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Well, where to start?
I used to absolutely love Pets at Home. Having been an animal lover all my life I was delighted when Pets at Home first landed here in the UK back in 1991 (after the demise of the PetsMart stores throughout the country).
The store practically has everything any pet owner could ever need. They stock all necessary (and luxury) items for out canine, feline, feathered, furry and fishy friends. Many stores also used to stock items for our reptilian friends but Pets at Home appear to have ceased this throughout the UK some years back. So whether you're after/have already got a dog, cat, bird, rodent or fish, you're sure to find what you want in a Pets at Home store. Many prices are competitive and some deals you can get are very good indeed, especially some of their "all in one" type packages (otherwise widely referred to as "Starter Kits" where you get the cage/tank/etc. with everything you need to start up with a certain animal).
This is the good side to Pets at Home.
However, with all good things come some bad points....
First however, let me just explain why I've recently been spending a lot of time at my local Pets at Home store.
Some weeks back (14 to be precise), my partner and I decided to aquire a small bundle of fluff otherwise known as Wilf. He was an 8 week old border collie pup. Needless to say, being our first puppy, we went along to Pets at Home to get all the necessaries in advance of his arrival.
Then, about 4 weeks back, whilst I was sunning myself in Blackpool (hahahaha!) on a pre-arranged holiday with my best friend, my partner made another trip to Pets at Home to purchase a tropical aquarium. He bought one of the "Starter Kit" type systems I mentioned earlier. It was a Fluval Uno tank. Capacity coming in at 13.8 gallons, the tank is a fair size, ideal for tropical fish tank newbies such as ourselves. He did everything right. He set the tank up after thoroughly cleaning all the gravel, plants, ornaments, etc. He then filled it up, placed all the relevant water treatment liquids in the water, including some treatment to help the filter reach maximum capacity in minimum time (works by some kind of "friendly bacteria" from what I can gather - not disimilar to the promises made by Actimel and the likes I suppose!) This was then left running with the filter running constantly for over a week (as per instructions). On my arrival back from Blackpool I then visited some local garden centres with a view to purchasing our first batch of tropical fish.
Being new to the area (having only moved to this area at the beginning of June), I must admit, trying to find a garden centre that stocks tropical fish isn't easy. (Especially with my exceptionally bad sense of direction!) So, after travelling through one town where there was meant to be such an aquatic centre, I suddenly found myself on a road heading towards where I knew the Pets at Home store was. To be honest, I'd had no intention of trying to find the store as I suspected I'd never find it in the maze of complicated road junctions. (Barring in mind I'm from the nice quiet area of North Wales.... I'm not used to roads with more than one lane!)
So after a few seconds of wondering "do I? don't I?" I decided to risk it and try to find the Pets at Home store. By some sheer miracle I managed to find the store (and find a parking space with ease - another minor miracle when you realise how much I HATE parking manouvers if it involves having to park in any awkward spaces!)
So off I trundle into the shop. I head straight for the fish aisles rather than going via the puppy aisles as I knew I'd end up spending a load of money on unnecessary items for the puppy. (Don't we all?)
Now as I've never really owned tropical fish before I decided to put the Pets at Home staff to the test by asking them some questions. I knew the basics of fish care and knew the ins and outs of various fish species as I have been involved in animal care practically all my life and the Vet nursing course I studied contained a small section about aquatics. The young lady I got speaking to seemed to be very knowledgeable about fish. I asked her mainly for advise over which fish to add to the tank first. (Having already come with the idea of only buying 5 or so fish to start off with as you are meant to stagger the introductions to let the fish get used to it and also to enable the tank setup itself to settle down (e.g. the filter will suddenly find it actually has a cleaning up job to do)). So I asked the young lady for advise over which fish were the best to introduce to a new aquarium and also which ones weren't likely to try to eat one another. I remember from many years back when I was a wee nipper and my dad had a tropical fish tank. He had a couple that were quite frankly vicious little things that I wouldn't want to touch with a bargepole. They were like miniature Pirahna's and from memory seemed to constantly be trying to eat the other fish in the tank!
The lady I spoke to on this occasion checked to make sure the tank had been running for a week and also asked what size the tank itself was. I was quite impressed she checked such matters out first as, presumably, had I answered "no" to her question about whether the tank had been up and running for a week or more, she would have advised me not to buy any. (Which I must say, a lot of shop owners
probably wouldn't have done!!)
So thumbs up to her there. After ascertaining the tank was suitable for its first batch of fish, between us we decided on 2 bottom feeders (catfish), 5 neon tetras and 2 phantom tetras. All of which are said to be hardy, ideal for beginners and friendly towards one another. Super!
I introduced the fish to the aquarium exactly as instructed to do so by the Pets at Home staff and also the instructions on the back of the plastic bag the fish travelled in.
She advised me to wait a few days before introducing any more fish for the aforementioned reasons.
So, a few days later, I trundle back off to Pets at Home (safely in the knowledge that I might be able to find it again and I might be able to find a parking space!) This time there's a bit of a queue on. Lots of people seem to be wanting fish this time. So I wait patiently reading all the information under each aquarium and eyeing up which fish look like the type that'll be both pleasing to the eye and not trying to eat one another. After doing some earwigging, I was equally as impressed by the young lady offering advise on the fish aisle today. She was different to the one I'd seen the other day but knew just as much stuff as the other one. After a short wait, she asked if I wanted any help. So again, I explained the tank had now been up for 2 weeks and explained I'd bought 5 neon tetras, 2 phantom tetras and 2 catfish from them a few days back. She then asked what size tank it was and proceeded to offer me advice on which fish would be ideal companions to those already in the tank.
So I then opt for 5 Zebra Danios and 5 male Guppies. Introducing them into the tank in exactly the correct manner. We then wait another few days to let this lot settle in properly and to let the aquarium acclimatise.
So a good 4 or so days later I make my last trip to Pets at Home for a while (so I thought) to just get another 5 neon tetras. We decided this would be enough for the time being, we'd leave it at this for now as we were approaching the desired number of fish for the tank.
So again, we get a different person altogether this time and again, we get quizzed on the size of the tank, number and type of fish in there already, etc, etc. I must say, I am over the moon with the staffs advice and general knowledge.
A few days after introducing the last lot of 5 neon tetras we notice that one of the guppies had sadly passed away. There was no sign of disease on it at all. Then another guppie starts looking unwell and died the following day. Then two neon tetras meat the same demise. I thought this was odd as it had all started to happen so quickly with fish that are meant to be extremely hardy. There was no sign of any disease on any of them at all.
Then, a few days after this, I noticed that one of the phantom tetras appeared to have what is commonly known as White Spot (otherwise known as Ich). From having coldwater fish before I knew this was highly contagious and if one fish showed signs of it, all the others would have it too. So I pop down to another pet shop (closer than Pets at Home) to get some treatment for the water to aid with White Spot and other such problems. I popped this in the water as per instructions. Needless to say, the following day, the remaining phantom tetra also appeared to have White Spot. (This was not unexpected though). Treatment for White Spot doesn't kill off the symptoms already showing on the fish, it just stops re-infestation. Then the following day, two more of the neon tetras had died (neither of which showed any signs of disease or illness). Shortly after this, both phantom tetras had passed away too and, one by one, the guppies started dying too. The ONLY fish which showed any signs of illness or disease were the phantom tetras (with White Spot - which shouldn't have killed them as it was just the beginnings of the disease and White Spot doesn't usually kill fish, certainly not that quickly!) None of the other fish showed any visible signs whatsoever. So, by this time we are now left with NO guppies, NO phantom tetras and only 6 neon tetras. The only fish (touch wood) to have not (so far) shown any problems at all are the two catfish.
Like I said earlier, I am no fish expert. However, I did know one thing for certain. We'd done everything "by the book" and had been told we'd been doing everything correctly too. The water quality in the tank was exactly right. The temperature was exactly right. So something was obviously going wrong.
I'm not the type to try and pass the buck but when it clearly wasn't our own fault and we'd lost such a high number of fish in such a short space of time (including most which showed no signs of disease or illness) we knew something was up.
Each time you buy fish from Pets at Home you get a receipt which clearly states:
"Thank you for buying your new pet from our store. Please remember that all pets must be properly cared for throughout their lives. We pride ourselves in supplying healthy pets and never knowingly sell one that is sick or injured or suffering from any visible deformity. Please contact us immediately if your new pet appears unwell soon after purchase. If necessary, we will consult our own vet. We do not pay vet's fees except by prior arrangement"
"Note: We are unable to guarantee the sex or age of our livestock."
So we decided to make yet another trip to Pets at Home for some further advice. This time there were no members of staff hovering around the fish aisle so after having a look at most of the tropical fish tanks, my partner and I noticed a considerably high number of dead/dying fish. There was barely a tank in the display that didn't have at least one dead or dying fish in it. Many of the dead fish appeared to have been in that state for some time as they were well and truly eaten/pecked on by the other fish in the tank. Of which doesn't happen all that quickly unless you're housing something like a Pirahna!
So after waiting a few minutes I nip off to try and find a member of staff to chat to. I find one chap who's re-stocking the dog toy aisle so he happily comes over to offer some advise. It's at this point that I read his name tag and notice he is the Assistant Manager. We start telling him about the problems we've been having and the first thing he does is change his general approach and attitude towards us. Whilst still trying to appear sincere and helpful, you could just tell he was getting more and more worked up (despite us only asking for some advise on what may be going wrong). Within a few minutes of explaining the situation, he asks us how many fish we'd had in before they all started dying. By doing our sums quickly it came to 22. He then immediately said "thats your problem then. Thats way too many". So we went onto explain that the tank had now been up and running for quite some time and we'd introduced these over a period of time AND from recommendations by the Pets at Home staff. He seemingly ignored this and continued to think up every known reason in the book (e.g. asking us if the temperature was right and whether the water was cloudy, etc, etc). Everything we said basically seemed to be ignored and he then started to try to say we'd gone wrong by not cleaning the gravel properly. My partner explained he'd washed it thoroughly before putting it in the tank for the first time and that the gravel was clean now, the water quality was just right, as was the temperature and the water wasn't remotely cloudy or unduly smelly (more than any fish tank is). The chap then started telling us that we still needed to clean the gravel (and suggested buying a gravel cleaning kit to do the job) so reminded him that, yes, when it came to doing water changes and such like, we would obviously do such a job but in the meantime, this did NOT explain why a total of 11 of their fish had died in such a short space of time despite us seemingly doing everything right.
I personally would've expected to lose some fish as this is only natural when setting up a new aquarium but to lose half of your livestock is pushing it a little if you ask me.
The chap was adamant we'd done something wrong and asked us all manner of questions like how long we had the light on for, whether we'd had the light on at all, whether we check the temperature was correct daily, whether we'd been feeding them correctly, etc. Then he even asked whether we'd stocked too many female guppies to male guppies as apparently if you have more than a 3:1 ratio of females to males, the males get stressed and die. I can't say I've heard of this one before but I suppose it makes sense. Now barring in mind that Pets at Home ONLY stock male guppies, we'd told him we had just bought the 5 male guppies from Pets at Home and ALL our fish were from their store, quite how he thought we'd have too many females to males is beyond me.
But there was one essential question he missed out. Both my partner and I noticed this right from the outset. Remember right at the beginning when I said he'd immediately said "thats your problem then. Thats way too many" when we told him how many fish we had in the tank?
Well, the chap failed to ask one essential question.... how big was our tank? As far as he was aware we could've had an allmighty huge aquarium. If he was assuming we had a tiny fish bowl then fair enough but surely it would've been a good idea to at least ask about the size of the tank before assuming we had too many fish? He seemed to ignore us completely whenever either of us told him that not one but three of the members of staff had all told us we were doing things exactly right.
So the final clincher came when my partner enquired about the number of dead/dying fish they appeared to have in their tanks. The reason he gave? That they'd had a power failure the night before and as such the filter systems had gone down and as such they would inevitably lose fish. Fair point. They would indeed lose fish. Who are we to question this anyway? It may well have been the truth. However, one thing is for certain, for there to have been that many fish who were so well and truly dead that their carcasses were floating around in the tanks half eaten, they'd have been dead for much longer than just a couple of hours.
So, to conclude, the Assistant Manager tried to blame us for everything under the sun essentially. He was not willing to accept that either there was some kind of problem with their fish or that the staff members had perhaps given us the wrong advise. He concluded by making a joke saying that he doesn't always do things exactly by the book with his own tropical fish tank at home with such things as carbon filters as they're meant to be changed weekly, he waits 6 weeks before changing his. It seemed he was trying to lighten the topic up a little by admitting that if he doesn't do things by the book then maybe we also hadn't done? (Again, was he just trying to pass the buck back onto us?)
I really wouldn't like to say one way or the other but one thing is for certain. We will NOT be buying any form of livestock from Pets at Home again. It's one thing buying 'hardware' for your pets but quite another buying any animals from them.
I have yet to see any truly sick or injured or indeed mistreated animal (discounting the poorly fish already mentioned) in any Pets at Home store but to be honest, you can't expect all the staff to be experts on all the animals they stock. They don't seem to have specialist members of staff that only deal with certain animals as all staff appear to rotate between tills, stock taking, giving out animal advise, etc. so I'm guessing they also all muck in with the animal care itself too. Like I say though, all three members of staff certainly appeared to know what they were talking about and I would trust all three of them to offer more thorough advise than that given by the Assistant Manager too. I am tempted to call in again to inspect their fish tanks again and to also ask a different member of staff for the same advise we asked the Assistant Manager to see whether they also try to blame us for everything under the sun.
So, to conclude, despite once loving the Pets at Home stores for their general convenience, good layout, helpful staff, excellent stock, etc. I certainly won't be recommending the store to anyone wishing to actually buy any animal off them, especially not from the aquatic section.
My advice would be to go to a reputable aquatic centre. Somewhere that specialises in such creatures. You'll not really pay any more for your fish from such a place, in fact, you may well end up paying less for them. It isn't worth losing half or more of your fish stock in the first month though through seemingly no fault of your own.
Fish don't generally come overly cheap to start with. So in addition to the start up price of a new aquarium you really don't want to start having to re-stock your aquarium from such a low level of fish.
We haven't started re-stocking our aquarium yet. We figured that if there is something wrong with the fish we've aquired already then it'll be best to wait a while to see whether any more fish die or come down with any illness or disease. Luckily, so far, we seem to be being lucky. Our remaining neon tetras, catfish and zebra danio's all seem happy and healthy. The White Spot that had passed onto the remaining tetras seems to have disappeared now too. We've raised the temperature of the tank a little (to 28'C - still within tropical fish tank range of course), as per instructions to held rid your tank of a White Spot infestation. I've now completed the dose of water treatment for White Spot so will leave the tank at the slightly higher temperature for a bit longer before dropping it back down to 23'C or so. Then see how they fair on that for a few days before going to a reputable aquatic centre to purchase a few more fish. I suspect that if we explain our problem to any reputable aquatic centre, we'll get told to never buy fish from Pets at Home!
So all in all, I've given Pets at Home 3 out of 5 stars as the shop itself is superb. I have selected "No" for whether I would recommend the store or not though, "No" being for those wishing to actually buy any animal from them. If you're just after buying food, treats, medications, grooming accessories, cages, etc. then I can still heartily recommend the store.
--------- UPDATE ---------
I wrote this review about a week or so ago and have only just got around to posting it online. However, between writing this review and actually posting it online as of today, my partner and I have visited a local garden centre with a relatively large selection of tropical fish. We asked the man working in the aquatic centre for further advice about setting up an aquarium (seemingly we'd done everything perfectly 'by the book'). We then explained the problems we'd been having. He pretty much confirmed our suspicions - Pets at Home just isn't any good for tropical fish. He's had lots of people complaining about their fishstock dying after buying any from Pets at Home. He then told us that all their tanks are run on the one system. Meaning they're all at a set temperature and all at a set pH. This means that this is ideal for some fish but not all of their stock. It also means that if one tank comes down with an infectious disease, chances are, they all will. So, although it is all set to an average temperature and an average pH, it is NOT ideal conditions for all their fishstock. Most can survive at the average temperature and pH but it certainly isn't overly good for the fish. It increases stress levels in the tanks which then makes them far more prone to disease and illness.
------------ UPDATE 2 ------------
Well as of this evening (Monday 5th Sept) my partner arrived back from work at about 8pm following a trip to Pets at Home on his way back to collect a few more bits and pieces for the puppies. He popped over to look at the tropical fish and guess what? It seems out local Pets at Home is having a complete re-stock of their fish. All the fish were small (seemingly young ones) and all the tanks had either been changed completely or they had undergone thorough cleaning.
So it most certainly seems like they know something they're not letting on. I suspect they might've had a few more complaints and enquiries....FOOTNOTE:
You'll notice I have not mentioned any names or the location of the exact store in question. However, please note that this is a nationwide problem regarding their fish.
Great review :) Ive heard the fish from Pets at Home aren't great quality. I can't believe how the Assistant Manager spoke to you - he should have offered you a full refund. Did you ask for one? I hope you managed to get some better tropical fish in the end!
Alipants 13.05.2008 15:21
Hi, I agree, I have had tropical fish for years now and not from Pets at Home, I did originally buy Gold Fish from them, All died from the most perculiar fish diseases, It put me off, I then went elsewhere for my fish and have never had a problem since, I also discovered that the tanks were being filtered with the same filter so if one fish goes down all the rest get it. they regularly have dead fish in the bottom of the tanks which is a sure sign the balance is not right, Anyway excellent review and very helpful, Thanks.
Amy_Coppock 30.04.2007 11:50
i know what you mean, i'm not to keen on them either. However, i do agree with tigress7471, 22 fish in two weeks is probably too many. iwas advised ( not by Pets at Home) that 2-3 fish should be introduced at a time, maybe slightly more if they are smaller fish, and then to leave it about a month before adding any more. otherwise ammonia and nitrate levels etc just rocket. excellent review tho.