Can Goldfish Live in a Bowl? Important Things You Should Know

Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: May 8, 2024
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Goldfish, known for their ease of care, striking appearance, and fascinating habits, are often favored by budding aquarium enthusiasts, making them a wonderful addition to any home. However, having goldfish can stir up a lot of questions, especially for those new to the hobby. One common, but crucial question that repeatedly comes up when establishing a fish tank is, “Can goldfish live in a bowl?”

If you’ve ever asked this question yourself or if you know anybody wondering this, read on for the answer to this and many other common goldfish considerations!

Article Summary

  • Goldfish can live in a bowl if the conditions are suitable, but bowls are not the ideal container for them due to their waste production.
  • Goldfish do not stop growing to match the size of their container, so the recommended tank size for goldfish is a minimum of 20 gallons for 1-2 fish, with an additional 10 gallons per additional goldfish.
  • Signs that a goldfish needs a larger tank include odd behavior, loss of appetite, and changes in appearance.

Some Goldfish Background


Today’s goldfish, also known as Carassius auratus originated as the wild Prussian Carp of Southeast Asia.

Originally bred for their quick generation times and larger size, these fish were gradually appreciated more for their beauty and coloration by collectors and breeders alike.

Making their way into the imperial courts of Japan, these bland, brownish Prussian Carp were eventually bred into the more recognizable koi fish, meant for display in ponds and outdoor facilities.

Western Market

Western merchants noticed the popularity of the non-commercial aquarium and brought them back along trade routes and into the domestic market.

After many years of careful and selective breeding, the art of keeping goldfish was born and we were introduced to the fancy goldfish that we know and love today.

The bright reds, oranges, and whites that we see in the modern pet goldfish come from their distant relations to koi fish, and can still be seen in many different goldfish varieties today!

What Kind of Goldfish Can Live in a Bowl?

While any goldfish can live in a bowl, provided that the adequate size requirements and water conditions are kept up, it’s important to know the maximum size and growth rate of your breed.

Goldfish Growth Rate

Goldfish in an Aquarium
Goldfish In Blue Background

The continual, “fast” rate of growth for the common goldfish (½-1” per year up to their full size of ~6”) versus some fancy goldfish such as the Pompon or Bubble Eye that have more or a tendency to stay small (~2-3”).

Meaning that while a smaller tank may be appropriate for the latter for their whole lives, you may need to size up as the common variety continues to grow larger.

How Long Can Goldfish Live in a Bowl?

Common goldfish or Fancy goldfish can live their entire lives in a bowl provided conditions are adequate!

That being said, bowls are not the most suitable container for these fish. If things are too small and there is not enough water movement, it may suffocate due to lack of dissolved oxygen or get sick from too much waste in as little as 24 hours.

Goldfish Keeping Basics

Goldfish in a Tank
Goldfish in a Tank

Water Parameters

When designing a fish bowl for your goldfish, it’s important to keep in mind that they are known to be messy fish.

Goldfish produce much more waste than many other fish, meaning that the danger of ammonia burns or toxic shock from ammonia poisoning is of great concern.


Using a test kit is a great way to keep an eye on the pH, salinity, and ammonia levels of the tank. Frequent water changes, along with sufficient testing, are necessary for long term fish keeping.

Harmful Chemicals

Ideally, levels of harmful chemicals such as ammonia and nitrates should be zero parts per million within your tank, but after a heavy feeding this can shift.

The key is to make sure that the beneficial bacteria in your tank, along with your tank’s filtration system, are adequate enough to keep your goldfish alive and healthy.


Fish Food
Fish Food

There is a variety of food that works for goldfish.

Appropriate fish food can include flakes or pellets from the pet store (make sure that these are specifically designed for goldfish!) brine shrimp, and properly cut bits of certain fruits and veggies such as carrots or apples. Feeding your goldfish the wrong food can make them sick or constipated.


When determining the adequate diet for your goldfish, a good place to start is by checking in with your local pet stores, breeders, and guidebooks.

Knowing the background for the specific breed of goldfish that you have will give you a good insight into their specific nutritional needs.

When feeding your goldfish, be sure to stick around for at least 30 minutes after feeding. Remove any uneaten food, as this can decay if left alone and lead to toxic ammonia levels in the tank water.


There is a common misconception that goldfish will grow to the size of their tank and no more. The average size for a goldfish is 1-2 inches for most, typically not reaching more than 6 inches in length.

They will usually grow to 2 inches within the first few years, with another ½ to 1 inch per year after that.

While certainly an outlier, the largest goldfish on record was owned in the Netherlands and measured a whopping 14.7 inches! Talk about needing a big tank!


Different goldfish species have different lifespans. But the average lifespan for your typical goldfish is 2-5 years.

Juveniles reach the adult goldfish stage after about a year, but they are not considered fully mature until around 2-3 years of age. This means that goldfish are not a short-term commitment! The oldest goldfish that ever lived was able to reach the age of 43.

Remember to think long term when looking at your goldfish health.

Can Goldfish Survive In Just A Bowl?

Goldfish in a Bowl
Goldfish in a Bowl

We’ve all seen the plethora of goldfish bowls on sale at our local pet stores.

We’ve also heard horror stories about fish bowls being torture for some fish, with our precious pet fish gasping without enough oxygen and looking depressed with not enough space to swim.

So what’s the real answer to this question?

Tank Conditions

In short, if conditions within the goldfish bowl are adequate for what goldfish require, then a goldfish bowl can work just fine.

Keeping goldfish in a bowl is not animal cruelty by any means, but if there is poor water quality, inadequate surface area for gas exchange, and little water movement, the goldfish will not be able to live a healthy life.

Tank Size

Even a large tank can be a poor choice compared to a small goldfish bowl with better filtration and water quality.

Swimming space and surface are important, but if your aquarium fish can’t breathe due to a lack of dissolved oxygen, things will not work out well.

Using a Filter

Photo of an Internal Filter
Internal Filter

Keeping a goldfish in a bowl without a filtration system will not work. The water quality will drop rapidly as the fish waste piles up, and you’ll see your pet fish deteriorate and suffer as a result.

Using an air pump can be a great way to introduce water movement into the tank, but it needs to be coupled with proper filter media.

How Big Should My Goldfish’s Bowl Be?

How much space will your goldfish need? When it comes to deciding if a small tank is enough for your goldfish, looking at your long term goals with the aquarium is important.

If you’re planning on a full community tank, you’ll need to plan things out for all the fish that will be living in the tank.

Here’s an informational video that can help when deciding on tank size

Tank Size For Goldfish

As you can see, going beyond a one fish aquarium setup means that a simple goldfish bowl rapidly becomes less of a good choice for your goldfish.

Are you looking at having two goldfish or more? You’ll need to size up accordingly. Looking to focus on just one fish? You can probably get away with a small space for your little fish!

Considering that your goldfish won’t stop growing simply because they’re in a small bowl, they won’t have stunted growth and will become cramped as they continue to gain in size over time.

Goldfish with Mouth Open
Goldfish with Mouth Open

A good rule of thumb when deciding on tank size is to start with a minimum of 20 gallons (or around 3 foot long) for 1-2 fish, with an additional 10 gallons per goldfish living in the tank after that.

This means that for a tank with 4 goldfish, you’ll need a minimum of 40 gallons, and so on beyond that.

If you’re really intent on keeping your goldfish in small bowls, consider using multiple goldfish bowls with an air stone or air pump to produce air bubbles and ensure proper oxygen exchange.

Even in separate tanks, movement and oxygenation of the tank water are critical.


Exceeding these minimum requirements can be incredibly dangerous for your fish! Putting too many fish in the same space is not proper care, as oxygen deprivation, waste accumulation, and illness will quickly become something affecting the fish in the tank.

Signs That You Need a Larger Tank

As previously mentioned, frequent water changes and testing on a regular basis is very important when determining if you’ll need a bigger tank.

Likewise, monitoring the behavior and appearance of your fish can give you some key insights into the overall health of your tank.

Some signs that something may be off include:

  • Odd behaviors in your fish, including swimming upside down, sitting motionless or at the bottom of the tank, or coming up to the surface of the tank. If you notice that your fish has lost its appetite or is acting lethargic, this is also a good sign that something is wrong that may be related to tank size.
  • The presence of floating material in the tank, such as bits of algae or sediments. These are a likely indicator that the filter media is not performing adequately and should be cleaned or upgraded.
  • Changes to the appearance of your goldfish, such as the fish’s gills becoming inflamed, bloating in the belly region, scales turning white, or scales turning black.

Notice any of the signs above?

If you notice any of these changes, it’s a good time to look at not only the size of your tank, but your routine with regards to tank maintenance.

Have you been performing regular water changes?

Has there been a recent introduction of new neighbors or feeder fish to the tank?

All of these and more can be a good reason that things may have changed in your fish.

What Makes A Healthy Goldfish Tank

Goldfish Tank
Goldfish Aquarium

Proper Tank Size

A minimum of 20 gallons for 1-2 fish, with an additional 10 gallons of tap water per fish after that is a great place to start. But make sure to prepare the tap water first before putting fish in.

You can never go too large for a goldfish tank, having a large tank is good but you still need to make sure that there is enough water movement so that they can breathe air and stay healthy.

When keeping goldfish in a bowl, remember that these minimum surface area requirements will determine not only the happiness but the health and overall lifespan of your fish.

Tank Lighting and You

While goldfish are daytime creatures, also referred to as diurnal, they do still need to have a regular, consistent day night cycle.

Make sure that your goldfish have around 8-10 hours of darkness each day so that they get the healthy amount of sleep that they need.


Having a hard time remembering when to turn off the lights in your tank? Consider using an aquarium timer in your tank! While the darkness doesn’t need to coincide with the actual day night cycle of their natural habitat, it does need to be consistent!

What Tank Material Is Best?

Aquarium and Water Heater on a Table
Fish Tank

Fish tanks come in all shapes and sizes, as well as different materials!

While the choice of what your fish aquarium is actually made out of seems like a small consideration, it can play a large role in the overall lifespan of your tank.

Acrylic and Glass

The two primary choices for fish aquarium materials are acrylic and glass.

Glass tanks are typically cheaper and less durable, but will maintain their clarity over time. In contrast, plastic tanks are usually more expensive and may yellow over time, but are more durable and impact resistant.

At the end of the day your choice of tank material comes down to budget and design preference!

What About Artificial Or Live Aquatic Plants?

Live plants can be a great choice for a goldfish bowl! Not only will your fishy friend enjoy the occasional nibble on these live plants, but it will love having the break in eye line and something to swim around.

A simple, easy plant to start with for most goldfish owners is java moss. These live plants are found in most pet shops and have a simple care regimen.

Tank Mates for Goldfish

Orange and Black Goldfish
Orange and Black Goldfish

While goldfish can thrive alone, introducing tank mates can enhance their well-being and increase their level of happiness.

Getting the same species as their tank mates usually works well. But there are a wide variety of other fish and live plants that make great companions for goldfish, including plecos and cherry shrimp!

Make sure that you know the specific needs of each new fish that you add and take this into consideration in the overall tank, as some may have different preferences than your goldfish.

Avoid Aggressive Species

Something like the betta fish may not be the best choice, as they are an aggressive fish known for being territorial.

These fish will likely try to physically dominate your goldfish if they feel threatened, and may be better off in their own separate tank.

Tank Temperatures for Goldfish

Goldfish are generally considered a cold water fish, and prefer a water temperature between 50 and 60 degrees fahrenheit.

They are fairly capable of tolerating changes around 10 degrees above or below this norm, but swinging too rapidly or too high/low can lead to temperature shock for your fish.

If you know that your fish tank is in a location that will be more exposed to the elements, such as for certain pond fish, you may want to consider using a water heater in your goldfish tank or pond.

Filtration in a Goldfish Tank

Proper filtration is critical when setting up a tank for goldfish! They produce quite a bit of waste in your fresh water, and in a small tank this can add up quickly and can overwhelm your filtration system.

An air pump or air stones are needed to get things moving so that the filter can actually remove the waste, but keep an eye on the filter itself and clean it regularly along with regular water changes. Also a full filtration system might be hard to fit if you have a small bowl.

Good Bacteria

The good bacteria in your tank play a major role in helping the fish in the cycle of nitrogen. These good bacteria work to fix nitrogen into nitrates and nitrites, which are further reduced by other bacteria that grow on the substrate within your tank.


Throughout today’s article we’ve answered the question of “Can goldfish live in a bowl?”

The short answer to this question is that as long as the conditions are adequate for your goldfish and they have proper water quality, goldfish live in a bowl with no problems.

When planning to go beyond one fish, goldfish bowls may not actually be the best choice for you.

Feel Free To Share!

As always we hope that this information has been helpful and that it has answered all of your questions.

Feel free to share this article with any other fish fanatics in your life, and we wish you the best of luck on your aquarium adventures!

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