Goldfish need proper care, too

Doing animal rescue can be an extremely rewarding process. In my case, doing domestic rabbit rescue, I get the opportunity to educate a lot of people about what great indoor pets rabbits can be. I feel frustrated when people don’t know or don’t take the time to learn how to care for these or any other animals they take into their homes.

But this week, I found out I was guilty of the same thing with my goldfish.

Goldfish don’t get a lot of respect. They are inexpensive and so people see them as “disposable” pets – the same thing I get riled about with rabbits. One of the most important things I stress is that if you take the responsibility for an animal by buying or adopting it, you have the responsibility to provide the right environment and medical care even if that costs more than the pet itself.

My goldfish story starts almost two years ago when I bought a small fish and two-gallon aquarium. I patted myself on the back because I got a setup that was a little more advanced than just a bowl. I bought some bland looking pellets labeled “goldfish food.” And for the most part, my fish Ichiro (the Gardner family has a history of naming fish after Northwest athletes) has done OK.

But last week, Ichiro started swimming on his side. Something was obviously wrong. If I notice something wrong with one of my bunnies, I’m on the phone to the vet right away – but what do you do with a sick fish?

Well, you look for other sources. Some vets actually do know about fish; call around. A fish supply store sometimes has knowledgeable people who can assist. And there are books and online sources that contain a ton of information.

It was the latter that I turned to, and I found several sources online that gave extremely detailed goldfish information. Sounded like my fish had constipation (a constipated fish?!), probably caused by the use of a new flake food that didn’t get wet before the fish gobbled it down. The cure? Peas. Frozen peas, thawed and removed from the outer skin. The next morning, Ichiro was swimming upright and much more energetic.

While I was doing this research, I learned a lot about goldfish. Each goldfish should have roughly 10 gallons of water. Yes, 10 gallons per fish. My goodness! I thought I was doing pretty well with my little two-gallon setup. Turns out that Ichiro is showing some physical signs of stress from the cramped environment, like missing scales and red streaks in his fins.

Goldfish need so much room because they grow fairly large and they are messy. At the same time, they need high water quality to live as long as they should. Most goldfish, I learned, don’t make it longer than six months because of uneducated caregivers. But you really should think of your fish as having the same lifespan as your cat or dog – between seven and 15 years. Providing the right environment means your fish can live up to that age.

But what if you already have a plain bowl and your goldfish is doing OK? My sister had a goldfish in a small bowl that lived almost 10 years. Going back to my rabbit comparison, I hear occasional stories about the rabbit that lived in a tiny outdoor hutch and was fed nothing but commercial rabbit pellets and oats, and lived to be 12 years old. Sometimes you have a pet with excellent genes, sometimes you have an animal that is highly adaptable to some pretty poor conditions, and sometimes you just get lucky. Your goal should not be to be blessed with good luck, but rather to find out what your pet needs to thrive and provide that.

As Russ Taylor, who runs a popular goldfish Web site, says: “For the same reason you shouldn’t get a horse if you live in a one bedroom apartment, you shouldn’t get a goldfish if you can’t provide a suitable habitat for it.”

So, my husband is now setting up a 10-gallon tank and filter for Ichiro. By the time you read this, the fish will be moved in and enjoying the additional space.

I’ve also learned more about feeding goldfish. Besides peas, they like a lot of green vegetables (not a problem in our multiple rabbit household), chopped shrimp, blood worms and mosquito larvae. Not all that is practical, but you might try a little romaine lettuce or kale from time to time to supplement your commercial goldfish food. Some hobbyists even make their own gel-based food.

More important than what you feed is how much you feed. Face it, goldfish always look hungry. But too much food can ruin the water quality and cause your goldfish to suffer health problems. A good rule of thumb is to feed only what your fish will eat in two minutes, two to four times per day.

If I have piqued your interest about providing proper goldfish care, check these Web sites for more information:

Russ Taylor’s Goldfish site:
Goldfish FAQ:
Koko’s Goldfish World: