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Safety Concerns with an Aquarium

Is It Dangerous to Have an Aquarium?

(The First Tank Guide)

Are There Any Risks to Me or My Family from Keeping an Aquarium

There are possible health or safety risks related to keeping an aquarium. However, the probability of any of these actually occurring appear to be lower with pet fish than the dangers involved in any other animal as a pet. And remember, there is not any animal you can keep as a pet (that I am aware of) that does not pose some risk, in some way, to you or your family.

The dangers or risks associated with keeping fish in a home or office aquarium are actually quite varied, but like I said, they are quite rare. In fact, some of what I am listing here I have only anecdotal evidence of. but you can use this information to make an informed decision about keeping fish as pets.

Electricity and Water Don't Mix

When you set up a fish tank, you are using electricity with water. This can pose several risks. Most people are taught at a very young age that water and electricity don't mix, but even so, you still hear in the news from time to time about someone electrocuting themselves because they had something electrical with them in the bath or shower - and this is intermittently (appropriately or not) a comic device used in movies and television.

However, aquarium equipment is designed to be used this way and should not have any problems if properly maintained and cared for, and if used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Be sure to check whether any particular piece of aquarium equipment you are purchasing is OK to use under water, must be used under water, or cannot be used under water. Some pieces of equipment need to be under water to keep cool. Others, like most aquarium heaters, need to be partially under water at all times to keep from breaking. Still others, like most aquarium lights and all air pumps, need to stay out of the water.

You do want to check all your electrical aquarium equipment regularly for wear or other damage, or electrocution or fire become very real possibilities.

In addition, always set up a "drip loop" on any electrical cord on a piece of aquarium equipment, and on any piece of tubing connecting an electrical component to the fish tank. To set up a drip loop, you just need to make sure that the cord or tube goes down and then up again between the fish tank and the outlet, or the fish tank and the electrical equipment. What this does is allows water to drip off the bottom of the loop before rather than running into the electrical outlet, extension cord, power strip, or pump.

That being said, I have pieces of aquarium equipment that have been in constant use for 16 years or more with absolutely no problems.


There is also a possibility of drowning. It really takes a very small amount of water to drown a person, and with an aquarium you have not only the fish tank which is full of water, but also the various buckets you are using which can pose a risk for drowning.

If you keep a proper cover on your fish tank, and keep the tank itself generally out of reach of small children (i.e. a tank on the floor with a four year old around is a much bigger risk than a tank on a proper stand or piece of cabinetry) this risk should be less than the toilet or bathtub pose.

As for the buckets, just don't leave the buckets unattended when children are around, and keep an eye on your children around the fish tank.

Falling or Spilling Aquariums

There is a risk of the fish tank falling. Though I suspect this has actually happened in the real world, I believe it is much more likely in action movies than in anyone's home or office.

However, you can take steps to reduce this risk further. First, make sure that whatever you place your fish tank on is strong enough to support the tank. Remember how heavy fish tanks are. Your best choice will be to have a professional cabinet maker build you something, or to purchase a quality aquarium stand from a reputable pet shop. Also remember the weight of the tank when selecting a place in your home to place the aquarium.

Professionally made aquarium stands, when on a flat, level surface, are stable, especially when under the weight of a filled aquaarium.

Aquarium Fish

The fish themselves may also pose a risk, depending on what kind of fish you have.

Most fish have teeth and can bite (but this doesn't really make them any different than any other pet), but if you are providing proper care and give them proper food and space (and the respect they deserve), this should be a very minimal risk.

Some fish can scrape or scratch you, and others do have a venom they can inject through modified fins. However, the risk of any of these things happening is really very slim, especially (again) if you are providing proper care for the fish.

The time the fish pose the greatest risk to you is when you suddenly startle them, or when they are being caught to be transported, but, again, this is true of almost any animal.

What About Spreading Disease?

I have heard that there are a couple of bacterial infections that can be spread through aquariums. But I have never heard of this actually happening directly, only that it is a possibility. I would think the risk of this would be very low as well.


Allergies are typically something you think about with dogs or cats, or sometimes birds. However, there are people who are allergic to some of the bacteria or fungi that naturally grow in a fish tank, though I understand this to be very rare.

A more common allergy is to dust which may be stirred up by the action of an air pump or maybe other pieces of equipment, but I would not expect this to be any worse than having a computer on in the house.

Another allergy concern with a fish tank is a possibly allergy to aquarium medications. Some medications used in an aquarium occasionally may cause an allergic reaction in some people, so be aware of what is in any medication you are using, and determine what precautions you should use while those medications are in use.

It has been my experience that aquariums are very safe, and as far as pets go, probably the least practical risk to you or your family. And being aware of these possible risks makes it even less likely that you would encounter any of them.

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March 5, 2007
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