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African Cichlid Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

This care sheet covers a variety of African cichlid species, including:    

  • Frontosa cichlid  
  • Electric yellow cichlid 
  • Electric blue cichlid  
  • Venustus cichlid 
  • Kenyi cichlid 
  • Demasoni cichlid 
  • Red zebra cichlid 
  • Brichardi cichlid 
  • Blue peacock cichlid 
  • Jacob peacock cichlid  
  • Sunshine peacock cichlid 
African Cichlid

Table of Contents

Overview 

Cyphotilapia frontosa, Labidochromis caeruleus, Sciaenochromis fryeri, Nimbochromis venustus, Metriaclima lombardoi, Pseudotropheus demasoni, Maylandia estherae, Neolamprologus brichardi, Aulonocara nyassae, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, Aulonocara baenschi 

There are over 500 species of African cichlids, most of which originate in the lakes of Africa’s Rift Valley. Due to their personable nature and vibrant colors, African cichlids are one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish. They are known for their interesting behaviors, extroverted personalities and pleasing color palette. Many African cichlids also have the unique ability of changing colors. 

Typical appearance and behavior  

  • African cichlids can be highly territorial, and many have aggressive personalities 
  • They typically are not compatible with other types of fish   
  • Most species will spawn in captivity 
  • Males are typically more colorful than females  
  • They are considered to have the most varied color palette of all the cichlids, including orange, black, blue, yellow and red varieties 
  • Many cichlids are mouth brooders with strong parental instincts. Males will create a nest in the substrate where fertilization takes place.  The female will then pick up and carry the eggs in her mouth until they hatch. The parents will actively care for and protect their young after hatching 
  • Most African cichlids are rock dwellers and love to rearrange décor. A deep substrate is recommended to appease their digging behavior 
  • With their large personalities, they have been known to interact with their pet parents and even ask for food 

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Ranges from beginner to advanced, depending on species
Average Life Span Up to 20 years when properly cared for, depending on species
Average Adult Size 2-15+ inches long, depending on species
Diet Carnivore and omnivore, depending on species
Minimum Habitat Size 10+ gallons for dwarf cichlids only; 29+ gallons for all other cichlids, depending on species
Water Temperature 72-82°F

Habitat  

Habitat size 

Keep in an appropriately sized aquarium based on the species selected, which can range from a 10-gallon aquarium for dwarf cichlids—like shell dwellers—to 29+ gallons for larger species.  

Building your habitat 

  • Water health - Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Moderate to strong water circulation, depending on species, should be provided to mimic water currents and high oxygen levels found in the African cichlids' natural habitat. Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing. An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature, ensuring it does not fluctuate more than +/-2 degrees in a 24-hour period. Many African cichlids will benefit from the addition of freshwater salt to the aquarium; the specific gravity should be kept at 1.004. Always research your species-specific needs before adding freshwater aquarium salt. Do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than +/- 0.001 in a 24-hour period. 
  • Décor - Many African cichlids become territorial as they mature and should be provided with plenty of rocks, caves and hiding places. Plants can be beneficial, but some species may uproot plants. A substrate of 1 to 2 inches is recommended, as many cichlid species love to dig. African cichlids prefer a higher pH; a substrate containing aragonite may be beneficial 
  • Some African cichlid species are powerful jumpers; a secure cover is strongly recommended 

Appropriately sized habitat

Substrate

Décor

Aquarium filter

Feeding  

A well-balanced African cichlid diet consists of: 

  • Appropriately sized flakes, pellets, freeze-dried, frozen or live food, based on the size of the species  

Things to remember when feeding your African cichlid: 

  • Depending on size and species, feed 2 to 3 times per day, no more than fish will consume in 1 to 2 minutes 
  • Thaw frozen food before feeding 

Dry Fish Food

Frozen Fish Food

African cichlid care 

  • Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your African cichlids healthy 
    • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment 
    • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week 
    • Weekly to monthly: Change 10–25% of the total volume of water every two to four weeks, or as needed. Change filter media monthly 
  • Avoid overcrowded conditions; this is a major cause of stress and disease  

Where to buy African cichlids

Various African cichlid species are available for purchase at Petco online and in store; availability varies by location. If visiting your local Petco Pet Care Center location, call ahead to check availability. 

Tank mates  

Some African cichlid species can become aggressive and territorial as they mature. Larger African cichlids can eat small fish; keep with similar size fish.   

May be compatible with: 

Health

Signs of a healthy fish 

  • Clear eyes 
  • Eats vigorously  
  • Bright, even coloring 
  • Free of parasites or disease 

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian) 

  • Loss of color   
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth 
  • Cloudy eyes or pop-eye 
  • Elevated scales 
  • Labored breathing 
  • Erratic swimming 
  • Weight loss 
  • Bloating 
  • Hole in the head 
  • Lateral line erosion 
  • Listlessness 

 

Common African cichlid health issues 

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueFin rot Symptoms or CausesFrayed or disintegrating fins; the base of the fins usually reddens. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueFungus Symptoms or CausesWhite cottony growth and/or discoloration of the eyes. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; use a commercial antifungal remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueBacterial infections Symptoms or CausesCloudy eyes, open sores and/or reddening of the skin. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; add freshwater aquarium salt; use a commercial antibacterial remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueIch Symptoms or CausesWhite spots appear on fins and body; fish rubs against hard objects or swims erratically; rapid respirations Suggested ActionQuarantine fish immediately; add freshwater salt and use a commercial ich remedy as directed;. consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueCottonmouth or columnaris Symptoms or CausesCottony white growths along the body and/or gills, frayed fins and gills turn brown and necrotic in late stages; caused by bacterial infection. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; lower aquarium temperature to 72°F to deter bacteria from growing; medicate as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueHole in the head and lateral line erosion Symptoms or CausesPale coloration, white stringy feces, loss of appetite, emaciation, pitting lesions in the head and erosion along their lateral line; cause can vary from environment, diet and parasitic infection. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; improve diet; utilize parasitic medication as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.

 

FAQs

  • How big do African cichlids get? Most adult African cichlids average between 2 and 10 inches. The frontosa cichlid can grow up to 15 inches.  
  • Can African cichlids live with other fish? Most African cichlids can be aggressive and territorial but may live in harmony with other similar-sized African cichlids, large catfish and plecostomus.  

 

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center partner about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about aquatic life and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, contact your veterinarian as appropriate.