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How to Cope With the Loss of a Pet Fish: 5 Helpful Techniques

colorful Oranda goldfish

Losing a pet is heartbreaking and sad, but there are many special ways in which you can cherish the deceased fish and make memorable artwork and creative burials for them. Fish may be in their world underwater, but many owners form a bond with their pet fish.

Fish are intelligent and fascinating, and most can outlive many other types of pets. This means your fish will have been in your life for a while and they will be able to recognize you as their owners when they beg for food.


Coming to Terms

Fish get ill quite easily, and most treatments for fatal illnesses are not successful. It is difficult to watch your fish get worse as the illness progresses. It is common to feel helpless in such a situation, as there are limited things you can do when your fish is suffering from certain pathogens or infections. When they pass it is usually hard to come to terms with. This article will help you learn techniques to cope with the loss of your pet fish and inform you on different types of burials you can do to preserve them in your life.

Why Did Your Fish Die?

girl feeding goldfish
Image Credit: Madhourse, Shutterstock

Different types of pets have different lifespans. Goldfish can live anywhere between 5 to 18 years, whereas betta fish usually live up to 3 years. The type of fish in your aquarium will have a varying life expectancy and some will pass sooner than others.

Fish are prone to a variety of illnesses even before they enter your tank. If you do not quarantine new fish for several weeks before you add them into the main tank, they pose a risk of passing pathogens that will make the other fish in the aquarium sick. This can be a problem as fish will usually own show signs of illness when the illness has already progressed. Treating your fish according to its symptoms is the best option in this case. However, many treatments will not be able to save your fish and they will eventually succumb to their illness.

Another reason fish pass away early is by keeping them in unsuitable conditions. Small aquaria, no filters or air stones, and an uncycled tank is one of the top reasons so many fish die when people first get them. Extensive research should be done on each fish you get so that you can ensure that you are providing them with a species-appropriate environment.

A silent killer in many aquariums is the water quality. Elevated levels of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate are toxic to fish and can kill them within hours. This makes it important to do regular water testing and change the water frequently. Chlorine in tap water can kill fish if it is not treated with an aquatic dechlorinate according to the dosages on the label.


The 5 Techniques to Cope with the Loss of a Pet Fish

1. Artwork

Even if you do not have the best artistic skills, creating a drawing or painting of the deceased fish can help you to have a constant visual reminder of their beauty and features. Keeping the artwork up on display is a special way to immortalize them.

fish artwork
Image Credit: Pixabay

2. Talk to an understanding friend or family member

Talking to someone about the favorite things about the deceased fish and what quirky behaviors the fish had can help you to share the bond you had with your pet fish, and it is reassuring to have another person understand how you are feeling after the loss.

3. Journaling

person writing a journal
Image Credit: Pixabay

If you are not the type of person who wants to tell others about how you are feeling after your fish has passed, you could write down your feelings in a journal. You will be able to freely express your thoughts without feeling judged. It can also help to declutter your mind.

4. Fish support groups or forums

Joining a community of fish keepers can make the experience less difficult. Other fish keepers have most likely gone through difficult fish deaths and can sympathize and relate to your experience. You can also share your favorite pictures of your fish and tell the community some details about them.

5. Exercise and other activities

woman jogging
Image Credit: Pixabay

Instead of being cooped up in your room or isolating yourself, try various activities that you love. Exercise raises endorphins which can boost your mood. Other therapeutic activities are gardening, going shopping, an outing with friends, helping out at a local animal shelter, or even taking a self-care day and get your hair or nails done.

divider-fishCreative Burials for Deceased Fish

Planning what to do with the fish’s body after it passes can be tricky. Fortunately, there are several ways to create a memorable burial for your beloved fish.

  • Potted Plant: Once the fish has passed, you could plant them in a flowerpot. Depending on the size of the fish, some can even be kept in a desk-sized flowerpot. Make sure that you bury them at the bottom of the pot. Choose a flower or one of your favorite plants to grow inside of the pot. A beautiful aspect of this burial method is that the plant uses the nutrients from the decaying fish and grows from it, which shows your fish is giving life to another living thing.
  • Grave: Digging a grave and burying the fish in a decorative box is another ideal way to part with your deceased fish. You can get creative and make a headstone painted with the fish’s name and the date of passing.
  • Flowerbed: If you have a space in your garden, you can create a little flower bed. Fill the area with your favorite flowering plants and bury the fish underneath it. This is a great way to create a spot to bury multiple fish if you own a variety of different fish.
  • Cremation: You can also get your fish cremated. The ashes can be placed in a decorative vase, in a necklace vial, or in a special decoration that reminds you of the deceased fish. This is ideal for larger types of fish like goldfish, cichlids, plecos, and Oscars.
  • Author’s note: Never flush a fish down the toilet or place them into indigenous waterways. This is a hazard for wild species that will be exposed to captive aquarium pathogens.
potted plant by the window
Image Credit: Pixabay

Dealing with Guilt

Sometimes when a fish passes, it is normal to feel guilty about the situation. You may have been too busy and forgotten to do a water change, or maybe you forgot the switch the heater back on after a power outage. It is important to understand that these are mistakes, and you should take time to forgive yourself. Remember fish keeping is a long journey full of learning opportunities. It is okay to feel guilty, but do not be too harsh on yourself as many people have made the same mistakes as you have.

When to Get Another Fish

Getting a new fish right away may not be something everyone will consider, but many people deal with loss differently. Some people may prefer to get a new fish a few days later. There is nothing wrong with this and is a therapeutic way to give another fish a loving home.

It is important to make sure no leftover pathogens are in the tank the fish passed in. It should be sterilized and cycled before a new fish is placed inside. This does not apply to community tanks where multiple fish live, but the new fish should still be quarantined.

For some people, getting a new fish right away is not a good option. You should wait till you are ready to own another fish again and not feel like you are replacing the deceased fish.


Final Thoughts

As sad as it is to lose a pet fish, it is bound to happen to all fish keepers. Even the experts deal with fish deaths regularly. However, by providing a good home with all the appropriate equipment and a large tank, you can rest assured knowing that you gave the fish the best possible life.

Featured Image Credit: Nature and Life, Shutterstock

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