Last month, the town council of Monza, Italy, banned citizens from keeping goldfish in bowls. The receptacle, statute sponsor Giampietro Mosca told Agence France-Presse, "doesn't allow for good oxygenation of the water" and gives fish "a distorted view of reality." The emotional well-being of your finned friend is anyone's guess, but most experts do agree that keeping him in a tiny container isn't ideal. If you must, though, you can take steps to make him comfier.
1Invest in a filter
Goldfish get the oxygen they need two ways: by using their gills to process it out of the water or by rising to the surface and gulping air. In an oxygen-poor, filterless bowl, they have to over-rely on mouth breathing, which "puts a huge stress on them and shortens their life span," says Alison Davidson, curator of fishes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Help 'em out by buying a simple box filter (starting around $3). Don't know which to get? Food giant Tetra (www.tetra-care.com) gives advice on its Web site based on the type and size of your bowl -- and even lets you sign up for fish-care e-mail.
Yes, a goldfish can fit in a small container, and yes, he can look very decorative that way. But would you be happy living forever in that "cute" closet that was your first apartment out of college? According to Tracy Blaeuer, an owner of Super Pets in Annandale, "for every inch of goldfish, you should have at least a gallon of water." Others are even more generous: Jo Ann Burke, author of the self-published "Health Care Standards for Goldfish and Koi" (call 251-649-4790 to order), suggests three gallons per inch of fish.
When it comes to bowl shape, water surface trumps depth, Burke says: "Goldfish need a lot of surface area to help them breathe and get rid of waste." If you have a traditional fishbowl, try filling it only two-thirds of the way for a better air-to-water ratio.
4Keep the water cool
Goldfish are pykothermic -- they can adjust to
almost any temperature -- but thrive in chillier
water, anywhere between 60 and 75 degrees.
Avoid sudden spills or plunges and never put your bowl in direct sunlight: Not only will it overheat the water, it can also encourage the growth of bowl-clogging algae.
5Add some stones
An inch of gravel on the bottom of your bowl
helps create beneficial, ammonia-neutralizing
bacteria. Just be sure that the gravel stays put
so that waste stays settled on top, and that it's
nonporous, which is more hygienic. Don't forget to buy a gravel vacuum (around $3), either: About once a week,
you'll want to sift through the rocks gently to keep the
6Avoid live plants
While they may be pretty to look at, flora often come with snails, which are loaded with germs that can harm your fish. Not only that, but your omnivorous goldfish might overeat by munching on the green stuff. (Goldfish, notoriously, will eat themselves to death if allowed to do so.) Stick to fakes.
7Clean, clean, clean
Goldfish are the Pig Pens of the aquatic community, so you have to be diligent with their upkeep. Every four to five days, replace about 25 percent of the bowl's water. (Removing all of it would upset the beneficial bacteria.) Though it's best to use room-temperature, bottled agua (avoid distilled, which lacks essential minerals), you can also use tap water that's been treated with a water conditioner and left out to sit for 24 to 48 hours. Then, once a week, do a full scrub: Place your fish in a clean, soap-free container, empty out the bowl and wipe down the inside with hydrogen peroxide and a soft cloth. Never use dish sponges -- they're coated with deadly antibacterial agents that can kill your fish.