Why is Goldfish Turning White?

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Despite being overall hardy and resilient, goldfish will sometimes face health issues that are not always obvious right away. These problems come with a variety of symptoms, many of which may only become obvious in later stages.

But what happens if your goldfish only displays one symptom, which could lead to a variety of potential issues? How can you diagnose the problem then?

To be more specific, we are talking about color fluctuations since goldfish can and will change color over time. As we will see, the changes in color can indicate a multitude of things, some mild, some severe, while others completely normal.

Today, we will discuss the goldfish’s ability to turn white. It may seem like a worrying sign, and it sometimes is, but what does it mean exactly?

7 Reasons Goldfish is Turning White

The fact that your goldfish begins to turn white doesn’t answer anything. It only raises more questions. That’s because the change in color can be attributed to a variety of issues, 7 to be more precise. These include:

1. Lack of Sunlight

This is one of the primary causes affecting goldfish kept in poorly lit indoor tanks. Goldfish thrive when exposed to sunlight since it brings out their natural and vibrant coloring.

The goldfish’s pigment reacts with the sun’s UV lighting, brightening up and taking on even more powerful nuances.

Depriving your goldfish of natural lighting may cause its natural coloring to fade away. The fish will whiten up gradually due to their chromatophores not being able to produce pigment anymore.

Paradoxically, the same effect occurs in excessive UV light when keeping the goldfish in direct sunlight for too long.

This is bad for several reasons, including the fact that your goldfish could heat up more than they should. Goldfish are cold-water fish, with their maximum recommended temperature being in the vicinity of 74.

Exposing them to direct, intense sunlight for too long will not only affect their color, but their quality of life as well.

To fix the problem, consider the goldfish’s natural environment. Goldfish live in open areas with direct sunlight, but they have plenty of shady areas at their disposal as well. Provide your goldfish with some natural lighting during the day, preferably avoiding direct sunlight for the most part, and the fish will retain its vibrant colors.

What’s even more interesting is that white goldfish can regain their natural coloring if they’ve lost it due to lacking UV lighting.

You only need to improve their lighting conditions and bring up some sun into the aquarium, and their coloring will rebound shortly.

2. Poor Diet

As omnivorous fish, goldfish require a balanced and rich diet, combining several foods like plants, algae, insects, crustaceans, brine shrimp, etc.

Depriving your goldfish of its necessary nutrients will stress its organism and influence its biology. The effects are many, including a loss in coloring, with the goldfish turning white with time.

The main problem here relates to inadequate feeding, as many people don’t offer their fish a varied diet as they should. But this isn’t the only diet-related issue that could influence your fish’s appearance, behavior, and health.

If you didn’t know already, goldfish are extremely voracious eaters. They will easily consume more food than they need to, often making it difficult for novice aquarists to figure out how much to feed them.

This predilection for overeating comes naturally, as it’s part of the goldfish’s biological setup. Food is a prized resource in the wild, and the goldfish has to fight for it.

As an opportunistic feeder, the fish has to seek food constantly throughout the day and fight with other goldfish over what they can find. This problem no longer exists in captivity, or at least not to the same degree.

But the fish’s brain does what nature trained it to do. The goldfish will consume all the food available, making it easy to overfeed them.

This will eventually cause health problems, including changes in coloring, constipation, more fish waste resulting in more environmental ammonia, etc.

3. Poor Water Parameters

Goldfish aren’t used to living in dirty waters, which means poor water conditions will stress them out, even causing physiological problems. One of them is the change in coloring, with goldfish turning translucent white with time.

There are 2 primary things causing your goldfish to lose its color:

  • Worsening or unstable water parameters – PH, temperature, ammonia and nitrite levels, water hardness, all these parameters need to remain stable in the long run. Sudden or abrupt fluctuations will cause your goldfish to experience visible behavioral and physical changes. One of them is the loss of pigment, causing the fish to appear white.
  • Poor oxygenation – Goldfish thrive in well-oxygenated habitats and require oxygen values around 5-6 ppm to remain healthy and comfortable long-term. If the oxygen levels drop, the fish will display signs of stress, including rapid breathing, spending more time to the water’s surface, loss of coloring, and severe signs of hypoxia.

Goldfish have a reputation for being hardy and adaptable, but you should take that for granted. They will struggle in unstable or subpar water conditions and will inform you of their distress one way or another.

4. Disease or Parasites

Unfortunately, the fact that the goldfish loses its coloring and turns white doesn’t tell you anything about the condition it’s dealing with. There’s no specific disease that causes goldfish to turn white.

This loss of pigmentation is mostly the result of fish stress, linked to experiencing parasitic infections and various conditions like Ich, velvet disease, swim bladder disease, and others.

If you’ve eliminated all other causes of pigment loss like improper lighting, bad water conditions, or diet, I suggest quarantining the goldfish immediately. It may be that their loss of color relates to some type of health issue.

In this case, it’s essential to quarantine the fish to protect the rest of the goldfish population. Many of these fish diseases and infections are contagious, so having a treatment tank ready can save lives.

5. Stress

This is probably among the most volatile issues on today’s list simply because stress itself is a symptom. Prolonged stress can change your goldfish’s color, and your role should be to identify what’s causing it fast.

Goldfish may feel stressed for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Overcrowding causes goldfish to constantly bump into each other and contributes to a claustrophobic environment
  • A small tank, insufficiently spaced to house your goldfish population, pretty much causing the same problem as the previous point
  • Disease and parasites that affect destroy your fish’s comfort level and trigger extensive health issues along the way
  • Improper water conditions, including high levels of ammonia and nitrites, poor oxygenation, fluctuating temperatures, improper lighting, etc.
  • Poor diets and feeding patterns, either causing overfeeding or not providing the fish with enough food or nutrients
  • Bad tank mates, resulting in fish aggression with goldfish on the receiving end
  • Aggressive food, female, and territorial competition between goldfish leading to constant tensions in the tank
  • Improper tank setup with not enough plants or hiding spots, depriving goldfish of their necessary, safe spaces

As you can see, you’ll have your hands full trying to figure out why your goldfish are stressed. Fortunately, the loss in coloring is but one of the symptoms.

The fish will display a variety of other signs, depending on the cause of stress.

6. Genetics

This is an important point, as it explains a lot of aspects about goldfish that few people are aware of. As you may or may not know, goldfish fall into 2 major categories: fancy goldfish and slim-body goldfish.

The latter category describes, let’s say, untamed goldfish that have not been genetically manipulated in any meaningful way. It’s one of the reasons why these goldfish are more suitable for outdoor ponds since they can adapt to harsher environmental conditions faster and more effectively.

They can even enter a hibernation state during the cold season, allowing them to overwinter, during which they won’t eat and display minimal activity.

On the other hand, you have the fancy goldfish, which are primarily the result of selective breeding. This has led to the birth of multiple varieties of goldfish, displaying different colors, shapes, sizes, personalities, and so on.

The problem is that selective breeding only cares about appearance and not much else.

When Mother Nature ‘decides’ which fish or species will survive, it does so on the basis of utility. When humans make that call, they do so on the basis of esthetics.

This approach is responsible for creating an astounding variety of gorgeous goldfish species that display genetic instabilities. These instabilities will become apparent over time, with the goldfish losing its coloring as it ages.

Some goldfish species are more prone to this problem than others. Black goldfish are probably the most unstable among them, as most will lose their black pigments as they age.

This isn’t a problem that needs tackling, not that you can do anything about it anyway.

You only need to accept that your goldfish will change its coloring with time. And love it for what it is.

7. Aging

Aging is a natural process arriving with set symptoms, most of them prevalent in pretty much all creatures. Loss of pigment is one of them.

When it comes to goldfish, we have 2 aspects to consider when it comes to them losing their coloring:

  • Growth-related whitening – Some goldfish species will begin to turn white during their juvenile stage. We’re talking about 1-2-3-year-old goldfish losing their pigmentation gradually and displaying various levels of white. Some will even turn completely white over the years. These are relatively young fish since a 2-year-old goldfish is a juvenile when considering that goldfish can live up to 15 – 20 years with adequate care.
  • Aging-related whitening – As goldfish age, their biological system will gradually lose its effectiveness and even begin to shut down in later phases. This includes the chromatophores’ ability to produce pigments. When these cells become inactive, the fish will lose its body and even eye coloring. It’s not uncommon for senior goldfish to appear completely white during their last years.

When considering the aging process, whitening is a gradual occurrence that takes place over several years.

So long as it’s not sudden and your fish doesn’t display any other concerning signs, you have nothing to worry about.

Can Goldfish Regain Its Color?

It depends on why the goldfish lost its coloring in the first place.

Since we’ve already built a comprehensive list of depigmentation reasons, let’s work with it:

  • Lack of sunlight – Yes, your goldfish will regain its colors, so long as it gains access to UV lighting again. If you cannot move the tank into a room with more natural lighting, consider investing in a UV lamp. Your goldfish will appreciate it. Just make sure you don’t set the values too high since it can actually exacerbate your fish’s coloring problems. And only keep it on for 8-10 hours per day so that the fish can rest during nighttime.
  • Poor diet – Learn what your goldfish needs in terms of diet and assess its current dietary plan. Consider expanding your goldfish’s meal diversity to provide a full pack of nutrients to support its growth and health. Your goldfish’s natural coloring should rebound pretty fast after fixing its diet.
  • Poor water parameters – This is also a fixable situation. The best way to go about it involves acquiring all the necessary equipment to stabilize your goldfish’s environment. This includes a heater and a filter to maintain water parameters at the ideal values. As a plus, perform regular water changes, clean your goldfish’s tank, vacuum the substrate, and monitor water parameters regularly. Your goldfish’s coloring will return in full, potentially even brighter.
  • Disease or parasites – Yes, goldfish will return to their normal coloring once their health issue has been addressed and fixed. However, bear in mind that many fish conditions are deadly when left unchecked and can cause fatal problems fast. So, prevention and early treatment are key even when dealing with seemingly minor health problems like a parasitic or fungal infection. Remember to feed your goldfish properly, change its water more often, and clean its environment thoroughly during the treatment to speed up its recovery. The goldfish’s natural colors will return as the fish gets better.
  • Stress – So long as you remove the cause of stress, the goldfish will regain its coloring once everything goes back to normal. The trick is to figure out what’s stressing the fish and find a way to fix the situation. Depending on the problem, you may need to invest in a larger tank, up the tank maintenance routine, optimize the fish’s diet, add more plants and tank decorations, eliminate fish aggression, etc.
  • Genetics – Nothing you can work with here, unfortunately. If your goldfish is turning white due to a genetic predisposition, all you can do is watch and enjoy its new coloring. The good news is that if the reason for its depigmentation is genetic, you have nothing to worry about. It won’t affect the goldfish in any way.
  • Aging – You can’t fix this issue either. Most goldfish will turn white with age, especially during their last couple of years, when their bodies begin to lose their biological prowess. This is a great time to appreciate your senior goldfish for its company and cherish its presence. There’s nothing you can do to revitalize the goldfish’s coloring, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a natural part of the fish’s life.

Conclusion

Goldfish are notorious for changing their coloring under certain conditions. Their bodies’ ability to alter the fish’s coloring is often a great indicator of underlying issues that need addressing.

If your fish doesn’t show any signs of stress or health problems, the loss of pigment may be natural.

If it’s genetic, there’s nothing you can do to change it. But you can enjoy it. White goldfish come with a unique beauty and presence that you’re bound to love and appreciate.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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