Buying Goldfish from the Pet Store: What to Look For

Image of Buying Goldfish
Photo by Wetwebwork (Flickr)

After taking a look at a few common goldfish types, you’ve chosen the perfect goldfish for your aquarium. You also have a tank that can hold at least 20 gallons of water, and you’ve made sure to cycle it beforehand. You’re all ready to start buying goldfish.

If you’re new to fish keeping, you’ll want to buy a hardy goldfish from the start while you build experience and learn everything you can about goldfish care. You’ll also want to buy a goldfish that is already healthy without any signs of disease.

But what should you look for when buying goldfish? Where should you shop?

While you’re likely bubbling with excitement, eager to get that aquarium filled with goldfish, it’s important that you take your time. Don’t take buying goldfish lightly – you shouldn’t just buy the first goldfish you see. Look around for good specimens and consider your options. Visit several different pet stores if you have to. You’ll want your goldfish to arrive home healthy.

Local Pet Store or Chain?

It really depends.

Some hobbyists recommend to stay away from chain stores when purchasing new fish, while others (like myself) have no problems buying goldfish from a chain store. You just have to know what you’re getting into. Because chain stores like Petco or Petsmart often buy pets in bulk, some goldfish can arrive unhealthy or mistreated. Others might be misidentified and sold as the wrong breed (I once purchased a veiltail goldfish from a tank promoting black moors).

The general argument is that small local pet shops treat their fish better than large chain pet stores. But you can still get quality stock from a chain store if you stay vigilant, watch for warning signs, and take your time shopping.

I’ve bought a number of goldfish from both Petco and Petsmart, and many have continued to thrive. Silver Star, my oldest fish to date (lasted about 13 years before he died from old age) was actually purchased from Walmart! Though he was one of the fish misidentified – I bought him from a selection of black moors only to learn later that he was a veiltail! He actually caught my eye because he was different from the other fish in the tank (he was silvery brown while the others were black with protruding eyes).

If you want quality goldfish that will stay healthy for years, do your homework. Stay away from diseased sick fish and if you do happen to buy a goldfish that is sick (maybe your heart warmed to him or you couldn’t stand watching him suffer), be prepared to treat the fish… and also be aware that your goldfish may not survive.

So how do you know that the goldfish you’re buying is from good stock?

Let’s dive into what to look for when buying goldfish.

Buying Goldfish from the Pet Store

When you walk into the pet store for the first time, the first question on your lips should be: “Do staff keep this place clean?”

If you find doggy biscuits scattered all over the floor and items hastily thrown on shelves, chances are the aquariums won’t be any better. However, if you’ve made it a few steps past the door and staff had cared enough to keep everything neat and clean, go ahead and examine things further.

Go straight to the live fish, and ask yourself these questions.

  • Are there strange chemical smells around the aquarium? If so, look for cover-less aquariums. Insecticides could have been sprayed, and that could spell danger for any goldfish nearby. It’s best to avoid buying goldfish swimming around in tanks contaminated by chemicals (or the stressed out fish might show goldfish disease symptoms when brought home).
  • How many dead goldfish do I see? Since pet stores generally overstock to sell more fish (and staff can’t tend to everything at the same time), there are bound to be some dead goldfish in the store. But if you see more than a few dead fish in the same aquarium, take that as a warning sign that the fish are sick and stay away.
  • Is the store trying to sell medicated or unhealthy fish? Look for tints in the water. These are often signs that the goldfish are being treated for some type of disease. Shop owners shouldn’t be trying to sell infected fish. If you’re interested in buying goldfish from a treated tank, ask how long the aquarium has been medicated and come back later when treatment is all done. If goldfish are being sold in poor condition, buy your fish from another store.
  • How knowledgeable are the staff? Are they open to questions? Some personnel are completely clueless and that’s okay. The person you speak to may not primarily work in that particular area in the store. But it’s important that whoever is handling your fish at least, to some degree, knows what he/she is doing.
  • Is there loud music playing in the background? Goldfish get stressed out if there are loud noises nearby, and stressed fish are more vulnerable to goldfish diseases. Buying goldfish from a calm, peaceful environment would be more ideal, since stress can lower the immune system of fish and make them susceptible to goldfish diseases.
  • How do the actual goldfish look? Do they look healthy? Look for red veins on fins (signs of stress) or blemishes on the scales or body. Torn fins can also be signs of stress, a bacterial infection, or quarrels with other fish. If something doesn’t look right, try buying goldfish from another store. The goldfish probably aren’t being cared for properly or were bought from bad stock.

If you’re ever unsure of a certain goldfish, ask questions! Find out what the fish are fed and how often the tank gets cleaned before buying goldfish from a particular store. Take some time to observe the fish and look for erratic behaviors. If everything looks great, be confident that you bought healthy goldfish.

You’re now ready to start quarantining your new pets.

After the Purchase

When you’ve found that lucky goldfish to complement your aquarium, it’s important that you make the ride home as comfortable as possible for the new guy.

Don’t place the bag directly in the sun (if positioned near a window, make sure there’s some shade), avoid putting on loud music, and go home immediately. The bag that your new goldfish is placed in has limited oxygen as it is, so it’s important to take the shortest route home. Your goldfish will feel much better when he’s settled in his new home.

If you already have goldfish in the aquarium, remember to quarantine your new pet for at least two weeks. Some goldfish diseases don’t show right away. Quarantining reduces the risk of potential diseases spreading and your other fish getting infected. You’ll also need to give the goldfish time to adjust to the water temperature in your aquarium, so don’t dump him in the main aquarium right away. Acclimate your new fish to the water by floating the bag first.

Most of all, Enjoy your new goldfish!

Where Do You Buy Your Goldfish?

How do you feel about buying goldfish from chain stores? Any advice for new pet owners? Post your thoughts in the comment section below!

11 Responses to “Buying Goldfish from the Pet Store: What to Look For”

  1. brian says:

    man i have saved 55 gold fish from dieing from walmart and now they are so happy

  2. Valerie says:

    I find that you can buy a goldfish at just about any store if you know what to look for. I’ve gone several times to my local petco and simply passed by a tank of beautiful fish because they looked lethargic or generally unwell. I think it’s very important to see how active the fish is! If he’s swimming around towards the front of the tank and interacting with you and looks well-fed and colorful, there’s a good chance that he’s healthy! Anything less than that is probably a sign that they won’t last long, or are getting sick.

    Fish are the best pets! <3

    • I couldn’t agree more, Valerie!

      It’s important to make sure your goldfish is healthy before leaving the pet shop. Sometimes pet owners will buy fish that look sick because they want to give them another chance at life, helping them heal and recover. But sometimes, that same fish will be too far gone to recover – and no matter how you treat the aquarium and how clean the water is, the fish ends up dying anyway. After a long battle with the infection, it can be heartbreaking to lose a pet – especially after everything you’ve done to try to save him. And in other cases, that same sick pet can make all of your other fish sick if you don’t quarantine beforehand.

      Thanks for sharing! I’m so happy to hear you’re passionate about your goldfish.

  3. Mallory says:

    Hi again :) I want to thank you again for being so helpful! You are the best website I have found in a long time! Anyway I have been keeping goldfish for about a year and a half now and I have wanted a bubble eye goldfish. I have taken all of the sharp things out of my tank and I was wondering, where could I find a bubble eye goldfish? I looked at Petco and petsmart with no luck. Any ideas?

    • Hi Mallory – I’m so happy I was able to help! Bubble eye goldfish can be tricky to find. There’s a chance that these fish in the pet store could have went out of stock – you might want to call Petco or Petsmart and ask them when they’ll be back in stock. Or you can ask for referrals to a good goldfish breeder that sells them. You could also try finding a goldfish auction online. Goldfish Connection sometimes hosts auctions, though I don’t think they’re hosting one right now. You may also sometimes find sellers on eBay, though I looked and couldn’t find any live bubble eye goldfish listings at the moment.

  4. Nessie says:

    I am gettin a goldfish and I am going to name him taco.

  5. Hannah says:

    I always go to Petsmart. I bought my goldfish there about a year ago, and about to buy one more in a few days. My goldfish, as I said before, has lived with me for about a year and she is still very healthy! So if your wondering where to buy your goldfish, make sure you feed it, it could die and it would be your fault if you don’t feed it. So just take care of your fish. (And i your fish is boring, get the R2 fish school, IT’S AWESOME!!!)

    • Hi Hannah,

      Glad to hear your fish are doing well! I shop at Petsmart from time to time. In fact, my pair of fish are doing just fine to this day. :)

      I have ordered fish online from Petco though (five neon tetras and a betta, along with some aquatic plants). The neon tetras are still doing fine, but the betta had arrived with a fungal infection. Sadly, the medication I gave him didn’t have time to work and he died a few days later. It can be tough ordering fish online, since most of the time you’re not sure what you’re going to get (or in what condition the fish will come in).

      By the way, I’ve been eyeing that R2 fish school kit for a while now. It does look fun, though I’ve never tried it yet. Maybe one day I’ll go out and get one. :)

  6. Bob says:

    I’ve bought goldfish from Petsmart and all of them died. another pet store that was locally kept their fish in great condictions. The owner never sold fish that were medicated or sick. If you wanted to buy a goldfish to put in a small container. He advised that suggesting you could only have a goldfish in a 20 gallon plus 10 gallons per goldfish. It was intresting

    • Hi Bob – I’m so sorry to hear that! It’s really sad when a beloved pet dies. Pet stores have been known to overcrowd, mainly because most of the fish they sell are young and they sell their fish in such large numbers. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems. I’ve walked by tanks overflowing with fish eaten alive by ich, small parasites that attack in multitudes. There’s always a handful of fish floating around dead at the top of the tank. It’s really a sad sight to see.

      It seems to be more common in chain stores, I’ve noticed, but I have no doubt that it happens in small businesses as well. We have a Walmart nearby that sells fish and, let me tell you, that experience was the worst by far! Almost all of the tanks had some kind of outbreak going on. It was simply depressing. I’m not sure how other Walmarts are, but that is the last time I shop for fish there. It was years ago though.

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