10 Tips to Keep African Cichlid Healthy

African Cichlids are one of the most common species used for lifeful and colorful aquariums in order to delight our sight They are very active fish, which makes them really good swimmers.

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Though, there is a really important thing we need to know before buying them: not all type of species is suitable for your aquarium, so you must do good research according to the variety of African cichlids.

1. Start with Quality Fish

When buying your fish, you might want to choose active and healthy ones that will live a long joyful life in your aquarium.

Besides their good health, you might want to choose between aggressive or non-aggressive cichlids, as well as types of cichlids that usually get along. Aggressive fish tend to live less, due to the higher stress they might experience.

Always buy your fish from good sources and reputed fish breeders. Most retail pet stores don’t care about animals, they only focus on profit and hire inexperienced people. I recommend buying your fish from your local fish store.

2. Right Tank Size

According to their species, the size of cichlids can be between 3 and 8 inches, so before buying an aquarium, you should do some research on the type of species you will host.

The ideal tank size for African cichlids is between 30 and 50 gallons (from the smallest species), then at least an extra 3 gallons for every cichlid you want to add.

Anyway, the bigger the tank, the more fish they can host. Besides this, a larger tank will increase the swimming space and reduce aggressivity.

3. Right Filtration System

We should keep in mind that the cichlids tank water should always be moving, as cichlids are very active fish, and they love water currents. Besides, cichlids produce a lot of waste, which is more than tropical fish do.

This is why good filtration is required to assure water quality (10 times the tank volume/hour). For example, a 50 gallons tank requires a 500gph filter.

It is important to constantly keep the filter active in your tank, as cichlids will not survive more than two days without an air pump. Do not turn it off during the night, as the filter plays an important role to your fish’s health, and it helps aerate your tank water.

Also, take into consideration replacing the filter media every month, and frequently rinse the filter housing from algae rests.

4. Feed High-Quality Food

Cichlids can eat a variety of food, from store-bought products to human food, like fresh vegetables. But what is rather important is offering your cichlids a balanced diet with high nutrients and proteins.

Pellets and flakes provide a lot of nutrients, which is why cichlids like to eat them in large quantities. Anyway, if they had to choose between these two, they would prefer flakes, because pellets sink faster to the bottom and other fish can steal and eat their food.

For a higher nutritive meal, you can add some fresh chopped vegetables like broccoli, lettuce cucumber or peas. All these vegetables will replace the need that cichlids have on eating the tank plants or algae. Cichlids should be fed 2-3 times a day in order to reduce aggression, as they are very greedy and have a big appetite, and they might fight with other fish for food.

Tetra Cichlid Balanced Diet Flakes is among the most sold product and has the best nutrients combined with vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. They can be used for both top and mid-water feeding African or American cichlids. It helps improve growth, metabolism, immune system health and energy.

5. Regular Water Changes

As water being the key factor to any aquarium and also the fish’s environment, we must take care of their needs in order be healthier. By assuring the ideal water parameters and frequent water changes, your cichlids will be more energetic, colorful, healthier and will live longer.

The aquarium water should be changed once at every two weeks in order to assure and maintain health. Not only will the tank provide a better view inside, but fresh clean water will reduce possible fish diseases.

Cichlids produce a lot of waste, so in a few days the tank water will accumulate fish excrements and food residues, which can be very disturbing in their swimming process. Besides, the water should be free of ammonia, nitrites, nitrates or chloramine in order to prevent possible bacteria from spreading.

Water changes are also helpful when the water becomes green or foggy because of all gas particles (cleaning algae is part of the tank maintenance).

6. Regular Substrate Cleaning

The aquarium substrate is the base level in every aquarium and has numerous purposes. They can keep in place the whole decor, as well as the living or plastic plants.

Cichlids have a natural tendency of digging for food or simply to rest at the bottom of the tank, so the best substrates for them is gravel or sand of finer and silty nature.

When cleaning the water tank, try to clean only the visible waste from the gravel substrate. Sand cleaning and water change should be done once at every two weeks. In some cases, people prefer to replace the whole sand with a new one.

7. Regular Filter Cleaning

Filter cleaning is part of the tank maintenance and is among the most important things to do, as the filter is active 24/24 in order to assure a clear water in your tank (it helps aerate the tank water in the tank and help your cichlids breathe better).

But because of their permanent air currents, food waste or other dirt particles usually get stuck in the filter, which is why regular cleaning is required.

The aquarium filter should be cleaned once at 3-4 weeks (it is not recommended to do that more often, as it usually takes about a week for cichlids to adjust to the new conditions in the tank).

8. Reduce Aggression

Cichlids are known for their aggressive behavior, extremely high appetite and trying to be alpha males when it comes to choosing territories in the tank. Bigger and more aggressive cichlids would always steal other fish’s food or pick on the smaller fish (or on fish which are later added in the tank). So, a few tips on reducing aggression are:

  • Choose only the species that get along in the tank (do not mix aggressive with non-aggressive species).
  • Try to add the fish at the same time (introducing all the cichlids into the tank will help them accustom with one another and maintain friendly connections).
  • Buy a bigger tank to assure their swimming space and freedom. Remember that cichlids are active swimmers, and they might not want to meet other cichlids in their way, thus a small tank will cause stress if these conditions will not be required (especially if you have a lot of fish).
  • Feed them more often (they are greedy eaters, so feed them 3-4 times a day instead of 2-3 times to make sure they are all happy and will not steal each other’s food).
  • Provide hiding places (add rocks and plants and provide a great substrate).

9. Provide Hiding Places

An environment and a great decor which contains a lot of rocks and a sand substrate will perfectly resemble the natural Cichlids environment. It also offers them a place to hide and protect themselves or their eggs (and later the fry) during the breeding period.

Live plants are also part of the decor, as they maintain the water clean and assure your cichlids’ safety (even more, cichlids love to swim and hide among them). Rocks are ideal for tanks, especially big ones with a lot of holes, which makes them ideal for hiding.

Besides that, knowing that some species are aggressive, they use rocks in order to mark their territory. Except for rocks and plants, the sand substrate might also serve as a place where they can hide from other fish (try to assure a thicker layer of sand, especially because of their digging tendency).

10. Treat Diseases Quickly

Just like humans, fish can get sick and are prone to possible diseases. This might be inevitable at one point or another, as fish can be exposed daily to pathogens and bacteria in the water. The causes that usually lead to diseases are stress or water contamination (high levels of ammonia or nitrites, accumulated waste or excrements, a low or a high-water temperature or overfeeding). So, the best thing you can do is assure water quality in your tank and treat diseases effectively, as soon as they appear.

The most common diseases in cichlids are:

  • White spots (ich) – symptoms: small white dots on the fins, gills, and body. Treatment: salt baths, increased tank temperature, potassium permanganate and malachite green.
  • Malawi Bloat – symptoms: swelling in the abdomen, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, and lying at the bottom of the tank. Treatment:  perform a large water change in the tank and to dose the tank with Metronidazole.
  • Tuberculosis – symptoms: loss of appetite, frayed fins, white spots on the skin, and a sunken stomach. Behavioral changes like lethargy can be noticed. Treatment: remove all other fish to a quarantine tank and treat the tank with melafix.
  • Gill Flukes – attack the gill membranes, causing them to become red and acquire a thick coat of slime. Symptoms: gasping at the tank’s surface or rubbing its body against tank objects, fading color and abnormal breathing. Treatment: Add 1 tablespoon of aquarium salt per day and slightly increase the tank temperature.

Wrapping Up

Not all African cichlid species are suitable for beginners. Indeed, most of them are best to keep if you already have some experience. However, following the above 10 steps, you can be sure, that your African cichlid colony will be healthy and happy.

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