What are your first thoughts when you hear or read the word “goldfish”? Most people (possibly including you) assume that they are beginner’s pets – something that you buy your child to teach them responsibility, or a prize that you win at the county fair. What about aquariums, which are often thought of simply as decorations or furniture to add some life to your surroundings? While these are extremely common opinions that people hold, they couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there are quite a few myths about keeping fish as pets that people have accepted and perpetuated for decades; and as a result, pet fish everywhere suffer and die. If you ever hear any of the following falsehoods, be sure to kindly correct whoever said them:
1. Goldfish and Betta Fish Are “Beginner’s Pets”: This is perhaps the most common and absurdly wrong myth about fish keeping that there is, and it results in millions of neglected fish every year. These poor goldfish and Bettas usually die slow, agonizing, and preventable deaths, simply because their owners (and the pet store employees) have no idea what they are doing. For one, people usually just buy a fishbowl or Betta cube of some kind – plus some gravel (hopefully), food, and the fish, and call it a day. They then fill the bowl with water, plop in the little fish, and think they’re good to go, but NOPE – already WRONG! First of all, there should be a dechlorinating tab or water conditioning solution added to the water, due to the high levels of chlorine (and other metals) that are in our tap water. This is something that more and more people are aware of nowadays, but I remember as a child this was NOT common knowledge (sorry little fishies, I didn’t know better). When a fish is put into our tap water that is untreated with a water conditioning agent, it will die due to the fact that its gills cannot properly breathe through all of the additives that are in our tap water.
2. Goldfish and Betta Fish Don’t Need Filters: This of course, is also W R O N G, and the fact that this idea is accepted as reality is very mind-boggling to me. Most people (if not all people) realize that if you have an aquarium, it will need a filter to remove waste and debris from the water, as well as oxygenate it. Well, even if you just have a simple bowl or cube with ANY fish in it, you will need a filter as well! People are drawn to keeping goldfish and Bettas as pets because they are led to believe that they don’t need a filter for them, which is appealing because it saves them money. The truth is, that while Bettas and goldfish can survive in stagnant, unfiltered water for a little while, they will eventually die due to suffocating in their own waste. Due to the high ammonia levels created by urine buildup, their environment will be too toxic to thrive in. If they don’t die that way, they will eventually get fin rot and die, or be constantly stressed and try to escape – which usually entails jumping out and suffocating on the floor of your room. You may have heard that it’s common things for Betta fish and goldfish to “commit suicide,” and this is why! Also, goldfish create more ammonia in their urine, which results in quicker death without a filter, but they are the most common fish kept without a filter. What’s up with that?!
3. Keeping Fish Is An Easy and Affordable Hobby: Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t super expensive or difficult either; but it isn’t the $10-20 initial expense and occasional feeding that you were told about. As you find out more and more about how to care for your fish correctly, you will find that a lot of little necessities add up, and that you need to devote more time to your fish than you originally thought. The water conditioner, food, gravel, plant(s), pump, filter, filter inserts, net, light(s), heater & thermometer, and other random things will raise the cost of your fish hobby quite a bit. Especially if you decide to have an aquarium setup, you’ll need to buy all of that as well as a sump (an extra aquarium that the main aquarium drains into), syphon tube & tubing, internal AND external filters, salt (if you want saltwater fish), anti-algae solution, and a LOT more gravel and plants! Aside from buying all of the proper materials, you will have to maintain a clean tank by changing the filter and water accordingly, and feeding the fish a proper diet when needed. I’m not saying this to discourage people from keeping fish, because it is quite an enriching and satisfying hobby! I just want people to truly know what they are in for, so that fish are not victims of irresponsible ignorance.
4. Fish Have Short Lifespans: Most fish actually have pretty long lifespans, but because of the questionable advice, myths, and misinformed guidance floating around, many of the fish kept as pets die way sooner than they are supposed to. Most species of fish (even the comet goldfish that you can get for 10 or 25 cents) can potentially live 20 years or longer; but they usually don’t because people just buy a fishbowl, throw them into it, and call it a day. If these poor fish were sold with the proper necessities like a filter, heater, water conditioner, etc. then they would possibly be able to live to their full potential! Not only that, but many people either overfeed their fish or underfeed them, which also results in many shortened fish lives. People sometimes “forget” to feed their fish too, leaving it to starve to death – especially children who are given a fish as a lesson in “responsibility”. A lot of the reason why there are so many myths surrounding fish care in general is because so many people improperly care for their fish, that everyone assumes they have short lifespans. This is not the case, and it’s time that we stop normalizing fish neglect because they are creatures too!
5. “Fish Are Dumb,” Or “They’re just fish.”: Another reason why people in general seem to not really care that much about their fish neglect is because fish are thought to be “stupid” creatures who lack the intelligence and personality that dogs, cats, and other house pets possess. This is extremely problematic because 1) fish are actually way smarter than we give them credit for and 2) it implies that just because you think a creature is “unintelligent” by human standards that its life isn’t important. Isn’t that sad, that we as humans would shrug off a fish’s death just because we don’t think it’s smart enough to be worthy of our compassion? There are a lot of things that fish do that actually resemble personality traits and quirks that other more “cuddly” house pets are loved for. If you properly socialize with your fish and give it the same amount of love that you would a four-legged creature, it can be excited to see you, eat from your hand, and even let you pet it! My Angelfish gets excited when he sees me pick up his food, and I know he is excited because he wiggles his body around like a dog does when they are happy. When I feed him another type of food, he doesn’t show the same type of reaction, so I guess it isn’t as yummy! An animal’s sentience shouldn’t determine the worth of their life; all creatures should be cared for with dignity, respect, and LOVE!
6. Bettas Can Live In Tiny Containers: This is something that I always have accepted as fact until I actually got my own Betta, and decided to do more research about its care online. In the pet store, they even sell a bunch of super tiny Betta cubes, bowls, and cute little desktop homes for these fish. After researching online, I found out that all of those containers that are made specifically for Bettas are pretty inhumane because of how small they are. In the wild, Bettas can live in puddles and shallow rice paddies for survival, and that’s just barely what a Betta will do in a tiny desktop cube or vase – survive. It will survive, not thrive – it will be alive, but also be depressed, stressed, and become sick, especially because a lot of these “Betta cube” type containers don’t have a filter. It’s very sad if you notice the tiny plastic containers that Bettas are housed inside of at the pet store, because they are in these little containers for days and days until people buy them. Many of them get fin rot or some other illness and die while they are waiting to be purchased, and that is just tragic and sad. If you plan on having a Betta, make sure that you at least get it a 10- gallon water container!
7. All Pet Fish Are Bred In Captivity: The sad reality is that not ALL fish sold in stores are bred in captivity, although many of them are. There are many saltwater fish that are not able to be bred in captivity, so therefore they are caught in the wild and stolen out of their natural habitats for selling. When Finding Nemo came out over a decade ago, there was a surge in people buying Clownfish, which was very damaging to actual Clownfish populations in the wild. Due to so many people wanting to have their very own Nemo, such a high demand was created for purchasing Clownfish that the fish industry left damaging effects on wild populations. When Finding Dory came out a few months ago, you may have seen posts and articles all over the internet warning people against buying their own “Dory” or Pacific Blue Tangs, for the exact same reason. When people want a “trendy” pet, animals always suffer as a result of companies trying to supply all of these customers with what they want. Before you buy your fish for your aquarium (especially saltwater aquarium), make sure to research where they come from first, so you aren’t part of the problem!
These are just a few of the most common myths surrounding fishkeeping – almost all of them so rampant in our society that we accept them as reality. Somehow over the past few decades (perhaps longer), these incorrect assumptions have been spread as fact, leading to the detriment of trillions of pet fish all over the world. While fishkeeping isn’t the easiest hobby in the world, it definitely isn’t too difficult either once you do some research and receive guidance from an experienced fish owner. Before adopting or purchasing ANY pet, it’s always a good idea to do your own fact-checking to ensure that you are doing everything right. in this regard, fish always seem to fall by the wayside, and it’s time that we change that once and for all! If you have any more fishkeeping myths that you want to be corrected, feel free to comment below and let me know!