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Can Goldfish Live in a Bowl: 6 Reasons to Make Up Your Mind

Something that I really can’t stand is when people think that it’s okay to keep a goldfish in a small and plain bowl without any kind of decorations, filtration, or anything in between.

Quick Answer

The reality is that a goldfish should not live in a bowl. Goldfish require more space, a proper tank setup, certain water temperatures, clean water with oxygen, stimulation, and more. They just don’t get nearly enough of any of these things inside of a bowl.

Keep reading to figure out exactly why a goldfish probably shouldn’t live in a bowl, and how you can keep a goldfish in much more comfortable and safe conditions. 

Should Goldfish Live in a Bowl?

Just to hammer this point home, a goldfish really should not live in a bowl. While it is true that many people keep goldfish in bowls, they generally do not fare very well. 

More often than not, the goldfish become very stressed out and sick within a very short period of time, and often don’t live very long. The life expectancy of goldfish living in bowls is generally decidedly shorter than those living in a proper tank set up.

goldfish jumping out of a fish bowl

Goldfish need a bit more space than a bowl can provide, as well as the right water temperature, and so much more. It’s just really hard to control any one water parameter inside of a bowl when you don’t have any mechanical equipment such as heaters, filters, air stones, or anything else of the sort.

Yes, a goldfish may be able to survive in a regular bowl without any of those pieces of equipment for a while, but this will only last so long. 

Eventually, a lack of clean and oxygenated water, not living in the proper temperatures, and not having enough space, can all take its toll on your goldfish. Let’s now move on and take a look at all of the main reasons as to why a goldfish should not live in a bowl.

Reasons Why Goldfish Bowls are Less Than Ideal

There are six main reasons we can think of why a goldfish should never live in a bowl. Let’s take a look at exactly why a bowl is not the ideal environment for your goldfish.

1. Goldfish Need Space

Right off the bat, one of the biggest issues with a bowl is simply the size of it. A goldfish bowl usually is not more than one or two pounds in size at the most, and this simply is not enough space. Consider the fact that a regular goldfish can grow anywhere from 5 to 8 inches in length.

Now, consider the fact that the rule of thumb is that a fish needs to have a minimum of 1 gallon of water  for each inch of length. This is actually the minimum, with the recommended amount actually being 2 gallons of tank space for every inch of fish.

Therefore, if you have a 5 inch long goldfish, your tank should be at least 10 gallons in size. As you can probably tell, that’s much larger than any goldfish bowl out there. This creates a whole host of problems, with one of them being that your fish will simply feel very cramped.

Goldfish do like to swim around a bit, and if they don’t have enough space, they won’t be able to burn off their energy or feel like they are swimming enough. 

Furthermore, although these theories are generally unproven, it is also said that goldfish may only grow to the size of their bowls or tanks.

This means that if they live in a very small environment, they might not grow as big as they otherwise could or would. The bottom line is that goldfish require a whole lot more space than a simple little bowl can provide them with, and this is true for a variety of reasons.

2. Goldfish Need a Good Tank Setup

Related to the above point, another issue with small goldfish bowls is that they just don’t have enough space to provide your goldfish with a proper setup. 

Although goldfish aren’t the most intensive fish around in terms of meeting a lot of rocks, driftwood, plants, and decorations, they do still appreciate some of it.

The fact of the matter is that if you have a very small fish bowl, you’re not going to be able to fit many rocks, pieces of driftwood, and other such decorations inside of the tank.

The issue that this then raises is that you are effectively failing to recreate the natural environment of the goldfish. 

After all, if we are to take these animals out of their natural environments, the least we can do is recreate their natural environments as closely as possible, so that they feel at home, not like they are trapped inside of a prison.

Therefore, we recommend getting a much larger tank so you can put a lot of substrate, some nice rocks, some driftwood for the fish to explore, and some plants as well. Remember that aquarium plants are quite important either way, regardless of your fish.

As far as your goldfish is concerned, aquarium plants provide them with some stimulation, hiding spots, and more. As far as your aquarium is concerned, plants provide a certain aesthetic appeal, because they do look quite nice. More than that, plants also act as filtration units that help to keep the tank clean.

3. Goldfish Require a Certain Water Temperature

The next issue with a small goldfish bowl has to do with the water temperature. As a reminder, goldfish are cold water fish, and they generally prefer the water to be between 65 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with somewhere in the middle of that range being the ideal.

One of the biggest issues if you have a small goldfish bowl is that the amount of water present is not enough to prevent massive temperature fluctuations from occurring. 

Although goldfish may be able to survive in a fairly wide temperature range, what they won’t be able to survive is if the temperature constantly fluctuates, and the more the temperature fluctuates in both directions, the bigger the issues will be.

The problem is that the less water there is present in the bowl or tank, the more the ambient temperatures surrounding the tank or bowl will affect the water temperature. 

Therefore, if you only have a small one gallon fish bowl, even small temperature changes outside will have a massive effect on the water temperature.

This is not a problem that much larger fish tanks have to deal with, because much larger volumes of water take a much longer time to change temperature, therefore acting as somewhat of a buffer.

Goldfish bowls just have way too much temperature fluctuation for them to be safe for your fish. Even worse is the fact that even if you wanted to add some kind of heater into the equation, goldfish bowls really aren’t designed to hold on to any such type of equipment. 

4. Goldfish Need Clean Water

The next issue worth talking about here is that goldfish do need clean water. There is this myth out there that goldfish don’t require water filtration and that they can survive in dirty water. 

Although goldfish may be very hardy, there is a limit to how much they can handle. What it comes down to is that a very small goldfish bowl gets dirty very quickly.

This is just like with the temperature issue above. The smaller the bowl is and the less water there is inside of it, the faster it gets dirty. Furthermore, goldfish are also known for being fairly messy eaters that let a lot of their food remain uneaten in the fish tank. They also produce quite a bit of waste.

Between the waste they produce and the uneaten fish food, the tank ends up getting really dirty really quickly, and it will eventually end up dealing with ammonia and nitrates, both of which are poisonous to your goldfish.

Once again, this issue is not as pronounced in a much larger tank, because the much greater water volume allows that waste to spread out a little more. Even worse is that inside of a small goldfish bowl, adding any kind of filtration unit is very difficult.

Goldfish bowls aren’t really designed to allow you to mount a filter on the rim, and the interior certainly is not large enough to fit an internal filter. 

The result is that your goldfish will constantly have to live in dirty water. Ultimately, this will result in the goldfish becoming stressed out, ill, and likely dying well before its actual life expectancy is up.

5. Goldfish Need Oxygenated Water

The next issue that you need to consider if you are planning to keep your goldfish in a bowl is that your goldfish still needs to breathe. 

Goldfish, just like other fish, have gills, and they pull in oxygen through the water. They should require oxygen to survive just like us human beings do, and this includes just like all others.

The problem here is quite simple: such a small amount of water doesn’t hold on to a whole lot of dissolved oxygen. Now, account for the fact that there may be massive temperature fluctuations, with warm water holding a lot less dissolved oxygen.

Therefore, if the small goldfish bowl is already way too warm due to the ambient temperature, not only will your fish be too warm, but it will likely also not be getting enough oxygen.

If you have ever seen a goldfish appearing to be gasping for air at the surface of its bowl, this is exactly what’s going on. There just isn’t enough dissolved oxygen in the water to allow the fish to breathe effectively. Of course, since a fish needs oxygen, a lack of it will lead to the fish slowly but surely suffocating.

The fish will suffer great amounts of stress, it will have to gasp for air, and eventually it may die due to a lack of oxygenated water. 

The issue with a small fish tank is not only that such a good small quantity of water can’t hold onto a lot of oxygen, but also fitting an air stone and water pump into a small bowl is not really feasible either. It really just comes down to the fact that there isn’t enough space in a fishbowl.

6. Goldfish Need Stimulation

Once again, what this really all comes down to is a lack of space. If you have a single small goldfish bowl, chances are that you only have one goldfish. Well, things can get pretty lonely in that bowl, and this may also lead to your goldfish becoming stressed out.

At the very least, if your goldfish doesn’t have any companionship, it’s going to get very lonely. The issue is that with a small goldfish bowl, you don’t even really have enough space for that single goldfish, let alone for any tank mates.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line here is that keeping a goldfish in a small bowl is nothing short of inhumane and cruel. For many more reasons than just one, it’s simply not feasible to keep a goldfish in such a small bowl.

Most people think that goldfish only grow to an inch or two in length, but this really isn’t true. They need a tank that is at least 10 gallons in size. Ideally, if you have a goldfish that might grow up to 8 inches long, consider getting a tank that is around 20 gallons in size.

Getting a tank of this size will then allow you to add all of the necessary equipment into the aquarium, such as heaters, filters, air stones, and more, to keep your goldfish happy and healthy.

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