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How to Help Stressed Fish

We all know how it feels to be stressed—the sense of being overwhelmed, the lack of energy, those feelings of anxiety and agitation. Fish can also be afflicted by the effects of stress, and these effects can cause increased susceptibility to infection and disease. Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental conditions, illness and more.

While you won't see a stressed fish wringing their fins in despair, they do have ways of signaling their feelings. Keep an eye out for signs that may indicate that your fish is feeling stressed.


Behavioral Changes

The daily behavior of your fish is one of the best indicators of their overall health and happiness. As you spend time with them, you'll begin to learn their normal behaviors and responses to regular occurrences (such as being fed). Experienced fish parents can immediately tell when their fish is just a bit "off." If you notice that your fish is exhibiting abnormal behavior, it may be a sign of stress. Keep an eye out for reduced activity, such as laying on the bottom of the aquarium or excessive hiding, and decreased appetite. And take note if your fish begins rubbing up against objects in the aquarium—this can be a sign of disease, and therefore, another indication of stress.


Physical Changes

When you look at your fish each and every day, it's easy to notice when there's an unexpected change in their physical appearance. In particular, watch for nicks and tears on your fish's body or fins. These blemishes can signify that another fish may be showing aggression, which can be an intensely stressful situation to the fish that is being picked on.


Color Changes

Surprising changes in your fish's color can be another indicator that they are under the effects of stress. Watch for color that changes to lighter or darker than normal; keep an eye out for discoloration, fading, or spots that suddenly appear. (Some color changes, such as the appearance of white spots on fish, can indicate illness.)


Heavy Breathing or Gasping for Air

If you find that your fish is breathing heavily or gasping for air at the top of the tank, it can be indicative of a serious problem. The problem is often related to adverse water conditions or harassment by another tank mate, so immediate action should be taken to correct the problem.


Stressful Situations

Whenever possible, prevent stressful situations before they negatively affect your fish. Be aware of the following scenarios that can prove stressful to fish:

  • Poor water quality or water of the incorrect temperature
  • An overcrowded aquarium
  • Lack of aquarium décor
  • An improper diet (incorrect type of food or the incorrect amounts)
  • Coexisting with an aggressive fish
  • Illness or injury
  • Moving to a new aquarium (this can be a particularly stressful period for fish.)

If your fish is already suffering from stress, do your best to restore a peaceful atmosphere by removing stress-inducing possibilities. By avoiding potentially stressful situations and taking steps to provide a serene and stress-free environment for your fish, you can help to promote good health and happiness for all of your aquarium inhabitants.