Can Fish Form Bonds with Humans?

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a fish and wondered if it could feel any kind of emotion?

Apr 28, 2023byAbigail van der Hoeven
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Whether you are a fish hobbyist who collects rare species or just a caring pet-fish owner, you no doubt have wondered at some point if your fish is sentient enough to form a bond with a human. Believe it or not, fish are far more complex creatures than they may at first seem and can indeed feel emotions and even form a kind of bond with their owners.

What Emotions Can a Fish Experience?

orange fish tank

When determining whether you can form a bond with your fish, you will first need to understand how complex fish emotions are. Fish are far more intelligent than most people assume. They can feel negative and positive emotions and will base their behavior on memories of past experiences, both good and bad.

Despite most fish having those expressionless eyes and unsmiling faces, the truth is that most fish can feel emotions, just like humans do. They feel fear, anger, possessiveness, affection, and excitement, among other complex emotions. How they express these emotions can be subtle. You will require an understanding of fish behavior to spot these emotions. However, knowing what to look for and what it means can go a long way to forming a positive bond with your fish. It will also help create a more harmonious and stress-free life for your fish and its tank mates.

Negative Feelings

yellow blue betta

To begin, we’ll look at the negative emotions a fish may experience, and what it means or looks like, as well as ways you can encourage more positivity and peace in your tank.


Perhaps one of the more apparent emotions, fear will play a big part in whether a fish will bond with a human. Fish experience fear in similar ways that humans do—increased breathing rate, muscle tension, and an attempt to escape. Fish can be fearful of things that trigger a memory of pain for them. This can be caused by aggressive tank mates, certain sounds or colors, and even the presence of their owners.


Speaking of aggressive tank mates. Another common emotion among fish is aggression. Fish will attack, chase, and even wound fish that they find threatening. Fish aggression is usually triggered by extremely territorial fish and dominant male fish who don’t want to have to compete with any other rival males. These fights are sometimes necessary to establish a hierarchy but can also lead to stress, wounds, and even death. If aggression seems to get out of hand, you may have to separate the fish and keep them in separate tanks.

Positive Feelings

koi fish pond

Fish are also capable of feeling positive emotions. These include feelings of protection, cooperation, affection, and even excitement.


Fish can feel protective over other fish they have bonded with. The most common fish-to-fish “relationships” are mate to mate, parents to children, and a kind of bond that resembles friendship between two unrelated fish. Fish can become protective of the other fish in their bond, primarily defending them against aggressive fish.


Fish can show affection in a number of ways. Among fish, it can look like protection, cooperation, or simply seeming to enjoy hanging out together. With humans, fish learn different behaviors to show they are happy to see you and that they prefer their owners to other people. Fish who trust their owners will swim to the water’s surface when their owner approaches, anticipating food or petting. Yes, some fish do seem to enjoy being petted and bonded fish may exhibit signs of excitement when a person they recognize enters the room. Alternatively, they may show symptoms of anxiety if someone other than their trusted human tries to feed or touch them.

So, Can You Bond with Your Fish?

yellow black fish

The question as to whether you will be able to form a bond with your fish is not a simple, straightforward yes or no. Fish have complex relational capabilities. They learn to seek out pleasurable experiences and avoid negative ones. They also have a decent memory, meaning you may not be working with a blank slate. If your fish has a history of stress or pain at the hand of a human, it may be much less likely ever to form a bond with a human.

Other factors also play in. Different fish species will have varying capabilities of creating bonds with fish or humans. Fish also have their individual personalities. If you get a shy fish who prefers to be left alone, you may never bond with it, or it may take a longer time.

However, if a fish can learn to trust you and associates you with good things, it may form a bond with you.


orange fish school

Fish can form bonds with humans. As a fish owner, it can be a very rewarding experience to have a fish who seems to like your company. While fish affection isn’t like human love, or even the love of other pets, like dogs or cats, fish can and do show preference and affection towards their owners. Build your fish’s trust in you and maybe it will form a bond with you too.

Abigail van der Hoeven
byAbigail van der Hoeven

Abigail grew up with many pets, from a sweet Golden Retriever to raising her school of tadpoles. She has three years of experience writing for the animal and pet niche. She has a lifetime of hands-on experience with all animals, including dogs, cats, birds, fish, rabbits, frogs, and more. She has three adorable guinea pigs: Guinevere, Tater Tot, and the most recent addition - baby Duncan! Abigail enjoys being outside, writing fiction, or kicking it back with a good tv comedy.