The common carp is a hardy fish, and koi retain that durability. Koi are cold-water fish, but benefit from being kept in the 15-25 degrees C (59-77 degrees F) range and do not react well to long cold winter temperatures, their immune system ‘turning off’ below 10 degrees Celsius. Koi ponds usually have a meter or more of depth in areas of the world that become warm during the summer, whereas in areas that have harsher winters, ponds generally have a minimum of 1.5 meters (4 1/2 feet).

Koi’s bright colours put them at a severe disadvantage against predators; a white-skinned Kohaku is a visual dinner bell against the dark green of a pond. Herons, kingfishers, raccoons, cats, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs are all capable of emptying a pond of its fish. A well-designed outdoor pond will have areas too deep for herons to stand in, overhangs high enough above the water that mammals can’t reach in, and shade trees overhead to block the view of aerial passers-by. It may prove necessary to string nets or wires above the surface. A pond usually includes a pump and filtration system to keep the water clear.

Koi are an omnivorous fish and will often eat a wide variety of foods, including peas, lettuce, and watermelon. Koi food is designed not only to be nutritionally balanced, but also to float so as to encourage them to come to the surface. When they are eating, it is possible to check koi for parasites and ulcers. Koi will recognise the person feeding them and gather around them at feeding times. They can be trained to take food from one’s hand. In the winter, their digestive system slows nearly to a halt, and they eat very little, perhaps no more than nibbles of algae from the bottom. Their appetite will not come back until the water becomes warm in the spring. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 °C), feeding, particularly with protein, is halted or the food can go rancid in their stomach, causing sickness.

Koi can live for centuries. One famous scarlet koi, named “Hanako” (c. 1751 – July 7, 1977) was owned by several individuals, the last of whom was Dr. Komei Koshihara. Hanako was reportedly 226 years old upon her death. Her age was determined by removing one of her scales and examining it extensively in 1966. She is (to date) the longest-lived koi fish ever recorded.