HTF needs a friend, but will it kill him?
July 19, 2014 3:58 PM   Subscribe

HTF is my daughter's 10 year old goldfish.

HTF is my daughter's 10 year old goldfish. She's 15. He's got a 50 gallon tank all to himself and is one tough dude. Even in severe tank neglect, he has survived, and swims about healthily. But I fear he's lonely (and it might be nice to have more fish to look at). But my daughter is very worried bringing another fish into his solo world (he's been on his own for 5 years) might be dangerous to him, either by disease or an aggressive buddy beating up on old boy Harry.

Anyone goldfish savvy enough to advise?
posted by ecorrocio to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Goldfish are pretty hardy against disease (though it's always a risk). Fish are absolute dicks though and will kill each other at the slightest provocation. If I was going to give him some friends, I would make sure to pick something smaller than him, and guaranteed not to grow bigger than him.

I'd personally by a few tetras and throw them in. The temperature the goldfish likes is a bit colder than the tetras prefer but, in my experience, they tend to do just fine. Harry might eat one or two of the tetras but, usually, if he doesn't kill them in the first week or so, he never will.

Another possibility is a Pleco, as they are vegetarians. Your tank is a bit small and will be a bit cold for a Pleco to be at its happiest but, again, I've had success with them in unheated tanks. Worst case, you end up with a dead Pleco.

Really, the best company for a goldfish is other goldfish, but there's no guarantee that even a small goldie won't eventually outgrow Harry and decide to take a bite out of him.
posted by 256 at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do not know if there is any reason to believe that a goldfish can feel lonely (although I am sure someone will tell me); I suspect you are anthropomorphizing. However, there is reason to believe that an addition to the tank to be detrimental to HTF's health.

If HTF is gone five years without a friend, I think you would have known by now if that were a problem. (assuming there would be any way to know) What bad thing could happen if he stays alone? What bad thing could happen if a new fish is added? That's how I would decide.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:17 PM on July 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Why not buy him a toy castle if you think he's bored?
posted by bq at 5:25 PM on July 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks folks. Honestly I don't think he's bored or lonely. But it would be fun to have more fish in this large tank.
posted by ecorrocio at 5:31 PM on July 19, 2014

HTF=Harry The Fish, right? There are some sketchy records of goldfish living into their 40s, although the average is more like 10. So he (?) may have some considerable time left. Therefore, seconding 256 to bring in some smaller guys to keep him company.
posted by beagle at 5:57 PM on July 19, 2014

If you are worried he's bored you can provide stimuli that is a lot less likely to eat him. Move around his tank a little, buy some plants for him to tear up and eat (as goldfish tend to do) or get plastic ones, add some ornaments & rearrange his tank. If you want a friend I suggest some big old snails. He may or may not eat them, and they can crawl around the tank and help keep the algae down and eat missed food.

If she is really worried he is bored she should get him the goldfish training kit and teach him some tricks.

Also be prepared if you do add a new fish to have the balance of the bacteria handling the poop in the tank thrown off and both fish to croak it, goldfish are pooping machines & it takes a little while for the bacteria to increase enough to handle the new poop load.
posted by wwax at 6:07 PM on July 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

We always found extra goldfish useful as canaries in the coalmine.
If something goes wrong with the tank, and they start to cark it (they tend to die suddenly), you can rescue the other goldfish.
Our longest lived goldfish (Redlips) survived several such encounters, but finally died when it was the only fish in the tank.
I'm sorry Redlips.
posted by Elysum at 9:07 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're able to screen off part of the tank, you can keep multiple fish in there without incident. They can see (and...smell?) each other, but can't fight. The screens look a little bit "fish jail" though.

A pleco can do OK with other fish...I know someone who kept one with an aggressive betta with no issues for many years. A pleco and a goldfish inhabit different levels in the tank (floor vs. middle) and the pleco is nocturnal anyway.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:08 PM on July 19, 2014

I occasionally think that Chegwin needs a friend, but then I realise that he's been living alone for so long, he probably doesn't remember what it's like to have other fish around.

So I don't want to freak him out by giving him something new and weird in his tank. Hell, he freaks out enough when we get rid of some of his plants - it's better for him, he can move around more, but, damn, does he hate change.

So I'd actually recommend against it. If HTF is looking a bit limp and lacking in interest, spice up his environment a bit. Get some new plants. Feed him cooked peas every once in awhile (take off the skins, mush them up, drop them in). Is he in a room where there's a TV? Make sure he can see it - sure, he won't know what's going on, but the flashing lights are very interesting (or so Chegwin thought when he was with a TV).

Start Pavlovian training. When you feed him, tap the side of the tank. Then he'll start to relate that side with food and starting coming over there every time someone walks past. Chegwin waits for us at the side facing the stairs. We come down the stairs, he's looking at us. It's hilarious.

But I'd be wary of adding someone new.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:02 AM on July 20, 2014

Also, much like the kitten and puppy threads, this is nothing without a photo.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:02 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I was a teenager I had one goldfish in a tank. He lived for three years alone.
One day I put two other goldfish in the tank with him, thinking...great...more pretty fish.
He killed the two new fish. He headbutted them until he had a huge purple bruise/knot on his head and the others were dead. I never tired to give him any other friends.
He always seemed healthy, and happy, and lived another year after that.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:20 AM on July 20, 2014

While goldfish are schooling fish, they do better in groups of five and up than in 2s or 3s. An example of this is if one of the goldfish is a male, when the water temp is right*, he will relentlessly chase around other goldfish by head-butting them in the anal fin area. That kind of behavior isn't as exhausting to any one fish in a large school but it can severely impact the health of targeted fish in a small group kept in a small volume of water.

As a 50 gallon tank is too small for 4 more goldfish, IMO, I'd leave him as a singleton unless he someday graduates to a pond. You could add smaller dither fish (rosy red minnows would be a good temp-appropriate choice) in there but he will not school with them, so it will be more for tank visual appeal than anything for HTF. Other risks are: he might eat them or they will nip at his fins and your daughter is right: anything you add runs the risk of bringing disease into the tank**. If I were set on adding tank mates, I wouldn't add anything directly from the store, the new fish would have to live in a quarantine tank for a few months before I put them in with my more prized fish.

Be cautious of plecos: they are known to develop a taste for the slime coating that protects your goldfish, with fatal results for the goldfish.

*most unheated aquariums kept indoors happen to fall into prime goldfish breeding temp, thus the bumping can go on for months rather than the brief ~2-week spring fling that happens in outdoor ponds.
**especially among types of fish commonly sold as feeders such as comet goldfish, rr minnows. They aren't bred for health, they are kept in way overcrowded conditions where they are ripe for disease exchange and as a result they are often unhealthy/disease carriers.

posted by jamaro at 10:24 AM on July 20, 2014

My goldfish and apple snail live nicely together, and the snail is fun to watch. YMMV, though -- I had a different goldfish who sniped at a different apple snail and bit off his antennae, so they had to be separated. Snails are cheap and easy to keep, so that might be a good thing to start with.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:52 PM on July 20, 2014

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