Fish and child safety

Fish are a popular pet. They can be easy to take care of and fascinating for children. Pet fish can be a great way to help your child's speech and language development. The variety of colours, shapes and sizes can spark conversation. You could ask your child 'what is the little yellow fish doing?'

But pet fish and the water they swim in can sometimes carry germs that could make your child sick.

It is quite rare for pet fish to cause illness. But it can happen.

Pet fish can sometimes spread:

  • skin infections from types of bacterial called Mycobacteria
  • vomiting and diarrhoea caused by Salmonella
  • diarrhoea or blood infections caused by bacteria called Aeromonas

Your child could also pick up some skin infections through contact with infected water.

Following a few safety tips should reduce the risk of your child becoming ill.

Keep your child safe around pet fish and fish tanks

To reduce the risk of your child becoming ill after being in contact with fish:

  • wash your hands and your child's hands carefully after contact with the fish or fish tank
  • clean the fish tank as recommended
  • wear gloves when cleaning a fish tank or handling fish
  • don't let your child handle a fish or its water if they have any cuts or scratches on their skin

Store fish food, medicines and any other fish materials out of reach of children. This is because children may swallow them. This could cause choking or poisoning.

Fish tanks

Watch your child at all times when they are near the fish tank.

Keep the fish tank out of reach of young children. They could pull at the tank. This could lead to the tank falling over and causing them serious injury.

Make sure the tank has thick, sturdy glass or acrylic sides. Your child won't be able to break this. Check that the material is shatterproof. Secure the tank to a safe surface.

Large fish tanks are a drowning risk. A small child is also at risk of putting their head into smaller tanks or bowls. This is because they may try to get closer to the fish.

If you have young children who might be tempted to open the top, have a lock fitted. Always keep the top down and locked whenever you are away from the tank.

Keep the electrical cables and any pipes out of sight and reach of children. They are a strangulation risk.

If your child is scratched by a fish

If your child's skin is broken or scratched by a fish, a fish fin, or something sharp in the fish tank:

  • wash it immediately with running warm tap water and soap
  • talk to your GP - tell them your child was handling fish or the fish tank when the injury happened

Buy a healthy fish

Choose a healthy fish from your pet shop. This can reduce the risk of your child catching an infection. Don’t buy from shops where you can see dead fish in the tanks or fish in murky water.

Avoid fish that have:

  • fungus growing on its scales
  • sores
  • torn fins
  • fins that fall to one side
  • hazy eyes


Do not buy a poisonous, venomous, biting or nervous fish.

Page last reviewed: 28 June 2019
Next review due: 28 June 2022