You know that most cichlids are very hardy fish that aren’t too easy to kill. They’re good fish for beginners to buy since they won’t die after a few mistakes are made.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t die at all, though. These fish can still get sick when certain things happen in the tank.
There are various cichlid diseases and illnesses that you need to be aware of. Knowing what you need to look out for might help you to take action early and save your fish.
Below, you’ll read about all of the common cichlid diseases and illnesses that you should know about. After reading about them, it’ll be easier to recognize the symptoms of disease when your fish gets sick.
You’ll also learn a bit about how to treat these problems. Anyone who plans to purchase cichlids will benefit from this information.
1 – Gill Flukes
Gill flukes is a type of parasitic infection that you don’t want your cichlids to have to deal with. This is caused by flatworms that infect the gills of various types of fish.
The worms attach the gill membranes and make them turn red. You’ll also see a thick coat of slime covering the area around the gills.
It’s the slime that makes it very tough for the fish to breathe. It’s typical to see fish gasping for air when they’re infected with gill flukes.
Cichlids might try to go to the surface of the water to get air. It’s also typical to see the fish rub against objects in the tank in an effort to remove the parasites.
Sometimes the color of the cichlids will start to fade when they’re infected. You should treat the fish as soon as you can to help it get better.
The best treatment for gill flukes is to put aquarium salt in the tank. Increasing the temperature of the water can also help to gill the gill flukes.
Only add as much aquarium salt as you’re supposed to based on the instructions. Adding too much salt will be detrimental to the health of the cichlids.
2 – Camallanus Worms
Camallanus worms are another type of parasite that you should be aware of. These parasites are slightly more common than many people realize.
This is a parasitic infection that can be very problematic for your fish. The worms attack the intestinal area of the cichlids and suck blood out of their bodies.
It’s troubling because the worms drill into the intestines of the fish. When you observe the fish, you’ll likely see the back end of the worm near the anus area.
Often, the area near the worms will be red due to the blood that is getting sucked out. How do these parasites get introduced to a tank?
Generally, they come to your fish tank when you add new fish. This is why you need to quarantine and monitor new fish before adding them to your main tank.
Getting rid of these pesky worms involves using anti-worm medications. Levamisole is the most common treatment option and it should clear up the problem nicely.
3 – White Spot Disease
White spot disease is a parasitic infection, too. This is also commonly referred to as “ich.”
It’s pretty easy to notice when fish have contracted this disease. You will see white spots appear all over the body of the cichlid.
Ich is contagious and it’s going to spread to other fish in the tank. You can try to quarantine infected fish, but there’s a chance that all of the fish in the main tank will be impacted.
This infection is caused by a protozoan parasite. Fish that have been infected become lethargic and start to lose their appetite.
Other common symptoms include clamped fins, gasping for air, and rubbing against objects in the tank. It’s a disease that you want to treat as soon as you notice it.
It will spread fast if you don’t take action. There are a few ways to go about treating white spot disease.
Raising the temperature of the water can help to kill the parasites off. You can also utilize aquarium salt to make it harder for the parasites.
There are medical treatments that you can purchase at pet stores, too. These can be added to the water to help kill the parasites.
4 – Hole in the Head Disease
Hole in the head disease is a very serious illness that might kill your cichlids. Sometimes people refer to this as Hexamita.
You will start to see lesions appear on the heads of the cichlids. It’s unclear what causes this to happen, but some think that it’s due to the parasite known as Hexamita.
It’s known that poor water conditions make fish susceptible to the disease. Stressed fish have compromised immune systems and are more likely to get sick.
This condition can cause fish to stop eating and it’s normal for fish to lose weight. The lesions on the fish might be red and bloody.
Treating the condition might not be easy. The chances of survival for the fish might depend on how long it has been sick.
First, you need to fix water quality issues. Do water changes and fix any problems with the water parameters that you can detect.
Next, give the fish antibiotic medications that will help to get rid of infections. If you combine this with feeding the fish high-quality food, it should help it to get better.
If the fish doesn’t improve, it might be too far gone. It’s important to try to catch this disease early when you want to save the fish.
5 – Swim Bladder Disease
Swim bladder disease is a condition that causes the swim bladder to malfunction. This can be caused by many different things.
The swim bladder is an organ that many fish possess. It controls buoyancy and helps fish to remain upright while swimming.
When the swim bladder isn’t working properly, fish aren’t able to swim around as they normally would. You might notice fish swimming upside down or sideways.
Some fish will only be able to swim in circles. It can make it tough for the fish to get around and they might get bullied by the other cichlids because of it.
This condition might be caused by constipation. The swim bladder is a gas-filled sac that inflates and deflates as necessary.
A constipated fish will have a swollen belly. The belly can push against the swim bladder and keep it from being able to function normally.
Thus, to solve the issue you must get rid of the constipation. This can be as simple as feeding the fish a boiled pea to make it poop a lot.
Other things can cause the swim bladder to malfunction, too. An infection in the intestinal lining might be to blame, and this will require antibiotics to get the fish better.
Physical damage to the swim bladder can cause it to malfunction as well. A fish could become injured due to fighting or ramming into an object in the tank.
The injury could heal over time, but it is also possible to permanently injure the swim bladder. People will sometimes have to euthanize fish when they have swim bladders that won’t heal.
6 – Cotton Wool Disease
Cotton wool disease is a strange one because it causes cichlids to have a fuzzy wool-like growth appear on their bodies. The presence of this cotton-like growth can be seen on the fins, scales, or head of the fish.
This is a white growth that is actually a type of fungus. This fungus is known to grow in home fish tanks, but it’s usually harmless.
It can start to spread when you don’t do a good job taking care of the tank. If you’ve been lackadaisical when it comes to cleaning the tank and checking the water parameters, you might allow the fungus to grow and spread.
As you can tell, it’s best to prevent this disease from ever happening. Pay close attention to water quality and do what you need to do to maintain the tank.
If you make mistakes and your fish contract cotton wool disease, it is possible to treat it. Antifungal medications can clear things up nicely.
Another treatment option involves using salt to kill the fungus. You might even decide to use a combination of both treatment methods.
7 – Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis can impact cichlids. This is an incredibly serious disease that can wind up killing fish fast.
It’s dangerous because tuberculosis spreads quickly and this makes it hard to prevent the entire tank from getting sick. If one fish gets tuberculosis, it’s likely that the rest of the fish in the tank will as well.
This is a fatal disease and you likely know that humans can get it, too. In fish, it will cause open wounds to appear on the body.
You need to avoid handling the fish because you could wind up getting sick yourself. The fins of the fish will wind up becoming frayed and their stomachs will turn inward over time.
Eventually, you’ll notice that the fish will develop white blotches. Tuberculosis causes fish to slowly die.
Fish will be lethargic and they’ll likely stop eating when they have this disease. The best thing to do is to separate sick fish and put them in a quarantine tank right away.
You want to clean and disinfect the main tank as well as you can. Melafix can be used to treat the tanks to try to save the fish.
Sadly, cichlids usually wind up dying when they contract this disease. Some of the fish might survive, but there’s a good chance that most of the fish will perish.
8 – Malawi Bloat
Malawi bloat is a potentially fatal disease. Sometimes this disease occurs when you make mistakes while feeding cichlids.
Herbivorous cichlids that are given too many protein-rich foods might develop such complications. It causes significant problems with the digestive systems of these fish.
What winds up happening is the fish become bloated and experience many other problematic symptoms. Cichlids might have issues with rapid breathing and they will experience a loss of appetite.
Fish will often become lethargic and they might also start swimming exclusively near the substrate. Many of these fish experience huge complications because they can’t digest proteins that come from meat.
Treating the fish is possible, but you must do so fast. Start by doing water changes to get rid of contaminated water.
It’s recommended to do an immediate 50% water change. After this, you can treat the water with a medication called Octozin to help the fish recover.
If you don’t treat the fish fast enough, it’s likely that they will die. Do your best to recognize the symptoms of malawi bloat as soon as you can, and take steps to avoid putting your fish in this position.
9 – Dropsy
Dropsy is a type of bacterial infection that you should watch out for. Generally, fish will be susceptible to this type of bacterial infection only when the water conditions are very bad.
You can prevent such issues by regularly cleaning the fish tank and monitoring the water parameters. It should help you to keep the cichlids much healthier.
Any type of stress can weaken the immune systems of fish, though. Fish can get stressed when living in cramped environments.
It’s also stressful for cichlids to live with incompatible tank mates. You want to do your best to keep the fish from becoming stressed.
When cichlids get this disease, they start to lose their appetites. They will seem very lethargic and they will move around the tank slower than usual.
The earlier you catch this disease the better. It’s easier to treat this condition when the fish have just become sick.
You can quarantine sick fish and then treat the water in the tank with aquarium salt. This is usually enough to help the fish get over this bacterial infection.
Sometimes you might need to give the fish antibiotics if the infection is really bad. Be sure to feed the fish healthy food and keep an eye on it as it continues to recover.
10 – Popeye
Popeye is a bizarre condition where the eyes of the cichlid will appear to be protruding from its head. Protruding eyes should be seen as a sure sign that the cichlid has an infection.
This condition can impact one eye or both eyes. It isn’t always easy to tell that a fish has a problem since many cichlids bulge a bit normally.
Typically, this issue is caused by poor water conditions in the tank. When there are issues with the pH balance and water temperature it’ll be tough for the fish to remain healthy.
Dirty water can play a role in fish developing this disease, too. As usual, cleaning the fish tank and monitoring the condition of the water will help to protect your fish.
Fish can wind up losing an eye if you don’t treat this condition. It’s also possible that the eye could become permanently damaged.
To treat popeye, it’s necessary to do a 30% water change. Do this each day until the condition of the fish has improved.
Continue checking the tank and monitor the water parameters closely. Since the cause of this disease is a bacterial infection, it’s best to treat the fish with antibiotics.
Consider adding Myxazin to the water to help the fish get better. Your fish should recover so long as you take action fast, but you want to keep them from having to deal with such problems in the first place.
Advice for Preventing Illnesses
For the most part, preventing illnesses is about ensuring that you take care of the fish tank. Some fish owners might not do what they’re supposed to do when caring for cichlids.
You might think that because cichlids are hardy fish you’ll be able to get away with not doing tank maintenance as often. This is a bad idea because it could lead to the fish becoming stressed.
Improper water parameters can easily stress the fish. When the temperature and pH balance of the water aren’t right, it’ll be tough for the fish to stay healthy.
The water can get dirty when you don’t clean the tank, too. It’s important to clean the tank regularly and you should do regular 15% water changes.
Weekly water changes and regular cleaning sessions will keep the cichlids safe. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and the fish will be much happier.
It’s also important to keep the fish in a fish tank that is big enough. Cichlids can get stressed easily if you keep them in a small tank.
Overcrowding the fish tank is also a bad idea. This is just as bad as keeping cichlids in a tank that is a bit too small.
Feed the cichlids high-quality food to keep them healthy. Remember that cichlids like to eat three to four times per day at adulthood.
You should feed them as much as they can eat in thirty seconds each time. This keeps you from overfeeding the fish.
Don’t put the fish in fish tanks with fish that they aren’t compatible with. Pick tank mates for cichlids wisely.
So long as you do all of this, it’ll be easy to keep your fish healthy. If they ever do get sick, be sure to look out for the signs and take the right action to help them as soon as you can.
Jeff has always enjoyed having pets, but as a child, he was drawn to his family’s fish tank. Being able to maintain a small ecosystem and observe the behaviors and interactions in the underwater world peaked his interest early on and has kept him hooked until this day. On Avid Aquarist, Jeff shares everything he’s learned about helping aquatic life survive and thrive in a home aquarium.