Jo Ann Burke of Dandy Orandas has over the last 20 years found the minimum essential hardware and care required for keeping goldfish healthy.

1. Read all about the upkeep and expense first
2. Then buy all your equipment, get it set up and cleaned.
3. Buy your fish!!!!  Your pet store may be willing to hold the fish you want until you are ready. ASK!!

FILTER               Whisper #3 or Aquamaster 400
HEATER             100 Watt Visitherm
AIR PUMP           Double gang
                          tubing (12feet)
                          2 big air stones
SIPHON              (Python) with nylon sockie over the end
DECHLOR           (if you use city water)
FOOD               sinking type
SALT                  crystal solar type salt for water softeners, with no additives
TEST KITS          for: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, hardness, salt
                        chlorine/chloramine,  (American Pharmaceutical)

The medicine chest for goldfish

1. Needless to say, do not even look at fish in tanks where there are floating fish.  Fish do die, but floating dead fish indicates the pet shop doesn't care AND the dead fish is shedding disease in the tank to the other fish.  Most Goldfish will eat dead fish.  Do not buy from a tank where you see fish that are drifting with the current either.  Also consider that in most pet shops the water from all tanks is centrally processed, so anything 1 fish in 1 tank has, they all have.

2. Look for a fish that swims easily. If you have Jo Ann's tape, there are different "styles" of easy swimming for different fish.  A long fin Demekin does not swim in a straight line like a ryukin does.  Healthy fish (small to medium sized ones) spend most of their time "booking" around, looking for this and that.  Look for the one that is busy, busy, busy.

3.  Watch to make sure that none are doing a lot of yawning, a symptom of oxygen deprivation, perhaps gill problems or current medications being used.

4. Ask the seller if the fish have been medicated, for what, with what and for how long.  This will limit what or if you can use anything without toxing them out at home.  It also gives you an idea of how sick the fish were.  Be sure to ask if they use salt as you will want to salt dip them when you get them home (you will actually have that all set up before you leave looking for fish!)  When you get a fish, do not allow them to put anything in the bag except water and oxygen. If the trip is long, the water should just cover the fish in the bottom and the rest filled with oxygen. Make sure the bag is tight or a fish could get trapped in folds of the plastic.

5. Ask them where the fish came from, country of origin.  Ask them when the fish arrived.  If they just arrived, they could still die from stress of shipping, if they have been their awhile, they are probably resistant or immune to most diseases.

6. Look for a dorsal fin that is straight  up.  The pectoral fins should be evenly extended out from the sides (make sure all the fins are there!).  Where the fins are placed varies a bit from fish to fish and pearls and long fins paddle with their pectorals. There should be two anal fins or one right in the middle.  A fish with one anal fin off to one side means the other anal fin could be growing inside and kill the fish eventually.  All the fins should be even as uneven fins could be an indication of recent fin rot, or worse, fin rot in progress.  Look at the edges of all the fins for unevenness.
Look for smooth backs on fish, ranchus should be nearly a perfect half circle and the tail tucked in low,  lionheads are a bit longer and the tail is not set as low.  But there should be no odd bumps along the back.  Now, look at the fish swimming and see if the lateral line of the fish is even in the water, no tilting to one side or the other.  Check to see that the fish is nicely rounded.  Those whose bodies appear too small for their heads could have skinny disease and will die. The exception are fish with hoods (wen) and their heads may be much larger than the body.  Last, let them get the fish in the bag, then check the gills to make sure they are bright red, check the anal port to make sure there is no redness or oozing and it isn't protruding (a female that is spawning could have an "outie" a bit, but no redness).  Check the outside of the mouth really closely to make sure there is no redness or white strings (columnaris) and try to see inside the mouth for the same.  Check the eyes for white flecks (brain flukes).  Feel the slime coat, too heavy is parasites, dry is columnaris.  You may have to ask them for a bright light to be able to do a good physical. Check the fish physical for fuller explanation.

Checking water parameters
Means to test for the wastes that fish produce (ammonia) and the breakdown products of ammonia that occur when the tank is "cycling", nitrites and nitrates.  Water parameters also include the pH, temperature, and hardness.

The recommendation is 1 airstone per 20 gallons.  Everything in the tank needs and uses up oxygen, the algae, the bacteria, the plants, and the fish.  GF produce a lot of waste.  The biofilter needs a lot of oxygen to break it down.  In addition, oxygen "oxidizes" or inactivates organic toxins in the tank.

The trick is a Python with a lot of suction.  Push the bell all the way to the bottom and slowly pull it out watching until no more crud is sucked up, then lift the bell out of the gravel completely and move to the next spot over.  If you do this slowly enough, very little crud will get "loose". This works with pea gravel, although the gravel can be so cemented with crud that it will lift the gravel like a column and then has to be quickly knocked out of the bell before the gravel actually gets sucked down the hose.

Anything large sitting on the gravel will accumulate more crud around and under it than in the middle.  Frankly, gravel and GF don't mix well.  The only UGF that works over the long haul  is a reverse UGF (there are always exceptions).  But GF are bottom feeders and they are going to stir up that gravel and eat food that has dropped to the bottom and begun to decompose.  They will be sucking up and sometimes eating each others poop, and this can spread disease.  Most of your biofilter is in the hanging one.  Some biobugs are in the top layer of the gravel.  Thin the gravel out until it is easy to clean with the vacuum.  Do it one handful at a time every day and this wont remove too much biofilter at once.

Python is a brand name.  The actual  "device" that makes it work costs less than $8 in most pet warehouse/discount or mail order places.  It requires a "bell" to suction gravel or the bottom of the tank.  It also requires an adapter for the faucet (check to make sure you can remove the "nose" of the faucet and attach the adaptor),  a garden adapter for the bell and hose to connect to the "device" and a length of garden hose that will get you from the faucet to all your tanks.

Once suction is started and the water is flowing, it will continue to flow with the water turned off as long as the faucet is lower than the bottom of the tank.  I put another length of hose between the faucet and the device and put the "device" into the toilet with the lid down to hold it securely (if you don't, it will jump out and spew water all over).

The "python" is meant to both clean and fill tanks.  However, this is a bad idea long term.   The hose becomes filled/lined with crud from the tanks, even when cleaned periodically with bleach.  Consider, would you like to drink a glass of water coming out of the hose after you have cleaned a dirty tank with it?  It is best to have one hose for removing water and one for filling.  If "quick release" attachments (hardware store) are used, it is easy to change hoses.

Gravel is not recommended for keeping goldfish.
1. Gravel is the leading cause of sudden death when gravel gets stuck in their throat.
2. Food drifts down into gravel and rots.  Goldfish will sift and work thru the gravel looking for food.  Rotting food is toxic for goldfish.
3. Gravel creates "dead" spots where anaerobic bacteria thrive and secrete toxic gases.
4. Organic compounds contribute to the waste in the tank, driving up nitrate levels.  High organic loads in gravel can easily equal the waste output of an extra fish for two which drastically lowers the "carrying capacity" of the tank (1 gf per 10 gallons).
5. Organic compounds are acidic and can lower the pH to the point that it kills off the biobugs. The nitrite converting bacteria are the first to die, which causes a nitrous acid spike.  This will cause a sudden crash that kills the entire biofilter. Unlike cycling, where the keeper knows and is checking for wastes and changing water, sudden crashes are not detected until the fish are showing severe symptoms.
6.  It is more work to clean gravel and do water changes.  Any gravel or rocks on the bottom require a bell of some kinds to suck up debris that gets caught under the items. In a bare bottom tank, the circulation of the water in the tank means all the crud and wastes are sucked out by the filter intake. There is no siphoning required.
7.  Fish can be sucked up into a siphon bell and be maimed or killed every time the gravel is cleaned.  When there is no gravel to clean, a nylon sockie can be put over the siphon and even fry wont get sucked out with the waste water.

Gravel cannot simply be removed.  Gravel will contain all the biobugs unless there is another filter in or on the tank. Even with another filter, if the gravel is removed all at once it could throw the tank back into the middle of cycling.  This could expose the fish to high ammonia/nitrites.
When gravel is suspected of creating toxic water, the following steps are taken.
1. move the fish to a big bucket of fresh water, put in an airstone.
2. clean the tank and gravel with tank or treated water.  chlorine in untreated water will kill the biobugs on the gravel which is not desirable.
3. put everything, including the gravel, back into the tank, fill and return the fish, testing to make sure the cycle is intact.  feeding lightly for a couple days is a good idea.
4. if there is no filter or the filter is too small, get the new filter going and let it run for at least 2 weeks if not a whole month
5. after 2 weeks, remove a handful of gravel every 2 or 3 days.  This lets the filter build up and take over gradually, preventing stress to the fish.
6.  when most of the gravel is gone, move the fish out while removing the rest of the gravel and cleaning the tank, refill and put the fish back in.

"THE CYCLE" refers to the establishment of good bacteria in the filter that takes care of wastes.  Cycling describes the time it takes for good bacteria  (the "biobugs") to get established in the filter.  Biobugs convert the ammonia fish produce into nitrates.  Ammonia and nitrites are very toxic to fish, nitrates are not as toxic to fish.

ammonia --------------------------> nitrite ---------------------->nitrates------------------------->N2
bugs =     nitrosomonas              nitrobacter               plants, algae,
                                                                                   water changes
                                                                                    anaerobic bacteria

When a tank is cycled, the ammonia and nitrite will be zero, the nitrates should be kept lower than 20 ppm.

1. Start by checking the pH and hardness to make sure your water is within the parameters for goldfish.  Also check for ammonia, nitrites or nitrates.  New tanks must be "aged" with a brine (salt) solution in a tank overnight.  Brine means enough salt is added that no more will dissolve.  An old tank can be bleached (1:10 dilution), followed by extensive rinsing, filled and left  overnight with aeration and some dechlor.  Do not set up the tank in south windows or east or west windows without drapes. Direct sunlight can really overheat the water.

2. The tank is filled with dechlored water, filters are rinsed, the heater (set to 75oF) and airstones are put in the tank, everything plugged into a power strip.  1 teaspoon of salt per 5 gallons of water is added.  The water is aged for 24 hours.

3. Get the 2 fish.  Follow directions for floating the bag and salt dipping the fish (brief 30 second to 1 minute).  Add 1 tablespoon of clean dirt (dirt where pesticides havent been used) to a cup of the tank water, cap and shake it and pour this thru a filter back into the tank.  This will inoculate the filter with the good bacteria. This can be repeated every couple of days.  Feed the fish about 1/2 of normal during the cycling period.

4.  Every 24 hours after putting the fish in, test the water for ammonia and nitrites.  If either are greater than the first indication shown on the kit, change as much water as necessary until there is only a hint of either showing.  You do not want your fish exposed to much ammonia or nitrites.  This will further stress an already stressed fish.
If there is no place to put an aging vat, then add the correct amount of dechlor to the water and run the water in.  Then check the water to make sure there is no chlorine in the tank.  When the nitrites show up, the cycle is 1/2 way there. Within a day or two, the ammonia should drop to zero.
On the second and third days, add another 1 teaspoon of salt per 5 gallons. Test for salt using the test kit.  Replace salt as water changes are done.  Testing for salt prevents "salt creep".  Salt lessens the toxicity of ammonia and nitrites.

5. After a week, start checking for nitrates and the appearance of algae.  These signal that the cycle is nearly complete.  Water changes must be done to make sure there are no nitrites.  At this point, you can gradually increase feeding the fish to normal levels.
The cycle is sensitive to medications, so it is better if only one fish is sick and needs treatment to move the fish to a bucket and treat them there.  See bucket to bucket.

6. As nitrates increase and the feeding is normal, water should be tested to find out how quickly after a partial water change it rises to 20 ppm.  The water will then need to have a partial water change.

10 gallons per goldfish is the accepted recommendation for people new to keeping fish.  It makes it more likely that newbies will have a successful first experience.  10 gallon tanks are good for a hospital or quarantine tank (altho huge rubbermaids work even better), but are too small to keep a steady temperature.  With a 20 gallon tank, the temperature will be reasonably stable and two fish keep each other company.
Tanks really should be purchased locally as glass doesnt "travel" well and being leak proof is essential.
In S. Ontario, Canada, Caroline's neighbourhood store (905) 725-FISH  has a  20 g for $25.99 and a metal stand for $40.00 CND.  Most metal stands hold 2- 20 gallons (for expansion).

Filters are used to keep the water clean by removing gross crud and by providing a home for the biobugs that convert waste ammonia to relatively non-toxic nitrates (see cycling).
There are many kinds of excellent filters available.  The easiest for new people are filters that mount on the back of the tank and are simple to clean and change medium.  For a 20 gallon tank, either the Whisper #3 or Aquamaster 400 is reliable.
Good filters do at least 2 things.
1. They mechanically filter out the big crud to keep the biofilter clear of debris.  The whisper has a simple removable bag that is rinsed out in tank water.
2. They provide a large surface area type medium for the growth of the biobug colonies (biological medium).  Whispers have a foam insert (after the mechanical or gross filter).  Aquamasters sandwich the gross and biomedium together into a single rinsable unit.  However, there is room in front for an extra thin foam insert and plenty of room for other medium behind (but where it can get fouled by debris).
3. They may have room or provide chemical filtration like charcoal for organics.  However, charcoal must be replaced every couple of weeks (see charcoal) and is not recommended except to remove medications.

The main reason that a heater is so important is that they keep the temperature steady.  Fast changes in temperature from air conditioners, heating from a light source and then drop when the light goes out, etc. can highly stress the fish, causing disease like ich and problems like dropsy.

Although goldfish are "coldwater fish" this only means they will not die in colder water. It does not mean it is ideal for goldfish.  Single tailed GF with short fins, like comets may do well in temperatures as low as 65-70oF.  But fancy goldfish are raised and do better at higher temperatures 75-80oF.

A breeder of goldfish in China says
"1). We observed bacteria through microscope for some years we found:
bacteria can be found from 4 degree C to about 20 degree C. Among the range of the temperature, different temperature range have different kinds of bacteria. These bacteria can lead the deadth of goldfish.
If the temperature is over 34 degree C we can find other different kinds of bacteria. These bacteria also effect the safe of goldfish.
So 28 degree C. is the most safe temperature for goldfish. From our obvervation we can also understand why tropical fish have not so many diseases compared with goldfish. The temperature range tropical fish live have not so many bacteria.

2). We also supplied some goldfish for other people made some concerned experiments for a whole year. The experiments showed the temperature of 28 degree C is the most safe temperature for goldfish, and goldfish grows the most fast. But the goldfish can't spawning at this temperature. Spawning may effect the life of goldfish. Reducing the times of spawning can make goldfish living a long time.
Sun Hongliang"

The ingredience list of some good quality foods is found here.
Live and alternative foods here.
The problem with typical GF food like flakes is they usually have been sitting on the shelf at room temperature for a long time. Vitamins, especially vitamin C which is essential for good health, degrades over time.  Even when food is frozen vitamin C degrades in about 6 months.

Second is that high quality food contains more of the kind of food that is digestible by goldfish.  There is a more complete discussion of this here.
High quality food contains more "real" food, so less of the food needs to be fed at one time. With high protein, high quality food, less fed means less waste and filler that fouls the filter, the gravel and the water.

GF cannot digest complex carbohydrates, so all the corn, wheat, etc that is not natural food goes in one end and out the other without much being digested.  But all those carbohydrates are attacked by bacteria so fouls the water.

Up until sexual maturity, GF put all their food into getting bigger, after maturity (2-3 years) they put their protein and energy into making eggs and sperm first, anything extra goes to growth.  This means when there is a limit on proteins/nutrients, they make as many eggs as the got resources for and quit growing.  If you are happy with the size of your goldfish, a maintenance level of protein is suitable.

How much nutrition a GF gets out of food depends on how digestible and loaded with nutrients the food is, and how often they are fed.  All digestion and breakdown of food into component building blocks occurs in the intestines and no where else.  GF dont have a stomach like other animals, so there is no initial churning and breakdown with acids, no "holding" facility.   From the moment the food goes thru the mouth, there is a "clock" on how much time there is to break down and extract nutrients before it exits at the other end.

If the food is indigestible, loaded with fillers, or poor in the kind of nutrients the fish can use, it comes out without much being extracted in food value.  A lot of food at one time results in big poops out the other end that are filled with nutrients for bacteria that foul the filter.  Normally GF browse all day, eating small amounts of food. So feeding small meals several  times a day with high quality, high protein foods leads to the greatest growth.  Generally, a mouthful means the fish scoops up food, stops and chews it.  Two mouthfuls three times a day or 3 mouthfuls twice a day.

Shrimp and other water things are natural food, including the algae they munch on (altho I think they are after the goodies that are munching on the algae, like daphnia.  GF are not vegetarian.  High protein quality food for GF needs to be kept frozen to preserve the fats and vitamins.  Vitamin C degrades even so after 6 months.  Vitamin C is essential for bone growth in GF.

Fancy GF with fat bodies often have swim bladder/digestion problems with floating food.  Just soaking floating food isnt enough, we have found it necessary to squeeze out the air so the food sinks.  Is easier to prevent floaty problems by feeding sinking food.

A breeder of goldfish in China says
"In China, there are many kinds of nature food for goldfish. People also process some man-made foddor for goldfish.  Among all kinds of nature foods, waterflea (daphnia) is considered the best food for goldfish. Blood worm is one of the best food for goldfish. Live food is the most welcome. But waterflea can live a short time (about one day) when put into tank and the life the bloodworm is much longer compared with waterflea. As we know some Chinese people export frozen and dried waterflea, live and frozen bloodworm to international market. Sun Hongliang"