The stereotypical goldfish is usually shown living in a small bowl with a few colorful rocks on the bottom.
They’re made out to be an easy, low maintenance pet that’s content to swim around a tiny bowl for the rest of its life.
In reality, goldfish actually need a lot more than that.
If you’re thinking about getting a goldfish as a pet, you might be wondering.
What can I do to give my pet the longest, happiest life possible?
How long do goldfish live?
The answer might surprise you.
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How Long Do Goldfish Live?
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer. The truth is there are a lot of factors that contribute to the lifespan of a goldfish and they all play a significant part. Still, there are a lot of things you can do to keep your pet around as long as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to own a goldfish and what you can expect if you decide to get one.
What is the Oldest Goldfish?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest goldfish was named Tish. He lived to the ripe old age of 43.
Tish was won as a prize at a funfair in 1956 and passed away peacefully in his bowl in 1999 after a short illness.
His owners claim that they didn’t do anything special to keep him alive. They kept his bowl clean, didn’t overfeed him, and put him in the sun occasionally.
Another goldfish, Goldie, was said to have lived to age 45. Since there was no documentation to prove his age, he was unable to take the Guinness record.
According to his owners, Goldie was won at a fair in 1960 and passed down through the family. Later in life, he used his fame to raise money for charity. Goldie died in 2005.
As you can see, a goldfish can end up being quite a commitment. These fish lived for over 4 decades! While this is certainly possible, it’s not something that happens very often.
Let’s take a look at what to expect with the average goldfish.
Average Lifespan of a Goldfish
Typically, goldfish live to between 5 and 10 years but it’s not unusual for them to live as long as 20. How long they live depends on their genes, quality of care, and a little bit of luck.
To make sure your goldfish live a long happy life, a tank is the best habitat. Ideally, goldfish should be kept in a 20-gallon tank to reach their full potential.
In fact, goldfish that live in a large filtered tank live significantly longer than those kept in bowls.
How Long Do Goldfish Live in a Bowl?
It really depends on the size of the bowl and whether or not it has a filter but even in a large bowl and with excellent care, a goldfish won’t live as long as it can in a filtered tank.
Without a filter, a goldfish will probably live about 2 to 3 years in a small bowl. In a large bowl with a filter, it might live closer to 5 years.
There are a lot of reasons why fishbowls are not an ideal home for goldfish. As we mentioned, they make a lot of waste. In a bowl, that quickly leads to harmful toxins building up. Too much nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia will eventually poison your fish.
A lot of people don’t realize how big goldfish are supposed to be when they mature. Some varieties actually reach up to a foot in length; others only grow to about 6 to 8 inches. Either way, a bowl is not big enough to allow them to reach their full potential.
The idea that a goldfish grows to the size of its habitat is somewhat of a myth. While it’s true that their growth slows down in smaller space, in reality, goldfish never really stop growing if they’re properly cared for.
Another complication of keeping them in a habitat that’s too small is that their organs can grow too large for their body. They get constricted and can’t function properly, which is eventually fatal.
For a goldfish in a bowl without a filter to live even 2 or 3 years, you’ll likely have to do daily water changes. This can be a lot of work and there will be days when there’s just no time to do it.
On the other hand, a large tank with a filter does a lot of the work for you.
How Long Can Goldfish Live Without Food?
Goldfish can actually go between 8 days and 2 weeks without eating. If you’re going on vacation and are only going to be gone for a week or so, your goldfish will be just fine. Any longer than that and you’ll need to invest in an automatic feeder or pet sitter.
Interestingly, it’s better to underfeed a goldfish than overfeed it. Not only will uneaten food increase the contaminants in the water but overfeeding can also make a goldfish very sick.
Intestinal blockages can cause swim bladder problems which cause goldfish to swim upside down. If you see this, hold off on giving it any more food and make sure all uneaten food is removed from the tank.
To recover from swim bladder disease, a goldfish needs warm water between 78 and 80 degrees to increase the fish’s metabolism. Add a small amount of salt to the aquarium and wait. If it doesn’t resolve, the condition is ultimately fatal.
How to Make Goldfish Live Longer?
A surefire way to make a goldfish live longer is to take the best possible care of it as you can. As we’ve already mentioned, this involves keeping it in a tank that’s at least 20-gallons and avoiding fishbowls altogether.
Cycle the tank before adding any fish. This process usually takes about 3 weeks and is designed to allow beneficial bacteria to grow so there are already healthy colonies established when you introduce the fish.
Beneficial bacteria is important to any aquarium because they break down waste and keep ammonia levels down. Because goldfish are so messy, having the colonies already in place can help your tank get off to the best possible start.
Once your goldfish is in the proper size tank, you still have to perform regular cleaning and maintenance. How often you have to clean depends on how many fish you have. Remember, goldfish are messy so the more you have, the bigger and faster the mess accumulates.
At a minimum, you will need to do a good cleaning every two weeks. Make sure you check nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels to make sure the water is safe for your fish. Keep an eye on the pH level, too. Goldfish prefer a range of 6.5 to 8.25.
If you see levels increasing, there are a few simple things you can do.
First, try placing living plants in the aquarium. A lot of people prefer plastic plants because they assume they’re easier to take care of but the truth is that real plants help maintain tank balance. They absorb the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate that are harmful to fish.
Use an aquarium vacuum to clean up any uneaten food or contaminants at the bottom of the tank. Then, replace the water that was removed during vacuuming with water that’s the same temperature as that in the tank. This helps the fish adjust without any additional stress.
Water temperature should fluctuate as the seasons change. Most goldfish don’t like water that’s warmer than 75 degrees F and they seem to prefer lower temperatures of around 60 degrees F in the winter.
Remember that goldfish don’t eat as much when the water is colder because their metabolism slows down a bit.
We already mentioned the dangers of overfeeding but the easier way to avoid this is to keep a close eye on how much they’re actually eating.
Feeding them twice a day is enough. A good rule of thumb is to not give them any more than they can eat in 2 minutes. When time is up, clean up any leftover food. This stops them from overeating and helps keep the water as clean as possible.
Goldfish also need a lot of stimulation. Try adding rocks, driftwood, and plants and changing them up a bit with every cleaning.
A lot of people don’t realize how much potential a goldfish has to really become a part of the family. The first you have to do to get a goldfish to live for a long time is take it out of the fishbowl and into a 20-gallon tank to give it the space it needs to grow.
In the right environment with proper care, a goldfish can outlive most dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other pets. With a big, clean tank, proper cleaning and maintenance, and the right feeding schedule, who knows? Your goldfish might even break the Guinness Record.