Poor goldfish: Imagine being a living prize for throwing enough balls through the clown's mouth or shooting enough plastic pop-up ducks at the local fair, handed off in a tiny plastic bowl at best and a sealed in plastic bag full of water at worst.

Life for the little orange guy doesn't always improve a whole lot once the child brings it home — or even once a parent buying the family's first pet Free Willies it from the pet store — thanks to common mistakes people make when caring for goldfish.

The task that requires more know-how than you might think — one reason many of the fish face their ignominious end (often involving a flush down a certain bathroom fixture) all too soon.

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Most premature goldfish deaths are preventable through proper care and feeding, according to experts. Here are six mistakes to avoid, according to The Goldfish Tank , a website dedicated to goldfish care, and Jack Kraft, editor of The Tropical News at the Sacramento Aquarium Society.

Mistake #1: Getting a goldfish at a fair, carnival or party

“The main thing people do wrong is bring goldfish home from the fair,” says Kraft. “Most often these goldfish are feeders or not very healthy. People then put it in too small a bowl or tank and without any filtration. If you want a goldfish, get it from a local fish store.”

Mistake #2: Using a goldfish bowl

“Goldfish eat a lot and thus produce a lot of waste,” says Kraft. “The ‘goldfish bowl’ is okay for a small goldfish, but they grow and require more room to swim. Don't forget a filter, live plants and a light. If you want more, get a larger system.”

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Experts at The Goldfiish Tank advise nixing The Bowl entirely. “You should never keep goldfish in a bowl,” they warn in a website advisory. “Goldfish can grow to be over a foot long and need a lot of space to swim around. They also produce a lot of waste, which means that you need a large amount of water to dilute their waste… All of these things require a big tank.”

Mistake #3: Getting too many goldfish

A goldfish many run you only about 30 cents, but resist the temptation to get a bunch of them. “I would say the minimum for two goldfish is a 10-gallon tank if you want them to thrive and be healthy,” Kraft says. The Goldfiish Tank advises a minimum tank size of 20 gallons for a single fancy goldfish.

Goldfish produce a lot of ammonia, which is very bad for them to swim around in,” says The Goldfish Tank. For this reason, you

should “cycle the tank,” or do a procedure to get ammonia and nitrogen levels down to zero while building up a colony of good bacteria to break down the ammonia less harmful chemicals. For this, you’ll need a filter and a testing kit.

Mistake #5: Not changing the water often enough

Change some of your goldfish’s water once a week. In general, change only about a third of the tank’s water at a time, The Goldfish Tank advises. (Caution: Treat tap water with a few drops of chemicals designed to neutralize the chlorine; these “water conditioner” products are sold in pet stores.)

Mistake #6: Overfeeding your fish

Goldfish have no stomachs and so never get full, according to The Goldfish Tank. It can be tempting, especially for kids, to overfeed the fish, but stick to a few small meals a day rather than giving them a lot of food all at once. Add a few peas (with the shells removed) for variety.

Luke James is a freelance writer and musician who writes about music, soccer, kids, pets and life with his family in northern California.