Due to climate warming and increased anthropogenic impact, a decrease of ocean water oxygenation is expected in the near future, with major consequences for marine life. In this context, it is essential to develop reliable tools to assess past oxygen concentrations in the ocean, to better forecast these future changes. Recently, foraminiferal pore patterns have been proposed as a bottom water oxygenation proxy, but the parameters controlling foraminiferal pore patterns are still largely unknown. Here we use scaling laws to describe how both gas exchanges (metabolic needs) and mechanical constraints (shell robustness) control foraminiferal pore patterns. The derived mathematical model shows that only specific combinations of pore density and size are physically feasible. Maximum porosity, of about 30%, can only be obtained by simultaneously increasing pore size and decreasing pore density. A large empirical data set of pore data obtained for three pseudocryptic phylotypes of Ammonia, a common intertidal genus from the eastern Atlantic, strongly supports this conclusion. These new findings provide basic mechanistic understanding of the complex controls of foraminiferal pore patterns and give a solid starting point for the development of proxies of past oxygen concentrations based on these morphological features. Pore size and pore density are largely interdependent, and both have to be considered when describing pore patterns.