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Is your child ready for an axolotl?

Pet ownership is as tricky as it is rewarding. Axolotls are a strange addition to the family, and owning an exotic pet comes with its own set of issues.  
Difficulty The difficulty of raising an Axolotl is harder than a Guinea Pig and easier than a cat. You will need a tank with a lid and you will need to keep an eye on the water temperature. Weekly 20% water changes with filtration double the size of the tank works for our pets. An axolotl can go up to a week without eating, so an occasional missed meal does not end in a terrible fate. 

Feeding: Axolotls love to eat! I have seen them eat live minnows, worms, and pellets personally. I have heard they will eat pebbles, and as a result, we have kept our pets in a fine-grain sand environment. We feed our axolotls red wigglers (smaller earthworms) from our home composting bin. Our babies will come to you having eaten axolotl sinking pellets, red wigglers, and bloodworms.  So, if your child is squeamish about touching worms there is a pellet option, but whatever you decide to do will be wet and cold. If you want your child to care of their pet they will have to be willing to get wet. 

Health: The reality of the matter is that axolotls require an exotic pet veterinarian. These professionals are rare and expensive. As a result, the best way to care for your axolotl is preventative. Your child will have to look for color discolorations, abnormal gills, and weight loss. They will also have to be able to advocate to their parents if they suspect an issue. 

Environment: My background is with reef tanks, so tanks for axolots to me seem less intrusive. When I first got into the axolotls environment was the most daunting piece for me as I was reading what others had to say about their care. Here is what works in my home:
  • Tanks size: Axolotls grow to be 8-13 inches so they need a minimum of 20 gallons with 10 additional gallons per Axolotl. They will need a place to hide and they do not care for bright lights. 
  • Tank Cycling: This is a one-time commitment in a freshwater tank if all goes well. This is also not something that you or your child will want to be doing alone. You will both need each other for this. Bond with your household members as you read about what should be happening then ogle at what is actually happening. Celebrate your victories and defeats together. There are a million sites with useful information on cycling a tank. I hope to have a kid-friendly version up soon. If you purchase an axolotl I highly recommend keeping it in a tub as it adjusts to the new PH and whatnot of your region. This gives you a few days to see that it is eating and adjusting well and gives you and your kids a chance to bond with your new friend. 
  • ​Water Temperature: Axolotls like their water cold. Our pets are kept in the 58-63 range with a perfect-world answer of 60. This stunts the growth of algae, which is good. The answer for keeping your axolotls chill in the summer could be anything from frozen water bottles to fans to hydroponic chillers. The bottom line is the more you spend on climate control the less maintenance your child will be responsible for.
  • Maintenance: Anything smaller than your axolotl's head could potentially end up in the axolotl's mouth. Their vision is also not the best so if that thing moves the chance of it being swallowed is increased. Tanks are fun to add to, but you'll want to keep this in the back of your head at all times. 
    • The good news is after initial setup the primary function of your child will be water changes. This means 20% once-a-week changes with primed lightly salted water (we do 1.5 tsp per 5 gallons. but we have low evaporation) 
  • Chemistry: On a day separate from the water change, your child will be responsible for checking the ammonia - nitrate - nitrites in the tank. This can be done with a freshwater test kit. Neglecting this step means you miss your opportunity to get ahead of a problem.
So, there is the 101 of owning an axolotl. Now you need to put that information on a scale with what your child will or will not do vs what you are or are not willing to do. In my biased opinion axolotls are a pet that have earned their hype. They are the pug of the water so far as cuteness goes. They swim around the tank and some even swim up to you as you walk by their home. They are versatile in their diet and (compared to a reef tank) are pretty hearty as a specimen. They live for about a decade, so be prepared for that level of dedication. 
Hope this helps!  

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