We’ve all seen it before, the stereotypical goldfish in a bowl left on the living room table for all to see as a beautiful ornament. Sure, aesthetically the idea of a bowl can be quite beautiful and even modern looking depending on how you display it, but is it really good for your goldfish? Although this seems to be the socially accepted norm what we really need to ask ourselves is will your new pet thrive in this environment?
The answer is no.
Not to worry if you find yourself in this situation. We have all made mistakes and the important thing is that we learn from them moving forward. I too found myself purchasing a goldfish in early 2012 on impulse. I was misinformed and told that I could keep a young black moor in a one gallon bowl and that he would never grow any bigger than the inch long fish I had at purchase. After doing research online I found to my horror I would be shortening his life from a potential 10-20 years down to less than 6 months and so the next day I promptly returned him in hopes that someone with a better set aquarium would end up giving him a great forever home.
So what do goldfish need?
How much space do goldfish actually need? What benefits are there to keeping a goldfish in an aquarium versus a bowl?
The answer varies on the species of goldfish.
For fancies (slow moving bulky goldfish that have more than a single tail) I would like to recommend 20 gallons for the first fish and an additional 10 gallons per every fish after. For example if you want to keep three goldfish in an aquarium you will need a water volume of 40 gallons.
For commons and comets (fast moving goldfish with long bodies and single tails) I suggest 20-30 gallons per fish. As an example if you would like to keep three common goldfish together in an aquarium I would suggest 60+ gallons of water volume.
I know what you’re thinking right now. Why so much space Laura? They’re an inch big when you buy them and they don’t live longer than a month!
The answer to this is simple. You buy goldfish from the store as juveniles. They’re sold this way because they take up less space at the store which means the vendor can keep more stock in their tanks to maximize sales. The truth of the matter is that fancy goldfish can grow as big as 7 inches long and commons and comets grow 10+ inches. Those are big fish!
Big fish in turn produce a lot of waste which brings me back to the space issue. Fish secrete a chemical called ammonia through their gills and waste. Normally in a big body of water ammonia is not an issue as there is a large volume of water for the ammonia to disperse in and in turn it causes no harm to the fish itself. In a small body of water, a bowl for instance ammonia builds up quickly. High levels of ammonia are toxic to fish. Ammonia will burn your fish’s body much like acid would. Many fish who aren’t cared for properly will suffer from ammonia burns and their fins and skin will turn black. It’s a painful way to die.
The solution to this is to allow the fish to have plenty of water in order to not allow the ammonia to build up to toxic levels so quickly.
Volume is also important in regards to space for your fish. The adverse effects of keeping a goldfish in a bowl (or any fish for that matter) can include a painful problem called growth stunting. Some visual symptoms of stunting can include a bigger eye to body ratio and small bodies with extremely long fins. Although this sounds awfully cute I don’t recommend you to buy fish that display these characteristics. Stunting can really harm your fish in a lot of manners. Being confined in a small space causes a physiological response from the fish to secrete hormones that stop the outside growth of it’s body. This in turn causes the fish to stay small in it’s environment. A lot of people claim that vital organs inside the fish continually grow causing the fish to die a painful death. Stunting severely shortens your pets life.
It’s probably a good idea if you have a fish in a smaller housing than what is recommended to upgrade your tank as soon as possible. If you cannot afford a new tank and equipment at the moment I definitely recommend for you to invest in plastic storage bins. They’re big, food safe (aka goldfish safe too) and come in 20 gallons plus size options. They will do fine in there until you can properly house them!