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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 22449
Experience:  General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
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My goldfish is lying on its side, motionless at the bottom

Customer Question

My goldfish is lying on its side, motionless at the bottom of the pond, is he still alive?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Vet
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 3 years ago.

Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today.

Without being able to physcially see him, I am sure you can appreciate that it is difficult for me to tell if he is dead or alive at this stage in our conversation. I do suspect he is likely alive (since he's not floating at the top of the water column) but is bottom sitting due to being very unwell (potentially there i an ongoing nitrate toxicity or he has a bacterial blood infection)l.

If you wish to determine if he is alive, then you want to look for gill movement or consider giving him a gentle wee poke with a blunt object. This often will get even bottom sitting fish moving and confirm life. From there, you will want to relocate this fish into a hospitalization tank, examine him and let me know your findings (any lesions, red lines on the fins/tail, distended belly, etc), and potentially test your water parameters (ph, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates).

If you can do that and reply to me, we can discuss potential causes and an approach to treatment. Or if he is nearly dead when you do handle him, let me know and I can outline how to prevent him from suffering further.

Speak to you soon,
Dr. B.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I have isolated my fish and no life, no gill movement, no red lines on fins and belly ok. I have had this fish for many years and he is in a large pond with 29 goldfish, all ok. I have a pump and uv system and correct oxygenating plants.

Kind Regards Zoe

Expert:  Dr. B. replied 3 years ago.
Hi again Zoe,

I am sorry to hear that the fish no longer breathing but this does confirm that it is dead. Since it was sudden in onset, do consider a water parameter (pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates) check at this point to make sure this is an isolated event and not the start of any further issues for your pond. Just to note, I have left this as an info request so you will not be charged (since this poor wee fish is beyond help).
Take care,
Dr. B.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

That is very kind of you but I do not mind the charge, you have been very helpful. I guess I was confused because I thought dead fish floated? Am sad as he was one of my biggest and oldest fish. I will test the water and act appropriately. Thank you again.

Kindest regards. Zoe

Expert:  Dr. B. replied 3 years ago.

You are very welcome, Zoe.

Dead fish do usually float but not always. It depends on the gas build up in the body after death. If the water is chilly, his body had a low oxygen content (either due to high nitrates or low oxygen saturation in the water), or his death wasn't due to an overpopulation of pathogenic bacteria (or ones that are not readily gas producing), then we may not see floating until much later in the decomposition stage. So, while it is not overly common in any dead animal in water, it does happen.

And I would just note further (since he is one of your largest fish) that while it sounds like your pond set up has good aeration, that too should be double checked. I do find that the larger goldfish do tend to be the most sensitive to oxygen level fluctuations in the pond. So, if you are also seeing the other fish gather near the pump waterfall (or any other higher oxygen site), air gulping at the surface, or showing a decline in activity, these would be subtle signs that there is a lower oxygen level at the moment (perhaps due to any algal blooms you may have or due to the elevated oxygen requirements of fish as the temperature rises). And in that case, you might consider a bit more oxygen supplementation to the pond to address and/or rule this out for them.

Take care,
Dr. B.