Can Vegans Have Pet Fish?

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Whether vegans should have pets is a common debate. On the one hand, many vegans feel that we should be working towards a world in which no animal is held in captivity. On the other, there are many domestic animals that are desperately in need of loving homes.


While almost everyone would agree that keeping exotic animals such as birds and reptiles in small cages is not okay, many people wonder whether vegans can have pet fish.

After all, there are lots of unwanted fish that need rehoming and many of these eat a plant-based diet.

In this article, we’ll discuss whether it’s okay for vegans to have a pet fish, and what you’ll need to think about when getting a fish.

Is a cruel to keep fish in a tank?

Whether keeping fish in a tank is cruel or not depends very much on the size of the tank, what else the tank contains and the water quality.

Fish are intelligent and sensitive animals that need stimulation from their environment to thrive. Even the largest aquarium can’t compare to open water and many fish tanks are just too small.

According to PETA, few people realise how much fish suffer before they reach the pet shop or know how to care for them properly.

fish tank
A very cruel fish tank

Do fish get bored living in a tank?

In a small, bare fish tank without companions, then a fish will almost certainly get bored. A barren aquarium will cause the fish to show unnatural behaviours as they become stressed. With nowhere to hide, fish may become concerned that they cannot escape from predators.

To prevent boredom, a fish tank should include substrate, plants, ornaments and other creatures like shrimp or snails. While most fish prefer the company of other fish, some prefer to live alone, so it’s important to create the right environment for the type of fish you have.

goldfish in bowl
Fishb should never be kept in a bowl

How to tell if fish are happy

Fish can be happy in the right environment. While that’s usually in the wild, you can keep a fish happy in captivity if you’re willing to do a lot of research and spend a lot of time caring for them.

Happy fish will swim energetically around the tank, breathe normally, enjoy eating and have a healthy glow to their skin. If the fish appears timid, has irregular breathing or skin problems then you should make some adjustments to the environment.

Things for vegans to consider when choosing pet fish

1. Rescue fish if you can

Many people assume that fish are easy pets to look after, but the reality is that most fish require lots of care and attention. Fish are very sensitive creatures and can easily be stressed by improper temperature, low oxygen levels, high or low pH and high ammonia or nitrate levels.

As the amount of care needed is often surprising to novice fishkeepers, many fish end up not being properly looked after and some are even flushed down the toilet alive.

Search local Facebook groups and websites and you’ll find plenty of fish in need of loving homes which you can rescue.

2. If you must buy a fish, choose one that was born in a tank

90% of freshwater fish species you can buy are bred in captivity, whereas 90% of saltwater ornamental fish are caught in the wild. [Source].

Choosing fish that have been born in captivity is preferable over fish that have been caught from the sea. Many pet marine fish come from Southeast Asia where they are caught illegally and stunned with chemicals such as cyanide [Source].

3. Consider what the fish will eat

Most fish are omnivores or carnivores so you’ll need to be comfortable feeding them a diet that includes meat.

Some pet fish, however, eat only vegetable matter. So if you’d rather not feed your fish with fish flakes and pellets that are made of other fish, look out for herbivore fish like pacus, silver dollars, combtooth blennies and mollies.

fish flakes
Fish flakes are made of fish

4. Choose your tank carefully

The more space that fish have, the happier and healthier they will be. Yet many fish tanks are far too small as owners underestimate how much space fish are content with. You can buy some horrifically small fish tanks, including this fish tank inside a stuffed animal.

Fish tanks and equipment are expensive. If you really want a pet fish, make sure you buy the tank, the pump, the filter and the food at least a few weeks before you go looking for fish. Take a look at this site for a reference to work out how many fish your tank can support.

To conclude

Keeping pet fish can be acceptable to vegans, provided that the fish is well cared for and has an aquarium that suits its complex needs.

If you’re interested in getting a pet fish, I’d strongly recommend that you look into adopting some fish that are in need of a new home. That way, you can be sure that you’re improving the lives of the fish.

Keeping fish happy and healthy is a lot more difficult than you may think. You should do lots of research to make sure that a fish is the best pet for you and that you have the time and money to give a fish everything that they need.

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