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How Long Do Goldfish Live?

Goldfish are seen as the perfect beginner pet and some of them end up living for quite a few years. Most, though, perish pretty quickly. How is that possible and what can you do to make sure your goldfish lives a happy life (so you don’t have to tell your kid that Goldie passed away)? How long do goldfish live anyway?

The reason most goldfish don’t make it more than a few days or weeks is that most common knowledge about their care is actually false. So let’s move on to how long goldfish are supposed to live and how to make sure they make it to that age!

Common goldfish lifespan

Common goldfish (Carassius auratus) are the classic goldfish type you’ll win at the fair and find at most pet stores. They have long, slender bodies and a regular, single tail. Their colors might vary from standard orange to white, spotted or even tri-colored. Most of the ones you’ll see are pretty small, but did you know this unassuming fish can actually live for years and grow to the size of your underarm?

That’s right, the oldest common goldfish was reported to be 43 years old. Up to 10 years and even way beyond that is a totally reasonable expectation – if conditions are favorable, that is. You see, what most pet owners aren’t told is that a common goldfish needs many gallons of space to thrive and really, is pretty much exclusively a pond fish.

They have the capacity to grow very large and produce a lot of waste, which builds up much too quickly in an aquarium. So for a big and happy common goldfish, get digging in the garden!

Variety of goldfish swimming together

Fancy goldfish lifespan

The many different types of fancy goldfish (the fantail being the most common) are the result of over one thousand (yes, seriously!) years of selective breeding starting in ancient China. All of them have slightly different characteristics but you’ll be able to tell them apart from their common cousins by their double tails, which are often long and flowy, as well as their much rounder body shape.

Now, unlike common goldfish, the fancy goldfish doesn’t grow as large, although it can still reach the size of an orange. This means it can actually be kept in aquariums as long as they’re large enough. A general rule of thumb for keeping them is to provide 20 gallons of water volume per goldfish, with a minimum of two fish since they’re social beings. Ample filtration and large water changes are needed to keep the water quality up to par.

Even when provided with clean water and a large aquarium, a fancy goldfish is still not expected to live as long as a common goldfish. Many suffer from congenital issues related to their body shape and extensive selective breeding. They’ll often eventually perish from swim bladder disease or other infections.

This being said, with proper care these guys will still reach a respectable 10 years or even a bit more if you’re lucky. So much for Goldie being a ‘disposable’ pet!

Goldfish swimming

What influences how long goldfish live?

So as mentioned above, goldfish need a lot more space than we generally tend to think. Yes, they’re very hardy and will sometimes make it surprisingly long in a tiny bowl or tank. They have evolved to withstand bad environments for some period of time, by releasing hormones that stunt their growth so they stay small, for example. However, they’ll never live as long this way as they would in a proper set-up. Quite frankly, they’ll suffer greatly.

The reason for this is water quality. All fish need clean water and goldfish are no exception, but with the amount of waste they produce things can quickly get toxic for them in a small body of water. Basically, they’re suffocated by the ammonia in their own poop. No amount of water changes can keep up with that if the container is too small. Not a very pleasant way to go.

So the keys to your goldfish living a long life are as follows: enough water volume to dilute their poop, filtration to remove harmful chemicals and water changes to take care of anything the filter can’t deal with. And don’t forget diet, as standard fish flakes can often be low quality. You’re better off feeding a specialized goldfish food.


Goldfish are seen as the classic easy pet, but in reality, a proper goldfish aquarium set-up is much more than just a little bowl. We can set up your (fancy) goldfish tank and stock it with the most amazing colorful goldfish: just contact us here with your ideas and we’ll get to talking.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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