It’s Adorable, But Does a Goldfish Really Need a Wheelchair?

People have been able to come up with pretty amazing DIY contraptions to help make life easier for their pets with mobility issues. Silvie Bordeaux made a copper-tubing bumper to protect her blind poodle from walking into walls. Don Chernoff made a prosthetic paw out of old tennis shoes for his golden retriever. James Paniagua constructed a wheelchair for his girlfriend’s Pomeranian using PVC pipes and scooter wheels.

It’s not only dogs that are being helped by compassionate and clever humans. When someone brought their ranchu goldfish, who couldn’t swim due to a bladder disorder, to Aquarium Designs in San Antonio, the store’s manager, Derek Burnett, decided to do something to help the little guy (or girl).

The swim bladder is what keeps goldfish stable in water. A deformation or infection can cause swim bladder disease, which takes away the ability for goldfish to control their buoyancy. The goldfish may end up swimming upside down, floating at the top of the tank or leaning to one side.

Ranchu, a fancy goldfish developed in Japan, should be thought of as “the pugs of the fish world,” Burnett told Buzzfeed News. “Pugs have unique features due to the way they were bred, but it also causes them a lot of medical problems — same with goldfish!”

The goldfish brought to his store couldn’t swim at all. It was basically stuck, upside down, at the bottom of the tank. Burnett tried changing the water and the goldfish’s diet, but neither had any effect.

So, in an effort that would make MacGyver proud, Burnett constructed a “wheelchair” for the goldfish, who he has adopted.

“I got some airline tubing that people usually use in their tank and just placed it around the goldfish,” he told Buzzfeed News. “I added some valves to the bottom of it, which acted as a ‘chair’ to prop him up. I added weights to the bottom of the ‘chair’ and something to keep him afloat on top (styrofoam), and slowly removed pieces until I achieved just the right buoyancy to make it easy for him to swim around without feeling like he’s dragging around a chair.”

Almost immediately, the goldfish began “swimming and zipping around,” Burnett told KENS5. “His tail got to going super fast. This is the happiest I’ve seen him since we’ve had him in our possession.”

When Burnett’s friend Taylor Dean, who makes educational videos about animals, found out about the wheelchair, she posted a photo of the goldfish on Twitter. “I’ve worked with several injured fish but him going out of his way to help this fish was just precious,” she told Buzzfeed News.

The photo quickly went viral, and thousands of people agree with her.

Is the ‘Wheelchair’ Really Helping the Goldfish?

As much as we’d all like to believe the goldfish will now live a happy, mobile life thanks to Burnett’s big heart and ingenuity, a marine biologist says that may not be the case.

The problem is that the wheelchair rubs against the goldfish’s skin — which is its first line of defense, Dr. Catherine McClave, who has 45 years of exotic animal experience, told If the wheelchair chafes the skin, she said, the goldfish “is going to be susceptible to whatever is in the water. And then it’s really easy for them to get a systemic bacterial infection.”

The good news is that swim bladder disease can sometimes be treated simply by changing the goldfish’s diet or tank water, as Burnett did. Dr. McClave said that fish food in pellet form is low in fiber and can cause constipation, putting pressure on the swim bladder. Chopped-up carrots and zucchini are a healthier option. Dirty tank water is full of bacteria, which is a problem for fish that are immune compromised. McClave said proper water quality “is the best thing.”

But some cases of the disease are caused by tumors that deflate the swim bladder, and must be surgically removed. “You would not believe the amount of money people spend on two-dollar fish,” McClave told

Here’s hoping the goldfish recovers soon and lives a long life with his hero Burnett. After all, as McClave said, “Fish are pets, too.”

Photo credit: YouTube


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O10 months ago

I too would like to thank this chap for not giving up on the little fish, and if its beautiful tail is swishing it around the tank then that tells us that the fish it grateful to be able to swim again. Good on you! I do hope the little fishy lives a long life, but please get some sand and plant some live plants for it. Thanks again.

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx10 months ago

Well, I don't know whether to be happy or sad. On the one side I think : this fish is saved, can continue a more or less normal live, and is happy. I don't know whether he or she is happy. It is not like a cat or dog, who can show how they feel. For a fish on the contrary, I can not see whether he is happy or not. The 2nd point I have problems with, is that rich people can spend a fortune on all kind of devices to keep their dogs / cats and now even a goldfish "mobile". On the other hand, we have thousands and thousands of animals - not only cats and dogs - which are kept in heartbreaking circumstances, just get enough food not to starve, have no proper shelter, are enchained, sometimes so badly that the chains grow into their skin causing severe injuries, etc... When we would spend a small amount of money to give these animals a better living condition, then I am sure they will be happy and show you their gratitude for sparing them a couple of years of further misery and abuse. I'm quite convinced that we should help animals when sick or disabled. But at what price ?? ??

Karin H
Karin Hauk11 months ago

just remove all that plastic junk and coloured stones out the aquarium and put some plants in there! I am sure, this is already better for the fish. unstead of changing water so often. no wonder, the fish is sick with all that chemical plastic stuff in there. and a fish all alone?

Angie P
Angie P11 months ago

Seems like we will do anything to help a human, but when it comes to an animals so many say "no". I love this story. I hope this fish lives a long, long, long time. All lives are valuable regardless if it is a human or animal. Any person that does something like this to save a goldfish would be my friend for life since I know this person has to have the biggest heart and empathy for animals and living beings.

Janet B
Janet B11 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth C11 months ago

Derek Burnett created something to help an animal live its life, because life is important!

Terri S
Terri S11 months ago

Hey, if the fish is happy, then I'm happy!!

earthism info
earthism info11 months ago

good thinking

Joy T
Joy T11 months ago

Interesting. :)