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Is Your Goldfish Turning White? 5 Reasons Why & What to Do

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By Lindsey Stanton

white goldfish

What does it mean when a goldfish turns white? Is it cause for concern? There are a handful of reasons why this happens. So let’s take at how this happens and what you can do about it.

The Process of Goldfish Changing to White

Here is a photo-by-photo snapshot of the same fish as he depigments to total white: goldfish changing to white In orange fish, this often begins from underneath the fish. Sometimes a fish will retain some orange on their fins or as red patches—sometimes it all goes. As you can see in this fish, his chin area and belly are what started to turn first, while his lips, fins, and back remained orange.

Eventually, all color but his tail remained… … until that even went. He is now an official lemonhead. Frankly, it was hard for me to let go of how he was because that’s how I’d always thought of him: my little “Cheeto.”

But he still has his same little wiggle bum-bum, and he still greets me each day. So I forgive him. By the way, this all happened over the course of about 9 months. The fish is also pretty young, around 1 or 1.5 years old. fish divider

Why Is My Goldfish Turning White? 5 Main Causes

1. Lack of Sunlight

Goldfish with a white tail_Nastya Sokolova_shutterstock
Image Credit: Nastya Sokolova, Shutterstock

It’s well known by breeders, and those with ponds that goldfish kept outdoors have the most vibrant coloration. But inside, our goldfish miss the benefits of the sun. We can try to compensate somewhat with artificial lighting, but even full-spectrum LED lighting does not have the same effects. (Full-spectrum lighting IS important to the fish, though.)

It may be due to the lack of UV light in the artificial lights. What can you do? Some goldfish keepers “sunbathe” their fish in sunny weather to let them experience the benefits of real sunlight. It can make blacks more intense, and oranges look more red.

But you want to take care not to let the water temperature rise too much to avoid overheating your fish. Aerating the container and using a thermometer are good tips. That said: If your goldfish has totally turned white, putting it in the sun might not work to restore its original coloration. Sunlight seems to be best used while the fish still has at least some color. It’s worth a try!

Summary: Ensure your goldfish has access to a full-spectrum light and consider occasional sunbathing

2. Diet

Is your goldfish getting the nutrients it needs to have vibrant coloration? The right diet promotes vibrant coloration in goldfish. It is known that certain ingredients, such as the algae Spirulina, can help enhance the red pigments in goldfish.

The downside to this is that the whites on the fish’s markings can take on a more pinkish hue (source). Koi keepers have found that the ingestion of Bentonite Clay helps to enhance the coloration of their fish. This may or may not have as much impact on a goldfish. What it all boils down to?

Summary: A healthy diet will help to promote good coloration in goldfish, but you may not want to overdo things by focusing so much on color enhancing additives.

3. Genetics

Let’s face it: At the end of the day, a BIG part of what plays into the coloration of goldfish is out of your control. This means coloration depends heavily on the genetics of that fish and when (if ever) it changes those colors.

The world of goldfish genetics as it relates to coloration is surprisingly complex. But at the end of the day, goldfish that aren’t intensively selectively bred for certain color may lose it over time. Black is notoriously unstable. You can’t do much about this unless you breed your goldfish yourself.

Image Credit: antoni halim, Shutterstock

4. Old Age

A very common thing I’ve seen among very old goldfish is they frequently lose all their color, turning white. Take a look at the world’s 9 oldest goldfish, and you’ll see most of them are no longer orange. I speculate it is a similar phenomenon that occurs in older people when their hair turns gray.

Summary: If your fish is getting up there in years, old age might be the cause of its turning white.

5. Sickness

This usually has more to do with pale coloration than actually going from orange to white. Basically, the fish’s colors look much more muted than normal. Sometimes the black looks like a soft brown. Sometimes the yellow looks like cream. If this is the case, then the color returns when the fish returns to good health.

Summary: If your fish isn’t healthy, it may show signs of color loss. Stress can also cause pale colors, especially after the fish has been shipped recently.

Image Credit: M-Production, Shutterstock

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!)

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Will My Goldfish Ever Regain its Original Color?

This is a hard question to answer. I’ll say in some cases, it’s possible, especially if the underlying cause of it turning white was diet or lighting. But in other cases like old age, the change is usually permanent. Some goldfish have been known to go through several color changes throughout their lifespan.

If your fish is permanently unpigmented, don’t feel too bad. Unlike in some areas in Asia, white goldfish are very popular in the west and considered quite beautiful. If they retain a yellower head with a snowy body, that fish (especially if it has a wen) is usually referred to as a lemonhead, which is in pretty high demand among goldfish sellers.

The biggest downside to a major color change (or color loss) is often that the name of your goldfish might not make sense anymore. So, as much as you might have preferred their original color, your fish is still the same sweet little fish deep down inside. And you never know; the change might grow on you!

Celestial Eye Goldfish
Image Credit: Dan Olsen, Shutterstock

Should I be Worried?

The color change is often natural and doesn’t always mean you need to be alarmed, with the most common change in color being a move from a bright gold color, to white. There are, however, some serious health issues that can lead to your goldfish turning white, so it’s important to consider all the options before you sit back and assume it’s a natural and healthy change.

We’ve created a list of some of the most common reasons for a goldfish turning white to try and help you work out what the issue may be, but as always, if you have any immediate concerns about the health of your fish, it’s always worth seeking the advice of a local professional. wave tropical divider


The good news is that your goldfish turning white does not always mean there is a major problem. Sometimes it’s just a normal color change. But it may be hard to see them change. What about you? Have you ever experienced this situation with one of your fish? Tell me about it in the comments section below if you like.

Related Read: Why Is My Goldfish Turning Red?

Featured Image Credit: RobinsonThomas, Shutterstock

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