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What You Need to Know Before Buying Your First Pet Koi

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.

Koi are beautiful

Koi are beautiful

Start With a Pond

This suggestion is not carved in stone, but it will serve you better in the long run. Koi are more suited to ponds than an aquarium for two reasons. The first concerns their nature; koi want to exist in a group. Frankly, they look better as a group.

This brings us to the second issue—their size. At age two, koi can easily reach six inches. This growth spurt continues for the first five years until they reach between 15 and 18 inches. A single koi that big could already find an aquarium stifling, even if it's a big tank. Imagine keeping more than one koi in an aquarium. Overcrowding will quickly become a problem, and any experienced fish keeper knows overcrowding is an invitation for stress and disease.

They Produce a Lot of Waste

Koi like their food. As a result, they produce a great amount of waste. This kind of nitrogenous deposit can be harmful to your fish and a burden on the filtration equipment; which is another reason not to keep them in an aquarium. When koi have a sufficient amount of water, the large volume dilutes waste before it can become toxic. This also allows the filtration system time to work and not get overwhelmed.

On a related topic, koi won't thrive on a diet of supermarket fish flakes. They love variety, for example, a mix of high-quality commercial food, supplements and homemade meals. A high-quality commercial diet is fine but one must also be aware that koi have different dietary needs during winter and summer, and also during the different stages of their lives (babies need a good amount of protein). Koi food needn't be a headache. However, it's a good idea to familiarize oneself with what they should be eating. Always remember, the cheaper a commercial brand, the more likely it's substandard food.

Overpopulation is not only unhealthy and tragic, but also removes the beauty of a koi pond where simplicity and minimalism is key.

Overpopulation is not only unhealthy and tragic, but also removes the beauty of a koi pond where simplicity and minimalism is key.

Necessary Equipment

Unfortunately, koi won't survive long if left in water without a heating system. This is something to be aware of if they're in an outdoor pond and winter is approaching. Be prepared for a little extra on the electric bill, though there are cost-saving power options out there. Shop around before installing anything that uses electricity.

What You'll Need for Koi

  • Heater
  • Filtration system
  • Quarantine or hospital tub
  • Net to catch your koi with
  • Drainage at the bottom of the pond
  • Air system
  • A good dechlorinator

These are just the basics. You're looking at a lot more, such as building material if you create the pond from scratch and supplies should you want to compile a first-aid and medical collection (a good idea).

Beware: The Tategoi

This is probably not your first koi article. While brushing up on your new fascination with koi, you should've encountered the exciting term tategoi—young fish that shows some sort of valuable potential. The problem is not with tategoi koi themselves, but that unscrupulous sellers often abuse the description to sell fish that are anything but. Since tategoi can become prize winners, these young fish are highly sought after. Where there's demand, there's usually a scam artist. The world of koi is no different.

Tategoi Tips

The main issue is a lack of precise rules describing tategoi. Any breeder who feels their fish are future champions can call them tategoi. Here are some guidelines to help you find a possible show winner or breeder to improve your stock.

  • Get the help of a trusted expert. Individuals who've been in the koi hobby for longer can offer invaluable insights and even facilitate a purchase through their network of connections
  • If no such friend is available, research the breeder offering the tategoi. What is their reputation among other buyers, how long have they been breeding koi and do they seem professional?
  • Learn as much as you can about well-bred koi; fin placement, body shape, skin quality and markings—tategoi in particular, should have an unblemished head, great skin and intense markings.
Given enough space, a few companions and the right conditions, koi are easy to keep.

Given enough space, a few companions and the right conditions, koi are easy to keep.

Do You Have the Time?

This hobby can be time-consuming. Serious enthusiasts, who appreciate breeding, showing and maintaining elaborate ponds spend hours a day with their koi. Luckily for those who just want the beautiful view with minimal effort, one needn't dedicate half your life to the hobby. After the initial set-up process, all that's required is a daily feeding and check that everything's running smoothly.

However, one must still be aware that you'd probably spend more time with your koi than with, say, a gold fish or guppies. At the barest, koi don't demand much. It's a different story, for the casual keeper, when there's an injury to treat, a disease outbreak or equipment (or power) failure. Such things tend to demand immediate attention and follow-ups over the next few weeks until things settle down again.

Koi Are Worth Keeping

This article was not meant to put you off. Koi can be undemanding and easy to care for—if you enter the game prepared. Instead of seeing preparations as rain on your parade, remember that they'll increase the satisfaction of your new hobby. That way, you'll avoid a lot of heartbreaking and costly novice mistakes. Take the time to consider if you really want koi. Should the answer be an excited “Yes,” then properly prepare for their arrival and the joy your koi is sure to bring.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit