Goldfish Diseases and Their Symptoms

Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Woman playfully holding a stethoscope to her goldfish bowl

Goldfish are fairly hardy fish, and most will live for a long time if they are cared for properly. Even if you look after your pet like it's the most precious thing in the world, knowing goldfish diseases by symptoms will help to ensure your fish gets the right treatment before it's too late.

Goldfish Diseases by Symptoms

Most symptoms of disease you will observe in goldfish involve discoloration or a change in appearance of their fins and body. You may also observe changes in how they swim or their activity level.

Goldfish Body Discolorations

Colored spots, such as white spots or black spots on goldfish, can indicate the presence of disease:

  • Small, white spots indicate your goldfish has ich.
  • Red spots on your fish's body are probably parasites such as lice or anchor worms.
  • Black spots on your goldfish might occur after a case of fin rot or it can indicate your tank has too much ammonia.
  • Tiny yellowish spots that almost look like powder is a symptom of velvet.
  • Red streaks on the fins that eventually becomes white indicate a condition called fin rot or tail rot.
  • If the fish's color seems pale and washed out all over, this is a symptom of dropsy.
  • Pale or white gills means a parasitic infection such as flukes.
  • A slimy, milky coat on the fish indicates a fluke infection or anchor worms.

Ragged Fins and Problems on the Body

Parasites are often the cause of a change in your fish's appearance:

  • If you notice that your fish's fins no longer look bright and flowing but instead appear almost broken or torn, your fish is suffering from fin rot. If the fins appear "clamped" this means he either has either ich, flukes, lice or velvet.
  • Sores and ulcerations on the fish's body are also a sign that he has flukes or it could be hole-in-the-head disease.
  • If you notice what appear like tiny "threads" hanging from the fish, this is a sign of anchor worms.
  • Another parasite observable to the eye is lice, whose tiny bodies you can see moving by the goldfish's eyes, gills and fins.
  • If the fish's belly appears bloated and his fins are sticking out from his body, this means he has dropsy. This is also known as "pineconing" and gets its name from viewing the fish from the top. The body looks like a pinecone because of the bloat and the scales appearing somewhat separated from the fish's belly and sides.
  • Swollen eyes accompanied by a bloated body are a sign of dropsy. Swollen eyes can also be due to a condition known as pop eye.

Unusual Goldfish Behavior

Some strange behaviors you may see with your goldfish can be a warning sign that he is sick. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Rubbing against the tank and decorations most likely means he has either ich, flukes, lice or anchor worms. This is also known as "flashing" because it may be accompanied by rapid movements.
  • If your fish appears to have trouble swimming, such as moving with the body plane on an angle, floating almost upside down or with their heads pointing down, your fish has swim bladder disease.
  • Fish that have an extensive case of fin rot will also have similar problems swimming correctly, so if you observe this behavior accompanied by ragged fins, look for a treatment for fin rot.
  • A swollen belly accompanied by lethargy can also be a sign of constipation, particularly if the fish has not defecated in several days.

Loss of Appetite

If your goldfish stops eating, this can be a symptom of several diseases such as Ich and velvet. Lack of eating accompanied by ich can also lead to your fish swimming or floating upside down.

Lethargy

A goldfish that is barely moving in the tank may be suffering from constipation or swim bladder disease.

Breathing Problems

If you notice a fish's gills moving rapidly or irregularly, this could indicate ich, flukes or constipation.

Common Goldfish Diseases

Anchor Worm

Anchor worm is a parasite that is most commonly found in fish that are kept outside in ponds, like koi and other large goldfish. Anchor worm is not really a worm but rather it is the feeding stage of a copepod called Lernae. After mating, the female anchor worm burrows into the flesh of the goldfish and eventually transforms into a wormlike form. A part of the worm usually sticks out from the fish's body, resembling a reddish thread. It is usually found near the fins. An infected fish may shake its head vigorously to rid itself of the parasite. If left untreated, anchor worm eventually destroys the gill and muscle tissue around the affected area.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is caused by a number of things, from injury to disease. It can also be the result of either a primary or secondary infection. If the tail fin is very ragged looking, the fin rot is normally the result of a bacterial infection. On the other hand, if the tail is rotting away evenly, then it is the sign of a fungal infection. If the fin takes on a whitish margin, a bacterial infection has taken hold and if left untreated, it will eventually enter the body of the fish. As long as the fish is treated before the infection reaches its body, the tail fin will grow back.

Ich

Ich (ick), sometimes called white spot disease, appears as white spots on the side of the fish. These spots are about the size of grains of salt, and they are actually parasites called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Ich is fast spreading and very lethal to goldfish if left untreated.

Velvet Disease

Velvet disease is caused by a parasite called Oodinium, and it results in a golden, velvet-like coating all over the fish's body. It is often difficult to identify in goldfish because the coating is almost the same color as the fish.

Dropsy

Dropsy is one of the rarer goldfish diseases. While treatments are available, a full recovery is virtually impossible. Signs of dropsy include bloated eyes, a swollen body and protruding scales. This condition is usually a result of organ failure due to cancer or extremely poor environmental conditions.

Fish Lice

Fish lice is very rare, especially in goldfish, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still happen. Signs of fish lice include disc-shaped parasites noticeable on the skin of the fish and ulcers on the body of the fish.

Black Spot Disease

Black spot disease isn't really a disease but rather a natural reaction by the goldfish when their water has too high a concentration of ammonia. When this happens, black spots will form along the side or near the back side of the fish. This usually happens most often with goldfish and koi kept outside.

Chilodonella

Chilodonella is difficult to determine in goldfish because the disease has very few visible signs during the initial stages. In most cases, by the time the disease is detected, severe tissue damage has already occurred. Typical symptoms of chilodonella include clamped fins, lethargy, difficulty breathing and loss of appetite.

Hole-in-the-Head-Disease

Hole-in-the-head disease will usually start off as small sores on the head, usually around the eyes. Eventually, these sores erupt into tubular formations filled with cream-colored mucous.

Pop Eye

Pop eye is a condition that's typically caused either by parasites or very poor water conditions. The symptoms of pop eye include very inflamed eye sockets, protruding eyes and in some cases, a hazy film over the eyes.

Slime Disease

Slime disease is usually a result of another disease like chilodonella or parasites. Its symptoms include a grayish coating on the fins or body. The goldfish will also look as if it is trying to scratch itself against the tank or other objects inside the tank.

Flukes

Flukes are microscopic parasites that embed themselves in the gills of the goldfish and cause them to become red and swollen. The fish will also spend more time near the surface of the water because it will have difficulty breathing as a result of this disease.

Treating Goldfish

When treating goldfish disease by symptoms, cleaning and sanitizing the tank is one of the most important things you can do. Remove the affected goldfish and put it in an isolation tank. Thoroughly clean and sanitize the tank and refill it with fresh, clean water. Treat the water with stabilizers and wait for the environment to become stable before re-introducing your fish. In the meantime, ask your local aquarium shop to help you diagnose your pet's illness by the symptoms it exhibits, treat him with the medication they recommend and maintain the stability of his environment in order for your goldfish to have the best chance at recovery.

Goldfish Diseases and Their Symptoms