Fish in Small Bowls and Tanks

Fish in Small Bowls

Don’t do it.

Fish are usually kept in small bowls for ornamental purposes. There are several types of ornamental bowls in which fish are kept – these can be round, rectangular (brick size), different forms ranging from book supports to built-in wall brick types.

These are sometimes sold at flea markets, with live fish but can also be ordered from specific suppliers. Pet fish are usually chosen for their looks and generally, both buyers and sellers have limited knowledge of the specific needs of a species. The different requirements of every species of fish (around 25,000 species worldwide) are more pronounced in fish than in dog breeds or birds.

Keeping fish in small bowls is akin to life imprisonment of a puppy in a cage and significantly impacts on their access to the Five Freedoms:

Freedom from Discomfort

Small fish bowls have limited space for natural movement, let alone appropriate natural exercise.

Freedom to Express Natural Behaviour

  • In small spaces, fish are generally kept isolated and therefore have no companionship, or at the other extreme are overcrowded resulting in aggression. It is difficult to find a balance between overcrowding and under-stocking.
  • Fish in small bowls cannot satisfy their genetic instincts to explore; a very basic need.

Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease

(Fish need a minimum of 10 litres of water with a suitable filtration system)

  • Small bodies of water result in rapid fluctuations in water temperatures, which is known to be worse for fish health than consistently too low/high temperatures.
  • Small bodies of water result in faster build-up of waste products and can lead to severe health conditions including burns, nitrite poisoning or chronic stress, resulting in a variety of diseases and infections.
  • Rapid use of oxygen, leading to suffocation.
  • As small bowls have no space for filters, water quality is reliant on owners changing water regularly. It is a no win situation for the fish, as owners either do not do this causing the fish to live in inhospitable conditions, or they do so but water changes result in a regular loss of equilibrium in the aquatic environment (beneficial bacteria that break down waste are lost, rapid changes in pH and temperature etc) and in many cases, exposure to excessive levels of chlorine.

Freedom from Fear and Distress

Small bowls generally do not afford any hiding spaces for fish to move out of constant view.

In nature, fish fear any overhead threats as this is where their natural predators occur. This means that a fish in a fishbowl experiences the same stressful fear from being viewed through the glass and/or overhead when placed at a low level.

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

An indirect consequence of allowing the sale of small bowls is that they are deemed to be great gifts (small and decorative on office desks or for children etc). The receivers of gifts may not want or are able to adequately care for the fish or may be ignorant of the feed schedules required.

Many fish species have varied dietary needs – small bowls cannot be established well enough to provide algal supplements or similar secondary dietary needs.