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Can You Eat Goldfish? Why Swallowing Fish is a Bad Idea

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

cute goldfish in tank

I don’t want to be a fear-monger, but there are some things I think you need to know before you try the 3 things I’m going to discuss in today’s post. It has to do with goldfish as food.

Can you eat goldfish? Should you swallow goldfish raw? Should you feed them to your pet? Not many people know the risks vs. the benefits of doing these. Here’s my take.

1. Goldfish Swallowing

hand holding Goldfish for Aquaponics Systems
Image Credit: Vasehaus, Shutterstock

There’s a trend that’s been surfacing in recent years… and it’s not smart. It’s called “goldfish swallowing.” First, people take a live goldfish (almost always a feeder fish) which doesn’t cost more than two quarters. Then? They gulp it down.

What does this accomplish, exactly? Besides being cruel to the poor fish. You’re potentially ingesting pathogens that could make you sick. To me, the most ironic thing about this stunt is this:

“Another possibility in the origins of goldfish swallowing comes from Chicago bartenders, most notably Matt Schulien (who performed magic while tending bar at his family’s restaurant). He would cut up carrots to look like goldfish tails. When performing the stunt, bartenders like Schulien would reach into a bowl of goldfish kept behind the bar while palming the carrot piece, placing that in between their pursed lips, using their tongues to lever it up and down to mimic the actions of a live fish, finally swallowing the carrot piece. The trick dates back to the 1920s, and some people believe that the fad could have been started by college students fooled by the trick…” (Source)

By swallowing the goldfish, you are publicly replicating the practice of those who were duped by the sleight-of-hand. Weird, right? I digress…

2. Goldfish as a Food Source for People

Sick goldfish lying
Image Credit: mrk3PHOTO, Shutterstock

Do goldfish make good fish to eat? I saw the question surface when the recent invasion of a lake in Colorado by goldfish left many folks wondering what could be done with all the excess fish.

Most goldfish keepers have an instant “Eew!” response. And I admit it, it seems really weird to me too. I could probably never bring myself to eat a goldfish after keeping them as pets for so many years, that’s for sure.

Carp (the granddaddy of the goldfish) have been used as a source of food. They have gotten a bad rap for tasting “muddy,” but some say this can be avoided by not stressing the fish during capture (source).

The same may be true of goldfish. Because most have been eating a diet of flakes or pellets almost exclusively, they may not taste much different than that. Pop a pellet and see how that tastes to you!

Eating raw goldfish is a VERY bad idea. Consuming raw fish carries a higher risk of parasitic transmission, especially pathogens such as capillaria (intestinal worms). Worm infestations in goldfish are pretty common.

And they can spread to people if ingested, but it gets worse. The main reason I strongly discourage eating goldfish, raw or cooked, is because of certain zoonotic bacteria that can possibly survive the cooking process and infect people.

And these are more common than you think. Mycobacteria diseases can remain dormant in the systems of most goldfish, even those that appear healthy. They usually get it from the pet store, and they are transmittable to people.

I use UV sterilizers and aquarium gloves just interacting with my fish tanks for maintenance for my own protection! Consuming a goldfish is just asking for trouble, in my opinion. Some people will say, “Show me somebody who has contracted one of these illnesses after swallowing or eating goldfish.”

The practice isn’t very common, so I doubt I could show you any scientific studies that show what percentage of people may contract the disease. But from what I know about the possibility of transmitting infection from fish to people, I wouldn’t advise risking it.

But if you’re dead-set on doing it, it’s up to you. Wild-caught carp are probably much safer to eat as the disease isn’t as common in native waters. Maybe you can get your fix going fishing and cooking some of them up. I’ve heard they can be quite tasty!

3. Goldfish as Food for Pets

Goldfish swim in an aquarium
Image Credit: Val Krasn, Shutterstock

Maybe this is worthy of an entire post unto itself, but I thought I’d touch on the practice that a lot of people follow of feeding feeder goldfish to reptiles (including turtles.)

I cannot speak strongly enough against doing this! Aquariums that were used to house fish have been known to transmit nasty mycobacterial diseases to reptiles when they were repurposed (source). This is because mycobacterial diseases are transmittable to reptiles from fish.

And that’s just from touching the same surfaces that were contaminated, let alone ingesting the infected fish! As I said earlier, these diseases are very common, especially from pet store/feeder fish.

If you care about your pet, do NOT feed them fish from the pet store. They are not a clean source of food at all. If you’re lucky enough to have a goldfish pond or you have a source of small young fish that are known to be disease-free for a long time, then maybe.

However, feeder tank fish should not be fed to another pet. The risks are just too great that in a few months, your pet will become sick. That’s my take, I know there are probably a lot of people who won’t agree or who have done so without issues.

wave tropical divider

Final Thoughts

Consuming goldfish may seem harmless enough at first glance, but there are legitimate risks. For that reason, I recommend avoiding them as a food source unless you KNOW for a fact they don’t harbor disease.

What do you think? Have you ever tried eating goldfish? Am I the only one who sees any potential problems here, or do you have a different opinion? If so, leave your comment below. I love hearing from my readers!

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Featured Image Credit: epicioci, Pixabay

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