Skip to Content

Why Do Cichlids Shake? (5 Common Reasons)

Why Do Cichlids Shake? (5 Common Reasons)

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

You love your cichlids and you want to see them thrive in your fish tank. For the most part, these fish are rather easy to care for.

Most people have an easy time learning to take care of these fish. They’re hardy fish that can survive even if you make a few mistakes here and there.

That doesn’t mean that these fish won’t have health issues, though. For example, you might notice that your cichlid is shaking one day and this will cause you to worry.

Why do cichlids shake and is this a bad thing? Do you need to worry when your cichlid starts shaking?

Read on to learn everything that you need to know about this topic. Once you’ve read all of the information below, you’ll understand what’s going on as well as what you should do to help the fish.

Why Is My Cichlid Twitching or Shaking?

So you’ve noticed that your cichlid is twitching. This might seem kind of strange to you, but there are reasons why it might do this.

Below, you’ll see several explanations for what it means when cichlids start twitching. It should help to set your mind at ease.

1 – Mating Rituals

Cichlids will often shake or twitch when they’re going through mating rituals. You see, it’s common for male cichlids to try to get the attention of females.

A male cichlid will sometimes do a little dance to try to get the attention that it desires. It does this to attract the female and show that it will be a good mating partner.

During this shaking ritual, the male cichlid will erect its fins so it can show off its colors. Some types of cichlids will also show off their egg spots near their anal fins.

As the cichlid continues to shake, it’ll look as if it’s making a twitching or vibrating motion. The entire body of the male cichlid will shake during this time.

Eventually, you might see the male cichlid start nipping at the fins of the female. It will likely chase the female around and the female might do the same thing.

This is all normal behavior that you don’t need to worry about. If you’re worried that the fish are fighting, you likely don’t need to be.

At first, it might be hard to differentiate mating rituals from fighting. As you get used to the fish, you’ll be able to tell the difference rather easily.

2 – Intimidation and Establishing Dominance

Sometimes cichlids start shaking when they’re trying to intimidate each other. It’s common for male cichlids to fight each other over many different things.

They fight for the right to mate with female cichlids. It’s also normal for these fish to fight over food and territory.

When you see male cichlids start shaking and circling each other, it’s a sign that they’re trying to intimidate each other. It’s likely that the two fish will start fighting soon.

The fish are trying to establish themselves in the hierarchy of the group. Many fish owners say that it’s better to avoid putting two male cichlids in the same fish tank.

It’s not unusual for male cichlids to injure each other during these fights. Two male cichlids might even wind up fighting to the death.

Some less aggressive types of cichlids might not be as problematic. It all depends on the type of cichlids that you own.

In some cases, the cichlids will back off after one establishes dominance. Just know that these fights can happen fairly often in the fish tank.

Can You Stop Cichlids From Fighting?

You can’t stop cichlids from ever fighting with each other. It is possible to take steps to limit such issues, though.

Cichlids are territorial fish and they’ll be more likely to fight if they’re kept in fish tanks that are small. Giving the fish more than enough space will make things better.

This ensures that the fish have enough room to spread out. It should mitigate issues with cichlid aggression.

Another option is to put more hiding spots in the tank. This gives the weaker cichlids a chance to escape the stronger dominant cichlids.

It’s a good idea to have aquatic plants and other hiding spots in the tank. This can make a difference and plants will look good in the tank, too.

Of course, you could avoid putting more than one male cichlid in the tank. Perhaps it would be better to keep one male cichlid with two or three female cichlids.

3 – The Cichlid Could Be Sick

Sometimes shaking can be seen as a sign of sickness. When a cichlid is sick it might start shaking and rubbing its body against objects in the tank.

There are several things that could be wrong with the fish. It could be that the fish has some type of infection that it’s dealing with.

Parasitic infections commonly make cichlids rub their bodies against rocks and other things in the tank. Another possibility is that the cichlid could be bloated.

You should keep your eyes open for certain symptoms. This can help you to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the fish.

For instance, you should take note of symptoms such as labored breathing, clamped fins, and general lethargy. These symptoms can act as clues that will help you to diagnose the fish.

Sadly, if an illness is so bad that it’s causing the cichlid to shake it’s going to be a reason to worry. This is a sign that the cichlid doesn’t have proper control over its muscles and nerves.

You should try to treat the fish as soon as possible. Hopefully, you’ll be able to determine what’s wrong quickly so you can help the fish to recover.

4 – Is the Water Too Cold?

Cichlids are fish that need to live in warm water. These fish require tropical environments to be able to thrive.

As such, they’re not going to do well if the water is too cold in the fish tank. Is it possible that the water in the aquarium is colder than it’s supposed to be?

Sometimes you might make the mistake of not keeping an eye on the heater. Perhaps the heater stopped working and now the water isn’t in the right temperature range for the cichlids.

Even brief exposure to cold water temperatures can negatively impact these fish. It might cause them to start shaking and it can stress the fish.

This could easily make the fish sick if you aren’t careful. It’s imperative to use a high-quality heater that will keep the temperature of the water in the right range at all times.

Monitor the condition of the tank and be sure to use a thermometer. You should be able to see the temperature of the water at a glance whenever you pass by the tank to ensure that it’s where it needs to be.

5 – Dirty Water

It’s possible that dirty water might cause cichlids to shake as well. You see, poor water conditions will stress the fish and cause them to have health issues.

The water in the tank needs to be kept clean for the cichlids. If you allow the tank to get very dirty, it can make the fish get sick.

Test the water parameters regularly to ensure that things are where they need to be. You should buy a pH balance testing kit so you can test the water very regularly.

Cleaning the tank is an imperative part of protecting the cichlids. You should be taking care of the tank and doing regular maintenance.

Aside from cleaning the tank, you’re supposed to change the water every so often. To get good results, you should change 15% of the water each week.

Failure to do this can cause the ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels to get too high in the tank. This will make it tough for the fish to breathe.

Cichlids thrive in tanks with highly oxygenated water. Low oxygen levels will cause the fish to gasp for air and they’ll also start acting strangely.

Be careful and take care of the tank to the best of your ability. This gives you the best chance of keeping the cichlids alive in your tank for a long time.

Final Thoughts

You’ve learned about several reasons why cichlids might start shaking. These fish will shake or twitch for several different reasons.

The two most common reasons why they do these are fighting and mating. Sometimes it can be tough to differentiate mating rituals from fighting.

When a male is trying to impress a female cichlid, it’s going to shake its body and do a little mating dance. It’ll show off its fins, show the female its egg spots, and do its best to showcase why it would be a strong mate.

If two male cichlids start shaking and circling each other, it’s a sign that a fight is about to start. Sometimes shaking will be done in an attempt to intimidate and get the other fish to back down.

Of course, shaking can also be related to sickness. A sick fish might shake involuntarily.

You should also know that shaking can occur when these fish are exposed to cold water temperatures. Be careful not to put your cichlids in water that is too cold.