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Why Is My Cichlid Laying On Its Side? (2 Common Causes)

Why Is My Cichlid Laying On Its Side? (2 Common Causes)

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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.

Do you enjoy observing your cichlids in your home aquarium? Some cichlids are really pretty and can be a lot of fun to have in a fish tank.

These hardy fish aren’t great for beginners due to being aggressive. Even so, they’re not fish that die easily.

This is why it’s so curious when you discover that one of your cichlids is laying on its side. Why would a cichlid suddenly start laying on its side?

Below, you’ll learn about cichlids and what it means when they lay on their sides. Having a better understanding of the situation should set your mind at ease.

Why Would a Cichlid Lay On Its Side?

It isn’t normal for a cichlid to lay on its side. If this is happening, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Below, you’ll learn about several things that might be causing the cichlid to do this. Understanding the potential issues might help you to recognize where you want wrong.

If you can troubleshoot the issue, you’ll be able to try to turn things around. Hopefully, your cichlid will be okay if you’re able to make positive changes.

1 – Stress

Cichlid Swimming with Its Mouth Open

You likely already know that fish can become stressed. Stress can occur for various different reasons.

Poor water conditions are known to cause fish stress. You’re supposed to monitor the water parameters, but failing to do that can lead to various issues.

If the temperature of the water and the pH balance aren’t right, it could make the fish feel sick. Sometimes this stress is enough to make a cichlid lay on its side at the bottom of the tank.

Another potential cause of stress is bullying. Putting a cichlid in a fish tank with incompatible fish is dangerous.

Certain types of fish might be too aggressive for the cichlids. They could wind up getting bullied severely depending on what fish they’re being made to live with.

This will likely lead to the fish trying to hide a lot. It could wind up causing the cichlid to lay on its side in an act of submission as well.

You should also consider whether the tank is too crowded. Fish that are forced to live in crowded fish tanks will become incredibly stressed.

This might make the fish do unusual things such as lay down on its side. Solving the issues that are stressing the fish will be the best way to turn things around.

2 – Sickness

Have you thought about whether the fish is sick or not? The fish could be sick and it might be lying on its side because of how bad it feels.

Some conditions will cause fish to be lethargic. It isn’t too unusual to think that certain illnesses might make fish lay down.

What is wrong with the fish specifically might be hard to determine. You’ll need to observe the fish and try to take note of other symptoms.

You might notice that something else is wrong with the fish. It could do some other unusual things that will point you in the right direction.

If you’re at a loss, you can always speak to an exotic veterinarian. An expert like this will be able to diagnose the fish and give you the best treatment plan to follow.

Cichlid Swimming Sideways

The Swim Bladder of a Fish
The Swim Bladder of a Fish

What if the cichlid appears to be swimming sideways? This isn’t normal, is it?

It’s certainly not normal for cichlids to swim sideways. It’s also not normal for them to swim upside down.

When things like this happen, it’s usually attributed to swim bladder disease. The swim bladder is an organ that helps fish to control buoyancy.

A malfunctioning swim bladder will make it so the fish can’t get around properly. The organ is actually a sac that inflates and deflates by using gas.

Gas can’t enter the sac properly if something is pressing on the swim bladder. Often, this is as simple as the cichlid becoming constipated.

If you overfeed the cichlids, they might wind up getting swollen bellies. This will make it so they will have swim bladder issues.

Luckily, this can be cleared up by feeding the cichlid a boiled pea. This will make the fish poop a lot so that the constipation will be alleviated.

Other things can cause swim bladder issues as well. Some types of intestinal tract infections are associated with swim bladder issues.

Even physical trauma can damage the swim bladder. Hopefully, it’s just constipation so you’ll be able to get the fish better fast.

How to Help the Fish

Fish Tank with Cichlids

Helping the fish is mostly about fixing whatever is wrong. Something is causing the fish to want to lay on its side.

Try to determine whether the fish is sick or not. If the fish shows signs of being ill, you’ll have to determine what’s wrong.

You can treat the condition to make the fish feel better. It could be a simple health issue or it might be more complex.

It’s even possible that the fish might be dying. Truly, it’s hard to know for sure without more information.

If you suspect that the fish is simply stressed, you should try to fix issues in the tank. Do your best to take care of the fish and it’s likely that things will go back to normal.

Final Thoughts

Now you should have a better idea of what’s happening to your fish. When a cichlid lays on its side, it’s typically a sign that something is wrong with it.

It could be as simple as the fish being stressed. If this is the case, remedying the problem might be enough to get the fish back to normal.

You might need to do a better job of cleaning the fish tank. Or it might be necessary to put the fish in a better environment where it can thrive.

If the fish is sick, you’ll have to treat it to get it better. You’ll likely need to give the fish medicine and look out for it while it’s on the mend.

Perhaps the fish is even simply dealing with swim bladder issues. If the fish is having a hard time getting around, that’s likely what’s going on.

Try to care for the fish to the best of your ability. Once the fish has been treated, it should go back to normal.

If the fish is sluggish and doesn’t respond to anything that you’re doing, it might be on the verge of death. Remember that sometimes fish will die and there won’t be anything you can do about it.

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Saturday 9th of September 2023

Hi Jeff,

My cichlid lays on his side, but no indication of disease, no water issues, no bullying or noticeable stressors. And he eats and swims around normally. He just sleeps on his side!

The guy that comes to care for my fish tank said he seems healthy, just curious why he’s sleeping sideways.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



Thursday 15th of December 2022

My cichlid will not eat a pea after 4 days. His bloting is going down but he still cannot swim upright just on his side. He still is pretty alert. Do I keep waiting till he gets hungry enough to eat a pea. He is 8 inches long and about 3 inches wide will it take more than one pea?


Friday 16th of December 2022

Sorry to hear about your cichlid. Fasting might be the best thing for him right now, as a loss of appetite is pretty common with swim bladder issues. There are some other things you could try as well, such as raising the temperature slightly.

This article from Spruce Pets has some good prevention and treatment tips you can try: