Re-examining the "Goldfish Bowl"

Wouldn’t a goldfish in a fish bowl be a cute gift for your six-year-old? It’ll teach her responsibility and be a source of constant entertainment. It’s a classic, seen in movies, comic strips, and children’s books for centuries. Right?


The “goldfish bowl,” though unfortunately still sold in many pet shops, is only suitable for fish with a labyrinth organ and which live naturally in still, small ponds or puddles. This is because a bowl does not allow for the installation of proper filtration, its curved sides prevent oxygenation of the water from the surface, and the small size causes rapid buildup of potentially fatal toxins like ammonia. In fact, the only fish able to comfortably live in a bowl is the betta fish. Yet, though these hardy and beautiful fishes can survive in bowls, most enthusiasts recommend the use of a rectangular tank, at least five gallons in size, and an aquarium filter.

How Can One Keep Goldfish Safely and Humanely?

If your heart is set on a pet goldfish, it’s quite possible to keep one or more, and to do so without shortening its life through the use of a fish bowl. Each goldfish can easily attain a length of twelve inches or more, so be prepared with at least one and a half gallons of water per inch in length at maturity. In other words, you’ll need at least a 36 gallon tank in order to keep two goldfish indoors! Goldfish and other members of the carp family produce copious amounts of urine and dirty their water quickly, so even in a large tank, you’ll need to choose a good quality aquarium filter and change the water, including cleaning the substrate, regularly.

An alternative to keeping indoor goldfish is to research having a large outdoor pond installed, but beware: Raccoons, herons, and even stray dogs may snack on unprotected outside goldfish or koi. Outdoor fish need filtration, too, especially if the pond is narrower at the top than the bottom. Many decorative pond filters are available, including some that also act as attractive fountains. If you have goldfish in your pond, you needn’t worry about mosquitos hatching in the standing water; the fish will gladly snack on any larvae that hatch.

If you’re willing to go to the trouble of appropriately housing goldfish, they’ll likely become family members, just like a furry pet. They’re surprisingly personable and intelligent. In fact, you can even train goldfish to do some remarkable tricks:

Goldfish Alternatives

Does proper goldfish care sound like too much trouble? You’re far from alone in that opinion. Today, many fish owners opt to avoid the carp family, and instead keep one or more species of lower-maintenance tropical fish. A 10-gallon tank with an aquarium filter and heater, gravel substrate, and a few real or artificial plants and other enrichment features, could be a home for up to five guppies, two dwarf gouramis, a betta fish, three platys, or a variety of other small, freshwater fish. For fish outside the carp family, one gallon of water per inch in length at maturity is generally adequate, but most freshwater fish are social in nature and prefer to be kept in groups of at least three to five.

Check out a local independently owned fish store for advice on species that suit your plans and the level of care you are willing to provide.

What to Do with That Goldfish Bowl

Now that you’ve learned how to humanely and healthfully care for goldfish, what should you do with that old fish bowl? Here are some ideas:

  • Make a lid out of windowscreen and a large rubber band, and let kids catch insects and observe them for a few hours.
  • Paint it, fill it with potting soil, and grow flowers or herbs.
  • Save loose change in the bowl, and when it’s full, buy a fishtank or some new fish.
  • Turn it into a dish to serve snacks and treats– I suggest Goldfish crackers.
  • Sink it in your new aquarium and add some colorful stones and aquatic plants, making it a fun hideout for your fish.

If none of these projects is quite your style, remember to…

  • Recycle!
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5 Responses

  1. Robert Akehurst
    | Reply

    Nice post. Some very helpful information there.

  2. April
    | Reply

    Nice too see an informed post about the subject. Too many people buy into the cliche of goldfish in a bowl. Just because they’re inexpensive fish, doesn’t mean they deserve a crappy habitat.

  3. Amanda
    | Reply

    Good post. Not enough people know whats suitable for some fish.

  4. Fantastic read! Goldfish are our #1 selling fish and most people just don’t have a clue how to look after them.

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