Howdy there. Typically every so often we seem to get a lot of hate posts or flame wars about chain pet stores, namely PetSmart and Petco. I can’t say a ton about PetCo, but I do work for PetSmart. I am a Pet Care Associate and I have been stationed to work with the fish.
Not a lot of people know exactly what goes on “behind the fish wall” and many people just stick to listening to rumors and agreeing with each other that the company as a whole must hate fish or mistreats them. I am here to give you facts about the policies and procedures that go into fish care at PetSmart. Sometimes you get a store that doesn’t follow the rules as they should. But the blame for those stores should in no way be placed on Petsmart as a company. They put these set policies in place, and it is up to your local store managers and employees to follow them. I thankfully have an amazing staff and we care about our animals.
We’ll start with the Bettas. Yes, our Betta fish are kept in cups. No, we cannot keep them in fancy tanks. There is nowhere near enough room to have small tanks set up for each Betta. In the winter we must test the temperature of the Betta water to ensure it is kept warm, if it drops below 74, the Bettas must all be relocated to a warmer area of the store (Typically behind the fish wall is very warm).
The Bettas each get a water change by either the lead cashier or whoever is assigned in pet care a minimum of 3 times a week. This is also when they get fed. Once a week they get bloodworms, every other day it’s the typical betta pellet food. If there is a dead betta on the shelf, we must pull it IMMEDIATELY, dispose of the body and sanitize the cup it was in for future use.
Now, on to the feeder fish. The comet system is NOT connected to the main system. They DO NOT share the same water as the tropical fish. The Comet system in my store is just under 300 gallons, and in no way has anything to do with the main system. Each tank of feeder fish must always have an airstone in it, and a vacation feeder. These tanks are scrubbed and vacuumed a minimum of once a week. Typically these are going to be the fish that die in large numbers. When my store gets in a shipment of feeders, they’ll have 800 small Comets in a bag, and 300 large Comets in another with the worst water you have ever seen. I pour the entire contents into a large bucket and net out the fish to evenly distribute them between the tanks. No acclimation. No time. Just get them out of the nasty bag water as quickly as possible. Surprisingly enough, there are very few DOA. I do DAILY water changes on our Comet system based on the levels of toxic chemicals that tend to rise very quickly in these tanks.
Finally we move to the main system. In my store our system is a few gallons under 2,500. Now, you as a customer only see the fish wall, what’s in front, and the water there. Behind the wall is a rather extensive system with a sump, two large filter pads, another large carbon filter, 12 UV sterilizers, and other crazy things that I don’t even know what they are. The filter pads in this system get changed twice daily.
The main tanks get cleaned daily. They must never have algae or any other debris in them, let alone a dead fish. I do “dead pulls” every time a customer walks into the fish area. Some fish for whatever reason will randomly go belly up throughout the day. I can say that our guppies seem to be the worst in my store. Those, and Angelfish don’t last very long.
Any time we see a sick fish, or injured fish etc. He/she gets plucked out and moved to an idolation tank we have behind the fish wall. Each store can ONLY have ONE iso tank. This tank is heated to 84 degrees and is HEAVILY medicated regardless of what is in it. Tyipcally there will be a minimum of 5 fish in there at a time. If there are aggressive fish, we put up a divider. This tank has three HOB filters, two heaters, and two airstones running at all times. It gets water changes every other day and gets dosed with Quick Cure, PimaFix, Para-Guard, and Melafix as well throughout the week. We are not required to acclimate the fish to this tank, although I do. Most of the fish that get pulled from the main system will die in this tank due to shock or the abundance of medication overloading them. It’s my last resort when I see a hurt fish.
In the back room there are posters and printouts of information on fish care, diseases, what to do in case of ‘blank’ etc. Not every store will have this posted, but it is all easily accessed using the “Fetch” system on store computers.
When fish get shipped to our store they come in boxes that are insulated. We have policies and procedures regarding how these fish are added to the system. One box per employee can be opened at a time. Within 15 minutes, those fish need to be temperature acclimated and into the water. Seeing as our system is so large, we are required to dump the contents of the bag including the bag water into the tanks. They float for about 15 minutes, then the bags are cut and the fish are gently released. 2 hours after releasing all of the fish the entire system gets fed, then after one more hour the entire system gets dosed with Quick Cure. Any bags that have DOA fish are taken to the iso tank and whatever is still living is netted out and left in that tank for a few days before being moved out to the fish wall.
The main system tanks are all connected, making it impossible for one tank to have a sickness. When customers claim that “The Platy tank is diseased” that makes no sense, as if they were to be diseased, the whole system would be as well as they all share the same water. This also makes it hard to medicate just one group of fish which is why the system always gets the Quick Cure when we get in new fish. Every so often we will get bad stock. It is likely that for a few weeks we will keep getting in weak or sick Neon Tetras, for example. This is not the stores fault. There is nothing we can do to fix poor stock.
PetSmart does not order its own fish. They are ordered for us based on what our last fish count was. We have NO IDEA what we will be getting in until we open those boxes. That is one of the reasons why I love fish receiving day. It’s like Christmas.
Also, do not blame the store employees for not knowing everything. NOBODY is trained in fish care. We are trained to know the basics in ANIMAL care, not much about fish. Also, sometimes the person working the fish wall is a cashier covering for a pet care persons lunch. Everyone in the store is crossed trained to be able to help in pet care if need be. This does not mean they know everything.
I hope my article has cleared some of the misconceptions about how PetSmart works regarding fish. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me. I have nothing to hide and am open about everything I do at work.
Feel free to reply and ask questions, but hate posts will not be tolerated
PetSmart: Behind the Fish Wall!
A look behind the scenes at the PetSmart aquatic section
Thank you for taking the risk to share this very important information to the community. I too work for a large retailer. Unfortunately, I could be terminated for sharing too much. It seems that other than the large size difference of the tank system it's not a lot different than our procedures. It's great to know that just like in my world of negative perceptions, which is probably way worse than Petsmart/Petco, there are some of us who care enough about the fish, the customers, and the company to make a difference!