Responses to anaesthesia with essential oil (EO) of Aloysia triphylla (135 and 180 mg L−1) and tricaine methanesulfonate (MS222) (150 and 300 mg L−1) were assessed in silver catfish. Exposure to the anaesthetics elicited a stress response in the species. In the case of MS222, it was displayed as a release of cortisol into bloodstream, elevation in hematocrit and plasma ion loss. The EO presented cortisol-blocking properties, but increased haematocrit and disturbances of hydromineral balance were observed. Liver antioxidant/oxidant status of EO and MS222-anaesthetized silver catfish was also estimated. The synthetic anaesthetic induced lipoperoxidation, notwithstanding increased catalase contents, whereas the naturally occurring product was capable of preventing the formation of lipid peroxides, possibly due to combined actions of catalase and glutathione-S-transferase. Anaesthetic efficacy was also tested via induction and recovery times. Overall, the promising results obtained for the physiological parameters of the EO-treated fish counterbalanced the slight prolonged induction time observed for 180 mg L−1. As for 135 mg L−1, both induction and recovery times were lengthy; despite that, the EO was able to promote oxidative protection and mitigate stress. None of the MS222 concentrations prompted such responses concomitantly.