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Do Goldfish Get Lonely? Understanding Their Social Needs

I used to keep goldfish alone in their tanks until I realized that they could probably do some company. Over the years, I’ve come to the realization that goldfish don’t really want to be alone.

Quick Answer

Although goldfish most likely lack the emotional and mental capacity to be truly lonely like human beings, they may still benefit from the company of other fish. Goldfish may not be able to feel loneliness per se, but also tend to thrive and do much better in the company of other fish.

Keep reading to find out all of the intricacies of the social needs of goldfish and whether or not they get lonely. I have some pretty interesting facts to share with you!

Do Goldfish Get Lonely?

To answer the question of the day, it is unlikely that goldfish have the ability to feel loneliness to the extent that us humans do. Loneliness is generally a feeling that is associated with intelligence, mental capacity, emotional capacity, and self-awareness.

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Goldfish simply aren’t self-aware to the point that us humans are, and they don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to really feel loneliness in the same way that we do.

However, to be 100% fair, it’s not like we can communicate with goldfish and ask them whether or not they feel lonely. We simply assume that they don’t really feel loneliness due to the way in which their brains function, which admittedly, is not very well at all.

For the record, it is said that dogs have the emotional and mental capacity of a 2 year old child. As a comparison, a goldfish doesn’t even get anywhere close to that.

All that being said, with everything that we know about the emotional capacities and intelligence of fish, it is very unlikely that a goldfish actually feels loneliness. You won’t find your goldfish crying inside of its hollow log at the end of a hard day begging for some companionship!

However, this is not to say that goldfish aren’t social creatures. By nature, many such fish are social, which means that they often benefit from being kept with other fish, especially their own kind. 

While goldfish can live alone, there are some indications that keeping them together with other fish provides them with some benefits.

Why It Is Best To Not Keep a Goldfish Alone

Let’s take a quick look at some of the main reasons why you should probably not keep your goldfish by itself.

  • If goldfish are kept with others of their own kind, they will most likely engage in a variety of social behaviors. This includes playing with each other, exploring the tank, and swimming around together. At the very least, this can be very entertaining for us to watch. However, exactly how much social benefit or emotional reward a goldfish gets out of these activities is questionable at best. There’s simply no way for us to know for sure how much they actually enjoy it or benefit from it.
  • It is also thought that when goldfish are kept with others of their own kind, or even with other fish of different species, it may stimulate their more natural behaviors. It may cause goldfish to school or engage in shoaling behaviors, depending on what type of fish they are being kept with. This would in turn serve to mimic its natural environment and behaviors more closely.
  • It may also be the case that if goldfish are kept with others of their own kind, that they feel less stressed out. The simple fact of the matter is that stress is terrible for fish, as it can weaken their immune systems, make them more susceptible to diseases, and eventually kill them.

Signs of Stress in Goldfish

Yes, being kept by themselves may in some cases lead to excessive amounts of stress. Now, this is not to say that there aren’t about a dozen other factors that can also cause stress. Therefore, if your fish is stressed out, it can be somewhat difficult to tell why this is the case.

The stress could be caused by a lack of companionship, or by other factors as well. Either way, let’s take a quick look at some indications that your fish is stressed out. 

If you see that your fish is stressed out and you are keeping it by itself, you can always try adding another fish into the equation to see if the stress is relieved.

  • Unusual behavior such as rubbing against objects, scraping the body against surfaces, or darting around the tank can all be signs that your fish is stressed out.
  • If you notice that your fish is very lethargic, spends a lot of time at the bottom of the tank, doesn’t swim as actively as usual, or even hides in corners, this may be a sign of stress. If your fish is always hiding and it’s harder to find, it’s probably stressed out.
  • An unhappy and stressed out goldfish may also not eat as much as it used to, or may even stop eating altogether.
  • Stress in fish can sometimes manifest itself as color changes. If your goldfish is super stressed out, it may become a lot paler in color.
  • If you see that your goldfish is clamping its fins, which means that it is holding its fins close to its body, this is another sign that it is stressed out. Healthy goldfish usually always have their fins stretched out.

Also interesting: Can Goldfish See in the Dark?

Keeping Multiple Goldfish Together: Factors to Consider

If you plan on keeping multiple goldfish together, there are a few important factors that you need to keep in mind. We can’t just start cramming multiple goldfish into a small space and expect everything to go fine.

Tank Size

One of the most important considerations here is the size of the fish tank that you keep the goldfish in. Remember, a general rule of thumb is that every inch of fish requires at least a gallon of tank space to be comfortable. However, this is the absolute minimum.

Realistically, any fish, to be healthy and happy, needs at least two gallons of tank space for every inch of fish. Therefore, if you have a goldfish that is five inches long, it should have around 10 gallons of tank space.

In other words, if you wanted to keep two goldfish together, both of which are five inches long, then you would want at least a 20 gallon tank. Remember that goldfish are relatively active swimmers and they do like to explore the tank.

Therefore, you don’t want to keep them in a small space, or else they may feel crowded, which can also lead to stress. 

Funny enough, although being alone can be stressful, having too many companions in a small space can be equally, if not more stressful. Also keep in mind that if you have more fish in a smaller tank, you’ll also need to increase the filtration and aeration of the tank.

The more fish you have in the same tank, the more oxygen they consume and the more waste they produce, both issues that need to be taken care of individually, or else they may also cause stress in your fish.

More on ideal tank size for goldfish can be found here on our site.

The Gender

If you really want to recreate the natural environment of the goldfish as closely as possible, you may want to consider keeping males and females together. Just like in nature, males and females are attracted to each other with the aim of reproducing.

This is a natural drive that all living creatures have. Therefore, providing your male goldfish with a female counterpart might be a great solution. Just remember that you might end up dealing with breeding behavior, and you might even end up with small goldfish fry.


Something else to consider here is that not all goldfish types are compatible with each other. There are actually quite a few different goldfish types out there. If you have just regular goldfish, I honestly recommend sticking with that type.

If you are a beginner, I recommend not mixing different types of goldfish together, as this can cause issues. If you have all of the same type of goldfish, then they should all be relatively the same size and have about the same temperament.

This should allow them to get along fantastically. If you have a lot of the same type of goldfish kept in the same tank, they may even start engaging in schooling or shoaling behaviors, which is an indication that they are enjoying the company.

Also interesting: Do Goldfish Sleep? Check it out now!

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it’s quite difficult to know whether or not goldfish really get lonely. However, there are indications that although they might not get lonely like humans do, they still benefit from social interaction.

Therefore, I recommend keeping your goldfish with at least one other fish of its kind, if not with several more. This will ensure a minimal amount of stress, given of course that the fish you keep together are compatible and happy living with each other.

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