Many people think that goldfish are excellent pets for someone who doesn't want to invest much in care and has no interest in owning a pet for a long period of time. Both the lifespan of your goldfish and the level of attachment formed between the two of you depend upon how much attention you provide and whether or not you know the proper ways for how to care for it. Goldfish aren't necessarily short-lived. In fact, if cared for properly, they can live for a decade or even far longer (one was reported to have lived for 43 years!). Learn how to take care of goldfish to ensure that yours enjoys a long and happy life.
- The tank. No fish bowl! Even if you keep just one goldfish, a large tank is vital in your efforts to provide a high quality of life. Many people simply buy a fishbowl, but while that may seem like an aesthetically pleasing home from our perspective, it's really bad for keeping goldfish healthy. Not only can they easily outgrow a fishbowl, but they also require their oxygen to enter the water from the surface. Therefore, large surface area is essential to the happiness and health of your goldfish. A bowl that tapers near the top won't provide the same oxygenation as a tank with its large surface area. Plus, you'd have to exchange the water in your bowl every single day in order to provide it with a hospitable and healthy living environment.
- Size. Goldfish start off small, but grow to be quite large -- even a foot long -- if you take good care of them. Many first-time keepers buy a small tank or bowl to house their goldfish, only to discover that they need to keep buying ever-larger replacement tanks. It's far more economical for you to buy a large enough tank at the outset. A general rule is to provide a 20- to 30-gallon tank for your pet fish, and add at least 10 gallons to that volume for each additional goldfish you might add. They grow large, excrete a lot of waste and need room to swim in order to be happy, which should come as no surprise!
- The importance of a hood. Goldfish have been known to jump out of uncovered fish tanks. Buying a hood for your tank is an easy way to avoid this calamity, while also providing a platform for lighting.
- Light. Opt for fluorescent lighting rather than the incandescent variety. You'll save on electricity and your light will give off less heat. Keep the lighting on for about 10 hours every day.
- Gravel floor. Gravel is the best choice as the floor of your goldfish tanks for several reasons. First of all, it won't affect the pH of the water, as other substances like coral can (more on pH below). Secondly, gravel provides an excellent surface on which good bacteria can grow – bacteria that work to break down the harmful waste elements produced within your tank.
- Water. As long as you check with your local pet store to make sure tap water is safe for use in a tank, you can stick to tap water throughout your goldfish's life. Most tap water has neutral pH (on a scale of 0-14, it's usually a 7 or just slightly higher). Goldfish thrive in neutral pH levels (specifically, 7.2-7.6 pH). They are relatively strong fish compared to other kinds, in that they can survive in water whose pH is less than optimal, but since their optimal pH is so simple to achieve, you shouldn't have to worry about it. In the early months of a tank, before the ecology within your tank has established itself, you should frequently check your water pH using a test kit, ensuring that the pH neither rises nor falls substantially. If the pH of your water changes undesirably (often water pH will gradually grow more acidic), you can purchase buffers at your local pet store to combat the problem.
- Adding and changing the water. Allow the tap to run for about a minute before collecting it in a container. Let the tap water sit out for an entire day before adding it to a tank; this interim period helps to remove chlorine from the water, and also ensures that it reaches the same temperature as the tank water. Ammonia and other waste products build up rather rapidly within a fish tank so you need to make sure you have tank filters to keep up general aquarium maintenance.
Your filtration system should help keep the water quality very good for the most part, but you must also perform a partial water exchange every week or two. To do this, use a siphon and try to suck out the waste and yucky material that collected in the gravel (without actually sucking the gravel out of the tank). In the process, try to suck up about a quarter of the water, and then replace it with the prepared tap water described in the previous step.
- Filter. Goldfish produce a lot of waste, and waste (along with uneaten food and decaying plants) leads to rising ammonia levels within your tank. Ammonia is toxic to goldfish and must be kept at the lowest possible level. To do this, you need to encourage the development of good bacteria within your tank and invest in a sufficient filtration system. If you use the best filtration systems, you'll be doing both at once. Filters also must be maintained and filtering elements must be replaced regularly in order to provide continued waste management in your tank, so be sure to follow maintenance instructions. Try to replace filtering elements in a staggered way, rather than all at once, to make transitions as smooth as possible for your goldfish in an aquarium. Filters should be changed about once a month. Use that same test kit mentioned earlier to check the ammonia and nitrite levels within your tank.
- So what kind of filter is right for your tank? There are three overall kinds of filter: chemical, mechanical and biological. And to complicate matters, you also have the option of internal filters or external ones.
- Biological filtration. Anyplace where good bacteria grow can become a biological filter in your tank. What do we mean by good bacteria? Specifically, nitrosomonas and nitrobacter. Nitrosomonas turns toxic ammonia into nitrite, which is a little less toxic. If the process ended there, biological filtration would be of little help, but thankfully we have nitrobacter to convert nitrite into the non-toxic nitrate.
- Chemical filters (such as activated carbon) are placed within filtration systems to remove ammonia and other toxins from the water.
- Mechanical filters are powerful sucking filters that physically remove the waste, excess food and other material that cause toxins to develop in the first place. Mechanical filters essentially take care of the prodigious poop these cute little goldfish are capable of excreting.
For a small tank (20 gallons) and just one goldfish, you could use an undergravel filter that promotes biological filtration through your gravel. The undergravel system increases oxygenation through your gravel bed, allowing good bacteria to flourish there. The one problem with undergravel filters is that, while good bacteria thrive, the waste material simply gathers at the bottom of your tank, turning to sludge.
Because of waste-matter accumulation and the relative difficulty of setting up an undergravel filter, I recommend using a piggyback filter instead for smaller tanks. It's relatively small, hangs off the side of your tank, runs quietly and can deliver all three filtration methods – chemical, biological and mechanical – in one compact package.
The larger your tank and the greater the number of goldfish, the more powerful your external filter must be. Canister filters, a more powerful cousin of the piggyback, also contain all three of the aforementioned types and will work excellently for those larger aquariums with one or multiple goldfish.
- Fish Food. The natural diet of goldfish includes both meat and vegetable matter. As a proud new owner, it's best to stick to the packaged goldfish food, rather than try to create a diet for them from scratch. Feed your fish small amounts several times a day. If they can't eat the vast majority of it within 5 minutes, then the meal was too big.
Talk to the pet store about small supplemental treats to occasionally provide. These treats might include small worms, peas, a little lettuce or insect larvae. Remember to only provide a very small amount of these foods as treats on special occasions. Stick mainly to the food that comes in a package. Remember not to overfeed a goldfish, as uneaten food at the bottom of the tank becomes a producer of toxic ammonia.
Goldfish eating dry food sometimes develop digestive pains; you should consider soaking the dry food before giving it to your fish, especially if you notice it eating voraciously off the surface and becoming less active or agile in the water.
- Airstones? Airstones are a cheap way to make your tank look more interesting, and it's true that many fish enjoy swimming into their bubble-streams. But beyond our mutual amusement, airstones also help increase water currents flowing to the surface, which promotes oxygenation of the water and help undesired elements escape. I recommend that you buy one for your tank!
- Decorations? Your goldfish won't get as much pleasure out of the aesthetics as you, but will definitely appreciate places to hide. All fish enjoy the ability to retreat behind something once in a while, whether it be a rock, castle or plant. Make sure that the decorations you provide don't have jagged protrusions that could hurt it.
- A word about plants. Live plants are an attractive option for aquarists, because they not only provide natural shelter, but also play a role in decreasing the levels of nitrogen in the water (lower nitrogen means lower ammonia). But they only function positively when they're healthy and thriving; an unhealthy, withering water plant actually contributes to the toxicity of the water in your tank. As you add plants, consider the conditions in which these plants thrive in the wild. Are they the same conditions in which goldfish thrive? If not, then don't add them to your tank, because they will die. Keep in mind, also, that goldfish are notoriously voracious when it comes to live plants; you might find that any plants you add to a tank will be devoured in short time.
- Do goldfish get along with other fish? They generally get along very well with other goldfish keeping them company, as long as the tank is properly large. It can also do well by itself, but may swim around the tank more when there are other fish present, a natural sign that its life is more stimulating. If you add more fish to your tank, they should be other goldfish; tropical freshwater fish often require different temperatures and water pH in order to thrive. What's more, some goldfish are rather introverted, while others lead a more active life. Read about the social tendencies of different breeds before you add fish to your tank. And lastly, never add another goldfish unless there is enough room. Not only is their comfort at stake, but too many fish in too small an environment becomes a serious health hazard.
This information should get you and your pet started on your loving friendship! Goldfish defy our unfortunate mischaracterization of fish as loveless, unrewarding pets. They recognize you and cherish your attention. Treat them well, and give them proper care, and you can enjoy their beauty and friendly company for years!