Do Fish Turn White When They Die?

dead fish

It is normal for fishes to change colour when they die although this could be a pointer to health or environmental issues. Fish turning white and dying is a common occurrence amongst fish owners all around. There are different reasons that could be responsible for your fish turning white when it dies.

In this article, we will therefore be considering those factors responsible for your fishes turning white when they die and how to correct such occurrences.

Do Fishes Turn White When They Die?

Fishes could turn white when they die and this means that there is a low level of oxygen in their tank. Poor water quality and overcleaning are also some of the reasons why there could be a loss of color when your fish dies.

So, your fish may turn white when it dies and several factors can be responsible for this colouration. You should therefore keep an eye on your fish’s coloration before it dies. Any changes in their color can tell you that something is wrong with their tank.

Why Do Fish Turn White When They Die?

When a fish dies, it no longer has air, light, or even nutrients moving across its body, and as such, it starts turning white. Also, as soon as a fish dies, it begins to rot and this is why a fish will turn white in the shortest possible time.

A dead fish turning white can sometimes be an indicator of your water parameters or tank positioning not being as optimal as it ought to be. This will invariably put your surviving fish at risk.

So, let’s consider some of the factors responsible for your fish turning white when it dies.

I. Water Quality Fluctuations

Poor water quality is a major reason why your fish will be turning white and dying. Fishes have specific water requirements which means that the pH and water temperature must be in perfect condition for the fish to survive. The figures might vary with species but this is something fishes have in common.

Most tropical fishes do well with a pH of 6.8 to 7.8 while goldfishes and other cold-water species require a pH between 7.0 and 8.4. So, if there are any rapid changes in the water, it could prove harmful. Trace mineral content, the chemical concentration of water, failure of the filtration system, and the type of substrate are some of the reasons why the pH might be unbalanced.

If any of these factors cause the pH level to drop and the water condition becomes unsanitary, then, it is very possible that your fish turns white and dies due to the exposure.

To restore your aquarium’s pH, you have to carry out a water change to restore the pH level. Then, you will have to change your substrate, increase the aeration and add a small amount of baking soda to the water.

II. Tank Overcleaning

Cleaning your fish’s tank is an essential activity as it will ensure that waste is removed, unwelcome growth is prevented and the filter functions properly. You have to ensure you clean the tanks at least once or twice a month.

Depending on how many times you decide to clean your fish’s tank, you must replace 10-20% of the water on the go. Avoid changing up to 40% of the water in the tank at once as this can cause serious problems in the tank and for your fishes, ultimately.

Cleaning the tank too frequently can also cause your fish to become stressed out. This can lead to the death of your fish and eventually, your fish starts turning white as it dies. So, if you replace too much water at once or too often from the tank, you will be destroying some of the beneficial bacteria in the tank.

This will mean that your fish will have to undergo a cycling process so it can re-add the beneficial bacteria. Without these bacteria, ammonia and nitrites will overpopulate the tank. This can lead to sickness and diseases for your fish.

III. Nutritional Deficiencies

Your fish’s diet plays an important role in its color maintenance. Although fish have different nutritional requirements, they need a high-quality specialized diet with the right bit of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to stay healthy.

Most fish flakes and pellets are specially formulated to provide each fish species with the nutrients they need. However, some still need a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, plant matter, worms, and insects.

You must therefore research the nutrients that your fish requires and choose the compatible species for each community tank so you can be sure that one fish is not taking in the wrong meal. Nutritional deficiencies are also one of the reasons why your fish will turn white when it dies.

As soon as a fish stops eating and it dies, the colour starts fading. While some fish might become dull, others start turning white. It all depends on how long that individual fish stopped feeding before it died.

IV. Poor Oxygen Levels

Once a fish dies, the blood and organ stop receiving oxygen and this will translate to the body losing its vibrant colour. This is an entirely natural process and it is no cause for worry.

However, if the fish turns translucent white before it dies, then, it means there is not enough oxygen in the tank and this suggests that the fish could have died of suffocation.

V. Lack of Sunlight

Fish need some form of sunlight to stay productive and healthy. Some fishes even need the sun to help them develop skin pigmentation. If they do not get enough sunlight, their scales start appearing lighter and it starts to fade over time.

This means that if you keep your fish in the dark altogether, it is at the risk of turning white when it dies. This condition is however not only peculiar to when the fish dies. The scales of your fish can fade off at any time without adequate sunlight.

To prevent this from happening, it is best to put your tank where it can receive up to twelve hours of sunlight a day. You must be careful not to place it in direct sunlight as this can raise the temperature of the water and can cause serious problems. So, your best bet will be filtered light in this case.

VI. Stress

When fish gets stressed, it shows in their scales. This means that it is very easy to spot something wrong from the way their scales become dull and colourless. When the fish has been overly stressed, it eventually dies.

When an overly stressed fish dies, you will notice that they appear white rather than vibrant colours. This shows that your fish was mentally unwell when it died. One of the most common causes of stress in fish is aggressive behaviour from other tank mates. The more stressed your fish gets, the quicker they start turning white.


Not all fishes turn white when they die, some might go from bright to dull while others change colours altogether. Although, white colouration is more common. We have been able to explore some of the causes why your fish could turn white when it dies. We also considered how to avoid such occurrences.

So, read through and stay informed.

Written by Justin Michaels

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