Proper Disposal of Aquarium Fish


Oscar fish., originally uploaded by Nekominn.

In the grand scheme of things many fish have a relatively short lifespan and as sad as it is eventually we will be faced with the loss of our dear little pet. For todays article I’m going to discuss appropriate means to dispose of the body. For many hobbyists, the loss of a fish brings up a variety of emotions including grief and frustration. In my opinion these emotions are valid and important to discuss but are better addressed in a separate article which I will cover shortly. For now, I’m going to focus on just the removal of the animal.

When you suspect your fish has died you want to be sure is that he is truly gone. Breathing often becomes quite labored so give yourself a moment to observe him closely making sure the gills or mouth aren’t moving at all. Never dispose of a live fish. If your fish is sick but still alive then you should consider treatment or euthanization. For assistance making that decision read: Euthanizing Aquarium Fish on main Nippyfish.net website. A common myth about fish is that when they die they go “belly up” and float along the water’s surface. This can occur due to gas build up within the body but more often the fish will fall to the tank bottom or become attached to the filter intake. If the latter is the case, unplug the filter to remove the body. If you use a net to remove the fish keep it separate from other equipment and don’t use it in other aquariums until it has been sanitized. This is particularly important if your fish died from a communicable disease like a bacterial infection, virus or parasite. Nets can either be boiled (watch for melting plastic) or cleaned in a diluted bleach solution and rinsed and dried well.

Most people believe that flushing is the simplest and most acceptable method for fish disposal. After all, who hasn’t seen that episode of the Cosby Show when Rudy’s Goldfish dies and the whole family attends a toilet bowl service? What the average fish keeper doesn’t realize is that flushing is not only dangerous for the environment but it is illegal. That’s right, flushing a fish down the toilet risks introducing potential pathogens into the watershed and is a major no-no in the hobby. Of course the risk of being caught is very low but as aquarists it is our duty to act responsibly and to protect the very waterways that support the plants and animals we hold dear. Bottom line, never flush a fish.

The other major option you want to avoid is feeding your dead fish to a larger fish. While this is a common and acceptable method for culling deformed or unneeded fish, it is not recommended for fish that have contracted a disease or have already died. You don’t want to risk infecting healthy animals.

Depending on your personal views of death there are other options. For many, myself included, throwing the fish away with the trash is a safer and simple alternative to flushing. It seems harsh, and I admit I felt a little strange about it the first few times, but ultimately I became comfortable with this method. It’s best for those who subscribe to the ideology that this is just a body and the sweet little fishy personality that wiggled at the glass for me everyday is no longer present but swimming happily in the big pond in the sky.

If you have a composting area at your home this is also a viable option. This way the nutrients from your fish make their way back into the land. It’s a circle of life thing and brings peace of mind to a lot of people.

Similarly, backyard burials are also very common with fish hobbyists. This is obviously a little more time consuming but is often the most emotionally sensitive method and incorporates that “back to the earth” ideology. This can also be a good tool for parents to use to discuss death with their children, though let me be clear that I know plenty of fish parents who bury their fish as much for their own sense of closure. What a lot of mammal lovers don’t understand is that many fish become part of the family as much as any dog or cat. If you are going to bury your fish do it in a part of the yard unlikely to be disturbed later and far away from waterways including ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. Dig a hole at least 2 feet (60 cm) deep, deeper for large fish, and compact well. Dogs, raccoons and other animals have very sensitive noses and you don’t want want them to dig up little Finny in the middle of the night. If you want to wrap the fish in something, I suggest newspaper, cheese cloth or other easily biodegradable materials.

I realize, of course, that people handle the death of their fish differently. Some feel very real grief while others take it as an unfortunate part of the hobby. However you feel about it, remember that fish keepers have a responsibility to each other and our Earth, maybe even more so than most because so many of our actions effect it directly. Please consider these alternatives to flushing the next time you are faced with the loss of your aquarium fish.

Written by

Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

14 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you.
    I have two bettas, and they aren’t dead yet, but I do NOT want to flush them.

    Instead, I’ll probably bury them or throw them away.

    I do dread that day though. I truly do. I can’t imagine life without my two little babies looking up at me.

    • ash says:

      I used to have three, but they all died. 2 were buried in the backyard, one has not been buried yet. I’m not sure i want to though, because i might be moving soon…….
      Also in the backyard is
      2 goldfish
      2 betta fish
      1 mouse that bit me, but didn’t have rabies, but my dad caught him anyways, and i found him a little while latter dead
      and a prehistrohic fish thing

      Could i plant him in a planter cuz we might move soon?

  2. Anonymous says:

    My beta fish just died and I was heart broken… Thanks to your blog I was able to know what to do next.

    • Elijah says:

      My fish Levi just passed for a 12 year old
      I don’t know what to do I miss him so much theirs no joy coming home 3good months really mean alot

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love beta fish! Thanks for posting this! My beta just died, and i only had him for a week. I got a new one a while ago named Omaree, and he's totally healthy.
    I just changed his bowl to a bigger one, and he's been jumpy ever since. He always hides from me, and never used to. He isn't eating as much a as he used too. Do you think he is just adjusting, or sick? I don't think he's sick, and i am hoping he's gonna get over it.
    He also snt as active, and sleeps ALOT.
    I also wil HATE the day when my little beta passes. :(
    But for now i still have my baby, and he loves his Mommy! :)

  4. Jasmine F. says:

    my betta fish jus died today. so i will throw him away when it stops raining. :(

  5. Anonymous says:

    My betta just died 3 days ago. I’M SO SAD!!! I’m so glad that I read this blog today because I was thinking of flushing her down the toilet today! But now I know that she is swimming merrily in the pond up above!!!!!!!! I still am sad about this great loss to me. She was like a sister that was loyal to me. But now she is gone. Oh well!!! Time to move on with life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But I will NEVER put her out of my heart. R.I.P Joanie Bubbles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Jay says:

    Thank you for this post. My male Betta Squish just died half an hour ago and I feel like I just lost my best friend. I had Squish for 2 1/2 years and sadly he succumbed to Columnaris today (what a horrible thing to witness). Thanks to this page I now know how to give my beloved friend a safe and proper send off.

  7. Jane says:

    My Betta fish, Finnegan (Finn for short) passed away this morning. He lived with me for 4 years and 3 months. Amazing! I am so sad! I never thought I would cry over a fish. I am going to buy a “Bleeding Heart” plant and bury him with it. Thank you for you for sensitive and respectful blog.

  8. Teresa S says:

    My first fish/pet ever! has died! Nunca was a crimson red beta with turquoise blue scales. He was a beauty. I will dispose of him properly.

  9. Sherry D says:

    I just lost Sugarplum, one of two beta’s I had. Frosty is still hanging around. I can’t figure out what happened, he just started acting sick yesterday. I had him about 3 months, and loved him so much. Breaks my heart to lose him.

  10. my first betta died yesterday i changed her water but i put the water as hot as it would get an hour later .R.I.P. betty blue

  11. Sydney says:

    I just lost my betta Samuri this morning): Last night, she was straight up in down with her head to the surface and when i changed her water, she didn’t squirm as much… When i put her in the other bowl to clean out hers, she started jolting around. then she settled at he bottom when i put her back in her bowl and she sort of layed her tail on the bottom and put her head up. like this——>http://www.wetwebmedia.com/Anabantoids/Bettas/P1010161b%5B1%5D%20sick%20betta.JPG

    SHe didn’t move alot…and i wasn’t going to be surprised if she was dead this morning because i knew something was wrong. I first got her from my friend a while back…it was towards the end of the summer…until today. she was in a big tank with a dalmation molly, two glofish, and a red finned tetra…she never fought or did anything harmful to the other fish when my friend owned them. when we moved to my house, she started biting the other fishes fins. Samuri just changed. It wasn’t like before so i had to move her to a seperate bowl. :ike i said, she died this morning and thanks to this article…even with some tears that came with it…i know that i will bury her in the backyard. ),:

    this is the second pet i have experienced death with. when i was little, my cat died and we buried him in the backyard, then we moved………..

    Im so sorry I let you die Samuri…I love you and you will always be in my heart. May you rest in peace. I hope you meet more fishies like you! Goodbye),:

  12. peggy tager says:

    my beautiful betta named Pretty Boy
    has brought me so much joy…
    he went to fish heaven today
    much to my dismay.
    i will miss him all the time
    my sweet little pretty boy – so sublime!!!

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