As an aquarist, you always make sure your pet fish is at the brim of health. Water quality is a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy fish. The overall environment of the fish tank also ensures whether you get a dead fish or one that can live for a long time. How to save a fish from dying in an aquarium is a primary concern for any fish owner.

We will discuss how to save a fish from dying. After all, a sick fish can still be saved if you know how to properly uphold a good living environment inside the fish tank.

gold fish in water tank

How to Identify a Sick Fish

How to save a fish from dying starts with recognizing the signs that the fish is sick. While you cannot stop a fish from dying because of old age, you can still prevent deaths caused by external factors. Knowing how to identify a sick fish will let you know that something’s wrong inside the tank.

While signs and symptoms of a dying fish may differ from one species to another, here are the most common signs that all fish species share:


Various fish species have different energy levels. Some are more active than others. When you notice the fish is exhibiting behaviors that are not normal for its species, it is likely the result of confusion.

Check for the fish’s movements inside the aquarium. Is it swimming the way it usually does, or more erratically? Some sick fish tend to swim around upside down or sideways, while some may stay in one place and not move at all. Other weird behaviors include rubbing themselves on hard surfaces and appearing disoriented.

Loss of Appetite

Not wanting to eat is a sign of being sick for humans and fish. Seeing the food you fed your fish hours ago still floating is a sign of appetite loss. You must also be able to distinguish the difference between loss of appetite and overfeeding.

Sometimes, you overfeed the fish leading to fish food left in the tank. You might misconstrue this as the fish not eating. Always check the amount of food that remains. If the amount is less than what you originally put in, the fish already has its fill.

Spots and Discoloration

Aquarium fish are prone to diseases, especially if there are no frequent water changes that provide them with clean tank water. Fish are prone to bacterial infection and fungal infection.


The appearance of white spots on its fins or any part of its body and the discoloration of its gills are telltale signs that something is wrong. Most often, this is just a result of poor water quality.

When there is undesirable water quality inside the fish tank, the ammonia level increases and may lead to ammonia poisoning or burns characterized by red streaks on the fish’s body. It is best to do water changes regularly to prevent this kind of stress on your fish.

Difficulty Breathing

Fish species have different breathing patterns. But, if you see a fish gasping for air at the surface, it is likely because the oxygen level inside the fish tank is too low for survival. In some cases, however, fish develop breathing difficulty due to breathing problems or improper use of gills. Dissolved oxygen (DO) is crucial in analyzing the tank’s water quality.

Water movement helps increase the oxygen level inside a fish tank. Using an air pump or doing water changes can increase water movements. You may also stir the water or put a fan near the aquarium to increase the oxygen the fish need to breathe.


A dying fish will likely isolate itself from other fish inside the aquarium. However, you must also differentiate that some fish isolate themselves to protect themselves from perceived dangers such as the presence of an aggressive fish or when they are under stress.

A quarantine tank may be needed to isolate a sick fish or when you are about to introduce a new fish.

Stomach Expanding

Bloating or bulging of the stomach, known as dropsy, is common in sick fish. This is often due to parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infections. However, it can also result from organ dysfunction, particularly in the liver, or probable fluid build-up in the body. If not treated properly, dropsy may lead to death.

Treatment of this depends on the underlying cause. Some treatments include adding aquarium salt and following through with regular water changes. Never do a water change of more than 50% all at once if the pH level is correct inside the fish tank.

In cases when the pH level is wrong, do a small and partial water change several times, ensuring the water parameter is maintained keeps the fish and beneficial bacteria alive.

Bulging Eyes

An eye, or both eyes, may bulge. It happens when the eyes of the fish are sticking out too much from its head. This can be painful and uncomfortable for your pet. Bulging eyes are often a result of infections from parasites and bacteria. It can also be a sign of a different disease altogether.

Whatever the cause is, treating the underlying problem is a must. Consulting a vet is highly recommended, so proper medications such as antibiotics can be prescribed.

Appearance of Mucus, Sores and Wounds

Sores and wounds often come about due to a weakening defense mechanism. Many pathogens live inside the tank, probably from the tap water used and other factors involved in the fish’s habitat. The presence of parasites in the water can further weaken and damage the skin, which acts as the fish’s first line of defense. When the skin is broken, bacteria can enter the system.

Veterinary care is mostly required, especially for those with severe problems. Once treatment is applied promptly, the fish is likely to survive the ordeal with some antibiotic therapy.

How to Save a Fish From Dying

aquarium with plants and fish

Knowing how to save a fish from dying is a must for every fish keeper. Whether an amateur or seasoned aquarist, you must have the skills to prevent and save fish from dying.

Maintaining or Improving the Tank Environment

The tank environment is a crucial factor in saving a dying fish. The tank must always be clean and free from fish waste, food debris, and other toxic pathogens. All water parameters, such as nitrite, ammonia, water temperature, and pH level, must also be maintained. It is important to know the specific water parameters that different species require to ensure that you use the appropriate levels for your fish.

Installing a filtration system, whenever necessary, is also a must. You can also treat the water with a water conditioner and aquarium salt to ensure that the water remains clean and toxin-free. Additionally, regular and frequent water changes are also encouraged to maintain healthy aquatic life.

Assessing Problems and Possible Problems

The above signs of a sick fish are crucial in letting you understand how to save a fish from dying. Identifying the signs and assessing the problem will keep you in the loop of the primary issue. Checking the fish for a change in shape and size should be done. Knowing the actual problem makes it easier for you to proceed with specific and concrete actions to solve it.

Proper Feeding and Caring

A fish tank is no stranger to food debris. The leftover food waste, however, is bad for the filtration system and normally causes water parameters to rise above their appropriate levels, making the fish prone to sickness and death.

Proper feeding and caring should be provided to save a fish from dying. It is best to pour different fish food for an aquarium with varied fish species since not all species share the same food requirements. For a dying fish, however, feeding it with veggies and low-protein food may help. Giving the fish small yet frequent feedings is better than a large meal.

Part of the care is also giving the fish a salt bath. When giving salt baths, ensure that the water temperature in the container for the bath is the same as the water temperature in the tank.

Adding pure liquid chlorophyll to the tank also benefits fish, particularly goldfish.

Correct Inappropriate Practices

Incorrect practices such as overfeeding or inappropriate water changes are unhealthy for all aquatic life, fish, and plants. A responsible aquarist must have the right knowledge and skills to become a seasoned fish keeper.

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