If you have goldfish, you’ve likely spotted them “yawning” from time to time. It’s actually a routine occurrence for goldfish to do this, leading people to wonder if goldfish are yawning in the same way that humans or other mammals would do. It certainly looks like a yawn when they do it, but goldfish don’t breathe through their mouth as humans do.
So, if not a yawn, what is it? Let’s talk about whether or not goldfish actually yawn!
Do Goldfish Yawn?
What you are seeing is not a yawn because goldfish do not yawn. It’s still a mystery why exactly humans yawn, but there are multiple theories, mostly surrounding getting more oxygen into the body or stretching the lungs. It may also help stretch muscles and joints, increase the heart rate, or communicate certain feelings to other people.
Goldfish either don’t need these processes or have other body processes in place to account for them. Because of this, goldfish simply do not need to yawn.
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What Are Goldfish Doing When They Appear To Yawn?
So, this leaves some confusion since there is a behavior commonly seen in goldfish that looks like a yawn. You could call it a yawn if you’d like, but it serves a very specific purpose. For normal respiration, goldfish take in water through their gills, allowing them to pull oxygen from the water to oxygenate the body.
When goldfish “yawn”, they are actually pulling water in the opposite direction, allowing them to flush their gills out. This helps keep the gills clean and healthy, improving the lungs’ efficiency at pulling oxygen from water and maintaining oxygenation within the body. They don’t do this to stretch or communicate but simply to help their own body maintain its health and efficiency.
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Does Yawning Indicate a Problem?
If you spot your goldfish performing this yawning maneuver a couple of times per day, but they are otherwise eating, acting normal, and appearing healthy, then there’s nothing to be concerned about. This is a perfectly normal process for your goldfish to perform to help keep the gills healthy.
If you notice your goldfish seems to be appearing to yawn more than normal, then there may be a problem. While it typically is a normal, healthy process, it can also indicate that there is a problem with the water. Your goldfish may do this if their water is not oxygenated properly, which can occur in tanks without adequate filtration and aeration, and heated tanks since oxygen content in the water decreases as the temperature rises.
Gill flukes are a parasite that can decrease the efficiency of the gills, and lead to your goldfish experiencing an unpleasant sensation that may cause them to backwash the gills more frequently to get comfortable. Over time, gill flukes can damage the gills and may even lead to the death of your fish if left untreated. Gill flukes are not visible with the naked eye, but the damage they can do to the gills is visible. The sooner gill flukes are treated, the better off your fish will be.
Goldfish don’t yawn in the way that humans think of a yawn. Their yawns aren’t contagious to each other like ours are, and they don’t yawn to increase oxygenation or improve lung health. They do, however, perform an action that very much resembles a yawn. This action improves the health of the gills by keeping them clean and free of debris, enhancing their oxygen-absorbing ability. In this way, it’s similar to a human’s yawn, but it isn’t a true yawn.
It’s perfectly normal for your goldfish to perform this action multiple times per day. However, if you notice your fish is performing it more frequently or they are “yawning” more frequently, and it’s accompanied by other symptoms, like visible redness or damage on the gills, lethargy, or a decreased appetite, this can be cause for concern. There are treatable conditions that can lead your goldfish to begin performing the yawn action more frequently, so keep a close eye on things to monitor for behavior changes.
Featured Image Credit: Juan Carlos Palau Díaz, Pixabay