Why Do Goldfish Change Color or Turn White?

Updated on February 23, 2016
QuestionMaster profile image

Susannah's husband asked if he could have a fish. She didn't realize he meant plural. 8 big fish tanks later, she knows too much about fish.

If you bought your goldfish for its colour, you may be disappointed.
If you bought your goldfish for its colour, you may be disappointed.

Goldfish are a common household pet. Although less popular than dogs or cats, fish come in a close third because they are relatively easy to care for and don't require a lot of attention, space, exercise, or training.

Because they don't leave their aquarium, they don't create a mass of housework, and they are also allergy-friendly for people who can't have a hairy pet.

However, something unusual can happen to goldfish. Over time, you may notice a change of colour. The most common change in color is from gold to white, although other changes can occurs as well. Read on to learn what may be causing the change.

Goldfish haven't always been orange.
Goldfish haven't always been orange.

Goldfish were one of the first domesticated fish. However, they did not always have the bright orange and red scales that we are familiar with today.

Orange goldfish (Carassius auratus) were in fact bred for the color. Originally, they were an olive green like the fish shown on the left.
Orange goldfish (Carassius auratus) were in fact bred for the color. Originally, they were an olive green like the fish shown on the left. | Source

Goldfish, like koi, are a type of carp. And just like wild carp, wild goldfish are usually olive green. Red, black, orange, white, yellow and brown goldfish have all been created through selective breeding.

Because of the selective breeding process as well as environmental factors, it's not uncommon for a goldfish to change colour. The change can be to a similar color, a different shade, or even a pattern.

So what makes a goldfish change or lose its original color?
So what makes a goldfish change or lose its original color?

There are plenty of reasons that goldfish can change colour. Here are a few of them:

  • Change in environment.
  • Change in water type.
  • Water temperature.
  • Amount of light.
  • Introduction of other fish or goldfish into the aquarium.
  • Newborn transitioning into adult colouration.
  • Old age.

Goldfish have pigment in their skin that reacts to light.
Goldfish have pigment in their skin that reacts to light.

Goldfish have pigment in their skin that reacts to light. When their skin is deprived of light or they have less exposure, this impacts on their skin. Over time, they can lose their colour and turn white.

Think of it this way: When people go outside a lot, they get a tan. If, instead, they stay inside, they become paler. Sunlight works in a similar way on goldfish.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        David 11 days ago

        I'm pretty sure owning one goldfish for seven years hardly qualifies you as an expert on fish. There are so many variables involved you cannot say that light is the sole determining factor in your one fish changing color or lack of color change. There is a thing called scientific method where past studies have shown light can be a factor despite your carefully controlled testing... Just for the record.

      • profile image

        Teresa Metzler 6 weeks ago

        I won a fish at a carnival seven years ago, she has always been exposed to direct sunlight due to the location of her tank and the many skylights and 9-foot glass doors. She was originally bright orange with a white saddle, a few years ago she turned completely white (which I like) so your theory about light and colour holds absolutely no credibility... Just for the record.

      • profile image

        Caroline 7 weeks ago

        my gold fish turn white and floated at the top why

        ?

      • profile image

        Jean 2 months ago

        my goldfish are all in the same tank & are feed the same food & were all bought at the same time & all get the same amount of sunlight & I have 2 that turned white & 2 that are still gold....so I have a hard time believing the sunlight thing caused them to loose color.

      • profile image

        Rolanda 4 months ago

        Do they get their color back if you put them to light?

      • profile image

        Emely 4 months ago

        One of my fish just died. We left him in the tank and other fish are turning white, too. I think because of less exposure of sun. R.I.P. No name .

      • profile image

        Sophia 5 months ago

        I've had two goldfish for over 10 years. About two years ago, one of them turned white and unfortunately passed away. We thought it was sick because it would lay upside down, and then flip right side up. It did this for about 6 months to a year. My other goldfish is still alive, after 12 years of having him. He showed no signs of being sick, but he did seem gloomy when my other goldfish died. I was wondering why he never turned white or became extremely sick as well. Also, my brother has a goldfish that's about a year old. But my brothers' goldfish lives in a different tank. I was questioning if joining the two fish into one tank, was a good idea, or since my fish is so much bigger, that he'll bully my brothers' fish. My fish is about 9'' and my brothers' fish is about 3'' long. Would joining the two fish into one be good for my fish, since he's depressed my other fish, and his buddy for 10 years, passed away. Or will he potentially kill my brothers' little fish?

      • profile image

        Sunset2017 5 months ago

        Goldfish need UV light to keep their colors .... I quarantine my new Goldfish indoors with only house lights on and off . They temporary fade out indoors. The first time my goldfish faded out I panicked because they are gorgeous show fish quality that I paid a lot of money for. I realized it was only temporary. It immediately happens indoors and the black goes obsolete. They change colors according to light. Take them outside and Voila! The color immediately comes back vibrant and rich. If your goldfish fade out it’s because your not giving them any UV lighting. If they are kept without UV light they will permanently change and or lose their color. Give them some outdoor light by a window, in a screen room on your patio or buy a UV light bulb for indoors tanks and they will stay pretty.

      • profile image

        pondwatcher 8 months ago

        I bought feeder goldfish for my pond. They grew and bred in there with no additions for three years. This year I have an all white one from the same parents. I live in Canada so when the ice melted from the surface this Spring, there it was, pure white. Strange!!

      • profile image

        Sam 9 months ago

        I just bought 12 feeder fish to pUT in my pond there was not one brown one in the bag and when I put them in my pond one of them turned completely brown that's crazy what. Caused it to do that ?

      • profile image

        Yummy Twinkie 9 months ago

        mine turned pale when i used crappy food

      • profile image

        MAINEvacation 9 months ago

        Thanks for the imformation!

      • profile image

        ava 9 months ago

        Please respond~ I just got a new goldfish, she had a beautiful black, yellow, and brown markings, and even a black dot above her mouth that made her look like a cat! Her colors are fading drastically and it's only been 2 days! Please help! ( she is in a small tank with another goldfish. They have a filter and LED lights)

      • profile image

        Carla 9 months ago

        My 12 year old calico has completely lost his black coloring in just a couple months.

      • profile image

        Nig 11 months ago

        Thanks for the info

      • profile image

        Jess 11 months ago

        I bought a goldfish the other day that looks like a bass any idea how this is possible

      • profile image

        Jeanne 11 months ago

        Todd, I had to read your comment three times, then I realized it was just a horrible racist joke. I am horribly offended and request it be removed.

      • profile image

        Gen 12 months ago

        Wilber, your fish may have a disease whom'a symptoms include white spots on the fish.

      • profile image

        Jane 12 months ago

        Is there a particular type or brand of fish food that will help my fish regain their gold colour? I've only had them a week and they're losing their bright orange hue!!!!

      • profile image

        Isabella 13 months ago

        I have a black goldfish and now it's starting to go gold. What is happening??

      • profile image

        Martyn 15 months ago

        What can I do to try and get the gold colour back

      • profile image

        ethan 15 months ago

        hey guys I just want you guy know that we used to have a killer fish and the goldfish ate it!

      • profile image

        ethan 16 months ago

        hi,again i want you to know my i got my fish 3 years ago and it turn white

      • profile image

        Chris 17 months ago

        I have had 3 pond gold fish that stay in a pond and overwinter in an aquarium as it is only 2 feet deep and the winters can freeze that deep here. One of the three turned stark white with the second year in the pond. The others stayed gold. Also the pond has become a breeding ground as they have had..15+babies. All various colours 3 olive. There were 4 but th e last one has not made it out of the pond as it is extremely difficult to see to catch. I wonder if the white one is perhaps female and due to hormonal changes caused it to go white..

      • profile image

        carmen 20 months ago

        we have our gold fish in an outdoor pond. we overwinter them inside. they are large they were originally feeder fish and have grown just beautiful. gorgeous fantails on them. 2 of them are turning white. pond is partially shades with plants. three frogs came and stayed this summer. they are 8 years old. thank you

      • profile image

        Stevie 22 months ago

        I have two gold fish one has been white for ages and one is brighter orange than ever

      • profile image

        wilbur 22 months ago

        my goldfish, Mister Buttocks was brilliant orange but ive just noticed he has white patches all over him. Please tell me I dont have to throw him in the canal?!

      • profile image

        Sarae 23 months ago

        I have six fish and this is the first time I'm noticing that my orange fish has change color

      • profile image

        Lorenzo 23 months ago

        I raised fishes for many decades, since the 70's. My favorite have always been goldfish.

        However always had the same problem of buying some beautifully colored "red" goldfish. And after a short while, only a few months, they would lose their deep red color, to become a plain pale orange.

        Is there a main fish food ingredient that maintains their deep red color.

        For example everyone who breeds birds, especially canaries, know that enhance the red coloring of the Red Factor canary breeds, there are specific foods such as carrots and tomatoes. Otherwise the Red Factor Canaries very often will turn white. Also now many fine pet shops now carry some beautifully colored "red" goldfish. And most all become a pale orange after a short while.

        The employees at those pet shop are clueless as to the reason why, because most are just new to goldfish. Lucky if they have at least 5 experience, which they naively consider a long time.

        There must be something that the fisheries do to enhance the deep red coloring of goldfish, before they ship them to the pet shop warehouses.

      • profile image

        Madison Burke 24 months ago

        hi. Well on my 7th birthday I got 2 goldfish of my friend and then 2 weeks later one of them died of red spots . The other one mango is still alive but he is 6 years old and is turning silver on his stomach and the top and bottom of his tale . I think it may just no old age or the food I give him. There is also a weatherloage in the tank it's like a water snake but the lady at pets at home said it was perfectly fine .

      • profile image

        Madison 24 months ago

        My goldfish mango is 6 years old and he was orange yesterday and I woke up and saw white on his belly and the top and bottom of his tale . At first I thought I was dreaming but then I woke up and he was actually white .

      • profile image

        Tanya 2 years ago

        My goldfish is turning white - I don"t love him as much. I'm not usually racist - what should I do.

      • profile image

        Brandon Fisher 2 years ago

        My Goldfish (Daniel and Mr. Krabs) were orange one day and i got home and they were starting to lose their colour. I thought they were ill and might die. Thank god they haven't and i now have had them for 4 years!

        Thanks for this page.

        Brandon

      • profile image

        Ellen 2 years ago

        Bubbles my goldfish was red one night and he looked sick.in the morning I woke to see he had a white tail which hadn't been there before.hes 1-2 years old.why is this happening?i was thinking old age but he's only 1-2 years.why?

      • profile image

        John 2 years ago

        My 3 yr. old goldfish 1 a Black Moore turned Orange and my 2 fancy tail goldfish, one turned all white & the other is on her way to turning white but all are happy & healthy

      • profile image

        Gavin 2 years ago

        I got my gold fish a while back he was brownish grayish and hr slowly turned silver i didnt notice then his belly turned yellow and yellow crawled up his body and just bout a week ago he had a dark gray stripe down his back now he yellow

      • profile image

        adan 2 years ago

        i have 12 gold fish but all of them are white and some black

      • profile image

        Cam 2 years ago

        I had one which changed between black and orange every two weeks for about six months.

      • profile image

        zahid Nabi 2 years ago

        among 2 golden fishes one fish color turning white

        its happened since i change the water of my home equarium. Although previous i have changed water every 3 month.

      • profile image

        chow the fish 2 years ago

        My goldfish chow, kills any other fish in the tank . We started off with two gold fish chow and superman we put them in the tank chow turned black and then superman died we replaced superman and same thing happened. So we tried a sucker fish chow turned black and the fish died. Then we put two sucker fish in the tank same ending . Now chow is all alone and his head is white

      • profile image

        Sindiso 2 years ago

        I have 2 gold fish. Orange and Yellow. The Orange 1 is starting to change colour so I was terribly worried coz ive only had them for 3 months. Thanks for the article

      • profile image

        Jimmy 3 years ago

        My goldfish stinks

      • profile image

        Einar Erik Volsung 3 years ago

        My daughter won a gold fish at school..Goldie the gold fish.I put it in our 20 gal.tank with live plants and a good light source super awesome filter system and the few other fish who have been there for over a year now and now Goldie will have to change her name to WHITE LIGHTING or Goldie the not so gold ,gold fish....thank you for the info

      • profile image

        jadi 3 years ago

        i have a goldfish, well its color is brown and a belly part of golden yellow. but some of its part turns red? i did some research about this but it appears that gold fish can have color changes on their skin with blue, yellow and white but no red? side of its eyes are red unto its tail. any reasons why?

      • profile image

        kezza 3 years ago

        I,ve had my goldfish for 14 years now he only as orange on the top of his body the rest turned white, I just think it is there age as I have another in with him and he,s 4 but still the same colour as when he was a baby.

      • profile image

        Bethany 3 years ago

        My gold fish has been white for the past 3-4 weeks or so, and i was sooo confused. But now I know y, so thnx for that and ima try putting it in the sun for 1 week and ima c what happens. Hopefully it changes colours!!!

      • profile image

        amy 4 years ago

        my gold fish is brown

      • profile image

        Keith 4 years ago

        My fish is about 3-4 years old and started getting white patches on him. I always thought he was really sick! All the other fish he was born with had white, so maybe its just his genetics :)

      • profile image

        Hi 4 years ago

        My goldfish is white

      • profile image

        Nekia 4 years ago

        i have a goldfish and its white why is that is something wrong with the fish

      • profile image

        Poison ivy 4 years ago

        my goldfish is about 7 years old and he is changing colour to patches of silver white he was two colours at first but he is rapidly changing to all silver the only thing I have changed is that I now put fresh weed into the aquarium he has a companion who is about 2 years old who is still very orange with no changes to colour he seems well enough and the position of the aquarium is not in full sun and has not been moved I feed the same food as always but wondered about his colour

      • Scottie Wesson profile image

        Scottie Wesson 4 years ago from Verbena, Alabama

        Ok, so I have a white and gold goldfish and he is turning yellow. Anyone know why?

      • profile image

        arun 5 years ago

        geez, i went to petland today and they had fish the size of...... fish. this other fish was what um red and white. kinda looked like the american flag. i asked the guy what happened, and he said temperature changed. that still haunts me how the fish looked like. uuuggh

      • profile image

        Marion Clements 5 years ago

        My 'Black' Goldfish has started to develop spotted, blue with white and a touch of orange on the top of its head, and over the last few weeks these markings are continuing down the back of the fish, there are 3 fish in the pond with these markings already (Cherbunkins?) Its a reasonable sized fish and has been in the pond for 2/3 years. There are several other goldfish of varying sizes and shades, and also Ghost Carp, and all appear healthy.

      • profile image

        kainat 5 years ago

        Its just so amazing on they change from orange to white

      • profile image

        Rosalinne 6 years ago

        Today I woke up and my man goldfish died... :'( I Won Him At The Fair &&' The Women Goldfish Is Still Alive...

      • profile image

        Tish 6 years ago

        one of my golfish turned white too. i was so worried because i thought something was wrong with him, i thought he was sick or something...how do i get his original colour back? will exposing him to a little more sun help? is the other one also going to lose its colour, it hasn't yet. help

      • profile image

        Kaylene Stevens 6 years ago

        My gold fish has turned white and i now know why, but after fixing this problem will his colour eventually come back

      • profile image

        hi 6 years ago

        what about temperature and he color of goldfish

      • Rehana Stormme profile image

        Rehana Stormme 6 years ago

        Can you imagine! I always thought gold fish were orange. This is a very interesting article!

      • profile image

        Clawdeen 6 years ago

        my goldfish is turning white i have had for it about 6 months

      working