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What to Do in Case of a Goldfish Emergency? Steps To Follow

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

vet holding goldfish

Help! We have a Goldfish Emergency!

You look in your tank one morning and realize (with horror) that something is really wrong with your fish.  For a second, you think it is dead.  Running up to the aquarium, you look closer and see that the gills are still moving, albeit there is little movement or recognition that you are even there.

Perhaps your beloved pet is sitting at the bottom, tilting listlessly to one side, its shredded fins flattened unbecomingly against itself.  Maybe it is curling its body, doubling over with scales prickling out like a pinecone.  Whatever the issue is, you know that this is a life-or-death situation.

But there isn’t a hospital for goldies, so what do you do?

aquarium plant divider

What do I do in an Emergency?

Step number one is not to panic.  It will inhibit your ability to think clearly, and you need to keep your wits about you.  And before you do anything, TEST THE WATER.  Too many hobbyists are too eager to start breaking out the medications, but that approach has been the factor that has pushed countless distressed fish over the edge.  Adding medications to a tank with out-of-control parameters is always a recipe for disaster.

So, get out your liquid or strip testing kit.  Check the ammonia and nitrite levels first.  The majority of problems seen in goldfish arise from the presence of these two chemicals, both of which cause a multitude of health issues, including death, and are easily mistaken for the symptoms of disease.

Next, test the pH.  Has it plummeted downwards out of control, or is it too high?  Remember: a pH of around 7.4 is ideal.   Lower than 7.0 and you are looking at the potential for sick fish.  And if you didn’t treat the tap water before putting it into the tank to get out the chlorine, you are really going to have some issues.

testing water pH
Image Credit: Warakorn Buaphuean, Shutterstock

Now, assuming all is well on the charts, examine the behavior of your fish.  Does it respond to you in any way or is it to weak to move?  Is it showing distressed behavior, such as hanging at the surface gasping air or hiding in the back of the tank away from the others?  Where is it and how is it “sitting” in the water?  Check the gills for color and breathing patterns.  Quickly scan the fish’s body for injuries or abnormalities.  Are you able to link them to a specific parasite or bacterial infection?

A word of advice: do not spend hours staring at a very sick fish.  It is easy to do, but you really should act as soon as possible.  Time is precious in an emergency!

If you have not identified what is wrong with your fish, you can always hop onto our goldfish forum to ask for help or share photos.  Once you are certain or nearly certain of the diagnosis, begin treatment right away in order to increase the chance of survival.  Keep in mind that, in some cases, you may do everything you can to help your fish and still lose it.  Don’t blame yourself when this happens.

If you suspect your fish is sick and want to ensure you provide the right treatment, we recommend that you check out our best-selling and comprehensive book The Truth About Goldfish on Amazon today.

The Truth About Goldfish New Edition

It has entire chapters dedicated to in-depth diagnoses, treatment options, a treatment index, and a list of everything in our fishkeeping medicine cabinet, natural and commercial (and more!)

dead goldfish
Image Credit: Zay Nyi Nyi, Shutterstock

Will I be Able to Save my Goldfish?

This is the question you must ask yourself.  Be honest and take everything into consideration.  A fish that refuses to eat, hangs to one side/flips upside-down, has a tail that has nothing left but a veil of hairlike ribs, is bloated with pine-coned scales and bulging eyes, or has a red belly or wobbles drastically while attempting to swim has a small chance of making it.  Also, keep the other fish in the tank in mind.  By keeping the sick fish in with the others if you have no cycled quarantine tank on hand, you risk spreading the illness to the others and wiping out your entire collection.

Additionally, you might just know that your fish is not going to make it.  The more experience you gain as a fishkeeper, the easier this ability will come to you.

If you know you cannot save the goldfish or if the fish is completely miserable, euthanasia may be the only (and most humane) thing you can do.  For instructions, head here.  It is better to end the suffering of a helpless creature sooner rather than later.


Image credit: BannokStockPhoto, Shutterstock

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