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Sometimes Doing It "Right" Doesn't Matter



In my last blog post, I mentioned that I'd touch on a topic that's troubling to me as a goldfish keeper: The fact that sometimes, despite your very best efforts as an aquarist, following a care regime that's tried and true and proven by hundreds of other folks, goldfish sometimes just up and die on you anyway. It's really the ugly side of this hobby, and one that most of us don't really like to delve into too much. But I wanted to address what I think is one major element that can lead to the untimely demise of our finned friends.

Goldfish, as a severely mutated species manipulated by man to have extreme physical characteristics, have the genetic deck stacked against them from the get-go. Breeding for telescopic eyes, fluid-filled sacs, extreme wens, arched backs, tucked tails, short deep bodies, large humps, pearled scales, or any of the seemingly limitless attributes that people have come to treasure in fancy goldfish, results in fish that are seriously less than hardy. Few, if any, breeders (particularly ones breeding on a commercial scale) give much, if any, consideration to health and longevity when producing their stock. Let's face it: Pretty goldfish sell. And we, the buying public, like to buy ryukins with humps, bubble eyes with sacs, orandas with wens, ranchus with tail tucks, and on and on.

(And before anyone thinks I'm speaking from some high-and-mighty place here, I'm the first to admit that I'm just as easily wowed and wooed by a pretty fishy as anyone else. In fact, right now I'm keeping my first ever bubble eye goldfish, a variety that is bred with absolutely no regard for the fact that the Jell-O balloons by its face make it slow, off-balance, and incredibly susceptible to infection in the almost inevitable situation when one of the sacs bursts.) Note: This post is also not a condemnation of the fact that goldfish are bred for extreme physical characteristics at the expense of their health. I'm really not interested in debating the ethics of it; it's something I accept as a goldfish fact, and I happen to really love those extreme features.

So I am not, repeat not, implying that breeding fancy varieties of goldfish is unethical. But what I am saying is that as goldfish keepers, we need to be aware that we start out with a serious disadvantage in our hobby of choice. Our fish just ain't healthy. Those extreme features can and do cause myriad complications, many unseen, that undermine the integrity of the fish's health overall.

Lovely to look at, but what does that mean in the long run?


In terms of care, those of us who take goldfish keeping seriously -- the few, the rare, the best of us -- always strive to do it better. We want to know what goldfish need to thrive, not just live. What makes them grow and flourish? What can we do to make our fish blossom? What makes for a HAPPY fish? And we plan our care accordingly, incorporating elements like quarantine, preventive treatment for various diseases, regular and large water changes, offering a variety of high-quality foods, etc. In short, we give our goldfish every possible reason to live long, healthy lives.

And sometimes, they die anyway. More often than not, we don't know why. I don't know even a single serious goldie keeper, on Koko's or elsewhere, who hasn't lost what would be considered an appalling number of animal lives if their hobby of choice revolved around, say, kittens. A short browse through the forum archives reveals that goldfish, even in incredibly experienced and dedicated hands, die routinely. Some folks don't broadcast when it happens, but it becomes apparent over time that their posts and pics no longer feature favorite fish of yesteryear (or yestermonth, alas).

Are all goldfish doomed to die, regardless of our efforts? Of course not. And there are plenty of examples of long-lived fancies both on this forum and around the world. But I just wanted to present my particular take on the longevity of goldfish, wherein I view goldfish keeping as more of an exercise in keeping fish alive in spite of the genetic factors stacked against them, rather than a hobby in which everyone starts on a level playing field, with a healthy, problem-free goldfish, and must simply proceed from that point and keep that fish alive. Following a simple formula of "Do A, and B, and the end product is guaranteed to be a healthy fish" doesn't apply here. Goldfish are a challenging variety for ALL aquarists.

And you know what? Instead of finding all this depressing, it actually cheers me somewhat. We're all in this together, and while there will be failures, they happen to all of us. And they can make the times we win even sweeter.


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  • Supporter

I agree :) although, I did lose a lot of stock to anaemia causing parasites, some to HITH etc.. but, there were occasions when 'poof!!' gone for no apparent reason.. but I am still here, I can't yet shake the hobby. there have been times where I just wanted to throw the towel in and give it all away.. facing reality as you have outlined is basically the decider of what kept me in the hobby. that and our koko community which I just can't do without :)

good to see you back & posting around, my friend, I have missed you muchly :heart

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  • Regular Member

I completely agree. The amount of fish I lost in QT before they even made it into the main tank this summer was really a big hit for me, someone who doesn't often have fish just up and die on me. I think recently the scale on which many fish are being produced, combined with lack of parasitic treatments early in life (and then consistently there after) take a big toll on the initial health of many goldies. My maintenance routine with the goldfish is much more extreme than anything that goes on in my tropical tanks or the tanks at work. I also think the only way we'll get better at keeping them and improving their lives is by trial and error. I hope that in my now 5+ years of keeping goldfish I've accumulated at least a small amount of knowledge that can be useful to others.

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  • Regular Member

Wow!! You could have written this & just sent it TO ME!! I have had a rough road lately & even the thought to "pack it in" crossed my mind!!! I had gone back over my own "history" & I there has been ALOT of goldies go INTO my tanks & ALOT leave. I take it pretty hard when I loose "the battle" these are not ornaments to me they are my Pets!! They all have names, I know their personalities & Lord knows I talk way too much about them to my family (bless their poor ears!).

I have NO idea how much money I have spent over the many years I have kept goldies & I as NOT going to try to cypher it up...I'm sure I would be SHOCKED!!

But I can not give up...number one I love Goldfish...I love watching them, caring for them, EVERYTHING about them...EXCEPT LOOSING THEM NOW & THEN!! Also several FRIENDS here sent me very nice notes of encouragement to stay & keep trying!!

((I even do a quick COUNT each & every morning as I turn on the lights & prepare to feed them!!))


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  • Regular Member

Really nice essay. I've thought a lot about this issue, particularly after some recent losses on the forum. In some ways, I feel like I don't deserve the healthy fish I have - I run cruddy filters, have too soft water, and so on. It seems almost like luck that the creature is still alive. Basically I really do think that given a certain level of care featuring a good size tank, appropriate stocking, water changes and decent food, survival is luck.

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  • Regular Member

Thank you so much for writing this. I've always had these thoughts in the back of my mind.

Seeing everyone on the forum with fancies sometimes makes me feel left out. But then when I see D&D threads of wen ulcers, constipation, chronic floatiness, egg impaction, torn fins, etc. etc.- I feel grateful I don't have to worry about that with my fish. I got my two commons last year for 13 cents in a feeder tank expecting them to live a few months. Of course they're not "quality" fish- one in missing a dorsal fin and has a stub for one pectoral fin and the other missing half a dorsal.But one thing they have a lot of is personality.

When I see goldfish with such exaggerated features stuck to the bottom simply just drifting along, I am immediately turned off. I don't find the goldfish you pictured "beautiful" at all. To me, what's in a beautiful goldfish is personality. It's especially their little "feed me" dance that warms my heart the most. And when their exaggerated features gets in the way of that, it's just not right.

I am not saying I hate all fancies in general- I love all goldfish. I just like to be weary of their body features and think long-term. Longer bodied fancies are equally as beautiful as compact ones with less worries.

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  • Regular Member

I have also lost fish to no fault of my own. My first veiltail. Mongo and several others fine one day gone the next. I think your thoughts on this are so true. But I also think so are over inbred and are more likely to have internal issues. Like failing kidneys and the such.

Thank you so much for your thoughts. I have been thinking a lot about Mongo and a reminder that it most likely was not my fault is always nice.

FYI Mongo is the art avatar.

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