In order to determine the potential for the invasive fishes sunbleak Leucaspius delineatus and topmouth gudgeon Pseudorasbora parva to disperse through saline waters their behaviour and physiology were investigated during exposure to salinities of 10·0 and 12·5. Increased salinity caused an increase in whole body cortisol in both species, but sunbleak and topmouth gudgeon showed very different metabolic and behavioural responses to the salinity stress. Sunbleak displayed increased swimming activity in brackish water, which may be important for dispersal through saline waters in the wild, although there were increased metabolic costs associated with this behaviour. Conversely, topmouth gudgeon showed a reduction in both swimming activity and metabolic rate in brackish waters. A pronounced depression in food intake (70–80%) was shown by both species during the salinity exposures. Both sunbleak and topmouth gudgeon, however, showed a full recovery of food intake within 24 h following return to fresh water. Despite the fact that exposure to saline waters is stressful, and affects both physiology and behaviour, rapid recovery of appetite after return to fresh water suggests that short-term use of brackish waters is a feasible dispersal route for sunbleak and topmouth gudgeon in the wild.