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The appeal of goldfish as pets is undeniable. They’re cute, active, and beautiful, on top of being relatively easy to care for.
Yet, despite this, something you’ll commonly hear about goldfish is that they don’t live very long. And unfortunately, that’s become true for most goldfish in captivity… but not for the reasons you might believe.
You see, it’s not that goldfish have inherently short lifespans. It’s that most people, especially those with insufficient fishkeeping knowledge/experience, don’t know what it takes to keep a goldfish alive for its true average lifespan.
So the question, how long do goldfish live, doesn’t have a straight answer. It all depends on how well they’re being brought up. Find out more below!
How Long Do Goldfish Live?
Assuming that the goldfish is healthy and treated with care, its life expectancy can go up to 15-20 years.
There are even records of some slim-bodied goldfish, like the feeder or common goldfish and comet goldfish, living up to 40 years in an outdoor pond, where the natural habitat of a goldfish is most closely mimicked.
Meanwhile, fancy goldfish lifespan generally ranges from 7-12 years. This is because compared to slim-bodied goldfish, they are much frailer. Their biological processes are also much easier to disrupt due to their organs being packed into a small, squat, round body.
Even the bubble eye, which makes certain species like the black moor so popular, can be a cause of lower life expectancy. In general, slim bodied goldfish can live longer than fancy ones.
Lifespan of Different Goldfish Types
Wondering how long do goldfish live? Here are the average goldfish lifespans of the most commonly sought types of goldfish:
|Goldfish Name||Goldfish Type||Average Lifespan (Tank)||Average Lifespan (Pond)|
|Common Goldfish||Slim-bodied||12 – 20 years||20 years or more|
|Comet Goldfish||Slim-bodied||10 – 12 years||15 – 20 years|
|Oranda Goldfish||Fancy Goldfish||10 – 12 years||10 – 15 years|
|Fantail Goldfish||Fancy Goldfish||10 – 12 years||10 – 15 years|
Why Do Goldfish Die So Easily?
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve figured out by now that the expected lifespan of your goldfish actually exceeds that of your other seemingly smarter and stronger house pets, like your dog or cat.
Yet, it’s more and more common to see that goldfish kept as pets don’t make it past 5 years of life. And this leaves a lot of confused first-time goldfish owners asking why their goldfish died so soon and how they can ensure a longer lifespan for their other goldfish.
So, a lot of it comes down to the care and living conditions of the goldfish.
If you can ensure healthy living conditions and tank or pond water quality for your goldfish, you can expect them to live out their expected lifespan of 15-20 years.
However, for goldfish cooped up in a little bowl or small tank, kept in unclean water containing significant amounts of waste, or not given a varied diet, the average life expectancy is 2-5 years.
Whoa, that’s a lot of information.
But it’s not even the start.
Wondering where you went wrong? Find out below.
How to Increase Goldfish Life Expectancy
Like all other beings on the planet, the lifespan of a goldfish is determined by how healthy it is. And ensuring that health is on you who are charged with their care. If you’re new to keeping these fish, don’t freak out. Here is how to extend that lifespan. With lots of care, maybe you to can raise a goldfish like Tish, who was the oldest goldfish. Tished lived to be 43 years! Let’s look at these 9 actionable tips before to get you started right!
1. Clean the Tank Regularly
Good water quality is of utmost importance if you want to facilitate a long goldfish lifespan. Especially considering how much waste they produce, it’s crucial to carry out frequent water changes to prevent toxicity. Always do your routine water changes and look into top notch filtration. You should regularly test your water to ensure you maintain lower nitrate levels and not have dangerous levels of ammonia or nitrite.
Additionally, get used to using your own intuition. Check how the water looks and how it smells. If you feel something is wrong, trust your gut and whip out your water testing kit. Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to the increasing life expectancy of fish.
2. Feed Your Goldfish a Healthy Diet
What most people think of as “fish food,” which are typically pellets and flakes, are actually more proprietary food than anything else.
So when we say “healthy diet,” we, of course, mean a varied, omnivorous diet. You want to give your goldfish a little bit of everything: pellets and flakes, some vegetables, live foods like worms and shrimp, and even fruit sometimes, to keep health problems at bay.
There is a comprehensive guide I have posted all about what do goldfish eat. Check out the guide. You will be blow away at what you can feed your goldfish!
3. Don’t Overfeed Your Goldfish
If you’ve had your goldfish a while, you will have noticed by now that they will eat almost anything at any time. In fact, as long as it can fit in their mouth, these omnivorous creatures will attempt to swallow almost any object. All types of goldfish do this.
Yes, it’s cute watching a goldfish gobble up the food you lovingly give them. But you must not be tempted to overfeed them. It’s very easy for goldfish to get digestive health problems like bloating and constipation. It might even lead to swim bladder disease.
As a consequence, this will lead to a reduced goldfish lifespan.
4. Maintain the Water Temperature
If you want your fish to live long, you have to try to make sure that your goldfish tank mimics their natural habitat as closely as possible. An important component of this is maintaining the right water temperature.
For fancy goldfish, the optimum temperature is between 65° to 72°F, while for slim-bodied goldfish (like the common goldfish), the right temperature range is 60° to 72°F. Make sure you do proper research on the breed of goldfish you have.
If the temperature is too high, your goldfish will experience higher metabolism. Although this will cause them to grow bigger at a faster rate, it will shorten their lifespan. If you keep your goldfish in a pond and it freezes over in the winter, consider investing in a pond de-icer.
5. Give Your Goldfish the Space They Need
Film, TV, and children’s books have had us believing for years that a goldfish survive in a little fish bowls. This is absolutely incorrect and a sure-fire way to your goldfish to have a short lifespan.
The average lifespan of a goldfish in the wild is from 20-40 years, mainly because they have a lot of space to swim around in, less stress, and stable conditions.
So when forced to circle in one spot, e.g., in a bowl, a goldfish gets extremely stressed. And when that stress reaches its apex, your pet could die.
Not to mention, once again, goldfish produce a lot—and we really mean a lot—of waste. The smaller their tank, the more quickly and easily it will fill up with toxic goldfish waste and lead to your pet dying.
That’s why goldfish need a large aquarium size. One goldfish needs at least a 20 gallon fish tank to live in. And for every new goldfish you add, you must add another 10 gallons. So, don’t crowd your goldfish in small tanks.
6. Provide Adequate Filtration
This is, of course, true not only for goldfish but for any other pet fish. But given how much these guys love to poop, it’s absolutely essential to providing filtration for your goldfish tanks. A moderate filtration rate should be alright in goldfish tanks. Look to provide a high amount of biological filtration to manage the heavy bioload they add to your tank.
7. Choose Tank Mates Wisely
Not all fish should be kept with one another. This includes different goldfish species.
The bodies of fancy goldfish, as you may already know, are quite weak and slow compared to goldfish with slim bodies. As such, they should not be kept in the same tank because stronger fish almost always prey on weaker ones and will outcompete them for food.
8. Put Your Goldfish in a Pond
If you have very delicate fancy goldfish like pearlscales, ignore this bit—their genetics make it hard for them to survive in ponds.
On the other hand, if you have long goldfish of the slim-bodied variety, such as common goldfish, comets, and shubunkins, the best thing you can do to increase their lifespan is to put them in a freshwater pond.
In the wild, goldfish live in freshwater streams and ponds. Seasonal variations, plenty of sunlight, and naturally available sources of varied foods (e.g., plants, insects, larvae) all make an outdoor pond the best place for a goldfish to enjoy a longer lifespan.
Even some varieties of fancy goldfish, like the fantail variety, can be kept in a pond by fish keepers who are willing to put in the extra effort to create healthy conditions for them.
You might have to use implements such as a pond heater. Adjusting the pH is another concern, as well as preventing predators—like birds—from feasting on your goldfish (because, after all, being eaten is an effective way to shorten anyone’s lifespan).
9. Ensure Proper Bacteria Levels
One of the best ways to ensure a long and healthy life for your goldfish is to allow bacteria to thrive in their tank.
Why? Because bacteria keep goldfish waste in check.
Not only do goldfish love to eat and don’t know when to stop eating, they—quite predictably—are known to produce very large amounts of waste. And this waste contains toxins like nitrite and ammonia, which, when existing in large amounts in your goldfish tank, can damage your fish’s gills and even cause brain damage.
The result? Stress, a shortened lifespan, a sick fish, and maybe even death.
In freshwater bodies, the natural habitat of goldfish, the water conditions include naturally occurring bacteria that break down the goldfish’s waste. In a home aquarium, however, there are no bacteria. That’s why one of the ways of proper care of goldfish is introducing bacteria into their tank. This starts with a proper cycle.
Here’s how to do it.
How to Introduce Healthy Bacteria into Your Goldfish Tank
Let’s take you through all the necessary steps.
Step 1: Remove Chlorine from the Tank
One of the most common mistakes new goldfish owners make in fish care is bringing their goldfish home to an unprepared tank. Some people think it’s as easy as bringing the goldfish home and dumping it/them in the tank.
This is far from the truth. You need to prep your tank for your goldfish weeks and sometimes even months in advance, depending on the breed and amount of goldfish.
Start by ridding your goldfish’s new abode of chlorine. Use a conditioner to do this. Although chlorine is helpful in our drinking and bathing water, it inhibits bacteria growth in a fish tank.
Step 2: Allow Bacteria Into the Fish Tank
Once the chlorine is out, the bacteria will start pouring in pretty much all on its own. Not only from the air and the water itself but also from the plants and rocks you use to decorate your aquarium. Even commercially sold bacteria culture is easy to access these days. Fritz Turbo Start is my favorite bacteria for freshwater tanks.
But your work for your fish doesn’t end there.
Step 3: Drop Some Goldfish Food (Or ammonia) in the Tank
I know, it sounds a little silly right now; why put fish food in a fish tank with no fish?
Because it allows your bacteria to start doing their job.
Use fish flakes or pellets for this purpose. When this food disintegrates inside the tank, it will release ammonia. The bacteria, in turn, will consume this ammonia. In a few weeks, you will have a self-sustaining bacteria ecosystem inside your fish tank.
A more modern technique would be to use ammonia from a manufacturer like Dr. Tim’s Aquatics. This is what I’m used to doing for my fresh only systems. Once you have no ammonia and nitrites reading when you test your water, it’s time to add goldfish!
Step 4: Make Regular Water Checks
This is very important if you want to sustain healthy living conditions for your goldfish. Why not get yourself a water testing kit to regularly check water parameters? It’ll make your life a lot easier. Do your water changes to keep your nitrates down.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long can a goldfish live in a bowl?
If you’re wondering how long can goldfish live in a bowl: not longer than 2 to 3 years. Goldfish bowls are not large enough to sustain a goldfish, which means leaving yours in a bowl will cause your goldfish to be underdeveloped and stressed.
Consider that a single goldfish requires at least 20 gallons of water to thrive before putting yours in a bowl.
2. Why do goldfish die so easily?
The most common reasons for the lifespan of a goldfish being shortened are ammonia poisoning, excessive nitrate levels, and being kept in a tank that’s too small, among other reasons.
Therefore, you should make it a point to ensure that your goldfish’s tank water is clean and of good quality and provide them enough space to move around. Remember, one goldfish requires at least 20 gallons of water to thrive.
3. How big can a goldfish get?
In captivity, slim-bodied goldfish can grow up to 10 inches. Fancy goldfish will typically grow to 6-8 inches. In the wild, these fish might grow up to 12-14 inches in length.
The largest ever recorded goldfish, owned by a man in the Netherlands, measured 18.7 inches.
4. What kind of goldfish live the longest?
Species of goldfish that live the longest are the common goldfish, shubunkins, and comets. These slim-bodied goldfish types do require a lot of tank space compared to fancy goldfish but have been known to live longer than 10 years.
5. What is the average lifespan of a pet goldfish?
On average, pet goldfish live 10 to 15 years. However, if if they aren’t kept in good housing conditions, they usually will live no longer than 5 years.
6. How long can goldfish go without food?
Up to 2 weeks, depending on their health.
Out of all the aquarium fish varieties you might choose to populate your home, goldfish are known to live the longest, with proper care. So, it really is a crying shame that these fish have developed a reputation for dying easily and quickly.
Don’t help to keep this idea alive. Whether in a tank or pond, treat your goldfish with love and care, and above all, humanely— and they will stay alive as long as they can to keep making you go awww at all of their little fish antics.
We hope the tips in our article have helped. We wish your goldfish a long and beautiful life!
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.