Caring for Your Goldfish in a Fish Bowl Without an Air Pump
I currently live and work in the Middle East. One day, a friend gave me a goldfish in a bowl. At first, I was hesitant to accept the fish. I raised goldfish as a child, and I knew how much care they required. Not to mention, I knew that a fishbowl is considered inadequate for a goldfish, and I was worried that the fish wouldn’t survive. I didn’t want it to go without a home, so I accepted it. That was five months ago, and my goldfish is doing great.
Please seriously consider your ability to care for a goldfish prior to taking on the responsibility. I did my best to make sure my goldfish was happy despite having limited resources. This article is for anyone who cannot acquire an aquarium and/or technical equipment for keeping a goldfish.
How to Take Care of a Goldfish in a Bowl
These are the guidelines I followed to ensure the best possible environment for my companion:
- Oxygenation: I maximized my water/air surface area and introduced beneficial aquatic plants to increase oxygenation levels.
- Nutrition: I did not overfeed or underfeed, and I offered necessary vitamins and nutrients in a varied diet.
- Environmental enrichment: By adding diversity to the habitat, I encouraged explorative behaviors which come naturally to goldfish.
- Water quality: I performed frequent water changes with properly treated tap water, maintained healthy water temperatures, and regularly cleaned habitat accessories (e.g., substrate).
[Fish bowls] are NOT easy to care for. In fact, it becomes easier to care for aquatic pets the larger the environment you keep them in.— Keith Seyffarth
Adequate Space Requirements
Goldfish require space, so buy the biggest habitat you can afford with the largest surface area. Consider upgrading affordably by shopping at garage sales for used aquariums.
Although genetics determine the size of a fish, keeping a goldfish in an inadequately sized space stunts their growth, decreases their life expectancy, and can cause physical irregularities and disease. Common goldfish can grow beyond 12 inches in length, and the oldest known living goldfish was 43 years old. It is recommended that you provide 10 gallons of water minimum per goldfish.
Goldfish are high waste producers. The smaller the habitat, the easier it is for toxic ammonia levels to build up, thus increasing the need for frequent water changes. According to PureGoldfish:
Goldfish bowls are difficult, if not impossible, to filter in order to balance the nitrogen cycle—a critical aspect of goldfish keeping. Unless the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and chlorine levels are all regulated, a goldfish cannot live for very long.
Adequate Oxygenation Requirements
When the air pump blows air into the aquarium, it circulates stagnant water. Air pumps and air stones do not actually generate oxygen, instead, air bubbles break the tank water surface and encourage gas exchange. So, what should you do if you cannot afford a water circulator or pump?
Optimize Surface Area
When filling a tank or a bowl, fill your water up to the largest diameter. The larger surface area allows for more carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange, thus increasing oxygenation. A larger surface area may lower your overall habitat volume, so adjust accordingly.
DIY Air Pump for Fish Bowls and Aquariums
How to Care for Goldfish in a Bowl Without a Filter
Aquatic Plants Increase Oxygenation
Plants provide oxygen to all living things. Adding an aquatic plant to your goldfish's home will provide necessary oxygen and will decrease nitrate, a byproduct of ammonia. Freshwater aquarium plants also give the bowl a beautiful, natural look, and they absorb gases that could be harmful to your fish. Gravel, or substrate, will offer freshwater plant species the ability to root down in a tank. A substrate should meet the following criteria:
- large enough to prevent ingestion
- approved for use in aquariums
- natural material—chemicals won't leach into the water
- suitable for rooted plant growth
- rinsed prior to use
Gravel serves the dual purpose of trapping waste particles, which can either contribute to healthy nitrogen cycling or trap food and release toxic gases when your fish forages. It is important to carefully clean gravel with each water change.
Acquire commercially available plants from fishless holding tanks to reduce the potential transmission of disease. Remove bacteria, fungus, and organisms using the following recommended methods:
- Potassium permanganate bath for bacteria and fungus (10-minute soak).
- Alum for snails and snail eggs at a ratio of 1-2 tablespoons per gallon of water (soak for 2 days).
Please be advised that plants with low light requirements are solid considerations for your fish's habitat. Any supplementary lighting (natural or electrical) can cause water temperatures to rise which can be deadly.
Plants can spread fungus, bacteria, and organisms into your water if not treated properly. Some plant species are considered invasive and should be cleared by region before use.
Best Plants for Goldfish Habitats
Hardy. Requires low light; can grow partially or fully submersed. Grows upwards and does not require substrate. Will grow at room temperature.
Check local regulations due to invasive potential. Hardy. Can grow rooted in substrate. Proliferates quickly. Requires moderate sunlight and nutrient-rich water.
Tolerates extreme temperatures and low lighting. Improves poor water quality and processes nitrates.
Survives in dim light. May attach to rocks. Can be used to make a moss wall using non-toxic materials.
Always feed your fish according to their appetite and size. Only offer as much food as your fish can consume within one minute. It is better to underfeed your fish rather than overfeed; overfeeding can actually lead to numerous health issues. Any food that has not been consumed will become waste and affect water quality.
Try softening your dry food or pellets by soaking them in a cup of lukewarm water prior to feeding. Doing so will prevent gas or constipation in your fish, which is often triggered by dehydrated foods.
Dietary Options for Goldfish
Frozen vegetables (i.e., spinach)
Hard boiled egg yolk
Spirulina flakes or pellets
Goldfish generally do well in schools, which is characteristic of their inquisitive, social nature. If you are caring for a single fish, take care to diversify their environment. Without environmental enrichment and stimulation, goldfish will become bored.
Consider enhancing your fish's habitat by adding a dark or textured background in one section. Dark backgrounds may help your fish feel safe. Be careful not to change your fish's environment too frequently or drastically. Adding anything inside the tank, such as structures, hideouts, plants, and pebbles, will reduce your fish's habitat space, so adjust accordingly.
Water Quality and Treatment
Since fish bowls are small, toxic levels of waste and ammonia can build up if there isn't a proper filtration system in place. It is advised to change a minimum of 50% of the water daily (never remove all water from the tank), in addition to cleaning substrate to remove toxic food and fish waste.
Tap water should stay exposed to air overnight to allow for chlorine, a volatile vapor, to evaporate. Always treat water before introducing your fish into it, and carefully match water temperatures to prevent shock.
How to Clean Your Habitat
- Avoid touching your goldfish when you change the water or clean the bowl.
- Transfer your fish to a separate holding tank.
- Remove the waste from the substrate by slowly moving the pebbles. Drain some water and push the waste out.
- Give the bowl a good cleaning. Don't forget to wipe off ornaments and plants. Do NOT use soap or chemicals.
- Add the pretreated room temperature water (minimum of 50% exchange).
Important Upgrades to Consider
If you aren't able to keep up with the water changes and cleaning yourself, a small pump and filter will keep the bowl clean for longer. They will fit in a small bowl and you won't need to replace the water as often. Always consider MORE space when caring for a goldfish. The bigger the habitat, the better.