguing for replicating habitats down to the species of plant and type of rock you would find in the wild, which seemed fairly unreasonable and not very achievable. That is why I raised the points of predatory evasion behavior and groups sizes.

Yeah I 100% agree with this then. That's why I tend towards planted tanks as for most of the fish I keep it is the best way to create an environment that meets their requirements.

We honestly probably agree on 95% of what we are saying here, just a few little specifics we have different views on.
 

JennySolano

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For starters, I'll personally discount 'happy' and 'content', as these are human emotions and we're talking fish, but I know some will use that language, as that is how they understand the creatures they care for.

I'll also accept that all of us in here actually do want they best for our fish, even if we haven't a clue as to how to go about it. This thread is NOT intended to create judgement calls on people's apparent inability to make happy/content/thriving fish.

So we know that we cannot really communicate to any useful extent, or mutual benefit, with our charges...much as though some of us do genuinely believe they have a rapport.
So we have to use our observations of our fish, to ascertain their wellbeing.
Poorly fish are relatively easy to spot, as fish disease and parasites and general sickliness has been the bane of fishkeepers, ever since we started keeping them. As a consequence, a huge amount of research and effort has gone into poor fish health, it's diagnoses, its causes and its treatments.
It is tempted to believe that an absence of such means that the fish is well, content and thriving.

I think not.

We can have perfect physical and mental health and still not thrive. So it must be for fish.

Time and time again in this Forum I've seen the argument for meeting a fish's complex needs, in order for them to do way more than simply survive, or exist. Many of us have said that we believe our fish are thriving/have thrived, in spite of being in imperfect conditions.
As an example...my fish are always beautifully coloured, as they should be. Their behaviour is the same as that they exhibit when in the wild environment and they breed and raise young that appear to be totally healthy.
"Aaaah, but..." says someone. "The pH/water hardness/nitrate concentration/etc., isn't perfect for them, so they can't be thriving."
(Or should that be shouldn't be thriving? ;) ).

Any assessment on the wellbeing of our fish will be subjective, as long as it is within the parameters of good physical health.
I once knew someone who genuinely believed that her fish-babies loved her. She evidenced this by showing me how they all swam to the surface when she came into the room, to say 'Hello' and to pass on endearments! The reality was that the fish were always at the surface, gasping for air because of an over-stocked tank and poor oxygenation.

So how do YOU gauge the wellbeing of your fish?
For myself, I look for an absence of disease/parasitisation as a starting point.
Then I look for bright eyes and appropriately shiny and coloured scales/skin, with perky fins.
Then I'm looking for good movement and finally, for behaviour appropriate for an apparently healthy fish.
If all of the above are good and THEN there's breeding, then I think I must be doing something right...HOWEVER, given the artificiality of the environment in which the fish are kept, combined with a shortage of potentially suitable mates, I don't beat myself up if my fish don't breed.

So how do YOU gauge the wellbeing of your fish?
I’d have to say when I’ve matched their social & physical requirements. ie social fish with same kind. physical: suitable temp, water conditions ( parems) & diet. Plants or not. Tank size.

Healthy appearance & species appropriate activity level.
 

wasmewasntit

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Tough one to answer...

However, given that my hooligans have grown well (sometimes a little too well), are all reproducing very easily, have never experienced any illness/disease during their time with me (3 to 6 years), all eat well, "sleep" for long periods (thus showing they are not stressed by their environment) and I have not lost a fish in the last 3 years.....I think mine are happy, healthy and thriving pretty well.

That said, I have excellent/reputable suppliers of fish, they are spoilt rotten and for the most part they swim in Evian (expensive tastes in water)...so perhaps its just good fortune and I'm very lucky :)

(And none have complained about their living conditions as yet...something I have asked them each day when they wake up in the morning..."good morning my little munchkins, have you slept well?") ;)
 

itiwhetu

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Great thread. We don't Know, if they swim they are happy, if they sink they are sad. Really Humans are stupid if we can even half think, what a fish thinks. We as Human's are right up ourselves if we pretend that we know what any fish feels about life in a glass box.
 

TheTenthDoctor

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Here's how I tell if my fish are thriving.
1. Water parameters suit their species
2. Tank setup suits their species
3. Bright colors if they should have them
4. Active
5. Body relaxed, fins not clamped or not resting on the floor of the tank
6. eating well
7. breeding readily
 
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Bruce Leyland-Jones

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Here's how I tell if my fish are thriving.
1. Water parameters suit their species
2. Tank setup suits their species
3. Bright colors if they should have them
4. Active
5. Body relaxed, fins not clamped or not resting on the floor of the tank
6. eating well
7. breeding readily
Numbers 3-6 appear to be good indicators.
Caution should always be taken with no.7, as many stressed animals will desperately try to reproduce as a survival strategy, although successful reproduction of healthy young can also be seen as indications of successful animals. Tricky Fella, Johnny Reproduction! ;)
 

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When my tiger barbs are actively chasing each other and / or schooling I know they're happy and healthy.
 
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Spyro

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For starters, I'll personally discount 'happy' and 'content', as these are human emotions and we're talking fish, but I know some will use that language, as that is how they understand the creatures they care for.

I'll also accept that all of us in here actually do want they best for our fish, even if we haven't a clue as to how to go about it. This thread is NOT intended to create judgement calls on people's apparent inability to make happy/content/thriving fish.

So we know that we cannot really communicate to any useful extent, or mutual benefit, with our charges...much as though some of us do genuinely believe they have a rapport.
So we have to use our observations of our fish, to ascertain their wellbeing.
Poorly fish are relatively easy to spot, as fish disease and parasites and general sickliness has been the bane of fishkeepers, ever since we started keeping them. As a consequence, a huge amount of research and effort has gone into poor fish health, it's diagnoses, its causes and its treatments.
It is tempted to believe that an absence of such means that the fish is well, content and thriving.

I think not.

We can have perfect physical and mental health and still not thrive. So it must be for fish.

Time and time again in this Forum I've seen the argument for meeting a fish's complex needs, in order for them to do way more than simply survive, or exist. Many of us have said that we believe our fish are thriving/have thrived, in spite of being in imperfect conditions.
As an example...my fish are always beautifully coloured, as they should be. Their behaviour is the same as that they exhibit when in the wild environment and they breed and raise young that appear to be totally healthy.
"Aaaah, but..." says someone. "The pH/water hardness/nitrate concentration/etc., isn't perfect for them, so they can't be thriving."
(Or should that be shouldn't be thriving? ;) ).

Any assessment on the wellbeing of our fish will be subjective, as long as it is within the parameters of good physical health.
I once knew someone who genuinely believed that her fish-babies loved her. She evidenced this by showing me how they all swam to the surface when she came into the room, to say 'Hello' and to pass on endearments! The reality was that the fish were always at the surface, gasping for air because of an over-stocked tank and poor oxygenation.

So how do YOU gauge the wellbeing of your fish?
For myself, I look for an absence of disease/parasitisation as a starting point.
Then I look for bright eyes and appropriately shiny and coloured scales/skin, with perky fins.
Then I'm looking for good movement and finally, for behaviour appropriate for an apparently healthy fish.
If all of the above are good and THEN there's breeding, then I think I must be doing something right...HOWEVER, given the artificiality of the environment in which the fish are kept, combined with a shortage of potentially suitable mates, I don't beat myself up if my fish don't breed.

So how do YOU gauge the wellbeing of your fish?
People almost always look at everything through the concepts of the environment they live in, their own emotions and apply it to everything.
For example:
If I take a photo of my dog, laying down on my bed and looking at me typing. The dog that just came back from the walk and had leftover chicken and steak for dinner.
If I took a photo of it, with it's head on the paws. Photoshop the bed out and replace it with image of burned down house and dog on the door, post it on Facebook: People will comment on poor dog and how sad it looks. And say how they wished they could help the dog somehow, etc.
But it's the face of the dog that just had fun in the park, eat steak and chicken and currently resting on the comfy bed.

The happiest people I ever met were poor agrarian society people. With no luxuries and no money/wealth divide in community.
They work hard, sing and laugh non stop. Don't have concept of healthy food eating, cleanliness, pollution, sunscreen protection, etc.
They eat whatever they have, drink whatever they have, sleep and cook in conditions that would ban a restaurant or hotel for health and safety breaches for ever. Some of them live to very old age and some die young, but they are extremely happy.
On the other hand: people that live around me like kings and queens by comparison. Most are unhappy, stressed, complaining about everything and feeling sorry for themselves. Most live to very old age.
I guess, happiness and thriving are concepts that depend on the perception of the one doing the evaluation.

I guess: fish only care about finding food, being safe from predators and social/mating rituals themselves.
I guess if the fish is healthy and breeding then it's happy and thriving from it's own perspective.
 

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