How to keep goldfish alive

Sunday, June 12, 2011
This undated photo courtesy of Peter Ponzio, president of the American Goldfish Association, shows a common goldfish. Ponzio's group of fish enthusiasts exists to provide information about goldfish and to provide judges for goldfish shows across the country, he said. (AP Photo/Peter Ponzio)

LOS ANGELES -- Don Hurst figures he's given away millions of goldfish at carnivals over the last 25 years.

Hurst thinks most of the fish he hands out make it home. But how long they live after that depends on how they are cared for, with optimal conditions including a tank with a cover, the right type of water, a filtration system and sunlight.

Pete Ponzio, president of the American Goldfish Association, said even the trip home can be harmful. Bouncing around in those little plastic bags can produce stressful vibrations that break down immune systems and cause disease, he said.

Water is the next problem. Putting a goldfish in chlorinated tap water, bottled or distilled water, or water that is too acidic or alkaline, can be deadly, Ponzio said.

Ponzio recommends buying a solution at a pet store that removes chlorine, adds nutrients and minerals, or measures acidity.

Ideal water temperature is about 70 degrees. Place the goldfish in its bag in the tank before releasing the fish to avoid more stress.

Goldfish, members of the carp family, produce a lot of waste, so you will also need a filtering system. The waste contains ammonia, which is toxic to them.

For the new goldfish owner, Ponzio recommends a 2- to 5-gallon plastic aquarium kit with a filter, air pump and chlorine remover, which will run about $30. But systems range from expensive deluxe power filters that perform mechanical, chemical and biological filtration, to cheap sponge filters that allow bacteria to colonize and do the work.

Change 10 percent of the fish's water each week. You don't have to move the fish, he said.

Goldfish are notorious for jumping out of their bowls, so make sure your tank is covered, or cover the bowl with a net.

"Putting one in a bowl or pond is a suicide waiting to happen," Ponzio said.

Putting a second fish in the bowl can also keep them from jumping out. "They need buddies," he said.

Goldfish need natural sunlight, too, or their colors will fade, Ponzio said.

Ponzio feeds his fish once a day -- either flakes or pellets. Freeze-dried worms, brine shrimp, beef heart or algae are always welcome snacks, he said.

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