The simple answer to this question is that you shouldn’t. Not unless the bowl is a lot larger than those you can buy at the stall if you ‘win’ a goldfish at a funfair.
Children often end up with a goldfish as a first pet – they are cheap to buy and feed, you don’t need to take out expensive insurance, and they don’t need to be taken for walks. But the fate of many is to end up is a totally unsuitable bowl where they spend a miserable and short lived life.
Goldfish came to Europe 400 years ago, and are members of the carp family. They are very popular as pets as they can live in cold water, and don’t need water to be heated, even in winter. If you go away on holiday you don’t have to worry about someone looking after them, as you can use food blocks which last for up to a couple of weeks.
Consider this for a moment. Given the right conditions they can grow up to 60 cm long (about 2 feet) and live for 20 years.
But, you say, the ones I see are much much smaller than that – surely these must be a different breed? No, I’m afraid not, goldfish have their growth inhibited by the volume of the water where they live. If they live in a large outside pond they will grow to full size, if not, their growth is stunted.
In some countries the simple bowl is banned as it is considered too cruel.
So what does my goldfish need?
Your fish needs an environment where he can swim around, and nuzzle algae off plants and rocks as he would do in the wild. In a plain bowl without any plants or ornaments he will have a very boring life.
Your pet needs good quality oxygenated water so that he can breathe. One thing that you won’t think of with a plain goldfish bowl is a pump and filter which will help clean and oxygenate the water. The tank needs to be cleaned out – the fish has to swim around in the same water he has defecated in, so this has to be changed regularly particularly as they are quite messy fish. Changing the water does not just mean tipping half of the water out and filling the bowl up again from the tap – it means putting clean water into a bucket and putting water conditioner in it. Tap water is full of fluoride and chlorine and other additives which are good for us, but act as a slow acting poison for a goldfish if conditioner isn’t used. You can get the same effect as using a conditioner if you leave water standing in a bucket for a few hours, but the conditioner is more convenient, and is not expensive as you use very little each time you change the water. A little of the water should be changed weekly if possible. Do not wait until the water is dirty and cloudy and then change the whole lot at once! This will cause too great a shock to the goldfish who may become ill as a result.
Goldfish food is fairly cheap and can be bought in any pet shop or supermarket. It is important not to overfeed your fish – uneaten food with make the water even dirtier. If your fish is a little hungry after food time he will peck at the food which has dropped down onto the plants and dcor – an activity which stops him getting bored, and keeps the tank cleaner as well.
The best way to keep a goldfish is in the biggest tank you can afford and have space for. Average size aquariums are not too expensive, and he’ll be much happier than swimming round in circles in a small bowl. Especially if you have room to get him a companion to swim around with. You can put some attractive gravel at the bottom of the tank. Ideally they are more suited living in ponds than inside in tanks.
Living plants help to oxygenate the water, and algae grows on them which is a natural food for your pet. Swimming through the plants will be more interesting for him than a tank just with free swimming space. Plastic plants can also attract algae, so are a good alternative.
Filters and tanks are not expensive, so if you’ve come back from the fair carrying your prize fish in a plastic bag, invest in some decent equipment to give him a happy and healthy life. You’ll get more enjoyment as well than watching him just swim round and round in a glass bowl. If you put him in a bowl he will survive, but he won’t be happy, and will not live to his full lifespan.
Trish Haill has a background in Psychology and a lifetime of pet keeping. With her experience together with lots of research she has brought together helpful information for parents considering getting a pet for their child. Pets4kids has information on all sorts of pets you may consider. Further information on fish keeping can be found on the website.