There is no question that goldfish have the ability to live for a very long time.
This brings us to the more puzzling fact…
Most Goldfish Always Die Rather Quickly
So, exactly what is the average lifespan of a goldfish kept in captivity?
I’ve been unable to find any stats to offer a definite answer, though fancy goldfish (with proper care) typically reach 5 to 10 years in captivity.
This is because their modified bodies makes them less resilient than their slim-bodied relations, who can survive much longer in the wild.
It’s a safe bet that most goldfish don’t make it past a few years once acquired (many don’t last more than a few weeks). Those who manage to make it to even twice that are somehow seen as “superfish.”
That’s still nowhere near how long they should live – let alone 40 years!
But people think this is normal – that goldfish don’t live long because they can’t.
(We now know that isn’t true.)
By now you should be beginning to see that something isn’t right with this picture. We have goldfish can live long, but they usually don’t.
Well, good news:
I’m here to shed some light on the 2 main reasons why goldies are only making it to a fraction of their potential lifespan.
Reason #1 Behind Such Short Goldfish Lifespans
It’s true that some goldfish just aren’t able to live out their full lifespan because of factors out of our control, such as undernourishment during the early years of a goldfish’s life.
But high death rates in most cases are caused by 2 major things…
Most people – even those at pet stores – honestly have no clue about the needs of the fish they are buying or selling, and in many cases hold to outdated and downright false ideas about what it takes to make this species thrive.
So it is rare that a goldfish will be able to survive in the conditions they are kept in – it isn’t right for them.
Here is a handful of all-too-common no-no’s that cause untimely deaths:
1. Keeping their fish in an unfiltered bowl or tank
Put your goldfish in a bowl?
Many times they will die quickly unless they are set up properly.
Bowls can be extremely dangerous environments for a goldfish if there is nothing to remove the waste that the goldfish continually puts out – which increases with the more they are fed.
Because they get dirty so quickly, the level of toxins so high that it literally burns the fish alive, often leading to sickness and infection (if they don’t die from the burns first).
It’s amazing they last as long as they do!
But don’t worry…
There are things you can do to protect them from this.
2. Feeding them an improper diet and/or overfeeding
Goldfish (especially the fancy ones) have very specific needs when it comes to what to eat and how often to eat it.
Sadly, goldfish flakes are the go-to staple that often causes constipation, excess protein and overfeeding (it’s about impossible to tell how much you have actually fed!).
Overfeeding causes a host of problems, from throwing off the biological balance of the tank to terminal conditions such as dropsy.
3. Not cycling the aquarium first
All aquariums are closed environments. They need filtration, and that filtration has to have a colony of beneficial bacteria built up over time in order to work.
That’s why we need the cycling process – to give us that good bacteria.
Not cycling the tank can be a huge mistake that causes goldies to die from the totally imbalanced water parameters that result from a lack of “good bugs.”
Contrary to popular belief:
You can’t just walk home from the pet store with a NEW fish and put it in a NEW tank that doesn’t have a good bacteria colony or any live plants and sit back, thinking everything will be fine.
Reason #2 Behind Short Goldfish Lifespans
This one is something most people never think of.
You do everything right for your new pet, care-wise. You are the epitome of a perfect goldfish owner.
The fish gets sick and dies within a few months (or less) regardless.
Well, it could be that your fish got stressed out from the whole pet store ordeal.
See, they ship the fish around a lot from place to place, and it stresses their immune system. Then they are exposed to a bunch of other fish, many which are carrying diseases. When the fish is weak is when it is susceptible to picking up a problem.
So what happened in this case only could have been prevented by buying your goldfish from a reputable supplier or breeder (which is the only way to buy goldfish that I recommend).
Admittedly, this doesn’t happen to all pet store goldfish.
Some are treated better than others.
Some are also hardier than others.
But you eliminate a lot of the risk by not shopping at the pet stores. 🙂
These are 2 big reasons, but there are 3 main other ones.
An avid goldfish keeper for nearly 20 years, Meredith Clawson is the founder of the Pure Goldfish website and author of the book The Truth About Goldfish. Pure Goldfish has been featured in Wikihow, Wikipedia, The Aquarium Guide and more.