Why Is My Goldfish Gasping For Air? {Top 4 Signs}

Have you just noticed that your goldfish is gasping for air.

Why is my goldfish gasping for air and what should I do?

We’re going to explain how you can notice this and why it might be happening to your goldfish.

Why is My Goldfish Gasping for Air?

Your goldfish is gasping for air is because of a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water. The best way to add oxygen to water is to add an air pump (Available on Amazon) to your tank.

Dissolved oxygen levels are at the highest at the waters surface and this is why they are trying to get oxygen from here because they are not able to in other parts of the tank.

Allow me to explain much more on this below:

goldfish gasping

What Does It Look Like When a Goldfish Is Struggling to Breathe?

When a goldfish is struggling to breathe, there are several visible signs you may observe:

  • Gills Flaring: The fish’s gills may appear to be flared or opening wider than normal as it attempts to take in more oxygen.
  • Rapid Gill Movements: The fish may exhibit rapid or exaggerated movements of the gill covers, indicating increased effort to extract oxygen from the water.
  • Gasping at the Water Surface: The goldfish may frequently swim to the water surface and gulp air, trying to obtain additional oxygen.
  • Lethargy or Inactivity: The fish may appear sluggish or less active than usual, as its body diverts energy towards addressing the respiratory issue.
  • Erratic Swimming: The goldfish might exhibit abnormal swimming patterns, such as swimming frantically or struggling to maintain balance.
  • Fins Clamped: The fish may hold its fins close to its body instead of fanning them out normally, as a response to stress or discomfort.

Signs To Look Out For Your Aquarium Needs More Oxygen?

There are 4 signs to watch out for that your aquarium has a low oxygen level.

1. Goldfish staying close to the water’s surface

If your goldfish is staying closer to the surface of the water, this could potentially mean that they are struggling to breathe and could be distressed. This isn’t necessarily the first sign you will spot, so if you notice this, it is best to act fast.

2. Gulping air bubbles

  • Fish tend to gulp air bubbles when they aren’t properly able to breathe; it is an easy cue to spot and can indicate an oxygen problem.

3. Swim less frequently

  •  When fish start to swim less frequently, and mainly stay in one spot, it is a sign that they could be struggling to breathe and are gasping for air.

4. Rapid gill movements

  • Another sign of your goldfish gasping for breath is when their gills are rapidly moving, this is where they are trying to inhale as much oxygen as they possibly can.

goldfish tank overcrowded

How To Get More Oxygen In Your Goldfish Tank?

Thankfully, it won’t take a rocket scientist to get more oxygen into your goldfishes tank; it is something that you will be able to, fortunately, do yourself.

There are a variety of different solutions to solving the problem.

  1. Change The Tank Water
  2. Water Filter
  3. Larger Aquarium

1. Change The Tank Water

The first course of action that you initially should take is thoroughly cleaning and replacing the water in the aquarium. Replacing the water will help it to be fresh and oxygenated.

2. Water Filter

If you do not already have a water filter, you need to buy one, and it might explain why the water isn’t oxygenated in all points of the tank. A water filter helps there to be water movement in the tank. You need one which moves the water from the bottom of the tank to the top. A filter which does this will help to spread the oxygen throughout the tank.

If you already have a filter, you want to make sure it is regularly replaced, as well as ensuring that it entirely moves the water around the whole tank.

3. Larger Aquarium

Purchasing a larger tank is a wise idea if you have a lot of goldfish, it will help to prevent overcrowding. It might mean that you need multiple filters to ensure water is being moved around the entirety of the aquarium.

YouTube video

How Do You Oxygenate a Fish Tank Quickly

To oxygenate a fish tank quickly, there are a few methods you can try.

First, you can use an air pump with an air stone or bubble wand to create agitation at the water’s surface, promoting oxygen exchange.

Another option is to gently pour water back into the tank from a height, creating a waterfall effect that increases oxygen levels. Additionally, you can use a surface skimmer or powerhead to increase water movement and oxygenation.

Can I Over Oxygenate My Fish Tank

Yes, it is possible to over oxygenate a fish tank. While fish need oxygen to survive, excessively high oxygen levels can be stressful for them.

Very high levels of dissolved oxygen can lead to gas bubble disease, where bubbles form in the fish’s bloodstream, eyes, or gills.

This can be harmful and even fatal to fish. It is important to maintain a balance and provide sufficient but not excessive oxygenation in the aquarium.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is My Goldfish Gulping at Surface?

If your goldfish is gulping at the surface of the water, it can indicate a few potential issues that need attention. Here are some possible reasons:

  • Oxygen Levels: Goldfish may gulp at the surface if there is insufficient oxygen in the water. Poor water circulation, low oxygen levels, or high water temperatures can contribute to decreased oxygen availability. Ensure proper aeration and filtration in the tank to maintain adequate oxygen levels.
  • Ammonia or Nitrite Poisoning: High levels of ammonia or nitrite in the water can be toxic to fish and cause respiratory distress, prompting them to gulp air at the surface. Regularly test the water parameters, especially ammonia and nitrite levels, and perform water changes to keep them within safe limits.
  • High Water Temperature: Warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cooler water, which can lead to lower oxygen levels in the tank. Ensure the water temperature is appropriate for goldfish (around 18-24°C or 64-75°F) to maintain optimal oxygen saturation.
  • Water Quality Issues: Poor water quality, such as high levels of pollutants or organic waste, can stress goldfish and lead to surface gulping. Maintain proper filtration, perform regular water changes, and avoid overfeeding to keep the water clean and minimize stress on the fish.
  • Disease or Infection: Certain diseases or infections, such as gill parasites or bacterial infections, can affect the respiratory system of goldfish, causing them to gulp at the surface. Look for other signs of illness, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or visible abnormalities on the fish’s body. If you suspect a health issue, consult with a veterinarian experienced in fish care for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Is It Normal For Goldfish To Gulp Air?

It is not a regular habit for goldfish to gulp air. If you spot your goldfish gulping air, it is a sure sign that there is something wrong.

Ingesting air likely means that your goldfish is unable to breathe correctly; they are trying to find oxygen within the water.

Why Are Goldfish Gasping For Air After A Water Change?

Suppose your fish are gasping for air after you have changed the water. It could be due to the chemicals that you have put into the water.

  • Tap water is usually infected with a small amount of chlorine which can be enough to kill a goldfish
  • To prevent this a dechlorination chemical should be used when doing a water change. 
  • You want to ensure that you are using the correct amount as printed on the packaging.

If you use too much or too little chemicals, this could potentially be the reason as to why your goldfish is gasping for air after a water change.

Why Is Only One of My Fish Gasping for Air?

If only one of your fish is gasping for air while the others appear fine, it could indicate a specific issue with that individual fish. Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Tank Size and Overcrowding: If the tank is too small or overcrowded, it can lead to increased competition for oxygen and create a stressful environment. Consider providing adequate space for each fish and maintaining appropriate stocking levels.
  • Disease or Infection: The gasping fish may be experiencing a health issue, such as gill parasites, bacterial infections, or waterborne diseases. Observe for any other symptoms, such as abnormal swimming, loss of appetite, or visible abnormalities on the fish’s body. Quarantine the affected fish and seek advice from a veterinarian experienced in fish care.
  • Behavioral Issues: In some cases, gasping behavior in a single fish may be related to territorial disputes or aggression from other tank mates. Monitor their interactions and consider rearranging tank decorations or providing hiding spots to alleviate stress.


Hello, I'm Jason. I'm the guy behind HelpUsFish.com. I volunteer at my local fish shop and I created this site to offer tips and advice on the fish I care for.