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One of my neighbors fish coincidentally died during the time I was caring for them. I immediately removed it from the fish tank, but I didn't know what to do with it. Flushing a pet down the toilet seems rude, and it might block the pipes. My mom suggested to leave it in an open space so any bird or street cat can eat it.

When I think about it now, I fear this fish might have carried a disease which could spread to its consumer.

What is a respectful way to dispose of a dead fish's body without affecting any other life form?

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As Precious Tijesunimi mentioned, it is wrong to flush a fish, live or dead (perhaps especially not live, as this is how many harmful species get introduced to environments they don't belong to... not to mention it is cruel). Especially don't place it into a "natural" ecosystem! In fact, both of these options may be illegal in many areas.

Depending on your area, cremation may not be a legal option (I know some areas have restrictions on open fires of any type).

Burial and trash strike me as the best solution. However, there are some caveats:

If you bury it, bury it deep enough that neighborhood critters (cats, raccoons, dogs, or any other scavengers) don't smell it (you don't want to smell it, either!). Consider placing a decent-sized rock over the burial location, both to discourage digging, and to mark the spot as a memorial.

If you throw it in the trash... place it in a ziplock bag, first! Rotting fish is a very pungent odor, and your neighbors and your trash collectors will appreciate this basic step towards preventing the stench from spreading. Plus, it will also reduce the chances of critters trying to go through your garbage until it is collected.

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  • Beofett, Thanks for writing this. I want to add the point that Ankit brought up in the question--potential risk of spreading diseases. To me, this is the biggest reason not to flush a fish down the toilet. You're sending dead organic matter that potentially has diseases into a public water system. That fish could end up being consumed or just spreading that disease to other animals, especially us humans. Not to mention it will continue decomposing in the water where it ends up. You should never flush any fish down the toilet. – Termato Nov 4 '15 at 19:00
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In your specific situation, you note that this was not your fish and that you were caring for the property of someone else.

In this case, not knowing what the owner would want, and realizing the fish was dead, I would have taken a Ziplock or otherwise seal-able bag, put the dead fish in it, taped a written note to the bag noting what it contains, and placed the sealed bag into the owner's freezer.

This would ensure preservation of the longevity of the dead fish until the owner got back, and would also prevent it from contaminating anything. This would place the decision of what to do firmly in the responsibility of the fish owner.

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There are various ways you could dispose of a fish depending on how close the fish was to you.

  • Burial : You could dig up the ground somewhere and bury the fish there (and probably put a memorial plaque of the fish there).

  • Cremating : You could burn the fish. Either you just put it some where and burn it or create a fireplace for it.

  • Trash : You could dispose it off with your trash.

  • You could also create a memorial pot for the fish and put it there.

It is important to note that it is very wrong to flush it or just dump it in a river, lake or stream.

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Flushing it down the toilet, throwing it in the bin or leaving it for wild animals to eat might upset the owner. I have to say that although I appreciate the spirit of storing it in the fridge or freezer for the owner's return, I'd personally be a little uncomfortable with the idea of someone freezing my dead fish.

As an alternative to the suggestions already given, here's what I used to do with mine. I kept a lot of small tropical fish over the years and it wasn't practical to dig a hole in the garden for every one that died, so I came up with this compromise.

I would remove the fish from the tank with a net, leave it a few seconds so it wasn't dripping wet, then gently wrap it in tissue and put the folded "shroud" in an empty matchbox (you might have to scale up to a bigger box if you had bigger fish than me). I then placed it gently in the waste paper basket (not the kitchen bin).

So, essentially, I was still throwing it in the bin, but I did it in a way that felt respectful and caring to me.

However, I think the number one suggestion for your particular situation, since it's not your fish, would be ask the owner. I'm surprised no-one suggested that already. They'll know what they want to do with their pet and are best placed to answer your query. In practice, it would have been better to ask the owner before they went away. A short conversation along the lines of "What should I do if one of them dies?" would better prepare you if you have to deal with this sort of thing again.

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What I did was get a street cat to eat the dead fish.

There is a few in my area starving. It's good to feed a street cat but you having to know it's allergies.

Most cats are not allergic to fish (gold and betta) but others may me something.

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