Discus Fish Care

Updated May 13, 2020
Author: Mike - FishLore Admin
Social Media: FishLore on Social Media

The Discus fish is known as the King of the Aquarium. Perhaps the most beautiful of all tropical fish, the Discus is also one of the more difficult fish to keep and is not recommended for beginners.

They require excellent water conditions, frequent water changes and higher water temperatures than most other tropical fish. Most successful fish keepers house them in a species only tank because of the high water temperature requirement.

Frequent water changes daily or every other day of around 25 percent seems to be a popular option with Discus keepers. Some owners do a twice weekly 40 percent water changes and others have done a once a week water change at 50 percent. Check your water parameters often with a test kit, and be your own judge as to what is best.


Stability in water conditions is the key to keeping them and trying to change water paremeters will do more harm than good. Discus fish can be kept in a wide range of hardness levels and it is when you are breeding them that the water hardness level will become more important.

There are many color varieties of this cichlid to choose from with many more being introduced all the time. If you are interested in this fish, be prepared to spend some serious money on this one of a kind tropical fish. If you're on the market to buy them, there are many online websites that specifically sell this fish. Shop around and get recommendations from others for good places to buy them.

Blue Diamond Snake Skin Pigeon Blood Cobalt Blue

Many Discus keepers will only get the best available foods for this fish. Vitamin enriched flakes and live, frozen and freeze dried fish foods can be given.

As far as the tank setup goes, consider using live plants in the tank to help keep the water pristine and make a more natural looking environment. The advantages of a planted tank are increased nitrate utilization, hiding places for the fish, and a pleasing decorated look.

Yellow Face Marlboro Leopard Pigeon

Using gravel in the tank is a contested issue. Some owners will not use gravel for fear of poor water quality due to dissolved organics and waste buildup in the gravel or soil. Others believe in a bare bottom tank to limit nutrient buildup. In my opinion if you put in the extra time and effort to throughly vacuum your gravel the look in the tank is very appealing. However, there is much to be said for bare bottom tanks (in my opinion) because they make controlling the water parameters that much easier.

Tips On Buying Discus

Some general tips and what to look for when buying new fish: (credit CapeKate, Nicole and Armadillo on the forum)

For tips and information on growing out juveniles, check out this thread on the forum that is loaded with info: Growing Out Juvenile Discus

See the Discus Care Sheet on the forum for more details on keeping them. Also, while on the forum check out the buy and sell board to see if there are any for sale by members.

Discus Fish Care Details

Scientific Name : Symphysodon sp.

Common Names : Many types, due to color patterns: Cobalt, Blue, Blue Faced, Blue-Head, Red Thunder, Blue Red Turquoise, Marlboro Red, Pigeon Blood, Green, Brown, Snake Skin, Spotted Strawberry, the list goes on and on and on. Slug has a great thread on the forum with all the different Discus strains with pictures: Common Discus Strains and Abbreviations

Care Level : Moderate to Difficult, needs frequent partial water changes to keep water parameters at optimum levels.

Size : Up to 6 inches (15 cm)

pH : For the most part there is no need to change your PH level unless it is so low and acidic that it will burn the fish. Consistency in quality and parameters are more important than using chemicals and additives to lower or raise your PH. PH chemicals measured incorrectly will cause massive PH swings that can kill your fish. Readings of 6.4-7.8 and even 8.5 have been shown to successfully be safe for them, as long as the PH does not fluctuate.

Temperature : 80°F - 86°F (27°C - 30°C)

Water Hardness : 1° to 8° dH,

Life span : If well cared for, they can live for 10 years or more.

Origin / Habitat : Amazon River

Temperament / Behavior : Very peaceful most of the time. They may become territorial when they pair off to breed.

Breeding : Breeding them can be very difficult because of the pristine water conditions that they require. They are excellent candidates for aqua-culture due to the high demand for them and the prices they command.

With Fry

Tank Size : Minimum 55 gallon tank for 5-7 of them.

Fish Tank Mates : It is usually best to keep them in a species only tank because of their water requirements. The Cardinal tetra and Corydoras, Cory Cat are sometimes kept in tanks with them and make good tank mates.

Fish Disease : Freshwater Fish Disease - Diagnose, Symptoms and Treatment

Common Discus ailments: (credit Nicole on the forum)
Cloudy Eye: Clear white, transparent film covering one or both eyes. There are a few causes the main cause being poor water conditions. Other possible causes could be fungus, bacterial and parasites. The first step I would take is alot of water changes over a period of time and see if this helps, also when purchasing them check what pH they have been kept in as this can also be a cause.

Skin and Gill Flukes: Rapid breathing, scratching against objects, holding one gill closed are all signs. Start with doing 50 percent water changes daily and seek appropiate medication.

Fin Rot: Frayed or decaying fins, one of the main causes is again poor water conditions although that is not allways the case. Treat fin rot as soon as you notice it to prevent secondary infections. I had a bad case once, and treated it with 5ml of melafix to 10 gallons water with every water change. I did daily water changes for 5 days and successfully treated this problem. Another way is daily water changes with salt added.

Hexamita: First signs would be slimy white feces/shedding stomach lining, loss of appetite, weight loss. Gradually fish will isolate itself and become very dark in colour and hang its head. If detected in early stages you can treat by turning the temp up in tank and daily water changes add salt to water. If fish is passed early stages more invasive treatment is needed such as metro daily.

Tapeworm: White segmented feces, treat with prazipro and keep water conditions clean.

Hole in the Head: H.I.T.H. will start of as a small dot in the forehead area although this can happen on other parts of the body. I successfully treated this as I noticed it first as a small pin that was gradually becomming rounder and wider in shape. I did daily 50 percent water changes for about 2 weeks. It solved the problem and it hasn't returned. If you do get a more serious case of this treat with appropiate medication or medicated foods.

Feces: The feces of a fish can tell you alot, basically it is normally dark. If you notice a change in color you need to check out the cause. If it white or slimey it can be a sign of internal illness and yellow feces can mean capillaria.

As silly as it sounds keep an eye on what is normal for your fish.

Fish Food : Prefer live foods but you may need to supplement with foods enriched with vitamins. Try to vary their diet for optimum health. There are foods made specifically for them, such as Cobalt Hans Flakes and many keepers swear by beef heart food. Another really good food is New Life Spectrum Formula which can be the main food for them and then you can supplement with other foods from time to time. Check out the Discus foods below for more details:

New Life Spectrum

A variety of food that consists of blackworms, tetra flakes, beef hearts (messy), Omega One Color enhanced Flakes, Omega One freeze dried bloodworms, Hikari frozen Brine Shrimp, Hikari frozen Krill and Hikari (sterilized) bloodworms are a few choices that come to mind.

Juveniles need to be fed often. At least 5 times a day. "Small amounts... more often" is the general rule of thumb. The adults should be fed at least 3-4 times a day. Take the time to slowly feed these fish and you can monitor what gets collected at the bottom of the tank. It may take a little longer to do this, but it helps in the long run with keeping the tank and water clean. When feeding them the beefheart or bloodworms, its a good idea to plan that menu for the day you do a water change.That way you get to clean up what they don't get soon after.

Tank Region : Middle

Gender : The genital papilla is pointed in males, and rounded in females. You have to observe them when they are spawning.

Photo Credit : Photos copyright JJPhoto.dk

References :

Fish Lore Forum : Discus Forum - and this good thread for beginners: For Beginner Discus Keepers

Forum Avatar :

Royal Pigeon School Green Tefe

Discus Fish Comments

From: Shafaq
I want to know more about the difference in genders of them in detail. How to differentiate them on sight?
Determining the differences just by looking at them is nearly impossible unless you are witnessing a spawning pair. Unfortunately the most accurate way to determine gender is when they are forming pairs and actually breeding.
However, there are some theories out there that suggest the males are usually bigger and more colorful than females from the same spawn (same age). If you are trying to get pairs, a good approach is to buy 6 or 8 at a time and hopefully the odds of getting a pair will play into your favor.

From: Hashmi
How long will they live?
If kept in optimal conditions, their lifespan can be 10 years or more.

From: Joe
At what age do they breed and at what size?
They reach reproductive maturity sometime between the age of 18 and 24 months. You will know they are ready to mate when they form pairs and begin to clean a spawning site in your aquarium. They will continually pick at the spawning site until they are ready to release and fertilize the eggs.

From: Jim
Can young juveniles and young angel fish be kept together in a 55 gallon tank?
Though I've heard it being done and I have also seen them kept in the same tank, it is not recommended to keep them with Angelfish in the same tank. The reason being that Angelfish can sometimes carry intestinal parasites that can be transmitted to them (reference: Discus Breeding For Beginners, By Jack Wattley).

From: K
Hey, I currently keep two angels with mine, but they're all fairly young currently. So far, no problems at all. In fact the smallest swims with the angels and they seem to look after it! I fully intend to split them up when they get a bit larger though. No point risking these beautiful fish.

From: Juan and Sylvia - Filter
What would be the best filtration for them? Would an external mechanical filter that hangs on the back of the aquarium with carbon filter pads be good enough?
An external power filter that hangs on the back of the tank should be fine. They require really good water quality that is best achieved via frequent small partial water changes weekly with better results achieved with daily partial water changes. Keep the media in any filter you use them frequently cleaned out too to prevent nitrates from getting too high.

Still have questions?
Jump on the forum and ask your question!
Go here: Discus Forum

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