How To Comfort A Dying Fish


Our pets are not just animals, they are family members. They give us love, company, and many wonderful memories.

Fish are not the exception, they can bring so much tranquility in our lives as we watch them glide serenely through the water.

So when the time to cross the rainbow bridge starts to approach is our responsibility to ensure they are as comfortable as possible until they are ready to go.

Below I describe 5 ways you can use to keep your fish comfortable while he/she approaches the rainbow bridge.

1.Water Temperature

As your fish gets older, or if they are sick, they may be more susceptible to stress and/or decease when the water temperature changes. 

Although water temperature change is inevitable, this must be kept to the minimum. 

Never place your aquarium near a door, a window that gets a lot of sun, or next to a heating or air vent that can change water temperatures quickly.

Furthermore, old and sick fish are less active and thus won warm up as quickly if the temperature goes down.

To mitigate this, perhaps consider keeping the water temperature in the higher range to what they need. For example for tropical fish keep the aquarium at 80 °F (26 °C), for cool water fish keep the water temperature at 75 °F (24 °C), and for those that like it cold 70 °F (21 °C) may be appropriate. 

In short, know what the range temperature your beloved fish like and keep their waters in the higher range, but keep an eye on the temperature. If the waters get too hot, concentrations of dissolved oxygen will go down and this can kill your little friend.

2.Water Quality 

Freshwater fish typically thrive when the pH level is between 6.8 and 7.5, but different fish thrive in different environments.

A change in pH greater than 0.3 – 0.5 in a 24-hour period can cause a fish to become stressed, susceptible to disease or worse yet may send them into pH shock.

To keep your scaly friend comfortable during his/ her final months, weeks, days ensure the pH levels are optimal at all times. 

3.Sun Light 

If you are reading this post is because you have a fish you love dearly. 

If you have that special bond with your fish the chances are that you already know the pros and cons of sunlight in your tank: too much sunlight = algae bloom, not enough sunlight = your fish may get pale.

However, for older or sick fish I will try and keep it out of the sunlight. While sunlight doesn’t affect fish, to keep algae bloom controlled you will have to clean the tank more regularly.

If your scaly friend is dying, he/she probably won’t want to be bothered with being in and out of his home all the time so that it can be cleaned regularly. Furthermore, you are already keeping the water at a higher range. Extra heat may push the water temperature too high and this can be deadly.

If however, you decide that your fish really wants sun on his bones, then make sure you keep a very close eye on the water temperature, in fact perhaps keeping it in the higher range is not such a good idea. Maybe bring it down by a degree or so.

4.Clean Headquarters 

We all like to live in a clean space. Your scaly friend is not different. 

A dirty tank is not only ugly to look at but it will stress your fish.

What causes your tank to become dirty? The by-products of your fish waste or the uneaten food particles, and for those that have plants in their aquarium; the dead leaves.

If your fish waste, old food breakdown and / or dead leave matter accumulate in the tank, it will cause an increase in the level of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites which in turn will reduce oxygen levels. 

The reduction in oxygen level will stress your fish as he/she struggles to bread. Furthermore, as your fish is old or already sick this will only cause further discomfort.

So to give your scaly friend comfort, keep their headquarters clean.

5.Rest

As your fish approaches the rainbow bridge they need to rest more. 

Ensure they can have the necessary rest by keeping the outside environment of the tank quiet and peaceful.

Fish have strong hearing abilities. Loud noises or even tapping in their aquarium will scare them, bother them as stress them. 

So keep their outside environment peaceful and quiet to give your dying fish comfort during his/her last months, weeks, days.

How To Cope With The Loss of A Fish 

Our scaly friends give us tranquility, peace, memories, and love. So when we lose them it is hard to adjust to a life without them.

Below I describe the steps that have helped me deal with grieve, the time I have lost one of my wonderful pets.

Acknowledge Your Grief

Everybody experiences grief differently. 

There are people that grieve in stages, having feelings such as anger, denial, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution.

While other people, experience grief in wave cycles with very low moments followed by flat or even high moments. 

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

The length of grief also varies from person to person. Some people grieve for weeks, others months and some will grieve for years.

To acknowledge your grief, let yourself cry when you need it, allow yourself to shout when you need it, and talk, talk, talk. 

Talking to those close to you, a professional therapist, or an agency dedicated to listening to those grieving, should help you avoid bottling up your feelings.

This is important because, bottling up the overwhelming feelings that you will experience at one point or another while grieving, may send you into a path of depression, anxiety, drug abuse and/or health problems.

Acknowledging your grief doesn’t make you any less strong, but instead allows you to gain a balance, and that is the end goal. 

To balance your life again and learn to live on a day to day basis without your beloved fish.

Look After Yourself

Allowing yourself to grieve is paramount in order to eventually accept what is. However; active, healthy grieving requires balance:

  • Balance in the time you spend acknowledging your grief with the time you spend coping with your day-to-day life; 
  • Balance in your alone time with the time you spend with others, and 
  • Balance in your self-care, such as the time you spend sleeping or exercising. 

Focusing too strongly on any single side of these, and you may harm your physical and mental health.

So make sure you sleep, exercise, eat well, maintain a routine, give yourself a break from grieving and seek help when you feel you are not coping.

Our article “12 self-care essentials while grieving the loss of a pet” has been written to help you achieve balance on your physical and mental health while dealing with the loss of your pet.

Do Not Let Others Tell You How To Feel

There are people that may have comments such as “but it was just a fish”, “you can get another one”, “you need to move on”. 

These people may make you feel judged and/or embarrassed for showing or expressing you are grieving. 

They do not understand what you are going through, most likely because they have never experienced it themselves.

Keep away from these people. They will only make you feel worse. Instead, surround yourself with people that understand your grief.

Attend grieving meetings, seek friends and/or family members that have gone through it, or at least seek people that are open to the idea that grieving your lost pet is as normal as grieving a human companion.

Do not let people tell you how you should feel. Your grief is your own, and no one should be allowed to tell you: the length grief should last, nor when it is time “to move on” .

Accept What Has Happened

This is easier said than done.

You may find yourself trying to figure out what you could have done differently to prevent the death of your fish, or you may find yourself trying to figure out how you could have given him/her an even better life, or what you could have said or not said.

These thoughts are destructive and unhelpful.

Accepting your new reality does not mean you love your pet less, or that you have to forget them, it simply means that you are fulfilling the wishes of your companion and best friend, you are “carrying on” with your life until you see them again.

Take Time To Grieve

In a time when life moves very quickly and everyone is so busy, finding time to grieve may not be easy.

However, taking the time to acknowledge your grief, to accept your new reality, to take care of yourself, will help you achieve a balance in life again.

To take time to grief try:

  • Seeing friends or family that understand and are sympathetic to your feelings. Talking about what you are going through will help you deal with your grief.
  • Take some time during the day to sit down with a cup of herbal tea and some music. This is the perfect opportunity to do what you have tried to suppress all day: cry, laugh, shout. There is no right or wrong action here. Simply take the time to acknowledge your grief. Avoid using alcohol, drugs or even caffeine. These will not help you deal with the overwhelming sensation you are feeling at the moment. They may make you feel worse.

There is not a timeline for grieving. Everyone experiences this differently. Some people’s grief may last a few weeks, some a few months some years.

However you need to take the time to grieve the loss of your pet, ensure this is done with balance, but most importantly, ensure it is done.

Do Something Symbolic

Giving back in memory of your fish to an animal shelter or other organization, lighting a special candle or adding a photo and story of your pet to a virtual cemetery is a way to memorialize your beloved fish, and to help you heal.

Grieving and accepting the loss of your fish can be overwhelming, stressful and very emotional. 

Therefore to cope with the loss of your pet ensure you acknowledge your grief, take care of yourself and take time to grieve.

If you feel you need to talk, but those around you do not understand your grief, and you are in countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, Australia, or New Zealand; there are agencies dedicated to helping people going through grief.

If you are in another country or do not want to speak on the phone why not try an online chat room. These chat rooms are often moderated by councilors and you get to meet others that are going or have gone through the same heartache you are going through.

Bury Your Scaly Friend (DO NOT FLUSH)

The last advice I have for you in this difficult time is to bury your fish and not flash him/her down the toilet. 

Unfortunately, many fish owners dispose of their dead fish by flushing them down the toilet. 

However, if your fish dies of a disease; flushing them down the toilet may spread their disease onto other ecosystems in the wild.

If they die of old age, flushing them down the toilet may harm the wild ecosystems when the carcass starts to rot, releasing harmful chemicals as it decomposes.

To avoid damaging our natural environment, why not bury your fish instead.

Burying will also give you a  place you can visit every time you want to remember your beloved fish.

When burying your fish, ensure he/she is deep enough (5-6 ft (1.5 – 2 m)) so that no other animal such as a cat or raccoon can dig it up and eat it. 

Conclusion

If your beloved fish is approaching the rainbow bridge you can make him/her comfortable by:

  • Keeping the water temperature at a comfortable temperature depending on what your scaly friend likes,
  • Keeping their water quality neutral,
  • Avoiding loads or direct sunlight as this encourages algae growth and can increase water temperature,
  • Keeping their home clean so they are stress-free, and
  • Allowing them to rest by providing them a quiet environment.

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