Can Fish Drown? – If So, How?


“They breath oxygen in water! How can fish drown?” you ask. Well, in this article, we answer that very question. Many actually ask this very question, but most of us probably think of it as a silly question. You may think that the answer is obvious. But, is it obvious?

So, Can Fish Drown?

Can Fish Drown?

The Answer is a tad bit more complicated that you probably expect. You see, some fish have gills only, while others also have an organ called a labyrinth. They use this organ to breathe oxygen out of the air. A common fish that has a labyrinth are bettas. Betta fish can actually breathe oxygen out of the air if they have it. So, can fish drown? Technically no, but they can suffocate.

What Causes A Fish To Suffocate?

There are a number of different ways a fish can suffocate. Let’s look at some of the ways that a fish can.


If you are overcrowding a tank, theoretically (unless all the fish have a labyrinth), the fish can suffocate.. This is because the other fish are using all the oxygen in the tank, while some fish have very little.

Hot Water

Warm or hot water usually has low oxygen levels. These leaves the fish with not a lot of oxygen. Theoretically, the fish could actually suffocate if there were to be too much fish in the tank, an algae bloom, or if the tank was simply very hot.

Too Many Plants (In The Wrong Conditions)

Although this may seem shocking, having too many plants with a dark tank setup, can actually suffocate fish! “Why?” you ask? Let me explain. Aquatic plants, when they are not getting enough light, will take in oxygen in the water to try to survive. This alone can slightly reduce the oxygen levels, but if you have a lot of plants taking up oxygen, then you could see a big drop in oxygen levels.

Algae Bloom

This could also make a fish suffocate, Algae uses oxygen and when there is ton of algae in your water, it will definitely make the oxygen levels drop. To avoid an algae bloom, try adding some floating plants.


Although fish can’t technically drown, they can suffocate. Knowing what causes them to will help you how to prevent that from ever happening. Make sure that the water isn’t too hot. If your fish needs warmer water, consider getting a air pump so that there is enough oxygen in the tank. Try getting live plants to prevent an algae bloom, always have a light on a planted tank and try not to overcrowd your tank.

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