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Home > Fish > The Best Way to Dispose of a Dead Fish: Vet Approved Steps & Advice

The Best Way to Dispose of a Dead Fish: Vet Approved Steps & Advice

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Death is something that we all must face eventually, but none of us like when it happens. If you are reading this article, it means that your beloved fish has passed on. Let us begin by saying we’re sorry for your loss. We know just how sad it can be to lose a fish or any other pet.

Instead of simply flushing the fish down the toilet, there is a better way to dispose of it. After all, your fish remembered you and was a vital member of your family, even if it did stay in a tank. Giving your fish a proper burial can be the best way to show your respect.

In this article, we are going to look at the best way to dispose of your fish in a way that is respectful and leads to healing. Let’s get started.


Burial vs. Flushing

Although many people flush their fish, we do not recommend this. For one thing, it is disrespectful to the fish to flush it. You would not opt for this sort of method for another pet or family member. Why flush your fish? Whenever you flush a fish, it can get into the waterways, transmitting bacteria and diseases not native to the area.

By burying your fish, you get to honor its life without breaking any laws. Luckily, burying a fish does not require a whole lot of time or effort. It also can be a great opportunity to introduce your child to the idea of life, death, and the importance of closure.

What You’ll Need

  • Fish net
  • Paper bag
  • Ice cream carton (if the fish is big)
  • Freezer
  • Casket (shoe box or professionally made)
  • Shovel
  • Monument
  • Tank cleaning supplies


The 5 Steps For Disposing of a Dead Fish

1. Remove the Fish

Small fish tank aquarium with colourful snails and fish at home on wooden table
Image by: Ja Crispy, Shutterstock

As soon as you spot a dead fish in your aquarium, you need to remove the deceased fish immediately. This is especially true if you have other fish within the aquarium. The longer the corpse stays in the aquarium, more pollutants will be put out in the water. This can lead to health problems for your other fish. Not to mention, some of the other fish may try to eat it.

To remove the fish, use a fish net. If you don’t have a net, you can use your hands because the fish should not spread infection to you. Using a net will typically be the safest and easiest option.

Place the recently removed fish in a paper bag. The paper bag makes it much easier to transport the deceased pet. You don’t have to look at the pet, and it may feel more respectful. You don’t absolutely need a paper bag, but we have found this to be the best option for most fish owners.

However, it might be worth it to confirm that your fish has indeed passed away in some circumstances. One way of doing so is being slightly patient when you initially lift them from the tank, a fish that’s alive (but weak) may flop once out of the water.

Make sure to thoroughly sterilize the tool you use for the removal. You don’t want to put the net back into the tank if you have not cleaned it yet. Once again, this can lead to contaminating the waters further.

2. Place the Bag in the Freezer Until Burial (Optional)

  • Note: If you do not have a spare freezer, please skip this step. Never place a deceased animal in the same freezer used for food storage.

With the deceased fish in a paper bag, preserve the body for burial inside a freezer. Placing the bagged fish inside a freezer will give you time to set up the burial site and make any other plans without the fish further decomposing and causing other problems.

If your fish is really large, it’s a great idea to place the paper bag inside an old ice cream container or some other larger container to prevent the water on the fish’s body from freezing to the inside of the freezer.

You should not place a deceased fish with food items in a freezer. As your fish freezes over, some of the water on their body may seep through the bag and end up in your freezer. It could later contaminate your food items. Please note that many refrigeration units share circulation among the fridge and freezer compartments; your freezer wouldn’t be safe for a deceased pet even when empty if there is food in the fridge compartment below.

3. Select the Casket and Burial Location

With the fish in the freezer, pick out the item that you are burying the fish in. You can select something like a shoe box, but you can also select specially made caskets for fish if you want something a bit more special. It is completely up to you.

You also need to select where the fish will be buried. Obviously, the fish needs to be on your property. It’s a great idea to select a location next to trees or plants because then the fish’s body can live on through bringing life and fertilization to those plants.

No matter where you choose to bury your fish, make sure that you dig the hole at least 3 feet deep. This will prevent other animals from digging up the corpse. Some people also like to put paving slabs above the casket to further deter animals from digging it up.

4. Hold a Mini-Funeral Service and Bury the Fish (Optional, Recommended)

Once you have selected the location, casket, and dug the hole, it is time to lay the fish to rest. You may want to hold a mini funeral service for your fish. This is an especially great idea if you have children or other family members who want to say their last goodbye.

When you are ready, simply lay the casket in the hole and cover it up with the loose dirt. Compact the dirt really tightly over the casket to make it more difficult for animals to dig it up.

You can even select a monument to put over the burial location. You can stop by craft stores to find small, engraved monuments. You could even purchase a specially made monument for your special fish. In the meantime, use a temporary marker so that you don’t lose the spot. This may be a post stuck into the ground or something else that won’t fall over in the meantime.

5. Clean the Tank

Finally, the last step is cleaning out the tank. Whenever a fish dies, it releases a lot of toxins, mainly ammonia. You need to clean this tank so that the other fishes don’t get sick or infected. The last thing you want is to have another fish die so soon after the passing of the original deceased fish.

Perform a partial water change, check the filter, and clean the gravel.

divider-fish Final Thoughts

Losing a fish can be very hard. We know from experience. Instead of just flushing your fish, have a proper burial for it so you can respect its life and not harm other wildlife (which happens when you flush a fish). Although it may be difficult to say goodbye to your fish, having a burial can bring a lot of closure to you and the rest of your family.

More specifically, hosting a mini funeral service and monument can be a beautiful sentiment for your fish. It can be really difficult to lose any pet, including a fish. Saying goodbye in this way can add a lot of closure while respecting the fish’s life.

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Featured Image Credit by: Nastya Sokolova, Shutterstock

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