A guide to keeping African Cichlids

A guide to keeping African Cichlids

The basics of fish care & maintenance


Fish are unique, incredibly fun to have as a pet and make a great addition to your family. The best part is you can add whatever you want into your home aquarium, but it is important to maintain different factors inside, so here is a guide for your fish to stay healthy and happy!

Setting up your tank

African cichlids are a diverse group of fish from different lakes in Africa, they can add a lot of colour to your aquarium. They can live up to 15 years depending on the species and grow up to 20 cm. Therefore, your aquarium should hold a minimum of 113 litres. This depends on what cichlid species you want to keep. For example, blue cichlids prefer a larger tank of 190 litres. Bigger tanks are better to reduce aggression between fish as they can be territorial.

They love freshwater rocks and caves, so be sure to decorate your tank with plenty of hiding spots to make them feel at home. To maintain your tank, testing kits and treatments can be purchased. Once set up, it can be exciting, but you must be patient and cycle the aquarium for at least 7 days to ensure water quality is perfect for your fish.

Your tank needs special care so here are a few factors you need to consider for the tank when having African cichlids:

  • Temperature: 23-28°C
  • pH: Ideally between 7.8 and 8.5
  • Nitrate: Below 20 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Ammonia: 0-0.25 ppm
  • Phosphate: Below 0.5 ppm

Supplies list

  • Aquarium/tank
  • Filter
  • Lighting
  • Testing kits
  • Gravel (natural gravel/lime sand/coral grit is recommended)
  • Water conditioner
  • Aquarium salt
  • pH buffer
  • Plants
  • Driftwood
  • Rocks
  • Airstone & pump (not essential, but recommended)
  • Aquarium heater
  • Thermometer & hydrometer
  • Algae scraper/magnetic glass cleaner
  • Fish net



African cichlids like to eat different things in the wild. They are mostly omnivores, so their diet consists of plants, insects, and meat. They love brine shrimp and bloodworms which can be fed to them either live or frozen. You can give them green foods such as spinach, peas, and broccoli that you can buy at your local supermarkets.

The species that like to spend time at the bottom of the tank can be fed pellets which helps them keep their natural behaviour of rummaging around the substrate for food.

It is important not to overfeed your fish, this is the most common cause of tropical fish death. It is recommended to only feed how much they can eat in under 5 minutes. However, it is important to research the specific fish species to ensure you provide them with the best diet.



To keep your fish happy and healthy, you need to change the water often to reduce nitrate levels. It can be stressful to fish, so only remove and replace around 20% of the water weekly or bi-weekly. A siphon with a gravel vacuum is a great tool to purchase as it removes any additional food and particles floating around and between the gravel.

Be sure to clean the sides of the tank to remove any excess algae growth. A magnetic scraper can be added to the sides to constantly control this.

Before you add the new water, check the chlorine levels, and make sure the temperature is the same as the tank.


Health care

Diseases are not uncommon when caring for fish, so it is vital to keep a close eye on them, so they do not get sick. Before purchasing your new fish and bring them home, be sure to check for any injuries or diseases.

Here are some common diseases that African cichlids may be affected by:

  • White spot: This is a very contagious parasitic disease where the parasite feeds on the cells and body fluid of the fish. As the name suggests white spots will appear on the fish’s scales.
  • Gill flukes: Fish are seen with mucus on their gills where worms reproduce which causes difficulty breathing.
  • Cotton wool disease: As the name suggests, this fungal infection infects the skin, fins and mouth and is seen by white spots which grow into fluffy cotton-like fungus.
  • Swim bladder disease: The fish can be seen swimming upside-down, sinking to the bottom or floating to the top of the tank. The cause is usually from a physical injury or poor nutrition.
  • Hexamitiosis: This is caused by a parasite called Hexamita. The fish will become thin, weak, and have a bloated stomach.
  • Malawi bloat: Unfortunately, this is common in African cichlids. The stomach becomes bloated, they can lose appetite, be seen sitting on the bottom of the tank, have rapid breathing and a difference in faeces colour. Eventually if not treated it can lead to kidney or liver problems.
  • Tuberculosis (TB): TB is important to treat fast and with caution as its highly contagious to humans. They will become infected with white spots and stop eating.

Once one fish is infected the whole tank is at risk. You should separate the infected fish and put them into quarantine until they are feeling better to join their tank-mates.

Who can they share a tank with?

You may want to add diversity into your tank, but you need to consider the compatibility to reduce stress, disease, and injuries. Mixing African and South African cichlids is not recommended as they have evolved in different areas so may become exposed to diseases.

African cichlids do not get along with many fish, so be wise when you pick new friends to share the tank with your pet. It is best to choose bottom dwellers as they give plenty of room for the cichlids to swim freely around the tank. Clown loaches like the photo above, are semi-aggressive fish that can share a tank with your cichlids. They enjoy hiding between rocks like the African cichlids, so be sure there is enough in your tank for everyone. Another plus is they share the same diet so you will not need to purchase different food.

Plecos are great too, they are bottom feeders so will help remove excess algae in the tank and are easy to look after. Other compatible fish include Leopard Bushfish, Red Tail Shark, Giant Danios, African Red-Eyed Tetra, Rainbowfish, Synodontis Catfish, Flying Fox Fish and Siamese Algae Eater.

Even though these fish are compatible, it is important to closely watch them when you introduce them into the tank. 

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