Why Don’t Goldfish Live Longer? We’ve Got the Answers!

It’s so common for people to get goldfish as pets to teach responsibility to children or think that they’re a short-term commitment that requires minimal care. We usually hear about pet goldfish that live for a few years, and people tend to be impressed when they hear their friend’s goldfish lived to 5 or 6 years. Seeing so many goldfish live these short lives may have caused you to wonder why it is that goldfish have short lifespans. If you’ve ever wondered why goldfish don’t live longer, we’ve got the info you need!


How Long Do Goldfish Live?

It might surprise you to know that goldfish can live for decades! The average life expectancy of a goldfish is 10-15 years, but it’s not uncommon for them to live 20 years or longer. The longest living goldfish on record was a goldfish a young boy won at a fair in the UK. He named her Tish, and Tish lived to be 43 years old. Goldfish are some of the longest-lived fish kept in home aquariums.

Fancy, or double-finned, goldfish tend to live shorter lives than common, or single-finned, types, like Shubunkins and Comets. The reason for this is that fancy goldfish are often bred for a specific look, like telescope eyes or egg-shaped bodies, which is sometimes achieved through significant inbreeding. These specially-bred deformities can also shorten the lifespan of a goldfish, especially if they are poorly-bred or from an unhealthy breeding environment, which is often the case with goldfish from big box pet stores. The more altered in appearance a goldfish breed is, the more likely it is to have a shortened lifespan. Generally, fancy goldfish will not live longer than 5-12 years.

lionhead goldfish
Image credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

Why Do Some Goldfish Live Short Lives?

  • Nutrition: Most people are under the impression that you just toss some fish flakes into the tank every day and that’s all goldfish need, but this isn’t true at all. Goldfish need a balanced diet with variety. Flakes and pellets are formulated to meet the very basic nutritional needs of goldfish, and they make a great base for a goldfish’s diet. Not all commercial foods are created equal, so aim for products that are high in protein and don’t have a lot of fillers. Rotating through different foods, as well as fruits and veggies, gel foods, and frozen foods can help your goldfish achieve longevity.
  • Water Quality: This is probably the number one killer of goldfish! Many people are not aware of tank cycling, monitoring parameters, and treating the tank water for more than chlorine. Goldfish create a heavy bioload and a tank can quickly have a buildup of ammonia and other waste products, which can injure goldfish and make them ill. Routine water changes, establishing a healthy population of beneficial bacteria, monitoring water parameters, and making adjustments as needed will all give your goldfish the best chance at a long life.
  • Water Temperature: Many fish tank kits include a heater, and many people are under the impression that all fish need heated water. However, goldfish are cool water fish and usually do not require a heated tank. Most goldfish are perfectly happy in water temperatures from 60-70°F, which is often achievable in a room with air conditioning and heat. In nature and outdoor environments, goldfish go through a period of torpor, or decreased metabolism, during cool weather, which is often not recreated in home aquariums. Keeping goldfish at tropical temperatures, especially the high 70°F to high 80°F range year-round, can shorten their life expectancy by speeding up their metabolism.
  • Tank: While goldfish don’t require the enormous tanks some people feel they do, it is important to provide them with swimming space and an environment that enriches their life. Uninterrupted swimming space, plants, and décor can all add interest for your goldfish. Also, goldfish require highly filtered water, which some people don’t realize, which results in goldfish living in poorly oxygenated water with a low quality.
  • Inappropriate Tank Mates: Goldfish are best kept with other non-aggressive, cool water fish. Fin nipping and bullying can lead to a high-stress environment for your goldfish. Stressed fish lead shorter lives due to a depressed immune system and decreased restfulness.
  • Illness and Injury: Some fish lead shortened lives for reasons that are entirely out of everyone’s control. Some illnesses and injuries are preventable with a healthy, safe environment and appropriate tank mates. However, some are unavoidable and can be difficult to diagnose or treat.


What About Pond Goldfish?

This might come as a big surprise, but goldfish that live in ponds tend to live longer lives than goldfish kept in aquariums. This is because they go through torpor annually and ponds usually allow a large amount of swimming space in an enriching environment. Goldfish kept in ponds are at a higher risk of predation, though, so it’s important to make sure your pond environment is set up to protect your fish from cats, birds of prey, and other predators.

goldfish in pond
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

How Can I Ensure My Goldfish Lives a Long Life?

  • Provide a Healthy Diet: Feeding your goldfish a high-quality, balanced diet doesn’t have to be complicated! A high-quality flake or pellet food should be the primary part of your goldfish’s diet. Gel food can be a great addition as a dietary staple. Leafy green veggies, like spinach and romaine lettuce, can be offered all the time to your goldfish, and other veggies and fruits, like butternut squash, green beans, and banana, can be offered as treats. Bloodworms, baby brine shrimp, and daphnia are all high-protein foods that can be offered as treats once or twice a week. These foods are available in fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried options.
  • Don’t Overfeed: Generally speaking, goldfish only need to be fed once a day, or twice a day at the most. They should have constant access to leafy greens, though. When feeding your goldfish, make sure you are not feeding so much that they are missing food. Overfeeding is one of the easiest ways to foul your tank water. Food that isn’t eaten will rot in the bottom of the tank, causing ammonia levels to spike and allowing for the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
  • Cycle the Tank: If you haven’t gotten your goldfish yet, check out instructions on cycling a fish tank so your tank is ready when you get your goldfish. Invest in a reliable water testing kit so you can track your water parameters. Cycling the tank will create colonies of beneficial bacteria that consume waste within the tank. There are bottled bacteria that can help cycle your tank, but nothing can fully replace properly cycling your tank.
  • Care for the Tank: Provide an appropriate filtration system for your goldfish’s tank. You may even need to use a filter that is rated for larger tanks than what your fish lives in, especially if it’s overstocked.
  • Create an Enriching Environment: Give your goldfish an interesting environment to live in. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find plants to survive in a goldfish tank, so it may take trial and error. Various types of décor, air stones and bubblers, and open, uninterrupted swimming space can all create a more enriching home for your goldfish. Introducing new items from time to time can keep things exciting for your goldfish as well.
  • Avoid Overstocking: The “rules” about how large a tank should be for a goldfish aren’t really hard and fast, but there are stocking considerations you should take. The more goldfish you have in a tank, the more frequently you’ll have to perform water changes and the harder you’ll have to work to maintain water quality. At minimum, your goldfish should have plenty of space to swim around without bumping into each other and to escape from each other when needed.
colorful Oranda goldfish
Image Credit: Nature and Life, Shutterstock



To give your goldfish the best chance at a long life, provide it with a balanced diet, healthy tank, and appropriate tank mates. With proper care, you can ensure your goldfish lives for 10 years or more. It is a commitment of time and effort, but your goldfish deserves to have an excellent life. There are a lot of fish that live much shorter lives than goldfish, so if you’re interested in fish that will only live for a year or two, goldfish aren’t the way to go. These long-lived fish are more beautiful and intelligent than they are typically given credit for, and if you’re dedicated to providing the proper care, you won’t be disappointed with a goldfish!

Featured Image Credit: Skumer, Shutterstock

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