Can Goldfish Live in a Bowl and is it Bad for them?

If you are a freshwater hobbyist, chances are you have owned or at least considered owning a goldfish before. Goldfish are incredibly popular due to them being beautiful and relatively easy to look after when compared with other freshwater fish. Something that many people are not well-informed on though, is whether or not goldfish should or shouldn't live in a bowl.

When you enter a pet store, it is incredibly common to run into an abundance of different fishbowls. These bowls are seen as a rather fashionable way of keeping freshwater fish, but how humane is it? If you are looking to create yourself a goldfish aquarium, but with more than one goldfish, or some goldfish tank mates, a much larger community tank rather than a bowl is the best option.

While there are some people who are adamant that keeping a goldfish in a bowl is inhumane and cruel leading to certain premature death for your fish and many other complications, some of the longest living goldfish resided in bowls their entire life.

Goldfish and bowls

There seems to be no direct correlation between having a fishbowl and your fish getting ill with poor life quality. So, if you have a large fish tank that is poorly managed with dirty water quality and a multiple different diseases, expect the same results that you would get if you had the same fish management with a fish bowl. Goldfish really can thrive in a fishbowl, but there are many things that go into this, so let's get right to them.

How To Keep Goldfish Alive in a Bowl

There are several factors that go into this because bowls are not as easy to set up when you want to ensure your fish lives a happy and healthy life. However, there are some specific ways you can make it work.


Goldfish in general, create an abundance of mess within their freshwater home, this is thanks to their poor digestive system. Many people decide not to keep goldfish with other fish because of this and their inability to live healthily within goldfish water, unless you have a good filtration device, and even if your goldfish lives alone, you should have a filter within their tank.

Finding the perfect filter for a small bowl fish tank is not an easy task, however, if you are interested in acquiring a good filter, check out the following options:

Aquarium filters are absolutely brilliant at removing small or large waste particles from tank water, and they also help with the colonization of beneficial bacteria. The great thing about these bacteria is that they eat bad bacteria like ammonia and nitrate. Beneficial bacteria tend to breed the best in environments with moving water, which is why filters are so good for them!

Aquarium Plants

Fake plants are extremely common with those who keep goldfish in bowls. It could be due to many people believing that plants are simply just a decoration to make a tank look pretty, rather than knowing the true benefits and importance of live plants. However, live plants are an incredibly beneficial addition to any goldfish bowl!

By adding live plants to your fishbowl you are improving the oxygen available in the water tenfold. Also, plants consume a lot of waste products, such as nitrate, which helps them grow. Live plants almost act as natural filtration systems within your fish bowl; however, you will certainly need to add them as an addition to your water filter, but having them both will be tremendously beneficial for your goldfish. Most aquatic plants will naturally grow independently, should they be provided with enough light exposure.


It may not be common knowledge, especially for new hobbyists but goldfish can actually breathe air, kind of. Goldfish possess a specialized organ, which is called a labyrinth organ, which functions very similarly to a lung, which does allow them to breathe room air. Their gills also let them breathe the oxygen in the water. However, your goldfish might be able to breathe room air, but it doesn't mean that they should or have to as poorly oxygenated water will certainly distress your goldfish, leading to a painful and stressful death.

Goldfish and bowls

Labyrinth organs in goldfish are not there to replace their need for gills, what it does is serve as a last resort survival organ for the fish, that has been adapted over the years. It is a great idea to add a water aerator to your goldfish bowl because an aerater will add freshly cycled oxygen to the water, creating a healthy breathing environment for your goldfish. Introducing aerated water to your bowl will add oxygen to the water, meaning that your goldfish will only need to use their gills, putting far less stress on their bodies, resulting in a far healthier fish. 

Water Quality and Cleaning

The final thing to consider when providing the best life for your goldfish living in a bowl is water quality. It is pivotal that you provide excellent water quality for your goldfish for a number of important reasons.

Ammonia and other dangerous waste products will build up quickly in any goldfish home, which means by following the previous steps, with the addition of correctly cycling your goldfish bowl, you will eliminate large build-ups of these unfriendly bacteria. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to do so in a small tank, such as a fishbowl.

You must keep on top of maintenance when it comes to the water quality in a fishbowl as it is a much smaller space and the water will become dirty and unsafe for your goldfish quickly.

The frequency of cleaning your bowl will also depend on how many goldfish are in there and also how big they are, fancy goldfish tend to be larger than common goldfish. Weekly water changes are a minimum requirement.

How Big Should your Goldfish Bowl Be?

There is not really a specific size of goldfish bowl as there are many different variables that go into this. People say that goldfish cannot outgrow their environment, which is kind of true. However, there is more that goes into it than that.

Goldfish produce hormones that are growth-inhibiting and these build up in the water over time. When the environment is small, the hormones become denser, which gives off signals to their bodies to stop growing. However, this sometimes does not work all the time and some goldfish will grow to a large size even in a small environment, which isn't good for them.

Can goldfish live in a bowl?

A 5 gallon or less bowl is only recommended if you purchase a small goldfish, like a feeder fish. Some goldfish will happily live in a properly set up and well-maintained 3-gallon bowl, but we would still recommend a minimum of 5 gallons as it gives them more room. The best size and most suitable goldfish bowl is the biOrb classic aquarium.

5 gallons is still considered to be small, especially with an adult goldfish, or multiple goldfish, if you can, always aim for a 10-gallon bowl. It will provide your goldfish with a happier life, and also require less water changes. Anything under 5-gallons could require daily changes.

Final Thoughts

Many people believe that keeping goldfish in bowls is cruel and inhumane, which can be true for those that do not look after the bowl or their fish very well.

By following these steps and being realistic about your fish and all the other attributes that go into owning a successful and healthy goldfish bowl, you should be completely fine. There are many people out there that own fish tanks that are a fair less healthy community than those who own correctly setup freshwater fishbowls.