Giving pets as gifts is a gift-option that is often best avoided. Owning pets is an emotional and physical- as well as financial- obligation that many people may not be ready or willing to invest in. So, while your friend may wax lyrical about how much they’d love to have a beautiful marine aquarium filled with exotic reef life and exquisite invertebrates, stop yourself before you go out and buy them a Pufferfish. In the end, they just may not be ready.

Sure, owning fish is a bit less work than say owning a dog that has to be walked every day or a cat that needs its litterbox changed every hour. In addition, fish don’t need to be groomed (generally) and have easy to meet dietary requirements (sometimes). But they still require regular water changes, heaters, filters… the list grows every time you add a fish to the tank. Even Betta fish, often seen in bowls on receptionist desks, have specific needs and requirements that your friend may not be willing or able to commit to at this point in their life.

Consider, for a moment, the goldfish. The goldfish is the most common fish sold in the aquarium business. There are hundreds of varieties and styles of goldfish available and many of them are hardy fish tank companions. They don’t require a special tank heater and are happy to eat flake food. What could be difficult about owning a goldfish? Waste! Goldfish have large appetites and produce incredible amounts of waste that must be filtered constantly. In addition, this means that regular water changes have to happen every 10 days in order to keep them at optimal health. Now imagine that this goldfish that you purchased for your friend is rather long-lived… You’ve saddled your unwilling friend with a fish that requires a water change and tank cleaning every 10 days and can live easily for 20 years. That means your friend could end up doing 730.5 tank changes just over the lifetime of one or two goldfish! Nothing says friendship like the gift of a reoccurring chore!

If your heart is set on helping your friend achieve their dreams of being a stay-at-home aquarist, take some time and talk to them about it. Avoid picking up fish on the spur of the moment and instead research fish with your friend and offer to buy one or two of their favorite type as a gift if your friend decides this is what they want to do. Never surprise a friend or distant relative with a pet!

Adding pets to the family, however, is slightly different. If your child wishes to own a fish, consider for yourself if YOU want the hassle of raising a surprise pet. Remember, children have to learn responsibility and owning a pet means that most of the responsibility for its health and wellness with fall on you. Take your own needs and desires under consideration. Do YOU want to handle changing the water? Do YOU want to handle cutting up fish meat for your carnivorous fish? Can YOU afford the dietary needs of the more extravagant fish that your children may want to add to your tank?

Pet ownership should never be the result of an impulse purchase. Remember, animals have no voice; they rely on us to provide them with appropriate care and companionship.