Discus Fish Care: Complete Guide for Beginners

Discus fish are definitely one of the most beautiful freshwater tropical fish. They are often called the king or the diva of the aquarium. Although, they are very popular not every aquarist knows how to care for discus fish.

discus fish care

Discus fish are not a good choice for beginners, because they are difficult to care for. Also, discus fish have to be kept in larger groups and big tanks.

In this article, you are going to learn how to take care of discus fish, what are their requirements, water parameters, tank size, and diet. I will also give you a few tips on how to breed this beautiful fish:

Discus Fish Requirements

Discus fish thrive well in floodplain lakes or rivers found in the lowland regions of the Amazon Basin. Normally this geographical location changes vastly, especially across different seasons of the year.

For instance, the rainy season in the month of December is characterized by flooding as a result of ice water and tropical showers increasing water levels.

Beyond that time, water levels subside, paving the way for the blackwater. The black water is common in riversides and in such an environment, discus fish find plenty of places to hide.

Also, black waters expose them to detritus and coverage upon which they find their food. This information is vital, especially when preparing aquariums.

That’s why you need to be very keen on the following discus fish tank conditions.

Water Parameters

Just like most freshwater fish, the discus is extremely sensitive to the conditions of their environment, particularly water quality. With that in mind, you need to consider acquiring a very powerful canister filter.

In addition to that, the water in the tank will have to be renewed at least once per week. Discus fish do well in a tank water environment that is slightly acidic and soft.

The acidity of water should have a pH ranging between 6.0 and 6.5. Apart from that, warm water is necessary and the temperatures should range from 80 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t forget to include water hardness when considering the ideal water parameters for your discus fish. The hardness should stand at 1dH to 8dH. This type of hardness will definitely replicate relatively softer conditions such as those found in the Amazon.

Most significantly, you can also soften water hardness by adding a few pieces of driftwood to your aquarium water.

These water parameters are recommended in relation to the natural conditions with which the discus fish thrive especially in the Amazon River Basin.

discus fish tank setup

Tank Size

Apparently, discus fish grow to become large and might need an aquarium that can accommodate 75 gallons or even more. In this regard, tall aquariums are the best choice so they can accommodate your discus fish entire body shape.

Besides, the current in the tank should somehow gentler while the decor needs to be large and include larger broadleaf plants. These plants and the driftwood should be arranged in a vertical manner to simulate downed trees and branches, similar to those found in the natural habitat for discus fish.

You can as well add some floating plants to provide that much needed shaded regions and cover within the tank. The discus detests being overcrowded in their environment despite the fact that they like to school so much.

As such, you will have to find ways of providing them with enough room for them to spread out. Therefore, the tank parameters should be in such a way that they can comfortably accommodate discus fish without denying them enough space to grow to their full sizes.

Often times, it gets difficult to acclimate the discus fish to their tanks. And as usual, relocating any type of fish can cause them some extensive stress during the whole process.

To overcome these problems, you need to plan the movement or location accordingly as a way of helping your fish to overcome stress in the course of transit.

Water Filtration

One of the best tips of caring about your discus fish is the installation of a good filter on the tank. This feature should not be overlooked because it plays a very critical role in keeping the right environment in the aquarium for the discus to thrive.

An overhead filter has one major advantage over the others. This type of filter is easy to clean and it is designed primarily for the community aquariums.

Water filtration is a must if you want to keep ammonia and nitrites in check throughout. Whether you settle for biological or mechanical filters, you can rest assured that the right conditions will be maintained within the aquarium.

Generally speaking, water filtration will ensure that water quality in the tank is ideal for the survival of your discus fish.


When it comes to the substrate for the discus fish, sand plays a very significant role. Normally sand acts as a natural substrate for nearly all aquatic habitats. Besides, sand is easy to clean and replace.

Discus fish enjoy having sand substrate in the aquarium because they are fond of shooting water at the substrate in the hope of stirring up some snacks.

For that reason, you should consider equipping your fish tank with enough sand to create a better environment for your discus fish.

Another common substrate is the bare bottom. These are ideal for breeding as well as raising offspring. These types of substrates are a preferred choice for many people simply because they allow them to carry out vacuuming so easily.

In other words, bare bottoms are easy to clean and maintain, unlike other types of substrates.


Naturally, discus fish tend to be shy. This should tell you that their habitat needs to have something that will make them feel comfortable. In this case, you need to acquire a heavily planted discus fish aquarium.

You may add some decorations, rocks, and driftwood to provide ideal hiding locations for your fish. This type of coverage will ensure that they feel secure inside the tank.

Maintaining such an environment in the tank can pose some challenges considering that there are other important parameters to be included.

Warm temperatures, in particular, need to be maintained by all means and this can cause some trouble when it comes to keeping plants alive.

That should not discourage you from including plants in the aquarium to provide the ideal conditions for your discus fish to thrive. Plants such as Vallisneria, Didiplis Diandra, and Rotala indica are a perfect choice for your fish tank.

Even though it is a sound idea to keep your discus fish in planted tanks, you can as well house them in bare bottomed tanks.

This way, you will be preventing the buildup of substrates in a bid to make your cleaning easier. In the end, your aquarium’s water quality will be preserved all the time.

Discus Fish Feeding

discus fish feeding

In their wild setup, discus fish consume a variety of food. Most of their diet consists of plant materials like detritus and algae, or small invertebrates. Discus fish consume more invertebrates during the high-water seasons. They may also eat zooplankton and small insects.

You can feed your fish on either live or frozen food. You can also give them commercial flakes and granulated food or provide them with homemade food.

One interesting feeding habit of discus fish is their tendency to hide somewhere in a corner of the aquarium while the rest of the fish are feeding. This shows clearly that you should watch out for the type of fish to keep in the tank with your discus fish because they will have difficulties feeding in the presence of other types of fish.

Anyway, you will find the following types of food to be ideal for your discus fish:

Commercial Flakes and Granulates Food

When it comes to feeding your discus fish, you may consider including a variety of commercial flakes or granulated food in their diet. Such foods are prepared with all essential nutrients to make your fish grow healthy all the time.

Here are three examples of commercial flakes and granulated food that you can purchase for your fish:

  • Nutridiet Discus Flakes (with Probiotics)-This type of food is fortified using garlic guard, vitamin C and chlorella for enhanced health as well as vitality. These flakes are rich in marine protein, an assortment of different types of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, this diet is nutritionally balanced with the highest quality of ingredients (including earthworms, fish and shrimp) to ensure that your fish gets a perfect diet. In addition, these flakes are formulated with probiotics that play a critical role in providing maximum health as well as vitality.
  • Sera Discus Granules-It is the topmost product among the Sera granulated range of food. This diet was designed specifically for discus fish and other cichlids and they contain high nutritional diet requirements. Most of the nutrients included in Sera Discus Granules are protein-rich stable foods and vitamins to improve the growth, development, and colors of every young discus fish.
  • TetraPro Tropical Color-Crisps – This is the fish food that comes complete with their natural color enhancers to provide your fish with the right amount of nutrients. TetraPro Tropical Color-Crisps has a tropical formulation that is meant to provide advanced nutrition for a discerning tropical fish-keeper. That is why it is made with an exclusive low-heat process to preserve essential nutrients that are enhanced with biotin and vitamins for optimal health of the fish. Given that they have color-enhancing capabilities, these types of food can promote the development of beautiful coloration among tropical fish. Above all, they have been designed to make it easy for the fish to digest them efficiently. In the end, you will realize that no amount of food waste is left in the fish tank.

Homemade Food for Discus Fish

Discus fish thrive on various types of homemade food. These may include veal, beef, turkey meat, shrimp, liver or even fish fillets. Other foods are mainly tropical fish foods like flake food, peeled shrimp, green beans and oatmeal.

When preparing these foods, ensure that the beef heart, turkey heart, shrimp mixture, and fish are in plenty or make up the main diet. You may include other supplements to vary your homemade diet as well.

Live / Frozen Food for Discus Fish

Besides the commercial flakes and homemade foods, discus fish can also feed on live or frozen food. These foods include mosquito larvae, blood worms, white worms, glass worms, mysis shrimp, red worms as well as frozen or dried adult brine shrimp.

You may go ahead and make some modifications to get the best diet for your discus fish as you desire. Keep in mind that frozen or live food is included in the fish diet to help them induce spawning.

Otherwise, ensure that you rotate the diet of your fish on a daily basis and feed them only what can they finish in 2 to 3 minutes each day.

Discus Fish Breeding

discus fish breeding

It is really difficult to differentiate between female and male discus fish. But you can easily tell the difference during the spawning period. With experience, you will come to realize that the males have fuller lips and receding foreheads.

Should you wish to breed discus fish, and then consider adding more fish to your existing number. You will require at least 6-8 young species to make sure that there are couples among them. Therefore, it is advisable to provide another spawning tank just in case.

Discus fish are known to take good care of their young ones and will always produce some secretions through the skin for their larvae to live off in the first 4 weeks of life.

Mostly, parent discus fish take care of their young ones for a few weeks before “weaning” them off.

Actually, this is a very rare behavior among different fish species but very common in a number of cichlid fish varieties. Discus fish attain their sexual maturity in one year or so.

A major challenge that breeders face when handling discus fish is their tendency to eat their own eggs. This behavior is prevalent among young fish thus the need to use a glass wall to separate the young discus fish from their parents.

Also, you may take such precautionary measures to prevent other discus from eating their eggs.

Discus Fish Tank Mates

discus fish tank mates

Discus fish are highly social animals, that do best in large groups. They are timid and shy fish and they get scared easily by sudden movements, vibrations, or loud noises.

These fish are slow eaters and prefer living in warm waters most of the time. This behavior poses some challenges to other types of fish, making it difficult to deal with them.

On top of that, they aren’t compatible with any aggressive fish. But the good news is, you can keep them in the same aquarium with the following fish species:

  • Tetras
  • Corydoras
  • German rams
  • Rainbowfish
  • Gouramis
  • Siamese algae eater
  • Angelfish
  • Agassiz Cichlid
  • Clown Loaches
  • Livebearers

Discus Fish Tank Maintenance

A good fish tank maintenance practice leads a functional and healthy aquatic environment for your fish. In fact, this practice will help solve time-consuming and expensive maintenance problems that may occur from time to time. Perhaps a few minutes on maintenance on a weekly basis can save you a lot in return.

Needless to say, the biggest factor when it comes to discus fish tank maintenance is actually the tank stability. Once your tank is stable, other parameters will not need major changes as such.

Only a few changes such as change of water, filtration, testing the fish tank water, and other minor issues will be of great concern.

Water Changes

Water change is a major part of discus fish tank maintenance. You should change the water in the discus tank once a week to keep the tank clean.

During this operation, 10 to 15 percent of water is sufficient in providing a conducive environment for the discus fish.

You may do a replacement of the extracted water while vacuuming the substrate to get rid of leftover food or any other residues that may have settled on the substrate.

Before any changes take place, check the parameters of both the replacement and tank water.

Testing the Fish Tank Water

It is advisable to check the water chemistry on a regular basis. The most important parameters to check are the pH, water hardness, and levels of nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia.

Filtration of the Fish Tank

Water filtration is essential if you want to keep conditions in your discus fish tank favorable. Wash the filter intake every time you do a water change. This will help you to keep the filter clean and operational for a longer time.

Having a good and reliable filter is essential for discus fish. Make sure you choose a filter with adequate size and good filter media. Don’t forget to wash the filter media from time to time, but only in aquarium water.

Are Discus Fish Aggressive?

discus fish aggressive

Just like other cichlids, discus maintains a strong pecking order. In simpler terms, discus are territorial and likely to display some aggressive behavior towards other discus fish. They will not fight with other fish species.

Discus fish tend to be aggressive during mating and when raising their fry. Make sure you have enough space and live plants to reduce the aggression.

What is the Average Lifespan of Discus Fish?

When taken good care of, discus can live an average of 6 to 8 years. But remember this is just an average age although some aquarists claim to lose their discus fish at 13 years old.

Do Discus Fish Jump Out of the Tank?

Yes, discus fish can jump out of the tank but only when there are reasons to do so. Some of the reasons your discus fish may jump out of the aquarium are lack of oxygen, poor water conditions, extreme temperature changes, overcrowding and commotion with other tank mates.

Are Discus Fish a Great Choice for Beginners?

Due to the extensive care and their demanding nature, discus fish are not a great choice for beginner aquarists. If you are new to keeping fish, don’t start with discus fish, instead, choose fish that don’t require so much attention, such as guppies, mollies, swordtails or neon tetras.

Do Discus Fish Eat their Fry?

Yes, discus fish have a tendency of eating their fry. This behavior is most common in young discus fish pairs that breed for the first time.


Also known as the diva of the aquarium, discus fish are incredibly beautiful thanks to their vibrant colors and stately appearance when they are in the aquarium.

Even though this type of fish may be somewhat more demanding than the rest of the aquarium species, you will find them to be a fantastic choice for your tank fish.

This is because discus fish add some color and life to your dull tank. Hence you may have them if you really want to add some vibrancy in your aquarium.

Sadly, they are not a good choice for beginners.

Discus Fish   Fish Care Guides   Updated: May 26, 2023
avatar Hello, my name is Fabian, and I am the Chief Editor at Aquarium Nexus. I have over 20 years of experience in keeping and breeding fish. The aquarium hobby brings me immense joy, and I take great pleasure in sharing my experiences with others.

Questions and Answers

Silviya Arsova November 18, 2019 Reply

Hi, all information was very educational for me and my son. After 10 years owning a 20 gal thank we are ready to expand and take the challenge with discuss fish. We just cannot resist them anymore.
What Brand overhead filter would you recommend for 75 gal thank?
We are considering 3-4 Discuss fish in it.
Thank you in advance for you time!

    Hey Silviya, I’m really glad that you found this guide useful.
    I would not recommend using an overhead filter (hang on back filter) for a tank that is larger than 50 gallons, because they are not very effective with large volume of water.
    I would rather suggest going for a canister filter; highly recommend the OASE canister filter (check price on Amazon).
    If you really want an overhead filter, then I would recommend the AquaClear 110 (check price on Amazon), which is rated for tanks between 60-110 gallons. I had great success with these filters on fish tanks of up to 50 gallons.

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