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Cichlid Care 101 (A Simple Guide for Beginners)

Cichlid Care 101 (A Simple Guide for Beginners)

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This post is written to the author's best knowledge and is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. In addition, this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cichlids are among the most popular types of fish that you can find. They’re good fish for most people to purchase due to being easy to care for.

The most popular cichlid types are generally hardy fish that will be good for beginners. Although, there certainly are a variety of different types.

You might be wondering how to care for these fish. Before buying some of your own, it’s a good idea to learn about the care requirements so you’ll understand what to expect.

Read on to learn about cichlid care so you can do a good job of caring for these fish right away. You’ll get the answers to common questions and will feel much better about buying them for your fish tank once you’ve read everything.

Are Cichlids Easy to Keep?

Yes, cichlids are generally considered to be easy to keep. Of course, there are cichlids that aren’t as simple to care for as others.

The majority of the popular cichlid types are hardy and easy to keep in a fish tank. These are good beginner fish because they can survive even when you make a few mistakes.

Some cichlids such as discus cichlids are a bit less hardy. These fish can be harder to care for and might have health issues if you don’t stay on top of the water parameters.

Typical cichlids such as angelfish, African cichlids, Oscars, and ram cichlids are easy to care for. If you’re looking for good fish to own as a newcomer to the hobby, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek out cichlids.

These fish are simple to learn how to take care of. If you want them to stay alive for a long time, it’ll be important to meet their basic care needs.

How to Keep Cichlids Healthy

Fish Tank with Cichlids

To keep cichlids healthy, you’re going to need to meet their basic care needs. The first thing to focus on is taking care of the water in the tank.

You need to monitor the temperature of the water. It’s also necessary to keep the pH balance in the right range.

It requires regular testing to keep everything how it’s supposed to be. You’ll also have to clean the fish tank on a regular basis.

Feeding the fish will be another important part of keeping cichlids healthy. If you don’t feed the fish an optimal diet, they’re not going to live for too long.

Giving the fish enough space to live is imperative. Different types of cichlids will require different fish tank sizes.

You’ll learn more about the basic care of cichlids later. For now, you need to understand that there are a lot of things you need to get right so the cichlids can thrive under your care.

Best Substrate for Cichlids

Of course, the cichlids are going to need to have some type of substrate material in the tank. If you want the cichlids to have the best possible experience, it’s wise to choose the perfect substrate for them.

Experts agree that choosing sand as the substrate material is the best choice. Cichlids enjoy digging in the sand and they need to do so for mating purposes.

Giving the cichlids high-quality sand as the substrate material is wise. You can buy what you need from a local pet store or you can order it online.

Since cichlids dig into the substrate, it’s best not to use gravel or material that might hurt the fish. You don’t want the cichlids to get scraped or cut by your chosen substrate material.

Cichlid Water Parameters

As you might expect, water parameters will differ depending on the type of cichlid that you’re caring for. In general, most cichlids require warm water with a high pH balance.

Many cichlids can tolerate a wide range of different temperatures and water types, though. If you want to keep the fish in good health, it’s best to give them the recommended water parameters based on their species.

Below, you’ll learn more about the water temperatures and pH balance that these fish like. It should help you to understand the type of tank conditions that will work best for most cichlids.

Cichlid Water Temp

Thermometer in a Fish Tank

Since cichlids like warm water, it’s generally recommended to keep the water in the fish tank between 74 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some cichlids might tolerate water temperatures that are slightly higher. Generally, you’re going to want to use a heater to keep the water warm enough for the fish.

Cichlids don’t do great when the water temperatures fluctuate. Fluctuating temperatures can stress the fish and cause them to get sick.

Using a heater helps to keep the temperature of the water consistent. It’s much better for the health of the fish.

Can Cichlids Live in Cold Water?

Cichlids cannot live in cold water. These fish come from tropical regions and they need to be kept in warm water.

There are cichlids who might tolerate water that is a bit cooler than the recommended range. However, forcing the fish to live in water that is too cold will likely kill them.

If you want the fish to thrive in your home, it’s imperative to give them the right water temperature. You should always monitor the temperature of the water using a thermometer.

As mentioned above, a heater should be used to keep the water in the right temperature range. It’s recommended to use a heater even if you don’t live in a cold region of the world because consistency is best for the fish.

You don’t want the water temperature to go up and down too much. Use a heater to keep it in the right range for the sake of the fish.

Can Cichlids Live in Tap Water?

Tap Water

Using water that comes directly from the tap for the fish tank is not wise. Most tap water contains chemicals that could be harmful to the fish.

You can use tap water if you prepare it first, though. It’s necessary to use a dechlorinator on the water to get rid of the chemicals.

Otherwise, you can buy water that is safe to use in fish tanks from a store. Many people choose to use tap water and go through the dechlorination process out of convenience.

Putting tap water in the tank without treating it first would be bad for the fish. Don’t do that because it could wind up harming the fish more than you might realize.

Cichlid pH Level

Typically, cichlids are going to require a high pH level in the tank. Most cichlids will do well when the pH balance of the water is kept between 7.5 and 8.5.

Keep in mind that this number will differ slightly based on the type of cichlid that you own. Some might like the balance a little lower, but this should be a good basic range to remember.

You must monitor the pH balance in the tank no matter what. It’s important to regularly test the pH balance of the water using a pH balance testing kit.

This allows you to tell when the balance is being thrown off. If the number is a bit too high or a bit too low it’ll be easy to change things.

Keeping the pH balance where it needs to be helps the cichlids to stay healthy. You can get good results so long as you’re proactive and pay attention to the numbers.

How to Raise pH in Cichlid Tank

There are several ways that you can raise the pH balance in the cichlid tank. The most common way is to simply add chemicals to the water that will raise the pH balance level.

This is a fast way to adjust things and ensure that the fish have the water where it needs to be. There are also slower ways to adjust the pH balance level.

You can use reverse osmosis to raise the pH level in the tank. Adding deionized water to the tank can accomplish the same thing as well.

Overall, it won’t be hard to get the pH balance raised if it happens to get too low. Truly it’s best to just use the chemicals since you don’t want to let the balance remain lower than it should be for too long.

Cichlid Nitrate Level

Cleaning a Fish Tank

When fish tanks get dirty, the nitrate levels in the tank will rise. High nitrate levels will be very dangerous for the fish.

High levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites will be problematic. You can avoid allowing these levels to spike by cleaning the tank regularly and changing the water on a weekly basis.

Be sure to change 15% of the water each week. If you do the necessary tank maintenance, you shouldn’t have issues with high nitrate levels.

It’s wise to test the water to see where the nitrate levels are at. The acceptable nitrate levels in a cichlid tank should be between 5 ppm and 10 ppm.

Some cichlids might have slightly more or less tolerance for nitrate levels in the tank. You can always look up specific information based on the species of cichlid that you own.

Cichlid Lighting

Cichlids actually don’t require special lighting. The ambient lighting in the room will technically be enough for these fish.

However, many people choose to put lights in the tank anyway. It’s common for people to use fluorescent lights for cichlid tanks.

You just don’t want the lights to be too bright. Too much bright light will lead to algae growth and the cichlids simply don’t need bright lights.

These fish do well with a moderate type of lighting for the tank. Turn the lights in the tank on for eight to ten hours per day.

Cichlids do need the fish tank to be dark at night because they need to sleep. If the lights stay on during the night they won’t be able to rest properly.

Do Cichlids Like Moving Water?

You can have moving water in the cichlid tank, but cichlids don’t require it. In fact, some cichlids might not like it if the current is too powerful or fast.

A moderate current should work out nicely. As usual, it’s best to look things up on a case-by-case basis.

Some cichlids might tolerate a stronger current better than others. Most of these fish have different likes and dislikes based on the areas where they can be found living in the wild.

A little bit of current in the tank is going to be a safe bet. If the current is too strong, you might notice the cichlids hiding near rocks or plants and not swimming around as much.

Do Cichlids Need a Heater, Filter, and Pump?

A Fish Tank Heater

Yes, it’s necessary to buy a heater, filter, and pump for the fish tank when you’re caring for cichlids. A filter is particularly important because it will help to keep the water clean.

Not having a filter would make it much harder to keep the fish tank clean overall. You’d have dirty water in the tank that would make the fish stressed and sick.

The heater is imperative because these fish like warm water. If the temperature dips too low, it can be stressful for the fish and might even cause health issues.

A pump is there to provide oxygenation to the aquarium. It’s a good idea to have an air pump for the fish to keep the oxygen levels in the tank in a good range.

You might be able to get away with not having a pump if you have a planted aquarium. Even so, it’s generally better to have a pump.

This is especially true because some of the cichlid’s tank mates might need the pump. You might have more fish than just cichlids in the aquarium.

How to Feed Cichlids

It makes sense that you’d need to feed the cichlids to keep them healthy. You should know that most cichlids have very healthy appetites.

Adult cichlids should be fed three or four times per day. It’s recommended to give the fish as much as they can eat in thirty seconds each time that you feed them.

This ensures that the fish are getting enough to eat without going overboard. You want to avoid overfeeding these fish because it can cause them to have issues with constipation.

What you should feed the cichlids will differ based on the species that you’re caring for. Some cichlids are herbivores and others are omnivores.

Most cichlids are going to eat tropical flakes and nutritional pellets most of the time. You’ll then supplement the diet of the fish with other types of food.

Some fish such as African cichlids like to eat greens such as spinach. This can be given to African cichlids as a treat occasionally.

Cichlids that will eat meat will appreciate being given meaty foods from time to time. Freeze-dried brine shrimp and bloodworms will be popular choices.

Do Cichlids Play?

Multiple African Cichlids

Some people believe that cichlids play with each other. Not much is really known about this topic.

Concrete information about whether cichlids play doesn’t exist. There are videos you can find online of fish enthusiasts showing their cichlids playing around.

The fish might appear to be playing with each other. That could be what the fish are doing, but it’s hard to say for sure.

Fish often chase each other and do other things that look like playful activities. It’s mostly about arguing semantics.

Are the fish really playing or are they establishing a pecking order in the group? Are they going through some type of mating ritual?

The only thing that can be said for sure is that some people believe that cichlids might play sometimes. Other than that, this question cannot be definitively answered.

Do Cichlids Sleep?

Although fish don’t sleep in the same way that humans do, they certainly do rest. You can say that cichlids sleep because they do rest at night and they remain motionless while doing so.

Some cichlids might sleep for longer periods of time than others. There are cichlids that sleep for approximately eight hours per night.

Others might sleep a bit less than that. It depends on the species that you’re talking about as well as environmental factors. The important thing to remember is that cichlids do indeed sleep at night.

If you ever notice the cichlids laying motionless at night, it’s not something to worry about. The cichlids are likely just sleeping and getting the energy that they need for the next day.

Caring for Angelfish

Marble Angelfish in a Community Tank

Angelfish are likely the most popular type of cichlids. These fish can be found in just about any store that sells fish.

To keep these fish safe in your fish tank, you’ll need to keep the pH balance between 6.8 and 7.8. You want the water hardness to be between 54 and 145 ppm.

The temperature should be set between 78 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. These fish are hardy and should be excellent choices for beginners.

Caring for African Cichlids

African cichlids are another great choice when you want to add cichlids to your home aquarium. These fish are beginner-friendly and you’ll love how pretty they are.

You want the pH balance to stay between 8.0 and 9.0 when caring for these fish. The water hardness should be between 180 ppm and 450 ppm.

These fish do well in water temperatures that range from 74 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. So long as you keep an eye on the water parameters, these fish should thrive in your aquarium.

Caring for Oscars

Oscars are big cichlids that require 75-gallon aquariums or larger to be kept in your home. They’re hardy fish that you’ll love having if you choose to buy some.

Keep the temperature of the water between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for these fish. They don’t do well in cooler water temperatures.

The pH balance of the water is best kept between 6.8 and 7.2 with a water hardness between 100 ppm and 200 ppm. It’s said they can tolerate a range of 6.0 to 8.0, though.

Caring for Ram Cichlids

German Blue Ram Cichlid

Ram cichlids are also quite popular and you might want to own some of them. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to take care of.

These fish prefer the pH balance range to be between 5.5 and 7.0. They like softer water than many other cichlid types, but they can tolerate slightly harder water conditions.

It’s important to keep the water temperature between 78 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit when caring for these fish. So long as you do this, you’ll have a good experience when taking care of ram cichlids.

Caring for Discus Fish

The discus fish is actually a bit more delicate than many other types of cichlids. These fish might become stressed if you don’t pay close attention to the water parameters.

As such, it’s important to monitor the condition of the tank and keep the pH balance between 6.0 and 7.0. The water hardness should stay between 18 and 70 ppm.

You want the water temperature to be set between 82 degrees Fahrenheit and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. These fish don’t do well in cooler water temperatures at all so a heater will be imperative.

Caring for Convict Cichlids

Convict cichlids aren’t tough to take care of in a fish tank. They can tolerate quite a few different water parameters.

However, it’s best to keep the pH balance between 6.6 and 7.8 for these fish. The temperature of the water should stay between 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Final Thoughts

You’ve read a lot of information about cichlid care now. It should be easier to know what to expect when buying these fish.

After learning about common types of cichlids and their basic care requirements, it’ll be time to decide if these are the fish for you. They’re great fish that will be good choices for most beginners.

You can find a variety of different cichlids that are hardy and easy to care for. Stay on top of keeping the fish tank clean and you’ll have a good experience.

Remember that you must monitor the water parameters, feed the fish properly, and give the fish an appropriately-sized aquarium. So long as you do this, it’ll be simple enough to get good results.

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