What does it mean when a goldfish turns white?

Is it cause for concern?

There are a handful of reasons why this happens.

So let’s take at how this happens – and what you can do about it.

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The Process of Goldfish Changing to White

Here is a photo-by-photo snapshot of the same fish as he depigments to total white:

In orange fish, this often begins from underneath the fish.

Sometimes a fish will retain some orange on their fins or as red patches – sometimes it all goes.

As you can see in this fish, his chin area and belly are what started to turn first, while his lips, fins and back remained orange.

Eventually all color but his tail remained…

… Until that even went.

He is now an official lemonhead.

Frankly it was hard for me to let go of how he was because that’s how I’d always thought of him – my little “cheeto.”

But he still has his same little wiggle bum-bum and he still greets me each day.

So I forgive him

By the way:

This all happened over the course of about 9 months.

The fish is also pretty young, around 1 or 1.5 years old.

Why do Goldfish Turn White? 5 Main Causes

1. Lack of Sunlight

It’s well known by breeders and those with ponds that goldfish kept outdoors have the most vibrant coloration.

But inside, our goldfish miss the benefits of the sun.

We can try to compensate somewhat with artificial lighting, but even full spectrum LED lighting does not have the same effects.

(Full-spectrum lighting IS important to the fish though.)

It may be due to the lack of UV light in these artificial lights.

What can you do?

Some goldfish keepers “sunbathe” their fish in sunny weather to let them experience the benefits of real sunlight.

It can make blacks more intense and oranges look more red.

But you want to take care not to let the water temperature rise too much to avoid overheating your fish.

Aerating the container and using a thermometer are good tips.

That said:

If your goldfish has totally turned white, putting it in the sun might not work to restore its original coloration.

Sunlight seems to be best used while the fish still has at least some color.

It’s worth a try! πŸ™‚


Ensure your goldfish has access to full-spectrum light and consider occasional sunbathing

2. Diet

Is your goldfish getting the nutrients it needs to have vibrant coloration?

The right diet promotes vibrant coloration in goldfish.

It is known that certain ingredients, such as the algae Spirulina, can help enhance the red pigments in goldfish.

The downside to this is that the whites on the fish’s markings can take on a more pinkish hue (source).

Koi keepers have found that the ingestion of Bentonite Clay helps to enhance the coloration of their fish.

This may or may not have as much impact on a goldfish.

What it all boils down to?


A healthy diet will help to promote good coloration in goldfish – but you may not want to overdo things by focusing so much on color enhancing additives.

3. Genetics

Let’s face it:

At the end of the day, a BIG part of what plays into the coloration of goldfish is out of your control.

Meaning, coloration depends heavily on the genetics of that fish…

… And when (if ever) it changes those colors.

The world of goldfish genetics as it relates to coloration is surprisingly complex.

But at the end of the day, goldfish that aren’t intensively selectively bred for certain color may lose it over time.

Black is notoriously unstable.

You can’t do much about this unless you breed your goldfish yourself.

4. Old Age

A very common thing I’ve seen among very old goldfish is they frequently lose all their color, turning white.

Take a look at the world’s 9 oldest goldfish and you’ll see most of them are no longer orange.

I speculate it is a similar phenomenon that occurs in older people – when their hair turns gray.


If your fish is getting up there in years, old age might be the cause of its turning white.

5. Sickness

This is usually more to do with pale coloration that actually going from orange to white.

Basically the fish’s colors look much more muted than normal.

Sometimes the black look like a soft brown.

Sometimes the yellow looks cream.

If this is the case, then the color returns when the fish returns to good health.


If your fish isn’t healthy, it may show signs of color loss.

Stress can also cause pale colors, especially after the fish has been shipped recently.


Will My Goldfish Ever Regain its Original Color?

This is a hard question to answer.

I’ll say in some cases it’s possible, especially if the underlying cause of it turning white was diet or lighting.

But in other cases like old age, the change is usually permanent.

Some goldfish have been known to go through several color changes throughout their lifespan.

If your fish is permanently unpigmented…

… Don’t feel too bad.

Unlike in some areas in Asia, white goldfish are very popular in the west and considered quite beautiful.

If they retain a yellower head with a snowy body, that fish (especially if it has a wen) is usually referred to as a lemonhead – which are in pretty high demand among goldfish sellers.

The biggest downside to a major color change (or color loss) is often that the name of your goldfish might not make sense anymore. πŸ˜€

So, as much as you might have preferred their original color…

… Your fish is still your same sweet little fish deep down inside πŸ˜‰

And you never know – the change might grow on you!

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The good news is that your goldfish turning white does not always mean there is a major problem.

Sometimes it’s just normal color change.

But it may be hard to see them change.

What about you?

Have you ever experienced this situation with one of your fish?

Tell me about it in the comments section below if you like.