Don't Give Up, He May Still Be Alive! That Koi May Not Be Dead

3 minutes read

One of the aspects of fish health that never ceases to amaze us is the resilience of fish and their strange ability to seemingly come back from the dead. Even fish that have jumped out of the pond and are beginning to stiffen have a chance for survival! I know of several incidents when a fish jumped out of his pond sometime during the night and appeared dead the next morning. Amazingly a single shot of steroids brought him back!


This does not mean, however, that just any dead fish can be brought back from the great beyond. I assure you that if you purchase a fish on ice from the supermarket you will not be able to revive it. It’s been dead far too long. Besides, if one was brought back after that amount of time I would personally be afraid that it would turn into something out of a Stephen King novel. There are a few tell-tell signs of a truly dead fish. If the fish’s eyes are clouded over and he has that “dead fish stare” chances are that fish is truly dead. If his odor is reminiscent of ...well… dead fish… chances are he’s dead too.


Why Do Fish Commit Hari Kari?


You might wonder why a fish would jump to his own death. There are many reasons why a fish would jump but I doubt any jumping is on purpose or out of respect for his country. In spring during spawning males can literally chase a female out of the pond. Parasites can drive a fish crazy so that he jumps up and out. New fish tend to have the jitters and may jump, possibly checking out his new “pad”.


We Often Kill Our Own Fish.


I know of no one who has killed his fish on purpose other than to As others who treat fish have found out an overdose of medication can undo everything we’re trying to achieve by killing the fish. We leave the water running (guilty) and forget we’re filling the pond. We drain the pond accidentally. The list goes on...


Regardless of how he “died” you may be able to get that fish swimming again. Here are a few things to try:


Ever Hear of Giving CPR to a Fish?


Before we get carried away with visions of The Doc giving a fish mouth-to-mouth, let’s explore practical methods of fish CPR. The object is to pass oxygenated water through the gills of the fish to get him breathing again. You may try one or all of the following methods:


  • Hold the fish under the waterfall and keep his mouth open wide allowing water to flow through his gills.
  • “Swim” the fish by holding him and guiding him through the water.
  • Hold the fish over the bubbles of an air stone.
  • Though I wouldn’t try this at home, folks, one fish in particular was brought back when he got stuck to the bottom drain and the power of the pump pulled water through his gills in the opposite direction.
  • The best candidates for fish CPR are those who have been out of water for only a short time. A stiffened fish may require steroids depending on how long the fish has been out of water.
  • It’s Legal to Use Steroids on Fish!


A shot of steroids will not make your fish come back to life looking like Arnold Swartzenegger with muscular caudal fins and rippling lateral lines. Special steroids such as Dexamethazone (hope I spelled it correctly) are available through your friendly vet and, when administered correctly, can jump-start a dying fish and get him up and swimming in no time! Steroids have been used often and successfully to resuscitate fish that have dried out after jumping out of the pond and to revive weakened fish that are on the verge of dying. They also help a fish who is in shock or stunned. Strong medications and health treatments may push a weakened fish over the edge. A shot of steroids will often get him past the critical stage so the health treatment can benefit him.

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It’s February and soon spring will be here. Spring is my favorite time of the year but, unfortunately, it is the most crucial time for our koi and goldfish. During winter and cold weather our finny friends go dormant. They are cold-blooded so, as the water temperature drops, their metabolism slows down. They do not eat (and should not eat in water temperatures under 50°) and just hover on the bottom of the pond. The most concerning effect cold water has on pond fish is that they lose their immunity systems and are weak from not eating. As warmer weather approaches they will become more active but will not fully regain their immunity systems until water temperatures reach 70°.
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Definite noticeable changes occur in koi and goldfish, plants and the pond itself as the temperature of the water begins to drop. Leaves on water plants start to brown and die back. Koi and goldfish become less active and require less food. Leaves fall and cover the surface of the pond. The pond may suddenly clear up after not being clear all year. These are changes we see. The changes we do not see are just as important. Nitrifying bacteria, present all spring and summer in the biofilter, stop reproducing and become none effective. Biological functions in the fish’s bodies, controlled by temperature of the water, slow down and eventually the fish hover at the bottom of the pond in a state of semi-hibernation.
It's surprising that Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” has not titled one of his episodes “Ponds of the Rich & Famous”, especially since Robin Leach enjoys his own koi pond in the gardens of his mansion on a remote island in the Caribbean. Many celebrities have koi ponds or water gardens but finding out about them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I was, however, able to come across a few interesting and somewhat surprising tidbits — enough information to leave us all wanting more.