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Fish: The Easy Pet Alternative

Fish make great pets. Although you can't pet them or play with them as you would with a dog or cat or smaller pet, they can bring life and color to your home.

Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner stopped by The Early Show Monday to explain how a pet fish can be a great alternative for a family that doesn't have time to walk a dog or care for a cat.

Fish provide a way to teach children responsibility and tech them how to care for an animal. But, as with any pet, there is a certain amount of knowledge needed.

For someone who wants to spend minimal time caring for a pet, the beta fish is ideal. Beta fish are inexpensive to buy, and make great pets for kids of all ages. They require little space, and do not need a filter or heater.

Beta fish, on average, live for two to three years and need a tank of two to five gallons of water. While live foods, such as insects, are ideal for these fish, they can adapt to a pinch of flaked Beta food once a day.

The most popular pet in the world, the goldfish, makes for an easy pet. There are different types of goldfish, but they all have similar origins and genetic structure. Some are quite small, while others, such as the Koi, can grow approximately 12-18 inches long. Aside form orange, goldfish also come in white, red and black colors.

Goldfish, which live can live two to 10 years, can be fed flaked, pellet, frozen and freeze dried fish food. It is best to get your fish to eat as many different kinds of food as you can to ensure they are getting everything they need. Feed them once a day as much as they can consume in that one feeding (without food falling to the bottom of the tank).

Goldfish range in price from $5 to up to $30. And a 20 gallon starter kit will cost you around $80.

If you desire a more labor-intensive pet, consider purchasing a warm freshwater fish. If you are a beginner, you'll do better to start with a cold water aquarium. When you have more experience with fish and aquariums, you can get an aquarium heater and convert your cold-water aquarium to a warm-water aquarium.

The habitat and care of a warm freshwater tank is very similar to a cold freshwater tank, except for the use of a heater. You should check your thermometer everyday to ensure that the tank is between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, a water change should be done once a week removing one-third of the water from your aquarium, replacing it with fresh water.

Lastly, saltwater fish tend to have the bright, fluorescent-like colors everyone enjoys. The clownfish — like Nemo — is one example. However, tropical saltwater fish are for the more advanced pet owner.

You will need to feed your saltwater fish once a day. If you have several species at once, it's important to give each the right food. Depending on the size and the shape of the mouth, fish will feed on three levels: on the surface of the water; mid-water, where they wait for smaller morsel to drop down; and bottom feeding fish, where the fish digs around.

Saltwater fish can be very expensive. anywhere from $20 to $1000 per fish. The filtration systems are costly as well. You need to regulate the salt levels as well as other levels in the water. Some very specialized units are required to keep the water quality perfect. All together a fully equipped starter tank, not including fish, can run upwards of $800 to $1,000.