Basic care

Caring for Discus Fish

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: September 18, 2017
Caring for Discus Fish

Discus - also called Pompadour - fish are one of the most beloved group of species for aquarium lovers. Discus (Symphysodon), in their three species, are cichild fish from the Amazon river. These species require a well-adapted aquarium due to their particular constitution.

The temperature, pH and hardness of the water, as well as the vegetation and decoration of their new habitat, must be perfectly adjusted to preserve their health. To learn more, stay here at AnimalWised and read our guide on caring for discus fish.

You may also be interested in: Caring for Betta Fish
  1. Aquarium
  2. Decorating the aquarium
  3. Cohabiting with other fish
  4. Dominant discus fish
  5. Feeding discus fish
  6. Caring for their aquarium


An aquarium for discus fish must have a capacity of at least 300 liters. The temperature must be steady at 28º C (82.5º F); below 26º C (78.8º F), your discus fish will get sick.

The water's pH must be 6, and the general hardness index - the dGH - must be of 5. This means that the water must be soft.

Decorating the aquarium

Discus fish are native of the Amazon river. They inhabit slow, slightly murky backwaters; these kind of waters are also inhabited by piranhas in large numbers, so discus fish require dense aquatic vegetation to take refuge from their sharp, hungry teeth. You should reconstruct this habitat in your aquarium with the appropriate plants.

You should have floating plants and ferns like Salvinia or Pistia on the surface of the aquarium; they will soften the light from the fluorescent lights, which if they are too harsh are very disagreeable for discus fish. At the bottom of the aquarium you should have plants like dwarf ambulia (Limnophila sessiliflora), Anubias or burheads (Echinodorus).

The aquarium should be lined with pebbles, that is, small stones that have been rubbed smooth by the water currents. Branches without any sharp parts can also be useful. However, there must be enough space left in the aquarium for the fish to swim around freely.

Caring for Discus Fish - Decorating the aquarium

Cohabiting with other fish

Discus fish, like most cichlids, are aggressive towards both their own and other species. Nonetheless, while they're small they can cohabit with other smaller fish so that the aquarium doesn't look so empty.

These fish can cohabit for a time with false red nose tetra (Petitella georgiae), neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) or black phantom tetra (Hyphessobrycon megalopterus). Catfish like Corydoras or plecostomus are also good for this aquarium set-up.

Discover types of fish for a community aquarium on AnimalWised.

Caring for Discus Fish - Cohabiting with other fish

Dominant discus fish

Discus fish are aggressive towards their own kind; there will always be one fish who will become dominant, have its own territory and be the first one to it. A 300-liter aquarium can hold three discus fish. However, such a small number creates a risk: If you have a dominant male and a dominant female, the third fish will have a hard time. This is an understatement - it can die of stress,

This is why it's recommendable to have four or five discus fish, which will ease the pressure on the non-dominant fish. If you choose to do that, though, you'll have to take into account that you'll need 100 extra liters per new fish.

Caring for Discus Fish - Dominant discus fish

Feeding discus fish

Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects to take into account when caring for discus fish is their diet. Specialized pet stores sell specific feed for discus fish, both live (Tubifex) and in flakes. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best food for your discus fish.

It's best to feed them twice a day, changing the food so they can have a balanced diet. It's good if they don't eat once a week.

Caring for their aquarium

If you want to take good care of your discus fish, you should take these tips into account:

  • Check the temperature, acidity and hardness of the water every day, correcting all observed deviations as soon as possible.
  • Change 10% of the water once a week to monitor the nitrate level and keep it low.

You may be interested in the best clean-up animals for your aquarium.

If you want to read similar articles to Caring for Discus Fish, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.

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Caring for Discus Fish