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Will Petco Take Unwanted Fish? 2023 Update & Tips

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By Nicole Cosgrove

man with new fishes near the aquarium

There’s limited space in any aquarium and there comes a time when your fish might outgrow the space available or no longer fit in with your other aquatic animals. Getting rid of your unwanted fish isn’t easy, but there are options available. Pet stores like Petco take in unwanted fish and resell them in “adoption tanks.”

Donating to your local Petco keeps your fish safe and healthy. It also keeps your environment from being contaminated by sick fish. Not all fish will be accepted by Petco; understanding the requirements will help ensure your fish has a place to go.

Will Petco Buy Unwanted Fish?

Most of the time, Petco won’t buy unwanted fish from you. Smaller pet stores like “mom and pop” locations might pay a small fee or offer store credit for your unwanted fish but Petco does not.

Unwanted fish are handled like donations rather than purchased stock. This means the store won’t pay or give store credit for the fish it takes in. However, some Petco locations won’t accept donated fish either. Make sure you do your research first.

Petco Pet Store
Petco (14958183145) (Image Credit: Mike Mozart, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)

What Does Petco Do With Unwanted Fish?

One of the most worrying things about surrendering a pet to anyone is the uncertainty about what happens to them afterward. Petco takes pride in ensuring pets of all types find a loving and safe home, even when you can’t take care of them yourself.

Many Petco locations have an “adoption tank” where they keep unwanted fish and sell them for a lower fee. However, some stores might not have the same policy regarding fish. You’ll need to ensure your local store has an adoption tank or another way of handling unwanted fish before you give them yours.

The 3 Tips to Make Sure Petco Accepts Your Unwanted Fish

Although Petco does take unwanted fish, there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet to ensure the process goes smoothly. There are times when Petco might reject your fish, and you’ll need to find an alternative way of getting rid of them. Here are a few things to double-check with your store before you ask it to take your fish:

1. Ask Your Local Store

Most Petco stores accept unwanted fish provided there’s enough space and the fish is healthy, but it’s always a good idea to double-check just in case. All you need to do is call, email, or visit your local store and ask whether the location will accept your unwanted fish.

The staff can discuss your options, assure you they can take your healthy fish, or provide alternative ideas if they don’t have the space. Although it can take a little time to ask all the questions you need, it can save you a wasted trip later if your local Petco can’t take your fish for any reason.

2. Ensure Your Fish is Healthy

Unfortunately, no Petco store will accept fish that aren’t entirely healthy, so you’ll have to find an alternative and safe method of disposing of your sick fish. If your fish is healthy, and your local Petco is willing to take them, there’s no reason there would be a problem.

3. Donate in Person

Many Petco fish can be bought online and shipped to your home. They can’t be returned the same way because it is difficult to send fish through the mail. While Petco takes steps to ensure live, freshwater fish arrive as healthy as possible, it doesn’t accept returned live fish through the mail. You’ll need to visit a store in person once you’ve established that the location will accept the fish or find another way to get rid of them.

Image Credit: fakov Filimonov, Shutterstock

What Should You Not Do With Unwanted Fish?

When you realize you can no longer keep your fish, it can be surprising how difficult it is to get rid of them. Many people will take the easy way out and release them into the nearest body of water or flush them down the toilet. Despite how convenient both of these options might seem, they can have drastic consequences on the environment.

For several reasons, releasing fish into the wild is never a good idea. The most common is that fish bred in captivity don’t have the skills to survive independently. Since you provide their meals regularly during the day when they’re in an aquarium, they won’t have the experience of locating their food when it’s not readily available. In this case, releasing them is often a death sentence.

The second most significant issue is if your fish is unhealthy when you let them go. Diseases, parasites, and other problems your fish might have will be introduced to the local fish in your area. Some of these illnesses and parasites can spread to humans and wildlife that eat the contaminated fish.

Even if they’re healthy, you’ll still be interfering with the ecosystem by introducing new fish that will fight with the native fish for food. If the fish you release isn’t native to your area, it could also result in a destructive invasive species that can damage the local wildlife and environment and be tricky to correct.

In some places flushing your fish down the toilet, or dumping them in your local lake, is illegal. You must either donate your healthy fish to a new home or euthanize sick fish and bin them.

The 3 Alternative Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Fish

It’s not always easy to find a way to get rid of unwanted fish, but with a bit of thought and patience, there are ways you can safely dispose of them. Flushing them down the toilet might be the quick and easy route, but your fish and the environment will thank you for taking the time to get rid of them safely.

1. Advertise Them Online

Like other pets, fish can be advertised in certain places online. You can give them away on sites like Craigslist or advertise them on social media or aquarium sites. Use caution here, however. Some sites have policies that don’t allow you to sell live animals—including fish—you’ll need to ensure you won’t violate the rules if you try to sell your fish online

2. Pet Shops

Petco isn’t the only pet store that will accept unwanted fish. If you don’t have a local Petco or it doesn’t accept donated fish, you should check in with the other stores in your area. You might even find a store that offers credit or pays for the fish you donate if they’re healthy.

3. Schools, Nursing Homes, or Offices

Fish might not be the most exciting pets, but plenty of businesses have an aquarium they keep stocked for aesthetic reasons or so customers have something to watch while they wait for an appointment.

If you ask your local school, nursing homes, offices, or another place with an aquarium, they might be willing to take your healthy fish off your hands. Aquarium clubs and zoos might accept donations of certain fish species too. You likely won’t get money for them, but you’ll know your fish will be cared for and safe.

beautiful pearlscale goldfishes
Image Credit: hineck, Pixabay


Many Petco stores accept healthy, unwanted fish if you can no longer care for them. The fish Petco takes in are often kept in “adoption tanks” and sold to customers at a lower fee than the new fish. Although most Petco locations accept fish, you should always ask your local store to ensure it has an unwanted fish policy and space for your pet.

Featured Image Credit: M-Production, Shutterstock

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