Can You Drown A Fish?

Fish live in water, and they get their oxygen from water, too. They will live their entire lives in water, and even a few minutes outside of it will result in their death. But there are a few surprising things about fish and their relationship with water.

Can you drown a fish in water? Yes, basically by depriving them of oxygen in the water. Keep in mind that fish also need oxygen to live and thrive. Without sufficient levels of oxygen in the water, they will drown but not in the same way as land animals drown in water.

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Read on and find out how fish drown in water as well as their causes and prevention.  The information will be useful in ensuring that your fish will thrive in their aquarium.

The Way Fish Drown In Water

As previously mentioned, fish don’t technically drown in water. Keep in mind that fish gills extract oxygen from water in the same way that our lungs remove oxygen from the air. When their gills aren’t getting sufficient oxygen, their gill arches collapse, resulting in their blood vessels being deprived of oxygen.

As such, the better term is “suffocate” or “asphyxiate,” and it is evident when fish swim to the surface and gasp at the air. But the air has higher oxygen levels than fish gills are designed for! So instead of getting the right oxygen level, they die either from suffocation or oxygen toxicity.

In contrast, drowning refers to the condition where the land animal is submerged in water and inhales water into the lungs. While water has oxygen in it, the lungs are not designed to extract oxygen from water; thus, the drowning.

Causes Of Fish Drowning In Water

Several factors can cause depleted oxygen levels in the water. No matter the factors involved, fish usually show their suffocation by lesser activity followed by gasping for air on the water surface.

  • Excessive live plants and algae since these also use oxygen in the water
  • Excessive waste in the water, usually caused by overstocking fish and algae overgrowth.
  • Slow to no water movement since oxygen quality partly depends on sufficient water movement
  • Increase in water temperature because warm water doesn’t hold as much oxygen as cooler water

You have to look at the issue of fish suffocating in water with a holistic approach. Often, oxygen deprivation in fish is caused by two or more factors.

Measures To Prevent Fish From Drowning

You must take a closer look at your aquarium before deciding on the appropriate steps.

  1. Ensure that the fish in the aquarium aren’t overcrowded.
  2. Use the right type and amount of chemicals in the water. The API tap water conditioner, for example, will contribute to the proper pH balance in the water.
  3. Increase the water movement by using the Eheim spray bar set or the NICREW Multi-Colored LED Aquarium Air Stone Disk, an aquarium bubble, or the Hydor Koralia Nano Aquarium Circulation Pump, a power pump.
  4. Check that the water has the right temperature. Fans on hot days and heaters on cold days are useful.
Can You Drown A Fish?


To conclude, fish will thrive when the water conditions are just right, known as the Goldilocks effect. You, as the owner, have the responsibility to ensure that, indeed, these Goldilocks conditions are in place.