Do Fish Have Feelings Before They Die? Scientists Say Yes



  • Fish have feelings before they die because they have a nervous system and pain receptors.
  • The fish flop and suffocate when taken out of the water.
  • Fish experience some emotions similar to humans.

Do fish have feelings before they die? This question might pop up in your mind whenever you eat fish or go fishing. The simple and factual answer to this question is yes! Fish have feelings even before they die.

The debate has been going on for years, but some scientific studies prove that fish have feelings before they die.

“Scientists have confirmed in the past decade that fish not only feel pain, but they also experience emotions.”  David Robinson Simon

Do Fish Have Feelings before they Die? 3 Evidence

According to scientific and logical evidence, fish have feelings before they die. You can also feel their emotions through an observational study.

Let’s discuss the evidence that will help you understand them.

1. Do Fish Have A Nervous System – Scientific Evidence

Neurobiologists have scientifically proved that a highly developed nervous system is present in fish like other vertebrates. The neuroendocrine system controls behavior, feelings and complex emotions. 

As Nervous system is mainly responsible for feelings. Fishes have a nervous system and so have feelings.

The highly developed nervous system is a proof that fish have feelings before they die

Fish uses its nervous system to exhibit certain emotions or feelings such as pain, fear or threat. The fish’s nervous system is very efficient at sending and receiving information. The understanding of fish’s feelings requires a profound observation.

For instance, Fish shows aggression whenever they are threatened or have to fear death or being caught. During aggression, the level of testosterone hormones in male fish increases. 

Similarly, in fish, the level of catecholamine hormones adrenaline & noradrenaline (Flight or Fight) increases in circulation. These hormones are released from chromaffin cells during stress conditions.

You can notice their aggressive behavior through their physical appearance. Whenever a fish is threatened, its dorsal fins get raised, gill covers pushed out, and the mouth opens up. In case of fear, fish also approaches other fish to feel safe.

Thus, it is evident that fish have a complex nervous & endocrine system to control and regulate their feelings.

2. Do Fishes have Pain Receptors – Scientific Evidence

It has long been debated whether or not fish have pain receptors (nociceptors). There is growing evidence that fish have pain receptors like terrestrial vertebrates.

Fish have similar receptors to those found in mammals, which suggests that they may be capable of feeling pain.

According to PETA, many researches show that fish have 20 or 22 nociceptors in the mouth and head region. These are the areas where sharp hooks pierce the skin.

Do fish have feelings before they die? - 22 Pain receptors in them suggest that they feel pain.

It means that fish feels pain when they are caught and killed. It is a problem because fish are often seen as less sentient creatures and are therefore not given the same protections as other animals.

In one study, scientists injected a noxious chemical into the lips of fish and found that the fish responded by rubbing their lips on the side of the tank to relieve the pain. It started to feel relief when morphine was administered to the same fish. This suggests that fish do have the capacity to feel pain.

3. Do Fish Have Feelings Before They Die – Observational Evidence

You can easily explore and find the answer to the question, “Do fish have feelings before they die? The feelings and emotions of fish could easily be observed in an aquarium or fish tank. Simply go to an aquarium or get a fish tank.

We have personally observed that fish have feelings even before they die. We remember that once in our childhood, we bought a fish tank in our home. Alas! One of my favorite, lively and chilled fish got sick.

She was looking sad and her mouth was open. That day, when we threw her favorite food at her, she was not responding.

Her physical appearance and how she left food proved she was in pain. When a fish suffers from any injury, it becomes less active due to pain.

When observing a fish about to die, look for signs of distress, such as fleeing the aquarium or struggling to breathe normally.

If you see any of these signs, removing the fish from its tank is essential and putting it into an emergency vet clinic for further treatment.

How Do Fish Feel When They Die?

When a fish dies, it often happens very suddenly. A fisherman may pull them out of the water or catch them in a net. Either way, the fish is likely to die of suffocation.

This can be a very stressful and painful way to die. Fish have been known to struggle for up to four minutes before they finally die.

“Have You Ever Saw A Drowning Human? He Flops Around, the Same Way Fish Do, When Out of Water”

During this time, they are deprived of oxygen and their bodies are under great stress. Moreover, fish feel pain and anxiety when they die. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when we are fishing and when we are eating fish.

Do Fish Feel Pain When They Suffocate – Fish Out of Water

Yes, fish feel pain when they are taken out of the water. Fish respond to water temperature and salinity changes.

For instance, fish become more stressed when taken out of water that is too cold or salty. In that case, they change their behavior, such as oriented toward the light or swimming faster.

Some fish may react with signs of pain, such as increased panting, vocalization, gaping or twisting around.

When fish is taken out of the water, it suffocate which means fish feels before they die

A study done with goldfish found that when the fish were removed from the water and placed in an ice-cold tub for 30 seconds, they exhibited signs of pain such as increased breathing rates and rapid swimming.

However, when the same fish were placed back into warm water after being subjected to the cold treatment, many did not recover their appetite or normal behavior within an hour.

This proves that fish feel pain when taken out of the water, as mammals do.

“If you take fish out of the water, they start to flop around, suffocate and ultimately die.”

Do Fish Feel Pain? PETA Research Says Yes.

When fish are dragged out of the water, they often gasp for air and thrash around. It is likely due to the sudden change in pressure and lack of oxygen, which can cause pain.

Similarly, when fish are put into tanks with too little water, they gasp and thrash around, again due to the sudden change in pressure.

Do Fish Have Feelings Like Humans?

Most people have heard the phrase “fish out of water” to describe someone feeling out of place or uncomfortable in their surroundings.

But what if fish do have feelings? After all, they are living creatures with brains and nervous systems. Various studies have shown that fish react to stimuli in ways that are similar to humans.

For example, one study found that fish similarly react to music to humans by moving their bodies in time with the rhythm.

Studies have shown that fish react to their environment and show signs of stress and anxiety. It means that they are capable of experiencing some of the same emotions we do.

They also have a complex nervous system, showing that they have many of the same nerve pathways and pain receptors as other animals. The nervous system allows them to experience various emotions, from happiness to jealousy.

While the experience of pain may be different for fish, there is no doubt that they are capable of feeling it. Therefore, we must be more careful when handling and catching them.

How Do You Help A Dying Fish?

When a fish is close to death, you can do a few things to help ease its suffering.

Firstly, you can remove the fish from the water and put it in a separate container. It will help the fish to breathe and may make it more comfortable.

Second, you can also try to oxygenate the water by adding a bubbler or an air stone. You can also add some fresh water to the container, which can help to keep the fish hydrated.

Thirdly, you can also add a small amount of salt to the water, which can help to reduce the fish’s stress levels.

Finally, you should call a local veterinarian or fish rescue organization for further instructions.

If the fish is still not responding, unfortunately, there is not much else you can do and the fish will likely die.


The evidence clearly suggests that fish have feelings before they die and feel pain, stress and fear. The nervous system is mainly responsible for emotions.

Fish tries to avoid dangerous environments and seek safety. That means their nervous system is working to produce hormones for feelings.

 It is difficult to draw a direct link between behavioral changes and any underlying emotional state or feeling. Still, this information has potential implications for fisheries management and animal welfare practices.

Have you ever observed that fish is feeling pain or sadness? If yes, share your observation with us via comments.


  1. The evidence for pain in fish: the use of morphine as an analgesic
  2. Pain perception, aversion and fear in fish by V. A. Braithwaite, P. Boulcott.
  3. Behavior and Sensory Systems from Exploring Our Fluid Earth
  4. Nervous System of Fish – Monterey Bay

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