Goldfish Euthanasia

First of all, let’s make it perfectly clear that goldfish feel pain, and they remember it. They have a memory considerably longer than 3 seconds and are capable of complex behaviour.

So if a goldfish is suffering from an illness that cannot be cured or even treated, what is the best way of ending its suffering?

Some methods of goldfish euthanasia are based on anaesthetic overdose. Others are based on rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the water, thereby suffocating the fish. Some methods use extremes of temperature. The old fashioned (and still widely used) way is to behead the goldfish.


Finquel is an American brand name for a fish anaesthetic called MS-222. An overdose of this drug is considered a very humane method of goldfish euthanasia. The problem is getting your hands on MS-222 and administering the correct dose. It is also important to note that MS-222 makes water acidic. If this is not buffered i.e. if the acidity is not reversed, the fish will die a painful death. The easiest way to do this is to add baking soda in equal measure to the MS-222. Please note, this is unrelated to the baking soda method of goldfish euthanasia. The suggested dose is half a teaspoon of MS-222 with half a teaspoon of baking soda for every 4 litres of water.

Clove Oil

Using clove oil to anaesthetise a goldfish is a more accessible form of anaesthetic overdose. Indeed clove oil is also known as eugonol, a common fish anaesthetic used by vets. Fill a separation tank with 4 or 5 litres of the goldfish’s tank water and place the goldfish in it. Then fill a jam jar half full of the same water. Add a teaspoon of clove oil and shake it until the water turns white. This will require a bit of effort as clove oil does not mix readily with water so it needs to be shaken. Pour this mixture into the separation tank and wait for the goldfish to lose consciousness.


Another veterinary fish anaesthetic that is not generally given to members of the general public because it is a substance that can be abused by humans.

Clove Oil and Vodka

A variation of the clove oil and water method. The idea is for the clove oil to dissolve in the vodka, which is then easily dissolved in the tank water. This method is not recommended because it is very hard to get the correct dosage. If it is not correct, the vodka burns the goldfish’s gills and caused extreme pain prior to death.

Baking Soda

When mixed with water, baking soda produces carbon dioxide. To use this method of goldfish euthanasia mix 10 teaspoons of baking soda with a litre of water then add the mixture to a separation tank with the goldfish already in it.

Alka Seltzer

Works exactly the same way as baking soda – it increases carbon dioxide levels in the water. Use one tablet per 10 litres of water, then add the goldfish.

When using any of the anaesthetic overdose or carbon dioxide poisoning methods leave the goldfish for at least ten minutes after the last sign of life.


This is a quick and pain free method of goldfish euthanasia. Until relatively recently it was the only method. However, there are 2 good reasons not to dispose of a goldfish this way: firstly, the fish will experience obvious discomfort and stress in the moments between being taken out of water and getting its head removed, and secondly it can be very messy.

Freezing and Boiling

Do not use either of these methods. They are now thought to cause extreme pain and slow death.


So to get back to the original question – if a goldfish is suffering from an illness that cannot be cured or even treated, what is the best way of ending its suffering? There lies the problem. There isn’t a best way. For a start we are talking about killing goldfish. Never nice.

Anaesthetic overdose is, on the face of it, the most humane method of goldfish euthanasia. However on a practical level it may not be possible to obtain veterinary anaesthetic in a reasonable timeframe (or at all). The carbon dioxide methods are quite likely to cause a degree of suffering simply due to the fact the goldfish is being suffocated. It’s bound to know something is seriously wrong. The reasons against beheading are the same. Freezing and boiling are out of the question.

So the most important thing is probably not how the goldfish’s suffering is ended, rather how great that suffering is. If you know your fish is experiencing high levels of pain and discomfort and has a poor quality of life with no chance of recovery, you are doing the right thing by disposing of it humanely.

13 Responses to “Goldfish Euthanasia”

  1. sandra boyes Says:

    What about flushing down the toilet? Is that as humane as clove oil? I will not behead. My fantail goldfish has had the dropsy for months & I have tried all the recommeded therapirs to no avail. HELP

  2. denise Says:

    i am pretty sure this is what one of the goldfish in my pond has. his belly is really really swollen on one side and it looks like swimming is really difficult for him – his inflated belly appears to cause him to rise to the surface and he swims against this pressure?? i am thinking he needs to be euthanased…? do people agree?? such a shame none of the other ones have it so perhaps he has cancer?

  3. Jem Says:

    Hi Denise – he could have swim bladder disorder so before you euthanise him try giving him some frozen peas or daphnia to flush his system through – (if your fish doesn’t have popped out scales its more likely to be this than dropsy so its worth a try)

  4. Nikki Says:

    Hi Denise – hope your fish has made a good recovery by now, and that you did try the peas! I have just had a similar problem with one of mine, and we were sadly of the opinion that we should end his suffering. He was bloated, had wedged himself in a corner and was a real sorry state to look at. We tried squashed peas and after a day he picked up a bit. 3 days on he’s made a full recovery and is swimming round like a maniac! Definitely worth a try. Good luck!

  5. hercule Says:

    my goldfish was gonna die i just took the dead bugers body buried it and kept it in my garden as manure to keep its body useful isnt that humane

  6. Lisa T Says:

    What’s this frozen pea method please? Sounds like swim bladder disorder for my fish as he’s been like this for weeks :-(.

  7. Debby Says:

    My goldfish become I’ll, (5 days. Ago). Was disorientated, white spots on his giles, cloudy cast over his eyes, I put him I’n a bowl of water on his own, and kept an eye on him, changing the water regularly. I thought he was recovering as the White spots dissappeared, and the swelling of his eyes went down. But this morning I noticed he was floating on his side and floating to the top, he Trys to get upright but can’t manage to do it. I’m devastated, and I don’t know what to do. Can you give me any advice anyone. Xxx

  8. Jayne Says:

    hercule, sounds like your fish was dead before you buried it, you don’t tell us how you helped it die.

  9. Chloe Says:

    Hello, a while ago my little sister got given a goldfish, the tank is filthy most of the time, she hardly ever feeds it and squishes the air tube as it “makes to much noise” I hate seeing the poor fish suffer and want a pain free way to end the fishes obviously unhappy life without everybody knowing that i have killed it. I would try to take care of it myself but am moving country soon and cant bare to think what will happen whilst i’m gone.

  10. amanda Says:

    Today I had to sadly euthanize my calico ranchu, Shift. I had been struggling with her health since I brought her home from the fish store 9 months ago. She developed dropsy and even after trying futilely to treat that, gas pockets began to firm under her scales. Time to euthanize. I used to freeze my fish 13 years ago having read and been told it was the most humane but since I started to keep fish again this past year I have found that that is now frowned on and causes extreme pain (so much guilt from the past!) Because I couldn’t get my hands on an anesthetic or Clove Oil, I chose the baking soda method. I have to say that this method did not sit well with me. She looked uncomfortable and the process of her dying took almost 15 minutes before her gills stopped moving. I will not use this method ever again. I am going on the hunt for Clove Oil to keep on hand in case I ever have to to this again.

  11. Deaglan Says:

    The clove oil/vodka method does mean mixing the oil with the vodka. The idea is to anaesthetise with the clove oil and only then to use the vodka. The purpose of the vodka is to ensure death of the fish. Using clove oil alone requires specific doses – otherwise there is the possibility that a seemingly dead fish will regain consciousness.

  12. Shannon Says:

    I thought my poor goldfish was constipated. After visiting several sites I gave him some frozen blood worms. I don’t have live plants in the tank, just haven’t had any success with them. I have a sick fish site saved in my faves. Then just for the heck of it I did a yahoo search for ‘why is my goldfish bloated’. I believe poor Max has dropsy. The description and the images fit him to a T. I am so very thankful for this page listing the pros and cons of ways to euthanize. My poor little guy looks like he’s going to pop. And here I thought he just needed a good poop. I don’t know if he’s suffering. He doesn’t seem himself. Doesn’t swim as much, stays in one place – mostly mid tank or close to the surface. I do happen to have clove oil on hand (its good for a toothache too) so perhaps when/if the time comes we’ll use the clove oil and then do the beheading. He’s a big beautiful fish, as long as the palm of my hand from fingertip to wrist and a deep, bright orange. Sucks.

  13. Can Says:

    My turtle bit my goldfish fins off and I’m
    Sad about it.

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