Discus Fish – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

Fish make excellent pets, but they require more research and care than some might realize. It’s crucial to understand how to take care of a fish before you purchase one.

Discus fish one of the most popular aquarium fish, and for good reason. They are large, colorful fish that make great additions to any tank, but they need to be kept in very specific conditions to prevent any illnesses.

Discus are known for requiring a lot of care. Use this guide to learn how to take the best care of your discus if you’re considering purchasing them or already keep discus.


What Are Discus Fish?

Discus are part of the Cichlidae family. The two most common species are Symphysodon discus and Symphysodon aequifasciatus.

These discus are native to flood plains in the Amazon. The gentle “flood pulse” there creates a slow water flow that allows discus to easily feed, grow, and mate.

Discus can grow to be between 8-10 inches long. They are thin, flat, and have rounded anal and dorsal fins that add to their disk-like appearance.

You can tell male and female discus apart by looking at their size and face shape. Male discus are larger than females in adulthood and have thicker foreheads and lips.

Most discus fish live for about 10 years. Discus kept in good health and healthy environments can live for up to 15 years.

The main reason discus are so popular is because of their vivid colorations. Different discus species can range between bright reds and blues, whites, and even patterns.

One of the most popular varieties is the checkerboard discus. These fish are a dark red and have turquoise spots.

Discus are schooling fish. Keeping multiple discus will create a wall of bright colors in your tank.

These fish are peaceful and like to escape conflict instead of fighting. But like all cichlids, they can become aggressive towards each other.

Discus Habitat and Tank Conditions

Discus are more difficult to care for than other types of fish. They need to be kept in specific conditions to prevent sickness.

How Big Should My Tank Be?

Discus are large fish and need a lot of room to grow and swim. Because they need to be kept together, your tank needs to be big to fit all of them comfortably.

You will need at least 10 gallons of space per discus in your tank. If you have five adult discus fish, you will need a 50-gallon tank.

Younger discus are smaller, so they only need 5 gallons per fish instead of 10. However, you will need to transfer them to a larger tank as they grow.

How Do I Take Care of My Tank’s Water?

Discus are tropical freshwater fish. Your tank’s water needs to be regularly maintained to keep them healthy.

Discus fish like to be kept in warmer that’s slightly warmer than most other fish prefer. Keep your tank between 82-88° Fahrenheit.

Invest in a heater that can keep your water’s temperature consistent. Check the temperature daily by using a permanent thermometer.

Discus thrive in water that’s slightly acidic, with a pH level between 6 and 7. You should learn the water acidity your fish were raised in to avoid shocking them when you transfer them to your tank.

It’s important that your water has no chlorine in it. Dechlorinate your tank with a good water conditioner to neutralize the water.

Renew your tank’s water once a week. Replace about a quarter of the water every time you change it. Make sure the water you’re adding is already at the right temperature and pH levels.

How Should I Set Up My Tank?

Before you fill your tank, you need to put it in a good location. Discus are easily frightened, so keep your discus in a place that’s quiet without lots of activity.

Use a fine to medium grade substrate at the bottom of your tank. Discus like to dig in the substrate to forage, and a smooth substrate will prevent any injuries.

Discus fish like to avoid conflict. Fill the tank with lots of places for your discuss to hide and explore.

Discus also enjoy being surrounded by live plants. Broadleaf plants and floating plants or moss are good choices, but long stem and lower foreground plants are also good choices.

Your tank should have a weak water flow so your discus are able to school together. Vertical driftwood can break up the flow, but make sure the decorations you use for this are smooth so your discus doesn’t hurt itself.

Discus Behavior

Discus are peaceful additions to your tank. They will often escape to avoid conflict, but they can also use their vibrant colors and large size to intimidate fish that harass them.

There are plenty of viable options for tank mates. Do research before adding discus fish to your tank.

Can Discus Fish Be Kept with Other Fish?

Discus can get along well with most fish you add to their tank. They can be shy, but surrounding them with other friendly fish is a good way to get them comfortable with their environment.

Other peaceful fish like tetras, gouramis, and Corydoras would be great tank mates. However, the fish you include need to be able to tolerate the hot water temperatures discus require.

Smaller fish may be seen as food if paired with discus. Even if they’re friendly, smaller fish should be kept in a separate tank.

Aggressive fish should not be kept with discus fish. They can eat at a discus fish’s mucus coat and harm them. Large, aggressive fish like Jack Dempsey are out of the question.

Can Discus Fish Be Kept Together?

Discus are schooling fish and should absolutely be kept in the same tank. You should have at least five discus in one tank so they can school together. Just make sure your tank is large enough for them.

Keeping a school of discus is what adds the most color to your tank. Different species and varieties of discus can be housed together, so you can add a lot of color and interest to your tank with the specific fish you choose.

Even so, you need to know what to expect from a school of large fish. Discus are cichlids, which can make them competitive with each other.

A pecking order will probably form. It’s natural for this to happen, but be sure to pay attention to the smaller fish. Make sure all of your discus are fed and that the smaller fish aren’t being ganged up on.

Feeding Your Discus

Discus are omnivores who like to eat a variety of plant and meaty foods. Providing some variety in your discus fish’s diet is important to give them the best coloration possible.

Flakes and pellets are the most convenient option for beginning fish keepers. They’re readily available in stores and cheaper than fresh or frozen foods.

Still, frozen or fresh options should be kept on hand even if they’re not used daily. High quality foods can be used as treats or during the breeding process.

For plant-based foods, give your discus foods like spirulina and tropical fish flakes. Pellets that sink to the bottom of the tank are also good options for these bottom grazers.

Discus can’t get the nutrition they need from plant flakes alone, so be sure to also feed them meaty options. Again, flakes and pellets are good options.

Common fresh or frozen meaty foods include brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae. Live foods are also an option, but be careful with these. Live foods are more likely to carry bacteria or illnesses that can make your discus sick.

Feed your discus once or twice a day, and rotate the kind of food you give them with each feeding. A good balance between plant and meaty foods is important.

Only give your discus what they can eat in 3-5 minutes. If there’s any extra food, remove it from the tank to avoid health issues.

It’s common for smaller discus fish in the pecking order to not get enough to eat. To avoid this, try putting food on two sides of the tank to separate them.

Breeding Discus Fish

Discus are notorious for being difficult to breed. With enough time, preparation, and practice, though, it’s possible to breed them successfully.

It’s not possible to force a pair of discus to breed. They must pair off to mate naturally. Keep plenty of discus fish if you want to breed to improve your chances of a pair forming.

You will need a separate breeding tank for your breeding pair, but keep the tank in perfect condition Water should be about 86° Fahrenheit and the pH should be at a stable 6.5.

Fill your breeding tank with spawning sites, like caves, spawning cones, or upside-down pots. Do not include any substrate in the breeding tank.

Breeding will be more successful if you keep the discus in their own tank. A breeding pair can form in a tank with other fish, but they prefer to be undisturbed.

Feed your discus plenty of protein to encourage mating. Vitamin supplements are available, but they shouldn’t be your first choice.

Keep an eye on your fish to find a breeding pair. They will usually hang around a corner away from your other discus. Move them to the breeding tank once you’ve identified them.

After the female has laid her eggs in the spawning site, you might consider moving her back to her permanent tank. Female discus are more likely to eat the eggs or the young fry. You could also put a net around the spawning site to prevent this.

If the eggs turn white, they weren’t fertilized and need to be disposed of. Fertilized eggs are a golden color. They will hatch after 2-3 days and will sometimes stay at the spawning site for a few more days.

Once the fry leave the spawning site, they will attach themselves to their parents to feed on their mucus coat. Make sure they don’t break through to the parents’ skin.

Feed the fry small brine shrimp after they have been free swimming for four or five days. Feed them four times a day.

Keep the parents with the fry for two weeks after they hatch. After that, the parents can be added back to their permanent tank. The fry should be raised separately from the main tank until they are the size of a half dollar.

Common Discus Care Problems

Unfortunately, things can go wrong when caring for discus. Use this section to figure out what might be troubling your discus fish.

Is My Discus Sick?

Different symptoms your fish has might be pointing to different illnesses. If you’re concerned about your fish, you can always take it to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

A fish that’s standing with its head towards the top of the tank or losing its balance likely has nitrite poisoning. Change out 50% of your tank’s water and wipe down the sides and bottom of the tank. Test your water and make changes to avoid nitrite poisoning in the future.

A discus that’s breathing rapidly might have nitrite poisoning or trematodes. Change out a third of your tank’s water and treat it with a wormer to kill any parasites that could be causing trematodes.

Swelling across the body and rotting fins or tails is a sign of a bacterial infection. Change out a third of your tank’s water, put in an antibacterial treatment, and add salt to treat distress.

My Discus Isn’t Eating

You might be overfeeding your fish. Only give your fish the amount of food they can eat in 3-5 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to health problems.

A discus that’s rejecting food might also be suffering from one of the sicknesses described above. Try changing your tank’s water or your feeding routine, and take your discus to a vet if they still refuse to eat.

Is A Discus Right for You?

Discus are large, beautiful fish that can add a lot of color to your tropical freshwater tank. They need a lot of space because they need to be kept together.

If you don’t have the space for a large tank, discus fish might not be a good choice for you. A fish keeper with plenty of space and the time for a regular care routine will have excellent luck caring for discus.

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