Aquariums at Home may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on this site. See footer.

How to Get Rid of a Dead Fish? (Do it Right)

Having pet fish is something I have done for over 30 years and one thing I’ve never enjoyed about this hobby is disposing of them when they die. I really enjoy my fish and in a weird way, I get to know them by observing them and their different personalities. I get close to them, you might say. It bothers me when my pet fish die. It happens, however, and that’s life, I guess.

Dead fish can be flushed down a toilet if the fish is under 3”. If your pet fish are too large to flush, then they can be disposed of by burying them or placing them in the trash. Yet another method to dispose of dead fish is to burn them in a fire.   

Those are all methods I have used to dispose of my pet fish once deceased. In this article, I’ll dive deeper into each one of those methods as well as talk about how to identify if your fish is really dead or not. I’ll also explain what happens if you leave a dead fish in the tank for too long and if a dead is considered a ‘bad omen.’

Can You Flush a Dead Fish Down the Toilet?

The most common way to dispose of a dead fish seems to be flushing it down the toilet. Let’s talk about this.

Once you know the fish is indeed dead, if it’s under 3″, I would feel safe flushing it down a toilet. Here’s why. The diameter in your toilet drain should be at least 3″ and the sewer line attached is 3″ which then turns into 4″ once it hits the stack in your home. I know this because one of my jobs 30 years ago was as a plumber.

This 3″ to 4″ diameter pipe will be large enough to flush a 3″ or under fish quite easily. Anything larger and you risk plugging up your sewer line.

So, yes, you can flush a small fish down the toilet.

flushing dead goldfish down toilet

How to Dispose of a Dead Fish

We have the toilet method covered. Now here are some other ways you can safely dispose of a dead fish.

Dead fish can be buried in your yard or somewhere you deem worthy of accepting your dead fish to be a part of the earth. Make sure if you do bury the fish, you dig down deep enough so no large animals can smell the decaying fish and decide to dig it up.

Some pet fish owners decide to burn or cremate their fish. If you have a fire pit at your home or cottage, this is the perfect way to get rid of your pet fish.

You could throw the dead fish in a river or lake as fish die all the time and provided the fish you put in didn’t have any types of diseases, then this would be just fine.

Lastly, I would wrap the fish in tissue or paper towel and dispose of it in your garbage. If you’re okay with doing that, then it’s a fine option.

Make sure whichever way you decide to get rid of your dead fish that once it’s gone, you’re okay with how you proceeded with its disposal.

How to Tell if a Fish is Dead?

The simplest way to tell if a fish is dead is to look at it. If you can see its eyes or gills open or moving, it’s alive. If the gills move up and down, the fish is alive. If you can’t see its eyes or gills moving, the fish may be dead.

This is deceiving, however, because sometimes fish are resting or paralyzed in fear and even though they are not moving, they could very well be alive.

Most times, aside from looking at the eyes or gills, just checking the body can determine if the fish is dead of alive. Fish will start to decay quickly in the tank and their color will fade fast. The look of the scales will change as in they will start to appear white and cloudy.

Another sure-fire way to tell if your fish is dead is to take something and lightly poke the fish to see what it does. I usually use a small fish net and that way, if the fish does turn out to be dead, I can scoop it our right-away with the net.

How Long Can You Leave a Dead Fish in a Tank?

Fish can be left in a tank for a few days if you happen to miss that they were dead. Chances are, if you leave the fish in the tank that long, they’ll start to decompose and /or the other inhabitants of the tank will eat it.

Have you ever had small fish and they just vanish? You search all around the inside of the tank and outside on the floor, but the fish is just gone?  It’s because the other fish ate it. It’s amazing how fast this can happen.

Make sure to do a cleaning when the dead fish has been taken out of the tank if some of it decomposed in the aquarium. You can vacuum substrate and scoop out, anything that shouldn’t be left in the tank.

Leaving a dead fish in your tank will cause the nitrate levels to rise. You don’t want that to happen.

Even though you could potentially leave a dead fish in the tank for a few days, it should be disposed of ASAP.

Is a Fish Dying a Bad Omen?

Yes and No. If you’re afraid of bad luck, then yes. If you don’t believe in bad luck, then no. The only way to not have bad luck is if the fish dies outside of the tank. If a fish dies inside the tank, it’ll either be eaten by its tank mates or decompose and pollute your water.

Fish dying in an aquarium happens all the time and most times, it’s unexpected. Whether it’s a bad omen or not is up to you to decide. I know some people need a reason for why things happen but sometimes things happen just because.

The omen when your aquarium fish die is because of the tank conditions – the fish was sick, the fish was old. You need to take better care of the tank and or learn more about how to care for a tank.


In summation, how you dispose of your dead fish is up to you and there are different ways to go about it.

You must ensure that whichever way you choose is something that will not contaminate anything in your home or aquarium.

Dead fish should also not be allowed to decompose in an aquarium as this will pollute the water and you don’t want that.

Make sure you’re okay with how you dispose of the dead fish and keep in mind that when your aquarium fish die, you should treat them as you would any other pet (member of the family).

Thank-you for reading. I hope I was able to help you with the situation of dealing with dead pet fish. Good luck.

Related Posts

Is It Ethical to Keep Fish in A Tank? [A Feel-Good Explanation]

Why Do Fish Die After Cleaning the Tank?

What To Do When a Fish Dies In Your Tank?