How To Dispose of Dead Fish? Everything You Might Not Know About Disposing of Fishes & The Proper Way To Go About It.

People are attached to their pets, which is why it can be heart-wrenching to see a fish dead in your aquarium. It’s a delicate period, and you might be understandably confused about what to do.

Don’t panic!

With so many questions floating in your head, like how to dispose of it and the other steps to take, people tend to panic and end up flushing the dead fish. However, a dead fish deserves to be disposed of properly and in compliance with state laws, especially if it meant a great deal to you.

This guide will explain everything you need to know about disposing of fishes and the proper way to go about it. 

We are also going to clear any misconceptions you might have about disposing of fishes. So you can educate others and avoid having more dead fish in your aquarium.

How to Confirm If a Fish is Dead? 

The first thing to do is confirm that the fish is dead and not sick or suffering from an infection. You wouldn’t want to dispose of a fish that is very much alive.

Here are a few ways to check your fish and confirm if it’s dead before deciding on how to dispose of the body:

  • Check the gills to confirm if the fish is still breathing. If they move, the fish is still alive. Even if the frequency of movement is once every 10 seconds, it’s still alive and would need further care.
  • Look at the eyes and observe them. If you lie the fish on its side and the eyes are motionless, then it’s dead. A live fish will rotate its pupil downwards as it tries to correct itself. Another giveaway is if the eyes of the fish have turned gray.
  • Touch the body and give it a little nudge. If there is no response and the body is stiff, then it is dead.
  • Smell it, and if it gives off a foul odor, it has probably already started decomposing.
  • Small fishes like guppy and tetras float, and bigger fish like cichlids and catfish sink when they’re dead. You can spot a dead pond fish if it sinks before floating after a gas build up in the body.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Dispose of Dead Fish 

We will examine the various disposal methods of a fish and the step-by-step guide on how to do it.

Waste Disposal

  1. Remove the fish from the water immediately and put it in an airtight container like a Ziploc bag.
  2. Double-bag the fish in two sealable plastic bags and place it in your garbage bag.
  3. Tie up your garbage bag and put it in your garbage can.

Fish Cremation

  1. Put the fish on an aluminum foil sheet and a cookie sheet.
  2. Place it in the oven at 200-250 degrees and keep for a minimum of 15 minutes until the fish is dry.
  3. Take it out of the oven and place it on a plate to cool for some hours.
  4. Build a fire with embers and set out an old pot that you’re comfortable putting the fish in.
  5. Put the fish in the pot and place it on the embers when it is hot.
  6. You may need to press the fish gently to create more ash than char.
  7. Remove from the fire when you’ve achieved the desired ash consistency and allow it cool before placing it in jewelry or bagging.

Fish Burial

  1. Remove the fish from the water and double bag with two sealable Ziploc plastic bags.
  2. Place the bag in your freezer and away from any food.
  3. Look for a suitable spot to bury the fish like your backyard.
  4. Dig a hole of about 3 feet to bury the fish.
  5. You can use a flower pot, casket, eco-friendly cardboard, or any other container you think is appropriate for burying your fish.
  6. Place the fish in the hole, and you and your children might say a few words before covering it up.


What to Do After You Have Disposed of the Fish? 

If you want to get a replacement for the fish that died or have other fishes in the tank, you need to find out how your fish died to take the necessary precautions next time. We are going to explain some possible causes of the sudden death of your fish so you can remedy them ASAP.

Quality of water

The pH, ammonia, nitrate, and other salts levels in the tank should be balanced to match the fish’s natural habitat. An imbalance can potentially kill your fish.

Small Aquarium

If your aquarium isn’t big enough for your fishes, they may not have enough space to swim adequately, and this can make them sick, eventually leading to death. If you have several fishes, they may fight each other for territories, leading to death.

Aggressive or Predatory Fish

A lot of novice aquarium owners make the mistake of putting predatory or aggressive fishes with meeker ones. After some time, the predatory fish could kill the weaker fish.

Sudden Water Changes 

Changing your aquarium water suddenly could result in the death of your fish due to chemical imbalance.

Unhealthy Food/Overfeeding

The food the fish eat might not be good for their health. Sometimes, overfeeding is also the cause of death in some fishes.

Taking Care of the Other Fishes

If you have multiple fishes in your tank, you should check on the others after a death occurs. This is to make sure other fishes do not die and find out if they show any sickness symptoms. Take extra care in handling the other fishes and examine them carefully. 

Here are some actions you can take to keep your other fishes safe:

  • Change the water in the aquarium right away. This will remove any bacteria or harmful substances in the water that the dead fish might have left behind.
  • Take each fish one by one and inspect their bodies for any signs of parasites or infections.
  • Get a gravel vacuum and start using it to clean your water regularly. Clean your aquarium filter and if you don’t have one, purchase one and fit it in your tank.
  • If you have tropical fishes, you can buy a heater to make your water warm and more comfortable for the fishes.
  • Get rid of all the harmful bacteria in your water tank with a probiotic bacteria supplement.
  • Check your fishes and keep monitoring them for any signs of sickness or changes in behavior.
  • If you notice changes or sickness in any of your fishes, isolate it from the others and get it to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will inspect the fish and guide you on the steps to take.
  • Check your aquarium’s size and make sure it is sufficient for all your fishes to exercise, play, and be active. If it is not big enough, take steps to get a replacement tank.

Can I Flush the Fish? 

It would be best if you didn’t flush your fish as it is disrespectful to dispose of the body that way. In some cities, it’s illegal to flush a fish. Dead animals are prone to transmit many diseases. Hence, flushing it will spread bacteria into the water that could harm other animals and the community.

It gets worse:

Some drains flow into rivers or oceans, exposing your dead fish to other fish populations. Putting your aquarium-raised fish into a new ecosystem exposes the wild species to diseases because their immune systems aren’t the same. This contamination could potentially destroy the entire fish population in that water.

Do I Need to Get a Separate Tank for My Other Fishes? 

You might need to get a separate tank to keep your fishes apart if you suspect that one is sick or has an infection. Please keep it in a different tank and begin to observe it for a couple of days, noting any possible changes in its behavior or health.

Ensure the water conditions in the separate tank are favorable for the fish. They continue caring for it as you have been. If you see any deterioration in condition or any reason for fear, make sure to take the fish to a vet right away.

How Deep Should I Dig to Bury the Dead Fish? 

It would be best if you buried your fish deep enough to not come out easily from a person’s kick, or other animals like dogs cannot easily dig it out. Check with your city’s ordinance to find the acceptable depth and other requirements for burying animals on your property.

It would be best if you dug at a depth of at least 10-12cm. You can use a knife, scraper, or any other tool you find convenient for digging. It’s important to ensure that the bag or container you bury your fish with is environmentally-friendly so it can decompose.


Knowing how to deal with the death of your fish will make the process easier and leave you less confused. Remember to check and make sure the fish is dead before disposing of it.

Now you know why flushing a dead fish is not a recommended option for disposing of your fish. Choose the option that allows you to give your fish a proper farewell and keeps the environment safe. 

Whichever manner you choose to dispose of your fish, follow the step-by-step guide, and if you have others, remember to take care of the remaining ones, so they stay healthy. It helps to find out the cause of death so you can take steps to keep such an unfortunate event from happening again.

Scroll to Top