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I'm very new to keeping fish as pets. I was surprised to find out that you can order fish online and have them shipped. Is there any way to be sure that the fish will be healthy? Should I just stick to local stores?

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    This is obvious but its worth pointing out to anyone thinking of purchasing online. Many livestock sellers only ship overnight. So if you live where there are temperature extremes, you need to time things so you'll be home to take the delivery. You dont want to get home and find your fish frozen in their bag because they left the box outside on your steps. Feb 5 '14 at 17:23
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There's nothing inherently sketchy about ordering fish online: most legit dealers (whether individual breeders or larger fish farms) should know how to ship fish safely, and I've seen many who are confident enough to offer live-on-arrival guarantees. Most dealers will describe how they ship pretty clearly, and you should be able to get a sense of how legit they are from that: Good bags, some sort of temperature control depending on the weather (heat packs, ice packs, etc.), and fast shipping are all things to look for. If you get the sense the dealer doesn't really know how to get the animal to you, or is being cagey about how they'll do it, I'd probably say look elsewhere.

The health of an online dealer's stock can be a gamble, but the same can really be said for the ones at your LFS -- it's true you can avoid any obviously bad fish you can see in person, but a good dealer won't sell you an obviously sick/dying animal regardless of whether you're there in person; and even healthy fish can have latent diseases and parasites that are brought out by the stresses of being transported to your home.

So there's an element of trust with any new dealer that you're considering. See what kind of reputation they have on the various aquarist forums, ask anyone you might know who's done business with them, even get in touch with them and see how they answer your questions. Then, if the price is right and you're convinced enough to give them a shot, go for it. If you can, quarantine is always a good idea, since it mitigates a lot of the risk in bringing home new animals.

Personally I tend to get my fish from a little local store, because I like the owner and he usually has a interesting and healthy (though small) selection. But I'm planning on adding a few dwarf cichlids in a few months, and I'm probably going to get them from a specialty cichlid farm that I've heard good things about: they're just the next state over, but overnight shipping will probably cost less then the gas it would take to drive there. We have some of the big-name pet stores around here too, and while I've never had outright bad luck with them, I think I trust the specialists more, whether online or brick-and-mortar.

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  • Good points. Hard to tell what you're getting in any case I guess. Just so happens that the fish I'm hoping to get soon aren't in stock at my local store. Decisions ahead...
    – mdwhatcott
    Feb 2 '14 at 4:41
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It's not a bad idea; there are pros and cons to both.

In the store, you get to see the fish you're sold, and make sure they're healthy before taking them home. Online, you might not get to see the fish firsthand, but you can get fish directly from specialty breeders; fish that local stores might not have the setups to care for.

As far as shipping goes, most will ship it in breathable plastic bags, to ensure that the bags don't run out of oxygen. I know several that add more oxygen to the bag to help as well.

Personally, since shipping is so high, I would check with the local stores for fish first. They might even be able to order some for you. Otherwise, just make sure you order from someone with a reputation for selling good quality fish.

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  • Ah, good point about the shipping. I hadn't got that far on the sites I was browsing. That does make a big difference.
    – mdwhatcott
    Feb 2 '14 at 4:40
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    Is there a site or system to learn or rate the reputation for online fish sellers?
    – JoshDM
    Feb 2 '14 at 5:59
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    @JoshDM It's mainly a question of seeing what people have said on various forums and so on, and trying to judge how reliable those comments are. One slight exception I can think of would be AquaBid, which is an eBay-like auction site with a mix of amateur and professional sellers -- it has feedback scores.
    – toxotes
    Feb 2 '14 at 13:15
  • Exactly, and I've used AquaBid myself without a problem. Craigslist has a pets section where you might be able to see someone wanting to get rd of their fish, but they're not going to be specialty fish. Otherwise I'd just suggest searching through forums that are dedicated to the fish you're looking for. Chances are someone there breeds them. Then just see what other people have said about them to judge if you find them trustworthy or not.
    – Spidercat
    Feb 2 '14 at 14:03
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Fish that are purchased locally have already cleared one hurdle — acclimation to local water parameters similar, if not identical, to what you will have available from your own tap. This is a consideration because fish are sensitive to pH swings, which can result in losses. In contrast, when you purchase fish online you have no idea what they are acclimated to (i.e. much softer or harder water). In addition, you cannot be entirely assured that the ideal/safe temperature range will be maintained through shipping (the temperature stability of which may vary depending on time of year). Moreover, the longer the journey from the point-of-purchase to home, the more stress the fish will have to overcome. For these reasons, I would shop for fish locally if that is at all an option. If your local, independently-owned fish store does not carry what you want, you can always ask the owner if the fish you are interested in purchasing can be special ordered and/or if they will put you on a wait list to be notified in the event the fish is later offered. Regardless of where you obtain your fish, it is key to quarantine all new fish for 2-3 weeks so as not to introduce disease into your display tank.

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    "when you purchase fish online you have no idea what they are acclimated to" - In my experience, most good retailers will tell you somewhere exactly what water parameters the fish are living in. Not just limited to PH but often GH and KH too.
    – Henders
    Aug 6 '18 at 14:04
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Both have their pros and cons.

I would personally get them from a store as I know the travel time they have been in the bag for, your oxygen levels would be fine. Also any problems with them I can get a quick response.

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never buy fish online. I am sharing my experience with fishshop. Com. I just bought betta female fish. They have delivered color less very small fish. They just show beautiful fish photos on their site and deliver low quality fish. But you don't have any option to return it after making payment. You just don't have any choice. Better buy from near by aquarium shop, it may be little costly compare to online. But you will get far better quality fish of your choice.

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  • Welcome to Pets, I think it is good advice and I agree with not buying animals online, but your post reads a bit like a rant, could you please modify it a little and maybe include some objective references to support it beyond your anecdotal experience? Thanks.
    – lila
    Jan 4 at 16:28
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Researching the breeder/distributor, their policies and their reviews can help but if you have reputable shop and it's local, that would be my druthers.

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  • Welcome to Pets, this answer is a bit short, please read How to Answer and consider adding some more information, thanks.
    – lila
    Jun 23 at 18:55

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