We all want to be the best goldfish keepers we can be for our aquatic friends, and we all take great care of our goldfish and give them the happiest and healthiest lives possible. While there are those who genuinely choose to be ignorant of proper goldfish care, many people are genuinely concerned and unwittingly make mistakes that are common among new and inexperienced goldfish.

If you’re dealing with a sick fish or trying to fix a mistake you’ve made, it can be easy to beat yourself up, but there’s no need! You’re here for information and education, and you obviously want to do what’s best for your goldfish.

Give yourself a break!

We all make mistakes. Not only do we all make mistakes, and we all have to start somewhere, but not everyone starts from the same place. If your friend didn’t make the same mistakes as you, it doesn’t mean either of you is a better goldfish keeper than the other. That means you both had different starting points with different levels of basic knowledge.


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Mistakes you’ve avoided may be mistakes you’re dealing with your friend. The best thing we can do for our goldfish is to support and uplift each other and provide gentle corrections and safety information to help us all be the best goldfish keepers we can be. To help you avoid some of the most common mistakes goldfish keepers make, read on!

9 Common Goldfish Keeping Mistakes:

Not cycling in the tank

This is the most common mistake people make when keeping goldfish or any other fish. Most people are used to going to the store, buying a bowl or tank and some fish, then taking it all home and getting started. What science has taught us is that this does not allow for proper tank cycling.

A tank cycle is a process of establishing beneficial bacterial colonies in the tank. These colonies live on the filter, substrate, and several other surfaces in the tank where the water flows. Beneficial bacteria consume ammonia and nitrite from fish waste and decompose organic matter, converting it to nitrates. Nitrate is the end product of the nitrogen cycle and the main reason we do water changes in a fish tank (more on that later). The plants will help reduce nitrate levels in the lake, which is used as fertilizer for growth.

A fish-in cycle is possible, which means there are already fish in the tank when you cycle. However, this is not ideal. A key part of doing a tank cycle is allowing the ammonia levels to so that the beneficial bacteria have something to consume for energy, growth, and reproduction.

Both ammonia and nitrite can harm fish temporarily or permanently, and ideal ammonia and nitrite levels for a tank with live fish are zero. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to cycle fish safely. Bottles of beneficial bacteria products are available to help jumpstart your tank cycling. These products are not an adequate substitute for performing a tank cycle.

Cycling your tank with or without fish can take days to months depending on a variety of factors. It is a process that requires patience and diligence, especially if there are live fish in the tank.

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Choosing inappropriate tankmates

Many people use the “shop, buy fish” method when choosing fish. What ends up happening is that people choose fish based on appearance and do not consider the specific needs of each species. So, if you go to the store and pick out goldfish and tropical freshwater fish like angelfish, one species will live in less than ideal water parameters because goldfish prefer cool water and angelfish prefer warm water.

Some people get beta fish and goldfish, not realizing the stress and danger this causes to both fish, often leading to aggression and death. Another common mistake with goldfish is choosing small tankmates. There is some crossover between the environmental preferences of goldfish and guppies, but goldfish will eat anything that fits in their mouths. This includes guppy fry and even adult guppies.

Some people claim that goldfish cannot be kept in a tank with other fish because of their dirtiness. This is not true, fortunately. There are suitable tank mates for goldfish, including large snails such as the mysterious snail and other cool-water fish such as the dojo loach. However, care should be taken when choosing tank mates for your goldfish. Choosing the wrong tank mates can cause heartbreak for you and stress your surviving fish.

Not researching the needs of goldfish

If you had fish as a child, you may have had the experience of standing in the aisles of the pet store, picking out a cute tank decor, grabbing some fish food and a heater, and going home to settle your new goldfish. What many people don’t know is the special needs of goldfish.

The most common mistake people make is keeping goldfish in heated tanks or pots. Goldfish are cool water fish which means if their home is in a climate-controlled environment like your living room with air conditioning and heating, they may not need a heater. This is not always the case, but it is true for many homes. Keeping your goldfish in warm water may not seem like a big deal, and on the surface, it isn’t. You may not realize the negative effect it is having on your goldfish until it is too late.

Keeping goldfish in warm water environments can shorten their life expectancy by sometimes years or even decades. Providing the proper tank temperature for your goldfish is a key factor in ensuring they live a long time.

Another thing you may not realize is that some goldfish, especially fancy ones, don’t do well with decor that has sharp or jagged edges. These rough areas can get stuck and tear in the delicate fins, opening pathways for infection and stress.

Another thing to consider in the beginning is the substrate you choose for your goldfish. Most people take a bag of gravel and call it a day, but goldfish have been known to turn gravel into wedges in their mouths. This may require human intervention to get out and may result in injury or even death to your fish. A finer substrate such as sand or a larger substrate such as large pebbles or river rocks is often safer for goldfish because they are much less likely to get stuck. Some people even prefer to have no substrate for their goldfish.

Overstocking the tank

This is a difficult one because we have been told for so long that there are “rules” regarding the size of a goldfish tank. Honestly, there are no hard and fast rules, but there are size considerations. . Goldfish produce hormones that are released into the water and inhibit growth, so many people believe that goldfish do not outgrow their environment. This is somewhat true, but it is not entirely true.

If you go to the store and buy eight 2-inch goldfish for your 10-gallon tank, even if they’re all small, you’ve overstocked the tank. They grow, and even with stunted growth, may feel uncomfortable or feel the need to compete for resources. An overstocked tank is completely doable in a safe, healthy way. Regular tank maintenance requires more planning and more dedication to maintain water quality and health. However, there is such a thing as a truly overstocked tank, so make sure your goldfish and other tank inhabitants have space to feel safe and comfortable and that they all have equal access to resources such as food.

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Under tank filtration

Goldfish are very high biomass producers! A single adult goldfish produces more than 10 amberjack tetras. There’s a mistake many people make when choosing a tank filter, and it’s easy to understand why.

If you have a 55-gallon tank and see a filter rated for a 50-gallon tank, you might think “close enough.” As for low-bioload producers, you are probably right. Speaking of goldfish, you are definitely not right. If you have one or two goldfish in a tank, your tank should have a filter rated for the size of the tank. If you have an overstocked tank, you will need a filter rated for a larger tank than you have.

With goldfish, it is also advisable to have a strong filter, such as a HOB or canister filter, combined with a filter that provides more room for beneficial bacteria, such as a sponge filter. You certainly won’t over filter your tank, but you can easily filter it! Proper filtration removes visible and microscopic impurities as well as beneficial bacterial colonization and aeration of tank water. Seriously, when under-filtering your tank, don’t do it. You will regret it!

Poor dietary decisions

Like all animals, goldfish need a balanced, nutritious diet. The best basis for your goldfish’s diet is commercial goldfish food, as these are designed to meet their micronutrient needs. What these foods do not do is provide variety or balance. They provide minimal nutrition, but they do not necessarily provide satisfaction. In the wild, goldfish and their cousins, the Prussian carp, graze throughout the day on aquatic plants and small animals they find, such as freshwater shrimp. As you can imagine, twice-daily fish food pellets are not satisfying in the same way your goldfish are.

Ideally, your goldfish’s diet should be pellets. Flakes are a good alternative but are more filling and contain fewer nutrients than pellets. Other food options that can be regularly included in your goldfish’s diet are gel food, freeze-dried food, frozen food, and live food. Ideally, your goldfish should always have access to fresh vegetables and fruits. The best options are leafy greens like romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and herbs, but they can also include things like zucchini, butternut squash, cucumbers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bananas, strawberries, and apples. Ideally, high-sugar foods such as fruit and high-protein foods such as bloodworms should be fed sparingly and only as treats to prevent digestive and swim bladder problems.

Improper tank maintenance

Once you’ve cycled your tank and settled your goldfish, you may think it’s okay to do water changes every couple of months or a few times a year. Remember the nitrogen cycle? Nitrates will build up in your tank and normal filter media will not remove them. A typical, cycling tank will have some nitrates, and generally up to 20ppm is considered safe, but some people feel up to 40ppm is safe.

Unless you’re doing water changes and you don’t have a hundred plants in your tank, your nitrates aren’t going anywhere. This means they will continue to build to the detriment of your tank inhabitants. Regular water changes help remove these excess nitrates.

Another problem with excess nitrates in your tank? Algae! Algae are plants, so they absorb nitrates from the water to grow. In a well-balanced tank, your plants absorb most of the nitrates and water changes take care of the rest. However, if you don’t remove the excess nitrates, algae can enter your tank by consuming nitrates that your plants aren’t using.

Algae isn’t just dirt. It can grow to a point where it starts to outcompete other plants, suffocating them by consuming all the nutrients.

Treatment vs Prevention:

Want to know a not-so-secret secret? Poor water is the number one cause of goldfish illness!

Oftentimes, people misdiagnose their goldfish with signs of illness and medicate them. However, if your water parameters are off and your water quality is poor then treating the illness will do no good. In fact, you are adding stress to an already stressful environment. Some sick goldfish do not even survive treatment with medication, so exposure to this extra stress during an illness that can be treated with a simple water change or water treatment can do more harm than good.

It is also extremely important to remember that drug-resistant bacteria exist. If you start dosing your goldfish with antibiotics they don’t need, or if you don’t complete a course of treatment after starting it, you increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic-resistant infections are extremely difficult to treat and even if your fish die, you may still struggle to rid your tank of the infectious organism. The best treatment for your goldfish’s illness is not treatment at all, it’s prevention.

Taking proper care of your tank, doing regular water changes, treating the water and monitoring your parameters is better than any medicine.

Changing filter media

If you read the instructions that come with your filter, you’ll see that the manufacturer recommends replacing the filter media or cartridge every few weeks. Diligent goldfish keepers usually stick to this, inadvertently breaking the cycle of the tank every time. Remember, beneficial bacteria live in the tank’s filter and filter media. This means that every time you replace that filter cartridge, you are removing a large portion of your beneficial bacteria.

Honestly, your filter media should be replaced infrequently. When you change the water, it’s good practice to rinse it with dirty tank water to remove the “gunk” without killing the beneficial bacteria. If you wash your filter media under hot water in your kitchen sink, you will kill your beneficial bacteria.

Most experienced goldfish keepers recommend replacing filter cartridges with long-lasting filter sponges and ceramic rings or beads that you can wash from time to time without having to replace them. This will help you get the most bang for your buck and ensure your cycle doesn’t go off every few weeks.

in conclusion

It is extremely easy to make mistakes as a goldfish keeper. Proper control involves a lot of knowledge and practice and can take time. Don’t beat yourself up if you realize you’ve made a mistake. Learn the lesson, fix the problem, and move on. Not only is this the best thing you can do for your own mental and emotional health, but it’s also the best thing you can do for your goldfish and the goldfish-keeping community around you.

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