Is it okay to keep fish in a bowl?


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole Su BSc BVMS MANZCVS (Unusual Pets)

Long story short - no! Fish are more intelligent and complicated than most of us think, and goldfish can be trained to do complex tricks such as shoot basketballs! Fish also have complex water quality requirements, and a bowl doesn’t hold enough water for these requirements to be met. 

Here are some in-depth explanations as to why a bowl is not enough!

Water quality

Simply put, a bowl doesn’t contain enough water to dilute waste products to the point where they are not harmful. Fish living in rivers, natural lakes, and oceans have millions of liters of water available to dilute and flush out their waste products, and many of these water systems have currents, which means that the water is always being replaced by new water. Imagine putting a drop of dirty water in a bucket as opposed to a bathtub. All the water in the bucket will be much more affected than the water in the bathtub, because there’s much more water in the bathtub.

Water currents

Some fish like more water movement, and some like a little, and some don’t like any water movement at all! A tiny space like a bowl doesn’t allow the fish to choose where they’d like to be in the current, and so predisposes them to stress. Fish are incredibly sensitive to water parameters, and they need choices to allow them to self-regulate their body functions.

Swimming space

Even though fish are small, they still need space! Carp, the wild ancestor of goldfish, can travel over 1 km in a day! Fish gain security from constant movement, as it allows them to find food and avoid predators, which means that fish that live in a constrained environment will automatically be more stressed out. Fish also need space to hide and to move away from unwanted stimuli, and there is nowhere to hide in a bowl!


Many fish require companionship, and small tanks or bowls don’t provide enough space to keep multiple fish. Small fish like neon tetra and guppies are natural schoolers, which means they like to live in larger groups. Notoriously solitary fish like bettas still benefit from having tank mates of different species, such as shrimp and snails.


Fish need enrichment too! Think about the wild environment in which fish live - there are rocks, plants, sand, debris, and more! Compare that to a plain bowl, and the difference is clear. Fish have evolved to interact with a complex, constantly changing environment, and a tank needs space for furniture, as well as free swimming areas. Great options for tank furniture include driftwood, ceramics, and live plants.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Setting Up a Fish Tank

Fish Food Guide

Truth and Myth: Siamese Fighting Fish Facts

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