Your First Fish: Happy, Healthy Goldfish Require Diligent Care

Let’s Talk Numbers

How many fish should you have in a tank? “I’d start with four or five decent-sized goldfish,” advises Dr. Lewbart. Although, he says, there are lots of formulas out there for number of fish per gallon, he usually recommends one fish for every five gallons of water. But remember that first, single fish needs at least the 20-gallon tank recommended above.


And if you want just one fish, that’s fine too. “Goldfish are very sociable, but don’t require or need companionship,” says Dr. Lewbart. “They’re not aggressive fish and typically leave each other alone," he says.

Keep Those Fish Alive

I remember going through a lot of goldfish when I was a kid. It seemed to me that the little orange guys just weren’t super hardy and expired pretty quickly. According to Dr. Lewbart, this isn’t the case if they’re cared for properly. In fact, he says, he’s treated goldfish as old as 14 years old.


So, what does it take to keep a goldfish thriving for years?

Quarantine Your Fish The most important thing you can do to keep your pet fish alive and healthy is to not introduce any new fish to the tank without a quarantine period. There are several infectious diseases that your new fish may have, as well as ich, which is a common but deadly parasite. Introduce a new, infected fish and all your current fish will likely be goners.


When you bring home a new fish, put him in a separate tank for at least 30 days. If he looks good and healthy after a month, you can add him into the tank with his new friends.

Don’t Overfeed Your Fish Overfeeding leads to contamination of the water, both with excess food and fish waste.


Dr. Lewbart especially warns about leaving your fish in the care of someone else while you’re on vacation. Other people won’t be as diligent as you will be about the right amount of food and the state of the water. “But they looked hungry!” is a common excuse for overfeeding. If you must have someone watch your fish, pre-measure food in labeled containers and be adamant about what to feed them.

Change the Tank Water Regularly Water-quality management is critical to the health and well-being of your fish. This is one reason a larger tank is so important. Smaller tanks get polluted much faster because there’s not as much water volume to dilute contaminants.


Dr. Lewbart advises siphoning a third of the tank water and replacing each month with water treated with a dechlorinating agent. “Keeping the water turnover consistent is very important,” he stresses.

It’s no wonder my goldfish as a kid didn’t fare so well. But perhaps I can atone for my past mistakes with a new set of goldfish for my daughter, properly housed and cared for. With any luck, I’ll be the one feeding them when she heads off to college.



Here are more Vetstreet articles featuring Dr. Lewbart:

Field of Fish Dreams: Is a Major League Ballpark Aquarium a Bad Idea?


Create an Animal-Friendly Backyard Pond

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