We don’t often talk about the emotional bonds we form with our pet fish, but they become beloved members of the family like all our other animals.
It is hard to watch the fish you love pass away in their aquarium or backyard pond.
You can take comfort in the fact that you can make their final days more comfortable.
There is a point where you can no longer keep your fish healthy, but there are things you can do to keep your fish happy.
You can keep their tank or their pond quiet and undisturbed. You can make sure they swim in clean, warm water.
You can shield them from bright lights and loud noises.
And you can remove them from close contact with other, more aggressive fish or other pets that provoke a fear reaction in them, like the family cat.
In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about making your fish’s last days comfortable, beginning with the most important thing you can do to keep any fish happy.
How to Comfort a Dying Fish?
While there is not a lot that you can do, you can still try and make the fish feel better and stress-free by making sure their habitat is comfortable.
Below are some of the things you can take care of to comfort a dying fish.
Provide Good Water Quality
Every fish, well, almost every fish, spends all of its time in the water.
Water is its home.
Different kinds of fish need different kinds of water quality—for example, a Congo tetra or platy will prefer mineral-rich hard water while a Corydoras catfish or an angelfish thrive in soft water—but every fish needs uncontaminated, appropriately oxygenated water to feel well.
When fish are sick or dying, pH becomes an extremely important factor in water quality (pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of water, with 7.0 being neutral, anything below 7.0 being acidic, and anything above 7.0 being alkaline).
Different kinds of fish find it easiest to absorb oxygen from water at different pH levels.
Your fish will live longer in water that is alkalized or acidified to match its preferred pH.
When fish are sick or dying, it’s important to avoid sudden changes in pH that can stress or shock the fish.
Getting the water in your aquarium or backyard pond right and keeping it there will help your fish live longer and happier through its final days.
Recommended pH ranges differ greatly by species:
- Cardinal tetras need a pH of 4.6 to 6.2.
- Clown loaches need a pH of 6.0 to 6.5.
- Danios need a pH of 6.0 to 8.0.
- Goldfish need a pH of 7.0 to 7.5.
- Guppies need a pH of 7.0 to 8.5.
- Harlequin rasbora need a pH of 6.0 to 6.5.
- Hatchetfish need a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Minnows need a pH of 6.0 to 8.0.
- Plectostumus need a pH of 5.0 to 7.0.
- Silver dollars need a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Rams need a pH of 6.0 to 6.5.
- Tiger barbs need a pH of 6.0 to 6.5
As you can see, different kinds of fish need different levels of acidity and alkalinity for the water in which they live.
Putting the two kinds of fish with conflicting pH requirements in the same aquarium or pond guarantees that at least one won’t be healthy.
When your fish has become very sick, you can make its life easier by putting in water with its needed pH, without changing the pH to make other fish sick.
It’s also important to keep your fish’s water clean. Organic debris in your fish’s tank or pond eventually decays.
The process of decay uses oxygen.
Fish aren’t able to “breathe” when their water is filled with decaying plant or animal matter.
Some kinds of decaying organic matter release toxic gases, like hydrogen sulfide.
Adding water features to an outdoor fishpond, like a recirculating waterfall, helps to keep oxygen levels high.
If your fish are in an aquarium, make sure the pump is running.
But don’t run water features or pumps that will trap weak or dying fish against the intake grate.
Keep Your Fish’s Water Warm
Some fish prefer warm water. Some fish prefer cold water. All fish have a temperature range at which they are most comfortable.
Most (although not all) fish are cold-blooded.
This means they depend on the temperature of the water they are swimming in to stay comfortable.
It isn’t just important to keep your fish’s water in the right temperature range. It is also important to avoid major temperature fluctuations.
This is hard to do with an outdoor pond, but all you have to do for indoor fish in aquariums is to keep the room temperature constant.
You can monitor the temperature of the water in an aquarium with a digital thermometer.
Many models come with an alarm that alerts you when the water temperature goes above or below a certain range.
What’s the right temperature range for your fish? Here are some temperature ranges for common aquarium fish:
- Angelfish prefer 84 to 86° F (29 to 30° C).
- Bettas prefer 75 to 80° F (23 to 27° C).
- Cardinal tetras prefer 73 to 81° F (23 to 27° C).
- Danios prefer 70 to 78° F (21 to 26° C).
- Goldfish prefer 68 to 74° F (20 to 23° C).
- Guppies prefer 74 to 82° F (23 to 28° C).
- Harlequin rasboras prefer 72 to 82° F (22 to 28° C).
- Hatchetish prefers 72 to 81° F (22 to 27° C).
- Minnows prefer 64 to 72° F (17 to 21° C).
- Plectostumus prefer 78 to 82° F (26 to 28° C().
- Rams prefer 84 to 86° F (29 to 30° C).
- Tiger barb prefers 75 to 82° F * (24 to 28° C).
- Koi Fish prefers 65 to 75° F
If your sick fish is in the same tank or pond with other fish that require a different water temperature, isolate it so you can keep it comfortable.
Don’t Overfeed your Fish
It is an understandable instinct to overfeed your fish when you are concerned that they are sick.
When you don’t know what else to do to show that you care, you reach for the fish food.
Avoid the urge to overfeed sick fish.
Fish can’t necessarily control their appetites, especially when they are sick.
if they eat too much they can become bloated. This puts pressure on their internal organs and may cause them pain.
Another reason to avoid overfeeding is maintaining water quality. Both uneaten fish food and fecal matter decay in your fish’s enclosure.
They encourage the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
The decay process, as we mentioned earlier, depletes your fish’s water of oxygen. It can release harmful gases.
A dying fish still needs food, but no more food than usual. Show your concern for your fish in other ways.
Provide Your Fish Peace and Quiet
You have probably noticed those signs in aquarium supply stores that tell you not to tap on the side of fish tanks.
And you have no doubt noticed that your fish notices you, right?
Fish are aware of what is going on around them. Sounds travel through your floors and walls to your indoor aquarium, or through the ground to your outdoor fishpond, and reverberate in the water.
Fish can feel the shock waves that are set off by outside noises. They can get stressed out by them.
Providing fish in an outdoor pond isn’t just something you should do when you have a dying fish.
It is always a good idea to build an outdoor pond in a spot that is shielded from boisterous pets, children at play, and heavy foot traffic.
You should enjoy your outdoor fish in peace and quiet the same way you give them peace and quiet.
For a dying fish indoors, it’s important to remind your children not to get loud around the fish.
Tell them to indulge in loud activities in another room. Make sure televisions, mp3 players, and radios are operated at a volume that allows easy conversation.
That’s quiet enough for your fish.
And don’t scream at your fish trying to get its attention.
Just like the pet store, you need to make sure everyone in your home knows not to tap on the side of the tank to get the attention of your fish.
Separate a Dying Fish from Other Aggressive Fish
Fish are social animals. Many of them swim in schools, after all. They are born looking for the company of other fish.
When fish are sick or dying, however, they may prefer to spend their time alone.
If your dying fish is in the same enclosure as a particularly aggressive fish that just won’t leave it alone, or that is maybe planning to eat it at the first opportunity (fish owners have had fish that simply “disappeared” overnight), make sure your dying fish and your aggressive fish have different aquariums.
How you can tell your fish is dying
How do you know your fish is dying? How do you know your fish isn’t just having a bad day?
Here are the signs to look out for that tell you that your fish may be dying:
- Your fish doesn’t want to eat. Most fish greedily eat anything you feed them. A fish that doesn’t have an appetite is likely to be sick. Don’t be concerned if there is leftover food after you feed your fish. But if your fish doesn’t want to eat anything at all, there may be a serious health issue.
- Your fish isn’t as active as usual. Especially if you have provided your fish with an interesting tank, fish find things to do during the day. They are more active at some times of day and less active at others, but they have normal, daily patterns of activity. But a fish that is normally darting from one end of the tank to the other that becomes suddenly sedentary, or a fish that starts swimming sideways or doesn’t seem to know its way around the tank anymore may be very sick.
- Your fish has discolored or fuzzy fins or scales. Discoloration of a fish’s scale is usually caused by a buildup of ammonia in the water. Ammonia is a byproduct of urine. It builds up when your fish’s water isn’t changed often enough. Ammonia buildup can be fatal to all the fish in your tank. Fuzzy fins or scales or a sign of fungal infection. It’s important to quarantine the fish that have it.
- Popped out eyes are a sign that something is seriously wrong with your fish, that is, unless it is a kind of fish that ordinarily has prominent eyes, like a spectacled triplefin. Sunken eyes are a sign, as hard as it may be to believe, that your fish has become dehydrated. This is possible even though a fish lives in water if its kidneys are overactive.
- Your fish is trying to breathe at the surface. This is a sign that oxygen levels in the water of your fish’s tank are low, or that it has a problem with its gills. This is a signal that it is time to change the water and add an aeration device.
- Your fish just wants to be alone. This is a sign of a sick fish.
There are a few things you can try just in case your fish isn’t really dying. You can gently remove any debris or fungus growing on its gills.
You can oxygenate its water with a bubbler. You can try adding garlic or chlorophyll to the water to kill disease-causing microbes.
But if these measures don’t work, and you can’t get advice from a veterinarian about what to do next, you can follow the steps we have listed above to keep your dying fish comfortable.
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