How To Dispose Of Dead Fish [How People Do]

Dead fish is a matter of serious concern. It indicates something is not going right in your tank. It may be you have a wrong selection of tank mates, water quality is poor, or improper maintenance leads to a disease outbreak.

There are several ways to dispose of a dead fish. Flushing down the toilet, burying it in the backyard or in the house planter, putting it in the waste bin, and cremation are the most common ways to dispose of dead fish.

Remove the dead fish immediately from the tank. In addition, you can freeze the fish in a zip lock bag to prevent further contamination before you decide what will be your best option.

One pair of dead Cory catfish
One pair of dead Cory catfish

Why Should You Remove the Fish & Dispose of it?

Died fish generally sink to the bottom, and after 3-4 days when the body starts to decompose it floats. In a few instances, it may never float, and decompose unnoticed at the bottom or other habitats may consume it.

However, never leave the dead fish in the tank. If you notice a dead fish in your fish tank, you have to remove it as soon as possible. Otherwise, the rotting fish body will spread a foul odor, and can cause ammonia spike, and if the fish died of diseases it may outspread to other healthy fish as well.

I’ve pointed out below what will be the course of action when one of the fish died in your tank.

Remove the dead fish using a net
  • Remove the fish using a fish net: Use a fish net to remove the dead fish, and never touch it with a bare hand. If the fish died of a bacterial infection, you can also get affected by contact with the fish. In some cases, humans can get infected by tuberculosis through fish.
  • Put the fish inside of a bag: Use a ziplock bag, and put the fish inside. After that, carefully examine the fish’s body for wounds, open scars, and disease symptoms. You’ll get some ideas about what could be the possible reason for fish dead. After that, you can keep the bag with fish in the freezer until you decide how you’ll dispose of the fish.
  • Identify the reason: If you suspect your fish died of bullying by other fish because of incompatible tank mates, try to restore the harmony in the tank by removing the unsuitable ones. However, if the fish’s death is because of disease, try to be retrospective because the disease may infest other inhabitants.
  • Change water & check the water parameters: Whatever the reason, performing a water change is not a bad idea. Checking the water parameters including ammonia, and nitrite also recommended checking if everything is going right in the tank.
  • Dispose of the fish: Finally, dispose of the fish with your preferred method.

Below you’ll get ideas on how people do that, and what are the legal, and eco-friendly ways to dispose of the dead fish.

Dead black molly fish
Dead black molly fish Owner: Annah Doby

What Are The General Consensus & How People Dispose of the Dead Fish

I run a survey in the fishkeeping community on how people usually dispose of dead fish. Over 650 seasoned fishkeepers participated in the survey. Here are the highlighted statistics in the below table.

Ways to Dispose of the Dead Fish% Fishkeepers Do
Flush down the toilet26%
Bury in the backyard22%
Bury in the house planter14%
Put in the waste bin9%

According to the survey, 26% flush the dead fish down the toilet, 22% bury it in the backyard, only 1% of them perform cremation, 14% bury it in their house planter, and 9% of fishkeepers put the dead fish body in the waste bin.

So, what you should do with the dead fish? In the subsequent section. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the different ways of disposing of the fish body.

Survey Result of How People Dispose of A Dead Fish
Survey Result of How People Dispose of A Dead Fish

How To Dispose of the Dead Fish [Different Ways, Pros & Cons]

How people dispose of a dead fish
How people dispose of a dead fish

I have mentioned 5 different ways to dispose of dead fish. However, another practice among fishkeepers is to keep the dead fish in the tank for snails to consume.

How you will dispose of the fish, it’s a personal preference. However, it’s better to know the pros and cons, and legal obligations before making any decision.

A Dead Fish
A Dead Fish Owner Jemma Nikolin

Flush Down the Toilet

Flushing down the toilet is the most practiced way. However, there is some serious concern about this practice. In some countries, people are also advised not to dispose of fish flushing down the toilet.

Although it may be the easiest and quickest way, it’s also the worst way. Not only it’s not the proper way to dispose of your beloved pet, but it can also contaminate the waterways and can be harmful to the environment. Especially, if the fish dies of disease, flushing isn’t the greatest idea.

If the fish is big enough it can block the piping system. Some of the fishkeepers mention they flush the fish if it is small and try other alternatives if it is large.

I was pondering how people can flush the fish that they have been keeping in their tanks for some time. Is it not that cruel?

One reason is that humans don’t feel the same mental attachment to fish as they feel to other pets like dogs, cats, etc. I have seen people cry for their dog or cat. But for fish, have you ever cried? Probably not!

I don’t know how mentally you were attached to your pet fish, but you shouldn’t flush the dead fish’s body down the toilet. A proper send-off should be given, and you shouldn’t endanger other aquatic life with your action.

Bury In The Backyard

Burying the goldfish in backyard
Image Source: Pinterest

This is my preferred way. Burying the fish is ideal because there will be no chance of disease spreading and over time the decomposed fish body will help fertilize plants.

Wrap the fish body in the biodegradable paper, dig a hole around 6 inches, and bury the fish in the selected location.

You can place a sign over the grave so it can serve as a reminder when you or another family member visits in the backyard.

Dead Ghost Shrimp
Dead Ghost Shrimp Owner: Kirk Trimberger


Cremation is also a good process to dispose of the dead fish body. It’s a safe way because burning the fish’s body will destroy all potential germs.

However, if you don’t know how to do it, and have no experience you should take expert help. Cremating the fish at home may spread the foul odor of the burning fish’s body, and it requires proper equipment.

Consulting with a vet or reaching out to a local pet crematorium may help you to do that safely.

Bury In the House Planter

Bury the dead fish in house planter
Image Source: Reddit

Burying in the house planter is also a good option because it provides nutrients for the plant. However, keep in mind you need to bury it deep enough so that it can’t spread any smell.

Those who prefer gardening at home you can also add it to the compost.

Put It In the Waste Bin

Putting in the waste bin is the second most unpopular answer, however, a lot of people do it. Put it in a nice box, say some words, and send it away.

If you can’t bury it in the backyard or house planter, and you don’t want to take the extra hassle of creating the body, you can simply put it in the waste bin. It is at least more respectful than flushing.

More Resources:

Dead guppy fish
Dead guppy fish

Bottom Line

Proper disposal of dead fish is mandatory. Therefore, follow a respectable way to say goodbye to your pet fish.

You’ve spent hours of time, and hundreds of dollars to set up, and maintain the tank. But, fish may die after all the efforts. Scrutinize the fish before disposing of can tell you the real story of your tank.

Try to fix the tank setup to prevent further death in the tank. If you’re a beginner try to get expert help whenever needed. Thanks for reading.

Sujit Modak

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