When we walk into a fish store we expect to find a selection of beautiful, healthy fish for our aquarium.  Unfortunately, some of those fish endure cruel processes or practices that we aren’t informed of.  Not only do they cause the fish to suffer, they also shorten its lifespan and leave it more vulnerable to disease.

Dyed, Painted or Tattooed Fish

Dyed, Painted or Tattooed Parrot Cichlids SufferImagine being dipped in dye, especially if you couldn’t close your eyes.  How about having dye injected that you’re super-sensitive to?  Several methods are used to dye or ‘tattoo’ fish, none of which are good for them. Mortality rates are ridiculously high and the end result is temporary.  When the dye comes out of the fish a few months later, you are left with a blotchy, sickly creature.  A clerk at one local fish store told me they stopped bringing in dyed fish because most of them were dead long before they were sold, and the rest were diseased.

Common victims of this horrifying practice are semi-transparent fish (like Glassfish) or light colored fish such as white Mollies, White Skirt Tetras or albino Corydoras.  Parrotfish Cichlids are often dyed bright colors or tattooed with designs and hearts.

Jumbo or Monster Fish

Soccer Ball Size Oranda Goldfish Do Not Belong in Bowls
Bought as cute little balls, fancy Goldfish are often placed in bowls or small aquariums where they suffer and die. The Oranda Goldfish in this picture is held in a man’s hands to demonstrate size. Photo: Michelle Jo

Since fish are often sold as youngsters, many people aren’t aware of the size they’ll reach as adults.  They may also believe myths that suggest the fish will “grow to the size of the tank”.  Goldfish are the most common victims of this misconception.  A common Goldfish can reach a foot in length and those cute little fancy goldfish should at least hit baseball size (some grow much larger).  Another super-size fish that is often sold as an algae eater when it’s a juvenile is the ‘Common Pleco’, which will end up 1-2 feet long!

Unfortunately, once these fish get too large for the average aquarium (or those horrible little fish bowls) they’ll suffer and die.  They could also be released into the wild due to ignorance or irresponsibility, where they can cause a lot of damage to natural ecosystems.  If you research your fish before purchasing, you can choose those that are suitable for your aquarium’s size and avoid these issues.

‘Balloon’ Fish

Most commonly seen in Mollies, Guppies and Cichlids, ‘Balloon’ forms are not a morph like a high-fin or veil-tail.  These fish have a genetic deformity that curves the spine and compacts the internal organs, resulting in fish that may suffer their entire lives.  I have seen the skeletal remains of a ‘Balloon Belly Molly’ and her spine was painfully curved.  I will never have one again.

Ballon Belly Fish Exploit Painful Deformities
‘Balloon Belly’ Fish Exploit Painful Deformities

There can be varying degrees of spinal curvature, from one so slight you wouldn’t notice a fish that has it, to extreme curvatures that produce the ‘best’ balloon forms.  Unfortunately, the more severe the curvature, the more likely it is to find consequential abnormalities in the nervous, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, urogenital and muscular systems.  Restricted lung function and heart failure are common consequences, as well as digestive issues.

The fact that scoliosis is painful hasn’t been established based on the condition in fish, it’s based on how the condition effects vertebrates in general.  Fish have been used extensively as a vertebrate model in the study of human spinal conditions, including Zebra fish, which demonstrates their similarity.  There is no reason to believe that fish would somehow be an exception to the pain factor.

Another balloon variety doesn’t have the curved spine, but rather a shortened one.  This also results in organ compaction and the consequences as such are the same.

It’s Not Judgement Day

I’ve certainly made some purchasing mistakes over the years so I’m in no position to judge others who do the same.  When I first saw some of these fish I had no idea a lack of ethics or irresponsible breeding practices were involved.

Here are some examples from my learning process:

  • I tried to raise three common Goldfish in a 10 gallon fish tank.  When I found out how big they’re supposed to get, I started doing daily water changes, added more filtration, etc.  This sustained them in good health until I could take them to a fish store during pond season, where they quickly found homes.
  • My young Son loved Balloon Belly Mollies and we had quite a few before I learned of their pain.
  • When I first saw dyed Glassfish I was in awe of their unusual colors.  Luckily, I researched them first and found out what I would actually have been buying.

It is my hope that by publishing this post, fish-keepers can avoid my mistakes and will understand how important pre-purchase research is.  There are many stunning fish available to aquarium hobbyists that don’t endure cruel practices and you’ll be much happier with them.  They’ll thrive with good care and you’ll truly enjoy keeping them.  I encourage you to vote with your wallet when it comes to the rest.

Please educate others (including store owners) about these fish and maybe someday this cruelty will be a bad memory.

Dr. Ra’anan Ariav.  Deformities and Anatomic Disorders of Fin Fish in Intensive Culture Systems
About.com Freshwater Aquariums.  Death By Dying.


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14 thoughts on “Welfare Weekend: 3 Groups Of Fish That Are Cruel to Keep in Your Aquarium ©

  1. I think they’re ugly but I guess some people like them. There should be a special permit for selling huge fish.

  2. HORRIFIC PRACTICES!!!! Thanks for including pictures, I swear I’ll never buy those fish!!!! allele

  3. THANK YOU for telling people about this cruelty! People like you really makes a difference for animals.

  4. It’s everyone’s responsibility to educate other aquarists so we can get rid of this garbage and regulate ourselves. Nice job spreading the word. Shared.

  5. Thanks for your kind words and nods of agreement. The dyed fish look so fake once you’ve been fishkeeping for awhile, but they sure impress the newbies.

  6. I love how you support causes and charities here, it really sets you apart.

  7. Stores should be telling people about this stuff but most of them don’t so someone has to!

  8. I didn’t like dyed fish even before I knew how cruel they were. They remind me of pink flamingos…TACKY.

  9. I knew there was something fishy about those balloon bellies because they never lived as long as my normal fish.

  10. I knew about dyed fish and I know to research size but I didn’t know balloon fish suffered so much. Thanks for alerting us!

  11. I’m so happy to see a blogger promote responsible fishkeeping. We can’t give up and allow this cruelty to become acceptable practice.

  12. Thanks for sharing. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a fish tank and I have been thinking about starting one again. I took a look at some of the fish in the store and they had some of the dyed fish. They just weren’t attractive to me. I prefer the natural look.

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