Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
Betta or Goldfish?
The betta fish and the goldfish are probably the two most popular fish in the world. One of reasons for this is because people often keep them in bowls. The thought of taking care of a fish bowl is much less daunting than managing an actual fish tank, so the allure of these poor critters proves irresistible for kids and parents who want to have a fish without all the work.
Unfortunately, these folks soon find out the hard way that there is more to caring for a fish than plopping it in a tiny bowl and crossing your fingers.
If you are trying to choose between a goldfish or betta, for the purposes of this article let’s assume you are interested in keeping your fish in the healthiest way possible. I hope that’s true, but, sadly, not everyone cares about the well-being of a lowly fish, and they end up in poor conditions with failing health and shortened lives.
A bowl is not a good home for any fish, unless you are talking about a soup bowl and those delicious fish-shaped crackers.
Taking the time to learn about proper care is one of the most important things you can do when choosing a new pet. Even more important is doing the research on a fish before you bring it into your home. That way you can make an educated decision on which fish is right for you.
You are doing that now, so congratulations! You are a step ahead of the average person who wanders into a pet store and picks out a fish just because it looks pretty.
In this article you will learn more about betta care and goldfish care, and by the time you are done you will have a better idea of which is best for you.
Betta Fish 101
In the wilds of Southeast Asia betta fish live in lazy streams, and they can survive in muddy puddles and low-oxygen conditions when water levels drop. This is because they are anabantids, a type of fish that is capable of taking in air from the surface of the water.
Unfortunately, this is also why betta have become so popular. Since they can survive in very small bowls and other enclosures, people keep them in the most horrible of situations. Tiny cubes and plant vases are poor habitats, as betta are denied clean water, space for swimming, and sometimes even access to the water surface..
Betta fish are also tropical, and they thrive in temperatures in the mid-70s to low-80s. All of this means they require a filter and heater just like any tropical fish.
As far as care goes, betta fish need the same clean water, living space and warm temperatures as any other tropical fish. The small cubes and other commercial creations are not ideal homes for betta fish, or any other fish for that matter.
As you likely know, betta fish are fairly aggressive, and males will fight each other to the death. In fact, male Bettas will often attack other fish because they look similar to them, or for no reason at all.
For this reason, it is often best to keep male Betta in single-specimen tanks. Two male bettas should never be in the same tank together. However, if you are smart about it, Betta fish can have tankmates in certain situations.
In summary: Betta fish are tropical fish requiring warm, clean water, plenty of room for swimming and an environment that does not provoke their aggression.
The Truth About Goldfish
I have a feeling you are going to be surprised when you learn some of the real facts about goldfish!
Goldfish also originate is Asia. They are within the carp family, as are koi. Koi are the large, ornamental fish you may have seen in fish ponds.
There are many different kinds of goldfish, but the two many people are familiar with are the Common and Comet Goldfish. These are the cute, bright-gold little fish you can win at fairs, and they seem like the ideal pets for children and people who don’t want to deal with a real fish tank.
However, the Common Goldfish can grow over a foot-and-a-half long, and there are examples of them weighing up to four pounds! Comets, distinguished by their flowing tail, grow nearly as large. These are not fish that belong in a little bowl. Like koi, Common and Comet Goldfish that start out in tanks often finish out their lives in fish ponds.
Fancy Goldfish come in a wide array of varieties. They are more distantly removed from their carp ancestors, and don’t grow quite as large. However they are still big fish, typically reaching around 8 inches long. A single specimen requires about a 20-gallon tank to grow to full size. Again, not a fish for a bowl.
Because of their physiology, all goldfish pollute the water very quickly, which is one of the reasons they require so much space. It also means they need a good filter to keep their tank clean. They thrive in water slightly cooler than tropical temperatures, in the 65-75 degree range.
In summary: The goldfish you see at pet stores and carnivals are babies. As adults, they are large fish requiring the proper living space, clean water and cool, regulated water temperatures.
Setting Up a Goldfish Tank
Tank Size and Care Requirements
Given the information above, we can put together a picture of the best tank setups for each of these fish.
- Betta fish need a tank of at least 5 gallons, preferably 10. They require a low-flow filter, and a heater to keep the water at tropical temperatures. Decorations should include places for betta to hide, and live or artificial plants. Betta fish sleep on plant leaves sometimes, believe it or not. Do not attempt to keep a male Betta with other Betta or any fish that looks like a him.
- A single Fancy Goldfish needs a 20-gallon tank to grow to maturity. Consider another 8-10 gallons for each additional fish. Filtration is necessary, as well as a heater capable of keeping the water between 65-75 degrees. Live and artificial plants are good choices for decorations.
- Common and Comet Goldfish may start out in aquariums, following the same protocols as Fancy Goldfish. However, plans should be in place to move them to ponds when they get bigger.
Can Goldfish and Betta Fish Live Together?
Can you keep goldfish and betta together in the same tank? Certainly there are some examples of people who do this, but as you can see from their very different requirements it is a bad idea. Nor should goldfish be kept with other tropical fish. Bettas and goldfish do not belong in the same tank, and neither belongs in a bowl.
You may have heard that a goldfish will only grow to fit its environment, and that is often true. However, it is far from a good thing. A stunted fish will have a shortened lifespan and be more susceptible to disease. This is not a humane way to manage your fish.
Which Fish Will You Choose?
Still thinking of a goldfish or betta as a pet? Don’t let anything you’ve read so far dissuade you. Instead, become one of those fish keepers who care for their pet the right way. The world needs more of you!
The way I see it, when we choose to bring an animal into our home and take on the responsibility of care we are making a commitment. Whether it is a dog or a hamster or a fish, its life is now in our hands. We are only human, and may make some mistakes that accidentally cause our fish to die before it's time, but we owe it our best effort.
If you are thinking of a small tank, you are probably better off with a betta fish. A 10-gallon tank is easy to care for and doesn’t take up much space.
If you are in for more of a commitment, consider a goldfish tank. However, as you may have realized, keeping several goldfish requires as much space and work as a tropical fish tank.
Whatever you decide, learn as much as you can before you go out and purchase your fish and accessories. Then, continue to learn as you go.
All any of us can do is try our best to take care of the critters we are responsible for, and that even includes the goldfish and betta fish.
Goldfish or Betta Fish?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
FISH on July 23, 2020:
I found this article pretty useful. I've seen the horrible way that people treat goldfish and bettas.
Keep writing good content like this.. That way you can educate more people about what they are doing wrong when they buy a goldfish or a betta
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on July 05, 2020:
@Bettafishlover28 - Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, what you saw at your friends house is very common. I agree it isn't right to shame people, and they may not have listened anyway. Sad.
Bettafishlover28 on July 04, 2020:
This is extremely useful. Glad I found this! A few months ago, I went to my friend's house. Their child had a betta fish inside a BOWL. I didn't wanna shame them so I stayed quiet. But in my mind, I felt bad for their betta. There was no filter, no pump or bubbler, no heater, none of that! It seems like they just put some water in a bowl on their dining table and called it a day. A month later, I came to check on them. The bowl and the betta weren't there.
Goldfishgeekgirl on April 03, 2019:
When I was a small child (about 3 or so) I went to my best friends house once and saw that she had a pet goldfish. The fish was in a bowl but I could barely see it. The water was EXTREMELY dirty and green. At the time I thought the fish looked happy and was in the right setup but now I know the reason why that goldfish wasn’t their the next time I came round. I have a good memory and can still remember how rotten that bowl was; it looked like nobody had ever even bothered to give it a clean.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on November 01, 2017:
Hi Krystina. As you seem to already understand, you have a few undesirable situations there. First off, the pleco needs a much, much bigger tank. Common plecos can sometimes grow to well over a foot long, so you can see how a 1.5 gallon tank is nowhere close to adequate. For a common pleco I'd be thinking of a 55-gallon tank as the absolute minimum, but bigger is better.
I always recommend at least a 5-gallon tank for bettas when they are kept alone. They need room to swim just like any other fish. They also require heat and filtration, just like any other tropical fish.
The "one-inch-per-gallon" rule is really not of much practical use. It is better to consider the needs of the fish you intend to stock and plan accordingly. Some pet store employees are very knowledgeable, but unfortunately some are not. I always recommend doing your own research before making decisions.
If you don't intend to upgrade to a huge tank that's suitable for the pleco you may want to think about returning or re-homing him. The 1.5 unheated tank is simply a death sentence for him.
As for the betta, you can keep him in the 1.5 even though it isn't ideal, but upgrading would be better. Smaller tanks require more attention than larger ones, so you're really going to have to stay on top of things with the tiny tank. There are really no fish that ought to be in those tiny little tanks, including bettas. Betta are tropical fish that need heat, filtration and room to swim.
Good luck! I hope the situation gets better.
Krystina Regan on October 31, 2017:
I had a 10-gallon tank as a kid for over 10 years. I always had a betta in it with other tropical fish without any issues (though none resembled the betta). The only issue I had was my plecostamus (sp) outgrew the tank and ended up permanently bent by the time he reached about 6 inches long (he grew to almost 9 before he died). Fast forward to now and some pet store salesperson convinced my hubby that a 1.5 gallon tank without heater and small filter requires nearly no maintenance for a betta. I tried to tell him I didn't believe the guy. Now we have a pleco and betta in this tank and he keeps thinking we're overfeeding the betta (2 pellets a day) because there's so much poop in the tank. I tried to tell him we had enough fish in there for a 6 gallon tank (based on the one inch-one gallon rule). Now what do we do?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on September 03, 2015:
Thanks for the kind words, janshares! :-)
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on September 03, 2015:
Impressed by your mastery of the "how to" hub. Extremely useful information about godlfish and betta fish care. Nice formatting. Well done, 2 thumbs up!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on March 31, 2015:
Thanks ThatMommyBlogger. It is amazing how long fish can thrive if they are in the right environment!
Missy from The Midwest on March 30, 2015:
We have a fish that has been alive for 7 or 8 years. I had no idea that fish could even live that long. We try to take very good care of him (her?), and we also have 2 others that we recently bought. Great article!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on February 23, 2015:
Hi Jeannieinabottle! I am very anti-fishbowl, and I think the more people realize how bad they are the better. I'm glad you agree, and thanks for your kind remarks!
Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on February 22, 2015:
This is a really useful hub. I think people falsely believe it will be so easy to maintain a fishbowl and keep their fish alive. I find fish bowls to be disgusting; it requires way too much cleaning. The fish are never a big fan of the bowl either. It is so much easier to buy a small tank with a good filter, even if the pet owner only plans on having one fish.
Good advice and voted up!