Aquariums eventually have a mostly invisible cycle going on that lets you keep your fish healthy and alive. If this cycle didn't exist, toxic ammonia would quickly build up and poison your fish. This is how the cycle works:
Fish produce liquid and solid waste. The liquid waste contains ammonia, which is poisonous. It can cause burns to a fish's fins, gills, and insides if it gets above 0.25ppm, which takes very little time.
Fortunately, bacteria build up in your filter that use ammonia and turn it into nitrIte. NitrIte is also poisonous, but a second bacteria shows up that processes this chemical and turns it into nitrAte. NitrAte can reach much higher levels before becoming dangerous and if you have live plants they will use it to help them grow.
Aquariums don't come with this bacteria, the bacteria build up slowly over time. There are three ways to get this bacteria to grow.
The easiest way is to place a bit of filter media from an already cycled tank's filter in your filter. It will have bacteria on it, and if fed ammonia, the bacteria will multiply and colonize the new filter. You need to be careful. If the tank you get filter bacteria from has disease present you may bring in disease causing bacteria along with the helpful bacteria. Unfortunately, I know no one with an aquarium currently up and running.
You can start the cycle without fish by dumping measured amounts of ammonia in you tank (BEFORE you add fish), watching the levels of ammonia and nitrIte, and when they reach zero and you start seeing nitrAte appear you know you have bacteria established and add your fish.
If you can't find pure ammonia, you can do a cycle with fish, but to keep the fish unharmed you will need to do daily, maybe twice daily, water changes and test the water frequently to keep your fish healthy. This is what I did, since I couldn't find ammonia I could trust to be pure.
Dr. Seuss~DLH (brother's cat)~June 2007-
Misty~DSH (my cat & Mooby's mom)-?-
MooBoots(Mooby) ~ DMH(Mom's cat)~July 21, 2008-
Sunshine~ Golden retriever X white german sheperd (Dad's dog)~October 24, 2008-
Last edited by ownedbycats; June 3rd, 2012 at 01:52 PM.
Reason: spelling/grammar/more info