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Can Fish Choke?

The question of “can fish choke” can get a little tricky because fish don’t breathe in the same way that other animals do. It’s technically not possible for a fish to choke because choking is specifically defined as a blockage of the trachea, which fish don’t have.

However, fish can swallow food that’s too big which blocks their ability to get fresh water over their gills which can cause the fish to choke over time.

It’s also worth mentioning that fish don’t actually chew their food. Chewing would disrupt the process of forcing new water over the gills that a fish uses to breathe.

Fish either swallow their food whole, tear-off manageable chunks, or grind the food using specialized teeth located further back in their throat.

Fish can struggle with eating food items if they’re not properly taken care of. This can include having a tank that is not clean enough, feeding a fish the wrong kind of diet, or having water that is not sufficiently cycling oxygen.

Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about fish biology.

Can Fish Choke?

In order to determine if it’s possible for a fish to choke, we’re going to first need to come up with a definition for choking that we can agree on. Choking actually has a technical definition that defines what happens when an organism jokes.

The technical definition of choking works like this: choking occurs when an object blocks the airways of the trachea causing an organism to suffocate. As it turns out, fish do not have a trachea and thereby cannot choke in a technical sense.

There are a wide-ranging variety of animals that use the tracheal system to breathe including everything from caterpillars to human beings, but fish use gills to get their oxygen. This means that they don’t have a trachea that can be blocked.

It’s important to point out that even though fish can’t choke in the same way that mammals and insects can, the fish can still choke in a different way. It’s possible for a fish to swallow a large enough prey item that they wind up losing the ability to effectively pass water over its gills thereby suffocating.

It might feel like we’re technically splitting hairs here, but it’s important to understand the differences between the biology of fish and other animals when it comes to asphyxiating.

It’s possible for fish to choke, but just in a different way compared to how other animals can choke. Now that we know that fish can choke, we need to talk about how this happens.

Is My Fish Chewing Or Choking?

If it surprised you that fish technically can’t choke, it also might surprise you to learn that fish technically can’t chew. There is no species of fish that has the ability to grind its food in its mouth in the same way that mammals do.

In order to understand how fish process their food, we’re going to have to take a look at the three basic types of teeth you can find and fish.

Let’s start off by talking about sharks, because these are some of the most popular carnivorous fish out there. You’ve probably seen a movie that features a shark with imposing sharp teeth in its mouth.

These sharp teeth are used by carnivorous fish to capture prey and tear off small chunks of flesh that they can then eat. Carnivorous fish do not use these teeth to chew.

There are also bottom-dwelling fish that have flat teeth very similar to the molars and a human mouth. These fish use these teeth to crush the shells of shellfish and other animals in order to consume them easier.

They’re also herbivorous fish that have teeth set in the back of the throat which are known as pharyngeal teeth. If a fish were to chew like people did, it would no longer be able to pass oxygen over its gills and it would suffocate.

Can Fish Choke On Food?

You might be worried that your pet fish could potentially choke on the food it’s fed, but it’s extremely unlikely that your pet fish can choke on the food pellets that you feed it every day.

Even if you feed your pet fish larger items, such as worms, pieces of meat, or other insects, your fish will likely be unable to choke on the small pieces of food you give it everyday. However, fish can technically choke on their food if they eat something that is just too large.

There are certain types of fish, such as largemouth bass, that eat other, usually smaller, fish. It’s common for these fish to get eyes that are a little too big for their stomach and go after a fish that’s just too large for them to swallow.

This is a common problem on fish farms and a major reason why they have to separate fish by size to prevent them from choking on smaller fish. Certain species of fish even have specialized adaptations that allow them to continue breathing even while swallowing large prey.

Fish have evolved some incredibly clever ways to work around the fact that they sometimes have to swallow large prey items while still needing to pass water over their gills.

There are species of fish that are capable of continuing to swallow their prey for up to 2 days and will slowly pass water over their gills to continue breathing.

There are also other species of fish that have specialized gills that allow them to continue swallowing and moving oxygenated water over their gills at the same time.


So, can fish choke? It’s technically not possible for fish to choke because choking is something that only happens to animals that breathe with a trachea; fish can still swallow food that is too large for them and obstruct their ability to pass water over their gills. This usually only happens to wild fish who are attempting to eat other fish that are just too large for them to swallow whole. If your fish looks like it’s choking or chewing, it might just be swallowing its food or cycling freshwater over its gills.