It makes me mad whenever I hear this: “Yeah, we tried keeping a goldfish once. But of course, it didn’t live more than a few weeks.”
While it’s true that goldfish do have a reputation for being short-lived pets…do they deserve it?
In this article, I’m going to blow your mind about how long a goldfish can live—and the REAL reason so many goldfish die early. Let’s cut to the chase!
How Long Does a Goldfish Live?
Goldfish CAN Live to be 40+ years old. There, happy I didn’t keep you in suspense?
Yep, in fact: Goldfish are the longest-lived of all aquarium fish.
Just take a look at the chart below:
They are also one of the longest living of all popular domesticated pets! Goldfish can easily outlive a cat, dog, or even a turtle.
But there’s a catch: This is really only true of slim-bodied goldfish, like Common and Comets (typically given away at fairs as prizes).
Fancy goldfish, on the other hand, have a much shorter lifespan—with good care, 5–10 years is the average. This is because selective breeding has drastically removed them from their original form and caused them to be much more fragile genetically.
Some of the hardier (and less extreme) fancies, like Fantails, have been known to exceed the 15-year mark. Of course, such long goldfish lifespans aren’t the norm for fancies.
Quick Answer: Goldfish Lifespan
Typically, a goldfish will live 5 to 10 years but sometimes goldfish live from 10 to 20 plus years. These things are available in pretty much every fish store around the world. The question to be answered here is: how long does a goldfish live for? Well, the answer does depend on how well you take care of that goldfish.
Oldie Goldies: Check Out these Long-Lived Fish!
Who is the oldest goldfish in the world? Let’s have a look at the proof.
A goldfish called Goldie passed away at the ripe old age of 45 several years ago. Sadly, Goldie was disqualified from the title of the world’s oldest goldfish in The Guinness Book of World Records because his owners couldn’t provide the necessary documentation. So, the official crown ended up staying with Tish the goldfish.
Tish had passed away a while before Goldie at age 43.
And these aren’t the only champions:
There is no question that goldfish have the ability to live for a very long time.
Now: This brings us to the more puzzling fact…
Most Goldfish Always Die Rather Quickly
So, exactly what is the average lifespan of a goldfish kept in captivity? I’ve been unable to find any stats to offer a definite answer, though fancy goldfish (with proper care) typically reach 5 to 10 years in captivity. This is because their modified bodies makes them less resilient than their slim-bodied relations, who can survive much longer in the wild.
However, it’s a safe bet that most goldfish don’t make it past a few years once acquired (many don’t last more than a few weeks). Those who manage to make it to even twice that are somehow seen as “superfish.” That’s still nowhere near how long they should live—let alone 40 years!
But people think this is normal—that goldfish don’t live long because they can’t.
We now know that isn’t true. By now, you should be beginning to see that something isn’t right with this picture. We have “goldfish can live long, but they usually don’t.”
Well, good news: I’m here to shed some light on the 2 main reasons why goldies are only making it to a fraction of their potential lifespan.
Reason #1 Behind Such Short Goldfish Lifespans
It’s true that some goldfish just aren’t able to live out their full lifespan because of factors out of our control, such as undernourishment during the early years of a goldfish’s life. But high death rates in most cases are caused by 2 major things…
First: Water quality.
If you need help getting the water quality in your aquarium just right for your goldfish family, or just want to learn more on the subject (and more!), we recommend that you check out our best-selling book, The Truth About Goldfish.
It covers everything from water conditioners to nitrates/nitrites to tank maintenance and full access to our essential fishkeeping medicine cabinet!
Most people – even those at pet stores – honestly have no clue about the needs of the fish they are buying or selling, and in many cases hold to outdated and downright false ideas about what it takes to make this species thrive. So, it is rare that a goldfish will be able to survive in the conditions they are kept in – it isn’t right for them.
Here is a handful of all-too-common no-no’s that cause untimely deaths:
1. Keeping their fish in an unfiltered bowl or tank
Put your goldfish in a bowl? Many times they will die quickly unless they are set up properly. Bowls can be extremely dangerous environments for a goldfish if there is nothing to remove the waste that the goldfish continually puts out—which increases with the more they are fed.
Because they get dirty so quickly, the level of toxins so high that it literally burns the fish alive, often leading to sickness and infection (if they don’t die from the burns first). Amazingly, they last as long as they do!
But don’t worry.There are things you can do to protect them from this.
Read More: Goldfish Bowl 101
2. Feeding them an improper diet and/or overfeeding
Goldfish (especially the fancy ones) have very specific needs when it comes to what to eat and how often to eat it. Sadly, goldfish flakes are the go-to staple that often causes constipation, excess protein and overfeeding (it’s about impossible to tell how much you have actually fed!).
Overfeeding causes a host of problems, from throwing off the biological balance of the tank to terminal conditions such as dropsy.
3. Not cycling the aquarium first
All aquariums are closed environments. They need filtration, and that filtration has to have a colony of beneficial bacteria built up over time to work. That’s why we need the cycling process—to give us that good bacteria. Not cycling the tank can be a huge mistake that causes goldies to die from the totally imbalanced water parameters that result from a lack of “good bugs.”
Contrary to popular belief: You can’t just walk home from the pet store with a NEW fish and put it in a NEW tank that doesn’t have a good bacteria colony or any live plants and sit back, thinking everything will be fine.
Reason #2 Behind Short Goldfish Lifespans
This one is something most people never think of.
Picture this: You do everything right for your new pet, care-wise. You are the epitome of a perfect goldfish owner.
The fish gets sick and dies within a few months (or less) regardless.
Well, it could be that your fish got stressed out from the whole pet store ordeal. See, they ship the fish around a lot from place to place, and it stresses their immune system. Then they are exposed to a bunch of other fish, many of which are carrying diseases. When the fish is weak is when it is susceptible to picking up a problem.
So what happened in this case only could have been prevented by buying your goldfish from a reputable supplier or breeder (which is the only way to buy goldfish that I recommend).
Admittedly, this doesn’t happen to all pet store goldfish. Some are treated better than others. Some are also hardier than others. But you eliminate a lot of the risk by not shopping at the pet stores.
These are 2 big reasons, but there are 3 main other ones.
Read More: Why Did my Goldfish Die?
The Secret to Having the Longest Lifespan for Your Goldfish
People don’t necessarily do these things because they want their fish to suffer—they just don’t know any better. In fact, most fish owners are shocked when they learn how long goldfish can live!
But it gets worse: There are way more care mistakes than what I’ve brought up in this article – mistakes that people make at the expense of their pet’s life. I don’t have time to cover all of them in this article, which is why I spent the last 2 years of my life pouring my wealth of goldfish care knowledge into one resource, The Truth About Goldfish.
It has EVERYTHING you will ever need to know to master the art of goldfish care to ensure your fish lives its life to the fullest.
Check it out!
In Conclusion: How Long Do Goldfish Live?
We’ve busted the myth that goldfish can’t live a long time and also revealed the reason they usually don’t. We hope you learned something interesting to take and enjoy your time with your goldfish, no matter how long it lasts!
Featured Image Credit: dien, Shutterstock