Should You Flush A Dead Fish? The Answer Is Shocking!

We all have come home or woken up to feed the fish and have seen it floating at the top of the tank or bowl. It is a sad thing to happen to anyone when a pet dies no matter how big or small.

We’ve also all seen the popular disposal method on TV, but should you really flush a dead fish? 

No, shockingly you should not flush a dead fish or animal down the toilet. One reason is that the septic system is often not meant to handle anything other than that from humans and toilet paper. The second is the fish may not actually be dead and get into local waterways where it could wreak havoc.

Many of us have already done this and flushed similar things down the toilet before and it is not the end of the world.

You should know the repercussions of flushing a dead fish and other materials down the toilet and why you shouldn’t.

Read on below to learn why not to do it and how to take care care of a dead fish in a much more fitting way.

What do I do if I find a dead fish in my tank? 

We will go over the steps in order on how to deal with the dead fish and proper disposals of it.

You want to do all these steps quickly if you have other fishes as the fish may have died from disease and also that it starts to decompose right away which brings about a foul smell.

  1. Locate it- This is simple enough but by making sure that you know where it is you can start to plan how to extract it in a safe manner if there are other fish in the tank.
  1. Take it out- A good net is the most commonly used tool, others include kitchen tongs, forceps, and your hand. It probably is best to use your net. If you are going to use something else make sure that it is clean but does not have residue or the remnants of other cleaning products as this will contaminate the water. 
  1. Store the fish- Putting the fish in a paper towel and then a ziplock bag is best. You can inspect the fish now or later. A fish can die for many different reasons these include disease or illnesses. You want to see if there anything noticeable discoloration or scales falling off. 
  1. Remove other fish- If there are any other fish remove them immediately as well and store them in a safe place with fresh water.  The longer the other fish are in the tank, the more likely they could get a disease if that was the case. 
  1.  Clean the tank- The tank should then be thoroughly cleaned and freshwater put back into it. Then the proper PH restored to the tank before the other fish or new ones are returned. 
  1. Dispose of the fish properly- There are a few ways of how to do this and how not to do this. I will explain below how to do it and why.

Do’s and Don’ts of disposing of a dead fish

There are a lot of ways to dispose of a dead fish and while they all may work, some of them are better than others. Shockingly the most common way is one of the worst ways to do it, so let’s learn the RIGHT way to do it. 


Bury the fish

This is the best way to dispose of a dead fish. You want to dig out a small hole at least two and a half feet deep, this is about the depth where other animals will not dig to get at it. You also want to do this in a place that is not near a water source or near any underground wire. Your backyard or in a secluded place in the woods would suffice nicely.

This is the best option because it is environmentally friendly and it can remove the risk of damaging your water pipes or causing any environmental issues. 

You can use a simple cardboard box, depending on the size of the fish, or you can even buy a dedicated casket for the fish which is biodegradable, check out this model which is available on Amazon.

Titan Caskets

Also if you have children or were particularly attached to your pet you could create a memorial or know where to visit the departed. If the fish does die in the winter, you could place it in a ziplock or airtight container and put it in the freezer until the ground has thawed. 

The trash

This is not the best option but comes in second as not everyone has access to land to bury their fish. When you do dispose of the fish in the trash you want to make sure it cannot leak out. The best way is to wrap it in a newspaper then put it in a ziplock and then inside another bag. This way if the bag opens the newspaper should absorb any putrified liquid. 


If you have a place that is open-air and well ventilated you could burn the fish. While this is not the most orthodox method, people do this and it is relatively safe and fish ashes don’t carry any airborne pathogens.

If you do not want to do this yourself you can look for a local company that will do it for you. This is a growing trend where they will take care of everything and return the ashes to you in an urn.

Potted Plant

If you can’t bury the fish outside, a potted plant can do. It would have to be a large one and you should not do this if you have any other animals in the house as they might smell it and try to retrieve it. 


Don’t flush the fish

When a fish dies most of us have flushed it down the toilet. As a child, we have stood around with our parents and learned about death for the first time and had a little ceremony. Although it can be tempting to flush a fish, it is wrong for many reasons. 

First off it is unsanitary for you and those that you may live with. Unless you thoroughly cleaned the bathroom everywhere the fish remains have touched it could lead to issues.

Second, it is not good for the environment. Many places do not have septic or public sewer systems that can handle these things. You should not be flushing anything besides your own waste and toilet paper. Recently they have even found out that flushing toilet paper is not even good for the environment and your pipes.

The third is that is can damage your pipes, or the waste management system. If the fish gets stuck it could cause an infestation or even a blockage depending on the size of the fish and your plumbing. 

Fourth is that it may not be dead. Have you ever heard of playing opossum? Well, fish do this, they may seem dead but are not.

If you do flush them they may live and get all the way into the local river or stream. This has happened before and since they are not native it can cause an issue for local wildlife. 

Lastly of all,  it can cost you money. If any issue was to arise and the water/sewage/ insurance companies found out it was due to the flushing of a fish, you will be held responsible and have to pay to fix the issue. 

For more information about being buried with your pet in the USA, please refer to my full article here.

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Don’t feed it to other animals

This may seem strange to some but people will feed the fish to other pets or animals they might have. 

A dead fish will have all kinds of chemicals and bacteria that could be harmful to the animals that you are feeding it to. And unless you did an autopsy, it could have died from a disease or illness that your pets could ingest. Think about your living pets before you do this. 

Throw it outside

Thay may seem the same as throwing it in the trash or burying it, but it is not. Animals getting to it, it getting into the water system and the smell are the main reason not to do this. 

If you want to pick up a quality urn or memorial for your beloved pet I would really recommend OneWorld Memorial which offers a wide range of products for both pet and human memorials. I was personally very happy with an urn I bought from them recently.

Should I tell my children? 

With fish and small children, it is easy to not tell the child and get a replacement, which would do no real harm. But the better option is to teach the child and introduce them to the idea of death. 

You can hold a funeral and go through what happens at a funeral for a person. This can start to prepare them a little for when it happens to a friend or loved one. I actually have an in-depth article about speaking to children about funerals, which you may find useful.

How can fish die

A fish can die for a lot of different reasons like old age, illness, too much/little heat, or most commonly poor water conditions. Sometimes other fish cannibalize each other. 

If you have quite an aquarium, it would be best to show the body of the fish to a vet or other expert for them to diagnose the cause of death so that you can prevent further fish from dying.

How do I prevent my fish from dying?

The best way is to keep the tank clean and in good condition. Also, making sure that you feed the fish at regular intervals and the right food is key. Try to observe your fish and look for any symptoms your fish may have for illnesses. If it does seem to be acting oddly get some medicine and consult a professional.

I recently looked into getting a loan and I’ve actually had a good experience with For me, it was a car loan but I spoke to them about a dedicated funeral expenses loan, which is one of the services they offer and was quite impressed. To see if you could qualify, check out my link here.

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