Can Fish Choke on Food And What To Do If Your Fish Is Choking!

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by cmoarz

Can fish choke on food? Is that something that actually happens in an aquarium setting, or is that something that only happens in the wild? And if your fish is choking, what should you do?

As with any animal (including humans) that eats and then tries to swallow food or other items that are too large for their throat and esophagus to handle, the potential is certainly there for a fish to choke on food.  

Fish can and do choke on all sorts of items in their environment. They can even choke on coral and rocks that move into their mouths while eating and get lodged there.

So what’s the deal? Is your fish at risk? Well, the good news is, if you’ve just got small fish in your aquarium that eat pellets or flakes, Your fish have very little risk of choking on anything except maybe their gravel.

And in that case, they can usually clear it themselves.

But the larger the fish is and the larger its food becomes, the more risk of choking becomes an issue.

For example, Fish that eat live feeder fish are more at risk than fish that eat pellets.

There’s no way around it. If you’ve got a big fish and he eats big food, there’s always the potential for choking to occur. However, if you know the signs of when this is happening, then you can take immediate action and potentially save your fish.

What To Do If Your Fish Is Choking!

So there are basically 2 options you can employ to save a choking fish. Fear not, they won’t die right away, but you need to act fast.

The first option is to wait for the fish to try and clear the hazard himself. Be sure to give him enough time to do so before taking manual action.

Many times a fish can clear an item that has become lodged in its mouth or throat all by itself.

If you see him sticking his tongue out and spitting, he’s trying to spit it out. But sometimes there are items stuck too far down the esophagus for this to work. In those cases, we need to use the only option available to us, manual removal.

Option 2 is the manual removal of the object lodged in the fish’s throat. This can be very tricky based on the size of the fish and your own skill. It also works best with 2 people, although can be done with one.

Wrap the fish in a tank water-soaked paper towel, and attempt to pick out the lodged object or food with a pair of tweezers.

Be very careful not to injure the fish further!

Once you remove the object place him back in the tank with the paper towel removed. Expect a stress response for a while as the fish returns back to life as usual.

What If You Can’t Clear The Object?

If you can’t seem to get it in a manageable amount of time, you will need to place the fish back into the water to prevent death.

If you don’t have anyone to help you or the fish is too big for the technique outlined above, or you’re simply unable to get the object, you might lose your fish.

This is an unfortunate reality, but lucky for us it’s pretty rare of a problem in our hobby because the food we give our fish is generally pretty standardized and made with each species in mind!

How Do You Know Your Fish Is Choking In The First Place

It’s usually pretty obvious when a fish is choking. It will be gasping, swimming backward, and trying to dislodge something from its mouth. Its gills will be flaring open, and in general, he or she will appear distressed.


Owner of and also owner of actual Aquarium Gravel believe it or not! ;). Setting up beautiful aquarium sceneries and habitats since I was very young. Enjoy!