Why Do Goldfish Turn White? Everything You NEED TO KNOW

If you noticed your goldfish turning white,  it would certainly lead to many questions and perhaps anxiety. What is happening to my goldfish? Is it something to worry about? Is there anything I can do about it? Why do goldfish turn white?

From gold to white, a color change is one of the most common issues in goldfish. Sometimes, some orange is retained on the fins but sometimes the fish turns all white.

This phenomenon, however, won’t be as alarming to veteran goldfish owners who have dealt with issues at one time or another. But if you’re a newbie, a handful of potential causes may surely have crossed your mind, and some of them may be alarming.

Several potential causes are linked to color change in goldfish. Some causes are relatively minor, while others require prompt action, and some will warrant veterinary intervention.

If your goldfish turn white, identifying the underlying cause is crucial to addressing the issue appropriately.

Is It Bad If My Goldfish Turned White?

A short answer to this is, “it depends on the cause.”

Normally, goldfish skin color is determined by a combination of factors that include:

  • Genetics
  • Biochromes
  • Structural color
  • Diet

Aside from these inherent factors, there are other potential causes associated with goldfish turning white. Some are not as worrisome, but there’s also the chance it could be caused by an underlying health issue.  

Goldfish owners should learn and understand the various factors that may be behind this distinct color change. With adequate knowledge, you will be able to take a proactive approach to the health and well-being of your goldfish.

Common Causes For Goldfish Turning White

Are you ready to tackle the different causes for goldfish turning white? There are several on our list.

Some won’t require any immediate action. Other causes can be solved by making a few changes in how you take care of your fish. While others need professional attention.

Here are some of the most common causes for goldfish turning white:

Breeding and Genetics

Did you know that goldfish did not always have their bright orange color? This is also true with most of the other color morphs of goldfish.

Today’s goldfish are all results of selective breeding. Wild goldfish, like wild carp, are usually olive green.

The color of goldfish tends to evolve a bit during the first few years of life. It really depends on their parents.

If you have the chance, you should get information about the parents of your goldfish. This will give you a better idea about what to expect with time and as your goldfish ages.

The influence of genetics in the coloration of goldfish can be complex and variable. Some colors have inherent stability while others are notorious for being unstable.  

The skin color in fishes is principally genetically determined, and skin color can be inherited from generation to generation. Genes regulate a variety of processes that determine how much of a specific pigment type, like melanin, is produced, and how it is deposited in the chromatophores. However, not just one but several genes influence skin color, permitting the environment to have greater control over the variation in skin color (Chapman, F. A. and R.D. Miles, 2021).

Chromatophores are skin cells that contain biological pigments called ‘biochromes’ which are responsible for the vibrant hues of goldfish and other ornamental fishes. The number and location of chromatophores can influence the color brightness in goldfish.

While genetics has a major influence on goldfish color, there are no known major health issues that are associated with color change that is influenced by genetics.

Environment

The immediate environment of the goldfish is also a potential culprit.

A study conducted by Eslamloo, K. et al in 2013 showed that background color affects the skin pigmentation, immune response, physiological condition, and growth performance of goldfish.

Skin carotenoid content and the intensity of fish skin color extremely diminished in the white background. The study also revealed that red and blue backgrounds are chronically stressful and immunosuppressive in goldfish. White backgrounds are best for fish growth.

While they are known for being hardy and highly adaptable, goldfish can be quite sensitive to changes in certain parameters in their tank. These include:

  • pH Level

A change in the water’s pH level has been known to reduce the luster of goldfish. Goldfish prefer neutral pH.

  • Temperature

The optimum temperature range of the water in the tank should be between 68 and 74F. Anything beyond this range can cause goldfish to turn a bit white.

  • Water Hardness

The effect of water hardness on the color of goldfish tends to be less pronounced.  If levels are beyond acceptable parameters, it can cause stress and possibly death.

Goldfish that are exposed to stress may also undergo a change in color.

Lighting

Goldfish have skin pigments that react to light. When they have less exposure to sunlight, over time, they can lose the color of their skin and turn white.

It’s no wonder why goldfish that live outdoors have brighter, more vibrant colors because they get enough sunlight.

You see, goldfish are like people. When you go outside a lot and be exposed to the sun, you get a tan. But if you spend more time indoors, you become pale. It’s the same way with goldfish.  

Indoors, goldfish don’t enjoy these benefits, especially that it’s common knowledge that aquariums should not be placed in direct sunlight for a variety of reasons.

The colors of goldfish will be less intense in dim lighting, partially because of pigment constriction in chromatophores (Hopkins, S., 2010).

Can Goldfish Benefit From Some Basking Time?

When goldfish turn white, many seasoned goldfish owners allow their fish some basking time once in a while.

The best way to do this is to place your goldfish in fish bowls and expose them to the sun for a few hours. However, sun exposure should not be done daily, more so during hot days.

While your goldfish is enjoying the sun,  make sure to closely monitor the water temperature to avoid overheating your fish. Use a thermometer to keep track.

The water temperature in the fishbowls or tank can increase too quickly and can be harmful to your goldfish.

While basking can make the color of goldfish more vibrant, better results can be achieved when the color change has not yet affected the entire body of the fish.

However, it is unlikely that sunlight can restore the color of goldfish that has turned completely white.       

Can artificial lighting be used instead of sunlight exposure?

Artificial lighting, even the full spectrum LED lighting cannot compensate for the benefits that goldfish reap from being exposed to the sun. It may be attributed to the lack of ultraviolet (UV) light in artificial lights.

While the problem can be partially overcome by artificial lighting, high lighting creates a favorable environment for algal growth leading to a dramatic increase in-tank maintenance.

Age

Perhaps your goldfish is simply getting older.

The color of goldfish undergoes natural changes with age. This is quite common in Ryukin, Oranda, and other goldfish designer breeds.

How can you tell if the change in the goldfish color is age-related?

Try to monitor the rate at which the color change is taking place.  The natural color transition takes time.

Many juvenile goldfish gradually turn white while they are growing. At the other end of the spectrum, goldfish can also turn white as they grow older.

Goldfish can live up to 15 years and the change is noticeable during your pet’s twilight years. Think of it as humans in their senior years turning gray.

An age-related color change should be a primary consideration if the change in color didn’t happen suddenly. Fortunately, it is not something you have to worry about.

Poor Oxygen Content In The Water

A lack of oxygen in the water requires immediate action. Goldfish may turn a translucent white when there is not enough oxygen in the water.

Without proper intervention, poor oxygen levels could lead to severe illness or even death of your goldfish.

How much oxygen do goldfish needs?

As a rule of thumb, goldfish and other freshwater fish requires at least 6.3 ppm of dissolved oxygen in the tank. While goldfish can tolerate oxygen levels as low as 5.0 ppm, they will start turning white as oxygen levels drop.

There are testing kits that you can use to determine oxygen levels in the tank. If the test result is lower than what is normally required,  a 60% water change should be made ASAP.

Ways to maintain oxygen content in the water

  • Use an aeration system — generally consists of an air pump, air tubing, and airstone
  • Aquatic plants
  • Avoid overstocking the tank
  • Don’t overfeed
  • Clean mechanical filters regularly
  • Siphon out decaying material from the bottom of the tank regularly

Goldfish that are deprived of appropriate oxygen levels display abnormal behaviors. They may appear lethargic and struggling to breathe. You can tell your goldfish has breathing issues by paying close attention to their gills.

Diet

The diet of goldfish plays a major role in their overall health and appearance. Like any other species of fish, goldfish benefit from a complete and balanced diet that only high-quality commercial dry food can give.

Many commercial fish food products have been formulated to improve color vibrancy. Common color enhancers incorporated in fish food include astaxanthin, Spirulina, and other carotenoids.

One reason for the dietary supplementation of carotenoid pigments (naturally-obtained or synthetic) in ornamental fish is to ensure that the pigment is continuously present and the coloration does not fade away.

It has been shown that feeding the desired pigment at the right concentration will enhance fish coloration and produce fish of an ornamental quality that will equal or exceed the quality of fish coming from the wild. (Chapman, F. A. and R.D. Miles, 2021).

A study was able to demonstrate the effect of various concentrations of pumpkin flour and carrot flour on changes in the color intensity of goldfish. Carrot and pumpkin are natural sources of carotene which are known to enhance goldfish color. The results of the study showed that there was an increase in the color intensity of the goldfish that were fed 7.5% pumpkin flour and 2.5% carrot flour.

Unfortunately, several problems have been linked to the exclusive use of commercial goldfish pellets. One of these is the excessive amounts of color enhancers in some brands.

If you suspect that the diet of the goldfish is to blame, try adding some variety to their diet coupled with nutrient-packed foods that they love. You can also try giving an appropriate dietary supplement that contains carotenoid pigments.

Illness

Certain health issues can cause goldfish to turn white.

Take note, however, that there is no specific illness that can cause direct changes in coloration. It is generally just a symptom that can accompany any disease in goldfish.

An underlying health issue should be suspected if the color change in goldfish is accompanied by:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Have trouble swimming

If you notice your goldfish exhibiting these symptoms, what’s the first thing that you should do? Test the water in the aquarium.

Goldfish can become sick pretty quickly when there are high levels of ammonia and nitrates in the water. Without prompt intervention, these conditions can significantly shorten the lifespan of the goldfish.

Stress

Stress can be an important predisposing factor for color change in goldfish. Some goldfish stressors include shipping and transport or being moved from one house to another.

The good news is the color will eventually return once the stress has been reduced and the goldfish have adapted to their new environment.  

Heavy Metals

Water in aquariums can be contaminated with heavy metals, such as copper and mercury. Heavy metals in bodies of water can be absorbed by fish which can eventually build up in their body tissues.

In sub-lethal doses, these toxic pollutants can affect the growth of the goldfish. Negative effects on the behavior and physiochemical characteristics of fish have also been observed.

In one research study, treatments exposing fish to mercury have resulted in the damage of the pigment in the epidermis of the fish larvae, even in low concentrations (Nur, I., et al. 2019). Even in sub-lethal concentrations, exposure to mercury can decrease the brightness level of pigmentation in goldfish.

Can Goldfish Get Their Color Back?

It depends on the underlying cause.

Goldfish may get their color back and some can even regain their vibrant color if the culprit is any of the following:

  • Lighting
  • Diet
  • Water Condition

But sometimes the change in color is permanent.

Some goldfish can also go through several changes in color throughout their life. There are really no guarantees. This is especially true when color changes are brought about by genetics, old age, and certain health issues.

The bottom line is, as long as you can address any health or comfort concerns that affect your goldfish, a lack of skin pigmentation is not really a big deal. Your goldfish can still live a healthy and happy life even when they’re pale.

Final Thoughts

Why do goldfish turn white?

Goldfish turning white does not always indicate that there is a major problem.  You cannot do anything when genetics is involved.

Any underlying illness is addressed with appropriate medical intervention.

But for the other factors, perhaps the best approach is to apply everything in moderation.  

Make an effort to maintain desired water quality and provide a diet that supports fish health.

It is also highly recommended that you consult a veterinarian who specializes in freshwater fish if you have concerns about your pet’s health and/or behavior.

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