Skip to main content

How to take care of your goldfish so they have a longer life

Goldfish are the first pets for many children. They are also often the pet of choice in households where dogs and cats aren’t an option.  These gorgeous orange fish are popular because they are generally considered to be the hardiest of the freshwater species and the easiest to maintain. However, like all animals, goldfish need to be cared for properly so that they can live the long, healthy lives they deserve.

Is it easy to care for goldfish?

Because goldfish are so common, adaptable, and inexpensive, they are often mistreated, abused, underfed, or forced to live in intolerable conditions, according to the Gold Fish Sanctuary in Rochester, New York. Sometimes this mistreatment happens because people don’t respect the lives of the fish. But in many families, goldfish suffer because of ignorance. Many people see them as low-maintenance starter pets that require little care. The truth is that goldfish deserve the same amount of care and attention as other fish species. That includes regular tank maintenance and being feed an appropriate diet. According to experts at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), when provided with the proper care, goldfish have a lifespan averaging 10 to 15 years, with some varieties living up to 30 years.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

How do you maintain a goldfish?

Choose the right tank size

According to an article in Tropical Fish magazine, it’s a myth that goldfish only grow to the size of their enclosure. What really stunts a fish’s growth is poor water quality and improper care. Little or no filtration and infrequent water changes reduce how big a goldfish gets, according to the magazine. Stunted goldfish will often take on a deformed appearance and die at a young age. As goldfish can grow large, it’s important to research the species you plan to purchase. Know how large your fish can be when fully grown and provide a tank to accommodate that size.

For a common goldfish that can grow up to 8 inches long and live for 10 to 20 years, the ASPCA recommends a 20-gallon tank. The tank should be placed on a sturdy, level surface and away from heating and cooling vents. Also, be sure it’s out of direct sunlight, which can make temperature control harder and cause excessive algae growth

Add the right decorations

Here’s what to consider when decorating a goldfish tank:

  • Use driftwood, terracotta pots, and aquarium rocks to provide hiding places for your fish.
  • Advanced aquarist Kenneth Wingerter recommended to PetMD that goldfish owners use pea gravel over the sand as a substrate for the tank. Goldfish will be less likely to ingest pea gravel when picking up bits of food from the floor of the tank.
  • If you want to add live plants in the aquarium, be sure to choose the right varieties, as goldfish will eat all but the toughest of plants.
  • Avoid over-decorating, as that can eliminate precious swimming space for your fish.

Maintain the correct water conditions

Aquatic specialists at Petco recommend a water temperature of between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit for goldfish. In warmer areas, a chiller may be needed to ensure the water stays within this range consistently. Because goldfish create large amounts of waste, their tank needs a powerful filter. According to Wingerter, the goal is to “aggressively filter the water without creating excessively strong, localized water currents.” Goldfish like water with alkalinity higher than acidity, so Wingerter recommends keeping the pH between 7.0 and 7.4. Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule will help keep your fish happy and healthy.

Provide the right diet

While goldfish are omnivores and will eat almost anything you throw at them, it’s important to provide a healthy diet. Here are some rules to follow when feeding your fish.

  • According to the RSPCA, a goldfish diet should contain high levels of carbohydrates. A mixture of specialized goldfish flakes and granules is a good, stable diet.
  • Wingerter says dry flakes should be pre-soaked before feeding. This is because goldfish are natural bottom feeders and can gulp any flakes sitting on top of the water. This can upset their swim bladders and equilibrium, causing them to float upside down.
  • Goldfish should only be fed what they can consume in two to three minutes, once or twice a day. Overfeeding isn’t good for your fish’s health and will foul the water in the tank.

Provide tank mates

According to the RSPCA, goldfish are social animals; when kept in groups, they can be seen regularly interacting with other goldfish. Solitary goldfish can exhibit depression and lethargy, say animal welfare advocates. Keeping at least two goldfish in an aquarium provides companionship and promotes activity. Because goldfish are generally not aggressive, they can be kept with many compatible community fish. Be sure not to overstock the tank. You should add no more than one fish per 20 to 30 gallons of tank volume.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

In conclusion

If you’re the proud parent of a goldfish, you can do more than admire your buddy through the aquarium glass. Goldfish learn to recognize their owners and can be taught to eat from your hands and to do tricks. Goldfish owners have used positive reinforcement to train the fish to swim through mazes and hoops and even to play ball. This training takes time and patience, but if your fish seems to enjoy the interaction, it can be a fun way to bond with your finned compani0n.

Editors' Recommendations

Vera Lawlor
Vera was the pet columnist for 201 Family magazine and has contributed pet and animal welfare articles to Bone-A-Fide Mutts…
Is your fish tank for bettas too small? Here’s are the do’s and don’ts of betta care
Care tips to keep your new betta fish happy in the right size tank
A betta swims with plants in its tank

While the betta craze may have died down a little, you still see many of these beautiful blue fish in homes and in stores. It's true that they make great pets, even for a novice aquarist, since they don't require an overly extensive tank setup and often prefer to be alone. But just because they work well for a newbie doesn't mean you can dive in without any research. We're here with what you need to know about betta fish care and fish tanks for bettas. Here are the do's and don'ts for bettas.

What do I need to know about taking care of my betta fish?
Do research fish breeders
It all starts with the betta egg, and even the mom and dad. Just like with a puppy, you want to ensure your fishy has had a good life from hatching. There are tons of ethical breeders out there, but you can find some shady ones, too. In general, you want to avoid stores that have them crammed into tiny containers and cycled in and out every day. Do your research about local pet fish stores in your area or check out some of the more reputable ones online.

Read more
Aquatic turtles: Care and feeding basics every Testudine enthusiast needs to know
The fundamentals of aquatic turtle care and feeding
Turtle walking on a table

Did you know the difference between turtles and tortoises is that turtles live at least partially in the water, while tortoises live exclusively on land? Both types make great pets, but caring for them can be a time-intensive task. If you’re considering buying an aquatic turtle, you should first know how to best take care of one. You certainly don't want to bring a new turtle home and realize you're in way over your head. Read on to learn the fundamentals of aquatic turtle care.

What is the water vs. land ratio?
Most turtles spend some time on land; even sea turtles venture to dry ground to lay their eggs. Turtles do not need and should not have enclosures full of water. Small floating platforms that turtles can climb onto should suffice for turtles that spend most of their time underwater. However, some aquatic turtles enjoy exploring the land and need more of a dry area. Research the particular species of aquatic turtle you’re interested in to find out how much time they spend in the water compared to on land.

Read more
Can you keep seahorses as pets in your home aquarium?
How to keep seahorses as aquarium pets
Yellow seahorse in water

Good news, aquarium hobbyists: Yes, you can keep seahorses as pets. Seahorses are very entertaining fish to watch. They are one of only two fish that swim upright. Male seahorses hold seahorse eggs until they hatch. Seahorses are quite interesting creatures, and if you’re interested in having a pet seahorse, read ahead to learn about what that entails.

The best habitat for your pet seahorse
First and foremost, remember that seahorses can only live in saltwater, meaning you must maintain a saltwater aquarium.

Read more