Substrates for goldfish: Pebbles and river rocks

If you are concerned about your goldfish ingesting gravel particles from their substrate but do not like the appearance of a bare bottomed tank, another option to consider is using pebbles or river rocks as your substrate.

Pebbles and pieces of river rock are widely available to buy from most pet stores and aquarium retailers, and often, a wide range of sizes, colors and styles are available to choose from.

If you are not quite sure what goldfish tank pebbles or river rocks are or if they make a good substrate for goldfish, read on to learn more. 

About goldfish tank pebbles and rocks

Both pebbles and river rocks are significantly larger than goldfish tank gravel, but can vary in size considerably. Pebbles can range in size from the size of a fingernail up to a couple of inches in diameter, while river rocks are larger again.

Pebbles can be made of glass, ceramic or rock, and are generally manually tumbled to produce a uniform size and shape, and are sometimes produced synthetically to introduce bright colors and designs.

River rocks are rocks and stones taken from rivers and streams, where the natural flow of the water has smoothed and rounded the rocks over time. River rocks are usually available in subtle, natural colors and are usually relatively large.

How to add pebbles or river rocks to the goldfish tank

Add the water to your goldfish tank before you add your substrate, and then place any ornaments or decorations around the tank where you would like them to be.

For smaller pebbles, you can then pour them into the tank directly as you would with gravel, and then use your hands to move them about and get them located where you would like them to be. For larger pebbles and for river rocks, you will need to place them manually within the tank to avoid splashing about!

Ensure that your rocks or pebbles are rinsed and clean before you add them to the tank.

Are pebbles or river rocks a good substrate for goldfish?

Using pebbles or river rocks within your goldfish tank can remove the worry that your fish are going to ingest small particles such as sand or gravel, which can lead to health problems and irritation. However, pebbles and river rocks do not provide for the inbuilt goldfish desire to forage and sift their substrate, meaning that they will have to seek alternative means of entertainment!

It is not a good substrate to use as a base for tank plants, as these will not easily be able to take root within the base of the tank, but you can get around this by keeping your tank plants in pots.

Fish waste will collect between the pebbles or rocks and can look unsightly if allowed to build up, which means it is important to keep on top of cleaning the tank.

How to clean pebbles or river rocks

You can easily siphon waste products and debris out of the tank from your pebbles or rocks without unduly disturbing the display or sucking up the pebbles as well.

Over time, your substrate may begin to grow algae and slime, and if this becomes unsightly, you will need to remove the rocks or pebbles and scrub them with a toothbrush or scrubbing brush to remove it.

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