My Fish Is Dying – Is It Suffering?

The sight of your finned pet as they swim merrily in their tank can be pretty therapeutic. Unfortunately, this peaceful image can turn into a nightmare if your fish exhibits signs of illness or death.

My Fish is Dying Is it Suffering

While this may be scary, it’s even scarier to think that your dying fish is suffering.

Does A Dying Fish Really Suffer?

The short answer, unfortunately, is ‘yes.’

While fish don’t have complex nervous systems and brain structures, they experience pain. And this was proven in recent decades after numerous studies on pain receptors, nervous systems, and consciousness.

Unfortunately, the fact that fish suffer pain wasn’t uncovered sooner because pain is an emotional, subjective experience.

Since it’s hard to quantify, previous biases can interfere with measuring. Besides, fish can’t speak, nor can people understand them. Therefore, their suffering may go unnoticed.

Scientific Evidence Fish Experience Suffering And Pain

The nervous system delivers signals to nerves and generates responses to stimuli such as pain. As they too possess this system, fish suffer when in pain.

Similarly, fish have receptors and nerve fibers. Receptors,  found throughout fish’s bodies, generate an automatic response to pain.

Meanwhile, nerve fibers transmit pain impulses. Fish have two sets of nerve fibers. The first signal acute pain, pressure, and temperature changes, whereas the second is associated with severe injury.

Studies further indicate the brain of fish consciously registers pain. Recent studies further uncovered that the brains of some fish species react like the human brain when in pain.

The last bit of evidence indicating fish suffer when dying or in pain is their responses. Their bodies secrete opioids after experiencing pain to calm them a little.

Moreover, they rock back and forth, hyperventilate, and change habits when ill or injured.

5 Steps To Ease The Suffering Of A Dying Fish

Your fish is more than just an animal; it’s a cherished family member. It’s the reason for many smiles and fond memories in the past.

And it probably helped you find peace as it glides serenely in its water tank. Therefore, if your fish is suffering, it’s your responsibility to ensure its comfort until ready to go.

When that time’s near, follow these five steps to ease your dying fish’s suffering as it crosses the rainbow bridge.

1. Keep The Water Quality High

Dirty water will only stress an already dying fish and worsen their suffering. So, make sure to regularly test the water quality and ensure proper pH levels for your fish.

You should also keep the water clean. Remove any excess organic debris to prevent it from converting into toxic gases and fueling the growth of algae.

The latter can add to your fish’s suffering as they reduce oxygen levels in the tank.

Do dying fish suffer

2. Keep The Water Warm

While fish need specific temperatures, dying fish are more comfortable in slightly warmer water. They don’t move around as often or generate body heat.

So, aim for the upper ranges of the recommended temperature range for your fish’s species.

3. Avoid Overfeeding Your Fish

As a suffering fish begins dying, it’ll lose its appetite. Trying to overfeed it will cause it to have an uncomfortably bloated belly.

Moreover, uneaten excess food will decay and affect the quality of the water. So, don’t sprinkle too much food in the tank.

4. Place Your Fish In A Quiet Place

Sound vibrations can stress or frighten fish. That’s why fish stores have signs instructing visitors not to tap on aquariums.

For a dying fish, peace is necessary. Therefore, make sure to limit loud noises near them.

5. Keep Aggressive Fish Separately

While fish are social, dying fish prefer keeping to themselves. So, if there’s other aggressive fish in the aquarium, temporarily remove them.

You can also put the dying fish in a separate tank if you have one. It will prevent other fish from getting sick if their dying friend’s illness is contagious.

Just make sure you don’t place your fish in a new tank altogether. New tanks may release heavy concentrations of nitrates and ammonium into the water.

Without natural bacteria balancing out these contaminants, your fish may die quicker.

The Last Resort – Euthanizing A Dying Fish

Considering the amount of pain your dying fish may be suffering, one option you shouldn’t rule out is euthanasia.

Though it’s heartbreaking, it may be the only option so that your fish no longer bears its pain in silence.

Whatever you do, though, don’t resort to flushing your fish, freezing/boiling it, decapitating it, or keeping it out of water. These inhumane methods will only add to your dying fish’s suffering.

Instead, use one of the two least brutal methods to euthanize your pet fish.

1. Clove Oil Bath

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommended that using clove oil is the most humane way to kill a pet fish. It works as effectively as anesthetics but is readily available.

Here’s how you can use this method on your dying, suffering fish.

  • Place your fish in a bucket filled with water. Make sure to do so gently to avoid stressing your fish further.
  • In a small container, mix four drops of clove oil with water from your tank. If your fish is longer than four inches, increase the number of drops.
  • Shake the small container until its contents turn white.
  • Slowly add the clove oil to the larger container your fish is in. Stir gently to ensure the mixture spreads throughout.
  • Once your fish is unconscious, scoop some of the clove oil bathwater. Add another 12 drops of oil and mix it thoroughly.
  • Add the clove oil mixture back into your fish’s container. Within 30 minutes, your fish’s gills will stop moving. If you still see movement, add more mixture until it’s no more. Continue watching for 10 minutes to ensure your fish’s death.

2. Anesthetic Overdose

Aquarium fish can be euthanized by administering a high dose of anesthetics in their tank water. This method is especially recommended for larger fish that are difficult to handle.

However, this method needs to be carried out by your vet. TIt is because it requires anesthetics such as MS-222 tricaine methanesulfonate, which aren’t available to the public.

If you opt for this method, everything will be done for you. That way, you can focus on comforting your fish as they begin their journey beyond this world.

However, consider having someone tag along with you to have the support you need during this difficult time.

Losing Your Fish Will Never Be Easy

You may be overwhelmed after reading all the above. However, this is an important part of pet ownership. And for all the happiness your pet gave you, you can’t let it suffer as it edges closer to death.

So, if you have a dying fish that’s suffering, make its comfort in its last days your priority. But if that prolongs its suffering, do the right thing for your sake and theirs.