What To Do With Unwanted Pet Fish – And What Not To Do

Every year, about 6.3 million new animals arrive at animal shelters in the United States. But if you try to bring a fish to a humane society, the chances are high that they’ll turn you away.

So, if your circumstances have changed since you first established your aquarium, and you’re wondering what to do with unwanted pet fish, read on to discover your options.

Options For What To Do With Unwanted Pet Fish

1. Bring Them to a Pet Store

Bringing your unwanted fish to a pet store is one of the easiest ways to find them a new home. It’s unlikely a pet store will pay you for your fish. However, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing they’re in good hands.

Some stores that take in unwanted fish include:

  • Petco
  • Pet Supermarket
  • Pet World Warehouse Outlet

But before you bag up your fish, call the store first. Certain stores won’t accept some fish breeds. Plus, you need to ensure they have enough space to house them.

That’s not to say that non-chain stores won’t take your fish, though. So, try reaching out to a local fish shop or research nearby fish clubs to find a fish enthusiast willing to take your family pet.

2. Offer to a Friend 

Fishkeeping comes with many upfront costs, making it cost-prohibitive to some people. So, if you have a friend that’s always commenting on your fish tank when they come over, see if they or someone they know would like to take your fish.

Offering a friend your fish, aquarium, and tank materials is an excellent way to help them overcome the financial barrier of bringing home their first fish. 

3. Donate to a Good Cause

If you’re wondering what to do with unwanted pet fish and are always looking for an opportunity to donate, many organizations and facilities may want your fish (particularly if you are also donating the equipment). Some examples of places you can reach out to include:

  • Zoo
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Museums
  • Therapy offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Doctors offices
  • Dentists offices
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Churches or other houses of worship

In some cases, these places might already have an aquarium, and they can add your fish to them. Other times, you might need to be willing to donate your entire aquarium setup.

Should the place you’re donating to want to add your fish to the tank, let them know your fish’s breed and ask them for the species of fish they currently have. Ensuring your fish will get along well with their new tank mates is vital for a smooth change of home.

Depending on where you donate your fish, you might be able to write it off in your taxes.

4. Use Online Forums

Facebook and Craigslist are excellent places to list your unwanted fish. Using this route is especially great if you’re hoping to get money for your fish equipment.

However, keep in mind that selling animals on these online forums is illegal. So, you can advertise your tank and accessories for a specific price, indicating that free fish will (and must) come with them.

If you need to get rid of your unwanted pet fish quickly and aren’t having luck selling your equipment, try listing it for free.

What To Do With Unwanted Pet Fish

Of course, a deep responsibility comes with giving your unwanted fish to strangers on platforms like Craigslist and Facebook. Therefore, do some due diligence on the person before agreeing to hand over your fish to ensure they’ll be in good care.

You should also consider basic safety precautions. For example, meet at a public place, and ask them to pay you in cash if there’s money involved.

5. Euthanization

We only recommend euthanizing your fish if you want to get rid of them because they’re sick. While it isn’t typical for the average veterinary office to have the means to euthanize fish, they can give fish a hefty dose of anesthetic to euthanize them humanely.

If you can’t find a veterinarian who will euthanize your sick fish, try searching for a local fishery biologist. Keep in mind that fish euthanizations are easiest to perform on large fish. So, they might decline your request if the fish you need to euthanize is too small.

You’ll find other suggestions online about how to euthanize fish humanely from home, but we urge you to proceed with caution; unlike mammals, fish can’t change their facial expressions to show if they’re in pain.

What NOT To Do With Unwanted Pet Fish

Now that you know what to do with unwanted pet fish, it’s equally important to understand what not to do with them. Unfortunately, the two scenarios we’ll describe below are all-to-common strategies fish keepers use when getting rid of their fish.

Release Them Into the Wild

We understand that releasing your unwanted pet fish into the wild might make you and your family feel good knowing your fish will have so much space. But doing so can have devastating consequences for your fish and the local ecosystem.

For starters, the water parameters are likely vastly different in the pond, ocean, lake, or river where you want to release your fish. A dramatic change in water temperature, pH, salinity, and more can shock your fish, leading to death.

If you happen to release your fish in water that’s suitable for their needs, the opposite issue could happen—they might thrive, reproduce, and change the equilibrium of the aquatic ecosystem in that area.

Lionfish are a classic example of invasive species in warm, saltwater regions. These fish have devastating consequences on coral reefs, given that they eat the fish that consume the algae growing on coral.

Flush Them Down the Toilet

Desperate times should never call for such desperate measures that you flush your unwanted fish down the toilet alive. For starters, it’s inhumane.

But aside from the stress and painful death you’d be subjecting your fish to, flushing them down the toilet can contribute to water contamination problems. Contaminated groundwater due to people flushing items they shouldn’t be down the toilet is a significant issue that governments face.

Pet fish often carry diseases and parasites, even those that look relatively healthy from the outside. Therefore, you’re introducing these items into your toilet and the sewage system by flushing your fish.


If you have found yourself needing to re-home your fish, hopefully this guide has given you some ideas for what to do with unwanted pet fish.

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