The Truth Revealed! Can A Goldfish Live in a Bowl? Expert Insights Unveiled!

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Many of us had a pet goldfish when we were kids. I’ll bet you kept your goldfish in a traditional fishbowl; I know I did.

Things have changed over the years, and these days, most well-educated fish keepers house their goldfish in a large aquarium or garden pond.

But can a goldfish live in a bowl?

No! Keeping goldfish in bowls is wrong on several levels.

Read this guide to learn more about why keeping adult goldfish in open-topped bowls is a recipe for disaster.

Goldfish Bowls Banned!

large fish bowl

In 2005, the city of Rome in Italy, banned giving goldfish as prizes at fairs under new animal protection laws. In addition, a by-law was passed that forbade pet parents from keeping goldfish in goldfish bowls.

Inspired by these forward-thinking lawmakers, other cities passed similar laws, including Monza in Italy and many cities in Sweden and Mexico. In addition, in 2008, Switzerland made it illegal to keep one goldfish alone since these fish are proven to do best when kept in groups.

Why Are Goldfish Bowls So Bad?

There are several reasons why bowls are unsuitable for keeping goldfish.

Size Matters!

Goldfish of all varieties can grow to be very large fish. Comets and Shubunkins are slim-bodied goldfish that can reach over 12 inches long, and even smaller Fancy goldfish types, such as Fantails and Orandas, often grow to 8 inches in length. In fact, the tiny fish in pet shops have an extremely fast growth rate.

Slim-bodied goldfish are fast, agile swimmers that need plenty of space to move around in, and even slower-swimming goldfish varieties need room to swim. So, you can immediately see that a tiny goldfish bowl is totally inadequate to accommodate these large fish.

happy mother showing to her child a fish bowl with gold fish inside

It’s a common misconception that goldfish stop growing once they get too big for their container. Instead, the fish continue to get larger, often developing physical deformities if they don’t have enough space to grow and develop normally.

As a general rule of thumb, you should allow at least 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish. Obviously, that’s not possible in a small goldfish bowl.

Goldfish Need Company

Although they are not classified as true schooling fish, goldfish do much better when kept in large groups. If you keep a goldfish alone, it will quickly become stressed, which ultimately leads to health problems and shortened life span.

Poor Water Quality

Goldfish are large, messy fish that produce a lot of waste. Since goldfish don’t have stomachs, everything they produce passes straight through the fish and into the clean water. The waste quickly decomposes, producing toxic chemicals, including ammonia, which is highly toxic to the fish.

Although you could carry out daily water changes, the larger the fish get, the more waste they produce, meaning you’ll need to do more frequent water changes to keep your goldfish healthy.

water ph tester

In a fish tank, you can run a powerful filter system to keep the environment clean and healthy for the fish. However, a fish bowl is far too small to house a filter unit, fish, plants, and decorations.

Poorly Oxygenated Water

Goldfish use a lot of oxygen! Since goldfish bowls offer very limited surface area, the gaseous exchange is poor, leaving the water short of the dissolved oxygen the fish need to survive.

Ideally, goldfish need a long fish tank with plenty of surface area and space for lush plants that give off oxygen and take up CO2 during photosynthesis.

Unstable Water Conditions

In addition to the problems you’ll have keeping a fishbowl clean, the chemistry and water temperature tend to be more unstable in a small container than in a larger tank. That’s why I always recommend that beginners to the hobby buy the largest tank they have space for since the environment is much easier to maintain.

Open Tops Are Hazardous!

Goldfish bowls don’t have a cover slide or top, making them dangerous for goldfish on several levels.


Although goldfish are not known for jumping, that can happen if the fish are startled. After all, goldfish are distantly related to wild carp, and they can certainly jump, as you can see from this video!

Fish leap out of their containers for a few reasons:

  • Poor water quality
  • Lack of dissolved oxygen
  • Hunger
  • Aggressive tank mates

So, ideally, your goldfish container needs a secure hood or lid.


Airborne matter, such as insects, dust, household cleaning chemicals, and the like, can drift into the water of a goldfish bowl with no lid to protect it.

That pollution presents a danger to your fish, potentially even killing them.

The Family Cat!

If you have a cat, your goldfish swimming around a bowl can prove too great a temptation to resist.

If the bowl doesn’t have a lid to protect your fish, Tibbles can easily dip in a paw and hook out a fish when you’re not around.

Little Kids

Now, we’re all for educating children on how to care for pets, but not to the point where Bubbles is taken out of his bowl by a curious kid and relocated to the backyard!

a child asking if Can a goldfish live in a bowl

An open top is all it needs to tempt a curious youngster to grab your goldfish and take it for walkies!

Lack of Decorations.

Although you can fit a few small decorations in a goldfish bowl, you won’t have space for much else, including plants and substrate.

Imagine being shut in a room with no furniture or carpets; how bored would you be? That’s how it is for a goldfish kept in a bowl without decorations, plants, or even substrate. Bored fish quickly become stressed and depressed without stimulation, leading to sickness and early death.

In a large goldfish tank, you can create a wonderful, enriched environment for your pets to explore, promoting better health and a longer life expectancy.

Visual Distortion

Thanks to the shape of the container, the view from inside a bowl is very distorted. So, on approaching the goldfish bowl to give your fish their breakfast, your pets see a massive, distorted monster approaching!

fish bowl Visual Distortion

That’s sure to stress the fish, potentially leading to a compromised immune system. When that happens, the fish are immediately vulnerable to diseases and parasites.

What Fish Can Live In A Bowl?

Of course, a few species of fish, such as White Cloud Mountain minnows, can survive in a large bowl, provided you install a filter system and maintain the environment properly.

These are small types of fish that don’t need as much space or dissolved oxygen as goldfish, and they can cope without a heater.


Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about keeping goldfish in a bowl.

Q: How long can goldfish live in a bowl?

A: In a large outdoor pond or tank, most goldfish species can live for up to 20 years or even longer. However, keeping goldfish in a bowl undoubtedly shortens their life expectancy to just a few years or even less.

Q: Can goldfish survive in a bowl without a pump?

Goldfish bowl

A: No. Goldfish need well-filtered water to survive; even partial water changes won’t provide that in the long run.

Q: Is a bowl or tank better for goldfish?

A: The best environment for goldfish is a large garden pond or a spacious, rectangular aquarium, not a fish bowl, for the reasons outlined above and summarized below.

Q: Can you put two goldfish in the same bowl?

A: Unless you have an absolutely massive bowl, you cannot keep two goldfish in it, as there simply won’t be enough space for them.

Adult fish must be kept in groups or pairs, ideally in a large, well-decorated aquarium with lots of swimming space and an efficient filter system or in a garden pond.

Q: How do I add oxygen to my fish bowl?

A: Although you could add a bubble or air stone to provide more water surface agitation to improve oxygen levels, it’s not really possible to add oxygen to a fish bowl since the poor surface area and lack of a filter system preclude that.

Q: How long can a goldfish live in a bowl without a filter?

two goldfish in a bowl

A: Goldfish produce a lot of waste. In a bowl without a filter, ammonia levels quickly accumulate, damaging the fish’s gills. Combined with the poor levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, that will quickly lead to suffocation.

So, a goldfish in a bowl without a filter probably wouldn’t last more than a few days.

Q: How do you keep goldfish alive in a bowl?

A: If you’re forced to keep a goldfish in a bowl temporarily, you could keep it alive for a while, provided you keep the water clean.

I once worked for a family who won a goldfish at a local carnival. I arrived for work on Monday morning to discover the unfortunate fish swimming around in a small glass salad bowl! The next day, I took some water conditioner and goldfish food with me from home, removed the fish waste, changed the water in the bowl, and fed the fish.

Cathching goldfish in a carnival fair

I asked the little girl, Olivia, who won the fish, what she intended to do with her prize. To my horror, she said she was going to keep it in the bowl until it died, feeding it bread and topping up the bowl with tap water!

The unfortunate creature was a Comet that could potentially grow to be over a foot long, so I knew I had to act before it expired. So, that night, I began hatching a cunning plan to save the doomed fish.

Now, goldfish are pretty hardy creatures, and this fish miraculously survived over the weekend. As luck would have it, the family was away on vacation that week, so I was able to put my rescue plan into action.

At that time, another client of mine had a lovely ornamental fish pond in their back garden with a small collection of goldfish and orfe. I let them in on my plan, and when I’d finished work, I put the Comet in a plastic box with a tightly fitting lid and kidnapped it! On my way home, I stopped by the fishpond and carefully slipped the Comet into the water.

When Olivia returned home from vacation, I told a white lie in the interests of animal welfare and said that the pet fish had tragically died. In fact, I knew that the “dead fish” was growing rapidly and loving his life in a far more suitable environment, so all ended well.

Why Goldfish Aren’t Suitable For Fish Bowls – Summary

Yes, No Maybe

So, just to recap, here’s why goldfish are never suitable to live in goldfish bowls.

  • Goldfish can grow from 8 inches to a foot long. A bowl is far too small to house a fish of that size.
  • Goldfish are dirty fish that produce lots of waste. Goldfish bowls are too small to run an efficient filter system to keep the water clean and safe for the fish.
  • Water parameters tend to be very unstable in a small container, potentially leading to stress and associated health problems for the fish.
  • Glass fish bowls provide the goldfish with a distorted view from the inside, stressing the fish and potentially leading to disease.
  • Open-topped fishbowls are dangerous for all aquarium fish. The fish could jump out of the bowl, be taken by the family cat, or be removed by a small child. Dust and debris can easily get into the water, presenting a hazard to the fish.
  • Goldfish are gregarious fish that just live in small groups of their own kind or other suitable tank mates. Goldfish bowls are too small to accommodate that.

The bottom line: goldfish bowls are not suitable containers for goldfish.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed learning why a traditional goldfish bowl is unsuitable for a goldfish. If you did, please hit the share button before you go!

Goldfish bowls are unsuitable containers for these large, dirty fish. There’s insufficient swimming space, too little dissolved oxygen, and no room for an efficient filter system in a bowl. In addition, goldfish need company, and a bowl is too small for that.

Do you have goldfish? What variety do you keep? Why not tell us about your fish in the comments box below?

Wanda is a second-generation aquarist from the sunny tropics of Malaysia. She has been helping her father with his freshwater tanks since she was a toddler, and has fallen in love with the hobby ever since. A perpetual nomad, Wanda does her best to integrate fish-keeping with her lifestyle, and has taken care of fish in three different continents. She loves how it provides a nice break from the hustle and bustle of life.

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