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Do Goldfish Need an Air Pump to Stay Healthy? Answered

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I once noticed that my goldfish was gasping for air at the top of the tank, and immediately knew that I had to do something about it.

Yes, there may be some circumstances where your goldfish needs an air pump to stay healthy. Whether or not your goldfish requires an air pump depends on a variety of factors inside of the fish tank, particularly how much dissolved oxygen is present.

Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about whether or not your goldfish needs an air pump, including how much dissolved oxygen should be present in the water for your goldfish to stay healthy.

Should Goldfish Have an Air Pump?

In all reality, providing your goldfish with an air pump or an air stone is likely a good idea. Now, it may not be 100% necessary in all cases. There are a variety of factors that affect how much dissolved oxygen is present in the water and available for your goldfish.

Various factors such as temperature, the fish load, the size and shape of the aquarium, filtration, and plants, can all impact the amount of oxygen present in the water realistically, every goldfish can benefit from an air pump, as it will allow more oxygen to be present within the water.

Let’s move on and take a look at just how much dissolved oxygen should be present inside of your fish tank for your goldfish to be healthy and happy.

How Much Dissolved Oxygen Should a Goldfish Tank Have?

As mentioned above, the most important factor to consider here is how much dissolved oxygen is present in the water. Remember, just like us human beings, goldfish also breathe oxygen. 

The only difference is that unlike us humans who take in oxygen from the air through our lungs, goldfish take in oxygen from the water using their gills.

Exactly how much dissolved oxygen should be in a fish tank depends on the type of fish. In terms of freshwater fish such as goldfish, they usually need anywhere between 6 and 8 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per every liter of water.

And interesting to note is that most freshwater fish actually require somewhere between 5 milligrams and six milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter, whereas goldfish are one of the few freshwater fish that actually require more.

Therefore, to answer the main question of the day, when compared to other fish being kept in the exact same tank conditions, it is more likely that your goldfish will need an air pump compared to those other freshwater fish.

How to Measure Dissolved Oxygen in a Fish Tank

So, now you know that dissolved oxygen is the most important factor here, but how do you keep track of this? Well, there are actually plenty of simple testing kits out there that will tell you exactly how much dissolved oxygen is present in the water.

These are very simple kits that you can buy online, from aquarium stores, and from most regular pet stores as well. 

These are simple manual test kits that give you results within seconds. With that being said, there are also much more advanced testing systems, so-called electronic dissolved oxygen meters. This is of course more expensive than a manual testing kit, although it also lasts for a lifetime.

With one investment, you can get yourself an electronic dissolved oxygen meter that will provide you with constant and regular updates as to the level of dissolved oxygen in your fish tank. 

I definitely recommend going for something like this, because it provides you with the most reliable and consistent readings, so you always know that your goldfish is being kept in the ideal conditions.

What Happens If There Is Not Enough Dissolved Oxygen for Goldfish?

Quite simply, if your goldfish is not getting enough dissolved oxygen, or in other words if they can’t really breathe, then it’s going to slowly suffocate. 

The biggest sign that your fish is not getting enough oxygen is that it swims at the surface and constantly gasps for air above the surface. If you see this happening, then your goldfish is having trouble breathing.

Unlike with some other tank issues, such as temperatures that are too high or too low, which can lead to a myriad of other health issues, with stress and death being some of them, a lack of oxygen produces a much simpler yet equally as disastrous problem.

Simply put, your goldfish will suffocate and may eventually just die due to a lack of oxygen. Therefore, maintaining proper oxygen levels within the fish tank is extremely important to the overall well-being of your goldfish.

Factors That Influence Fish Tank Oxygenation: Considerations to Keep in Mind

As mentioned above, whether or not your goldfish requires an air pump depends on a wide variety of factors.

Of course, what it all comes down to is the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. 

With that being said, there are many different factors that may affect the level of dissolved oxygen in the water, so let’s take a quick look at these. If you find yourself in need of an air pump, this is a great model to look into.

Your Fish

One of the biggest deciding factors that will determine how much dissolved oxygen is present in your tank water is how many fish you have present in comparison to the size of the tank. 

The more fish there are present in the tank, the more oxygen they consume, the less of it there will be available for your goldfish.

What I mean to say is that if you have an overstocked tank that is crowded with fish, it is much more likely that you will require an air pump and air stone to keep all of those fish well oxygenated and breathing easily. 

However, if you have a very large tank with just a single goldfish, the chances are that you might not need an air pump at all.


What many people may not realize is that plants, real and live aquarium plants, can also make a pretty big difference in terms of the amount of dissolved oxygen present in a fish tank. 

In case you didn’t know, when plants breathe, which in their case is called photosynthesis, they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen at the same time. This is actually very beneficial for fish tanks.

Fish tanks should not have a very high level of carbon dioxide, particularly not where the fish are concerned. On the other end, the water should have a relatively high level of dissolved oxygen. 

Seeing as plants naturally take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, it serves to reason that they make four excellent additions to any fish tank where a little more oxygen is required.

If you have a whole lot of plants in your fish tank and not too many fish, there should be more than enough dissolved oxygen present. However, if you have a lot of fish and not very many plants, the chances are much bigger that you will need an air pump to keep your goldfish breathing properly.

Aquarium Dimensions

Yet another determining factor in terms of dissolved oxygen levels in water is the size and shape of the aquarium itself. Generally speaking, the smaller the tank is, the less surface area there is between the water and the air.

This means that small aquariums with small surface areas have limited gas exchange with the surface. 

For those that don’t know, gas exchange is when some of the gasses from the air enter the water, and vice versa. Therefore, the larger the tank is, specifically the more surface area it has, the better the aeration properties will be.


Yet another deciding factor in terms of water oxygenation is the temperature. The cooler the water is the more oxygen it can hold onto, and vice versa. 

If your aquarium water is far too warm, it will hold on to much less dissolved oxygen. Now, let’s keep in mind that goldfish are cold water fish, with the ideal temperature being somewhere around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

This should be cool enough to hold on to a good deal of dissolved oxygen. However, goldfish can handle slightly lower temperatures, so if you are having issues on this front, slightly lowering the temperature in the aquarium is one solution. 

With that being said, if your goldfish seems happy in the current temperature, then the better solution is to add an air stone and air pump into the aquarium.


Aquarium filtration can also make a difference here. If you have a high quality filter, particularly something like a hang on back unit that cascades the water down into the tank, then you will likely have more dissolved oxygen in the water. 

Those little waterfalls that send the water cascading down into the tank pull a lot of oxygen down into the water.


As you can see, whether or not your goldfish requires an air pump is questionable. If you have a small tank with lots of fish, not many plants, and a relatively warm temperature, chances are that you will need an air pump. Something like this air pump should do just fine!

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