For many, goldfish are an easily accessible pet that can be used as a test to see if someone (like a child) is ready for more responsibility. It’s true that relatively speaking, goldfish are easier to take care of than other animals and there seem to be wide spread myths about how to best care for goldfish and their average lifespan. However, I’d argue that these fish should no longer be considered disposable and the many myths that allow for inadequate care for many fish all over the world do a great amount of harm. Here are some myths about these fish and the best ways to care for them!

It Takes Time and Resources

While not as time intensive as other pets, taking care of any fish will still take time! Setting up and regularly cleaning out their tanks will both take time. In addition to having the right size tank for the fish you’re planning on getting, you’ll need a filter and will need to regularly clean out the tank. Without proper cleaning and a filter, the fish will just be swimming in their own poopy water that’s slowly running out of oxygen. (And yes, fish may be in water but they need oxygen just like us.)

It’ll also be important to do your research on different fish before getting one, including what their diet is, the right aquarium size, if they can live with other fish, etc. While many fish will need similar things (filters, food, etc), there will be some subtle differences in care for different fish.

Both The Spruce and WikiHow have ways in which to clean out fish tanks and both emphasize that unless something drastic happened, you shouldn’t empty out the entire tank each time you clean it. These two resources are just some of the many that are around to help out new fish owners, as there are many other online resources you can consult about caring for fish. There are also many different stores that might be able to help!

Living Space

If you were to ask people to think of a goldfish, I’m sure there are many that might think of a goldfish in a tiny bowl. While this quintessential small bowl almost seem synonymous with these fish and it’s true that they are able to live in these tanks for some period of time, they actually need a much larger space to live and grow! Even if your goldfish is very little when you first get it, it’ll still need plenty of space, as it can grow up to half a foot in length or more!

Plus, many of these tiny bowls don’t have enough space for a filtration system, something that is very important in tanks. Filters help to circulate and add oxygen back into the water and help to clean out the tank. Without a filter, tanks and bowls can become a toxic environment for the fish, especially since goldfish produce a lot of waste compared to similarly sized fish.

By not having a filter and unless you’re willing to change the water all the time, you are essentially condemning your fish to live within a pool of its own waste. And constantly changing out the water can be both time consuming for you and very stressful for the fish!

If possible, try to have tank set up before going out and getting a new pet fish. Staying too long in a small container or constantly changing bowls/tanks can be really stressful for the fish.

A Short Memory

This is another one of those myths that turn out to be mostly false, as studies have shown that many fish (like goldfish and African Cichlids) are much smarter than what we give them credit for. One study found that cichlid fish have a memory that actually lasts roughly 12 days and another study found that goldfish, while not fast learners, were eventually able to distinguish between different classical pieces! And an informal study by an Australian student in 2008 even showed that fish have a memory a lot longer than 3 seconds.

Don’t Flush!

There’s yet another myth that once your pet fish dies or you just don’t want it anymore, you could flush it down the toilet or release it into a nearby pond or lake. I’ve written before about how releasing non-native species can be devastating to the local ecosystem and that’s definitely the case with goldfish.

And while flushing a fish (whether it’s dead or alive) down the toilet is an easy disposal for you, doing so can cause problems down the line for humans, the environment, and the fish. Flushing a live fish down the toilet is like tying up a dog on the side of the road next to an outhouse and never coming back. Fish may not experience life the same way we do but they’re still living creatures. Plus, if the fish you flush is sick, there’s a chance that it could pass along the disease after being flushed.

What do I do with an unwanted fish?!

I’ve just listed two things not to do with unwanted fish, as flushing or dumping can cause so many problems. But there are many other things you can do to rehome your fish! You could always ask other fish owners or even reach out to local clubs or societies. And yes! There are groups dedicated to keeping aquariums as a hobby and even if you aren’t looking to rehome your fish, these groups can be a good resource.

If you or someone in your life (like a child) is interested in fish and considering getting a pet fish, you should definitely do your research to see if it’s a journey you’re ready to embark on. And there are many ways you can interact with fish without having one as a pet! For example, there are several aquariums in the Pacific Northwest where you can see and learn more about many different kinds of marine life.

It can be really easy to dismiss pet fish, especially goldfish. Widespread myths and misconceptions continually allow for these creatures to be seen as disposable but in reality, they’re smart and worthy creatures. While fish won’t be able to accompany you on hikes like dogs or cuddle like cats, they can still be a fun addition to any house and given the right kind of care, they can be a part of your life for several years.