Fishbowl vs Aquarium: 15 Pros and Cons | Which is best?

In a hobby that has endless possibilities and multiple methods of doing things, it is not surprising that now and then a certain subject will cause controversy. Fish keeping is one of these hobbies, with fishbowl versus aquarium being one of, if not, its hottest debates!

So with that in mind, here are the fishbowl V aquarium: 15 pros and cons!

1. Insufficient Oxygen

Arguably one of the biggest cons when it comes to keeping your fish in a bowl has to be their limited capacity to allow sufficient oxygen transfer. This can be highly detrimental to the health of your fish, in some cases even causing death!

It’s common knowledge that fish need to breathe oxygen and that the majority of oxygen they breathe comes from within the water. However, this oxygen is not actually part of the water as the oxygen and hydrogen contained in water cannot be separated. Rather it is the product of a surface gas exchange.

This gas exchange involves oxygen from the air being swapped for carbon dioxide at the surface, a continual process that when the surface is large enough, provides all the oxygen a fish needs. Bowls, however, only have a small surface area, in general, meaning gas exchange is often lacking. Fish lacking in oxygen will become inactive, display labored breathing, gasp at the surface, and may even die.

2.Perfect size Fishbowl for a single fish

Contrary to popular belief one of the most substantial pros when it comes to keeping your fish in a bowl is that they are the perfect size for a single small fish. This is especially true of species such as the Betta Splenden who often have fins that are large and heavy.

This means that they are not the most active of swimmers and require limited space. Betta are also labyrinth fish, meaning they breathe air from the surface. Bowls allow them access to surface air easily as they are not that deep. However, the common goldfish is NOT a suitable fish for a fishbowl. They require more space to swim and require good water quality to thrive and live a happy life. Not something associated with a small fishbowl.

Never overstock your fish tank

3. No room for a heater

If you are planning on keeping tropical fish, and don’t live in a really warm climate, then a bowl for your fish comes with a few rather big cons. For one, heaters specifically for small bowls are difficult to find and can be expensive, and two they take up a large amount of swimming room in a rather small space.

That is not to mention that you cannot attach an aquarium heater to the contoured surface of a fishbowl; and that heaters in bowls are not aesthetically pleasing. Also, rare but not unfeasible is the possibility of your fish burning itself on a heater in such a small space.

They are also ideal for those who keep multiple solitary fish, such as Betta, as they can have more bowls, meaning more fish, and all in a relatively small space. There is also no need, with a fishbowl, for lots of space taking equipment such as external filters, cabinets, and sumps.

nano aquarium

4. No room for an aquarium

Not everyone has the room for an aquarium in their home, and for those that don’t, the small size of a fishbowl can be a huge pro. Bowls can be put in a variety of spaces such as bookshelves, coffee tables, bedside cabinets, window sills, and ledges.

They are also ideal for those who keep multiple solitary fish, such as Betta, as they can have more bowls, meaning more fish, and all in a relatively small space. There is also no need, with a fishbowl, for lots of space taking equipment such as external filters, cabinets, and sumps.

5. No room for aquatic plants

It’s well known that plants and decor in a fish tank are not only aesthetically pleasing but also provide many benefits for your fish. These include stimulating them, making them more active, and giving them places to rest and hide. Live plants also have the bonus of removing toxins such as ammonia from the water and releasing oxygen.

red ludwigia aquarium plants
Live aquarium plants are vital for the eco-system of an aquarium

Unfortunately, and definitely a con, fish bowls do not allow much space for items such as these, making them not ideal if you like your tanks decorated. It is also worth mentioning that any decor you do put in it takes up valuable swimming room and decreases the water volume.

6. Out of reach from Children

Definitely a pro of a fishbowl is that they can be placed out of the reach of children. This can be a huge benefit if you have young children running around that may be prone to bumping into your aquarium, or just simply knocking on the glass.

fishbowl verses fish tank

Children, it also has to be said, are renowned for trying to feed fish, often dumping whole cartons of food in, and putting their toys, or hands, into the water which could result in injury to both child and fish.

If you’re thinking of buying a fish tank or fishbowl for your son or daughter then please read our complete guide to buying a fish tank.

7. Distorted View

If you’ve ever owned a fishbowl you will already know that the image you see in one is distorted. This can manifest as your fish looking huge, fish looking small, or them looking like a blurry blob. This is not ideal, and certainly a con when it comes to fish bowls.

This problem does not stop there, however, as the image that a fish will see is, yes you guessed it, distorted too. They, unlike us, cannot fathom why this would be and can become stressed and disorientated as a result of it. Stress, as we know can lead to illness and even possibly death, making this con a rather large one.

8. Aquariums can be expensive

Setting up an aquarium, running an aquarium, and maintaining one can turn out to be an expensive hobby. There is a lot of equipment involved, the cost of the aquarium itself, and the electric for the heaters, lighting, and filtration. This, however, is not the case with a fishbowl, which comparatively is far less expensive.

Fishbowls can be picked up for just a few dollars, and since they are not usually heated or filtered have very little additional expense. It is also worth bearing in mind that if you are a novice fish keeper less expense is ideal. Should you not like or enjoy the hobby, you haven’t laid out much cash.

fishkeeping forever- Fish bowl v tank

9. Life in a bowl can be stressful

Unlike an aquarium, a fishbowl has severe limitations when it comes to which species of fish you can keep in them. Generally being from ½ to 5 gallons in size, they are certainly not suitable for all. Anything bigger than a solitary guppy, Betta, or molly and you’re out of luck!

It is also worth mentioning that many of the smaller species you could keep in a bowl really should be kept in groups. That is not to mention the Goldfish who really, really does not belong in a bowl. Life in a bowl can, amongst other things, stunt their growth, cause undue stress, and lead to an early death.

10. Fishbowls can be easily moved

As pros of fishbowls go, the easy movability of them certainly won’t be top of the list for everyone. However, for those who like or need to move their fish around it is certainly of importance. Examples of people who need ease of movement range from those who want their fish in the same room as them all the time, to students who need to move them between university and home.

Movability is also handy when it comes to water changes and maintenance, moving your fish from spots where it is too warm or cold, and out of the reach of visiting children.

11. Lack of filtration and poor water quality

Much like heating, filtration is difficult to provide in a fishbowl. Most of the units available will not fit in a bowl, cannot be attached to a bowl, and will spoil the visual look. This is not to mention that filters in fishbowls will also take up valuable swimming space and decrease water volume.

Why this is of importance and definitely a con, is that a lack of filtration will mean that your fishbowl will require daily maintenance and water changes. This is due to toxin levels not being kept under control by a filter which can lead to fish illness and death.

12. Amazing designs and types of fishbowls

For those who are in love with variety, creative design, and a multitude of design options, the fishbowl definitely falls into the column of pros. This is because they are available in so many shapes and sizes, there’s definitely something to suit all.

wall mounted
Wall Mounted aquariums are another option

Options include fish bowls that hang on the wall, are molded over wooden stands, are made to look like bubblegum machines, and sit in the belly of teddy bears.

13. No lighting restricts plant growth

Lighting is an important piece of equipment when it comes to keeping fish. Live plants need it, if you have them, to grow, and fish without it behaves like it is constantly night. Unfortunately, lighting for fish bowls is really difficult to find, and when you can find a unit that is small enough there is often no lid with a bowl to attach it too.

Of course, a lamp stood by the side of the fishbowl is always an option but this is not visually pleasing. Having no lighting will also limit where you can keep your fishbowl as it will need as much natural lighting as possible. Natural lighting can come with its own issues such as heating your aquarium’s water higher than it should be and causing excess algae growth.

14. Easy to clean

The cleaning and maintenance of an aquarium can be laborious and consume a lot of your time. Fishbowls on the other hand, are quick to clean, easy to clean and leave you free to do other things. This is a definite pro in the fishbowl vs aquarium debate.

To perform upkeep on your fishbowl simply remove fish and food waste with a turkey baster and change up 25% of the water. Any ornaments and the glass of the fishbowl can be cleaned on a weekly basis. Simple, quick, what’s not to like?

15. Daily Maintenance

On the other hand, the daily maintenance of a fishbowl can be a huge pain. Most people nowadays lead extremely busy lives and perhaps just don’t have the time for daily care. Missing a day, it needs to be said, can have devastating consequences since toxins will rise quickly in the small space of a bowl.

Vacations or nights away are also an issue with a fish bowl as you will not be able to simply put a vacation feeding block in and go. Rather, you will need to find someone who will take care of your fish on a daily basis which isn’t always easy to do. With a fish tank you can purchase an automatic fish feeder from which will feed your fish whilst you’re away. ( Without forgetting )

Conclusion: Fish Bowl v Aquarium 15 Pros & cons

The truth is that when it comes to this bone of contention, it really is all about what is best for the individual fish keeper; oh and the fish they are housing! We have been asked many times: is keeping fish cruel and we always reply with the same answer. Keeping fish in an aquarium isn’t cruel, but not providing them with the best water conditions, foods and care is cruel. We have a duty of care to all the pets we buy and giving them the best chance to thrive is essential and the only fair thing to do.

There are, however, as you have seen, pros and cons involved with each, and these should be taken into consideration before making any decisions..

One point to consider regarding fish bowls is the size. don’t just buy the smallest fishbowl you can find. Look for something bigger and one that is capable of holding a filter to ensure your fish gets enough oxygen to thrive and live a happy life. Another question is: Can goldfish live alone? Read our article on this topic.

No one wants to see a poor little goldfish swimming in a bowl full of dirty water with low oxygen and little room to swim.

As responsible fish keepers, we have a care of duty to our pet fish.