Care Guide for Discus Fish – The King of the Aquarium
Discus fish are one of the most beautiful freshwater fish in the hobby, known for their spectacular colors and large, circular shape. They can be difficult to care for, and many forums will recommend that you keep your water changings at 100% per day. In reality, only a small percentage of people are able to follow those rules, and the rest of the world uses more low maintenance methods. We have spent many years caring for discus at home and in our fish shop, helping customers succeed with them. Based on our experience, this care guide provides practical advice and tips for beginners who want to start a discus tank.
What is the Ideal Temperature to Fish Discus?
It is easy to keep discus happy by raising the water temperature. We recommend that the water temperature be between 85 and 86°F. The reason is because the discus farms we get them from usually keep their waters at these temperatures, and when we try to force them to cool down, it becomes a source of discomfort. Your discus will be more active if the heat is high. They’ll grow faster and show better colors if their metabolisms are running well. You must be prepared to change your fish keeping habits if you want discus to thrive.
You should also consider pH and water hardness. This is a controversial issue as many people are very concerned about the recommended pH. Our experience shows that both wild-caught and captive bred discus thrive when pH levels range between 6.8 and 7.6. The same thing applies with water hardness; discus are usually fine with soft to medium hardness. We haven’t kept German-bred discus yet, but they’re known for tolerating higher pH and harder water. If you’re focused on breeding and raising discus fry, you need much lower pH and water hardness, but if you’re simply keeping them for enjoyment, these two water parameters aren’t as important.
It is possible to have aquarium plants or tank mates in discus tanks. However, they must be able and able to withstand the hot water temperature.
What size tank do you need for discus?
A larger aquarium is always better. We recommend a 75-gallon or larger tank. Although a 55-gallon tank can be used, you will have to make frequent water changes. Remember that these fish get big, usually 5 to 7 inches in diameter if you’re doing things right. You can also increase their metabolism by heating the tank. This means they will eat more and produce more waste. (That’s why people recommend doing all those frequent water changes.)
We get asked a lot by customers if we can keep one discus. Dogs are considered pack animals. However, many people only keep one dog and leave the rest at home. This is possible, although it isn’t ideal. The same thing applies with discus.
They are schooling fish and they will be more happy if there is a large group. As a type, cichlids can bully each other, so make sure you have enough. In order to mitigate this territorial aggression, buy 10 to 12 juveniles all at the same time for your 75-gallon tank. (You want them to be approximately the same size so that no one gets outcompeted for food.) You’ll be able identify the males who are rowdy and can rehome them to the fish shop as they grow in size. You will eventually have a peaceful group of six adult discus, mostly females, with maybe one or two males.
As for tank setup, you can put them in a planted tank, but make sure to find plants that can tolerate high temperatures, such as anubias, java fern, bacopa, sword plants, and micro swords. Air stones are also recommended as the higher water temperatures can reduce the oxygen level. A water stone can reduce the possibility of low oxygen levels during summer heat.
Start with a larger juvenile discus school and then gradually remove the more aggressive ones.
Are Discus really a need for daily water changes?
It depends. It all depends. Every aquarium is different so the frequency and amount of water changes will vary. There are many factors to consider, including how big your aquarium is and how many fish you keep. We recommend that the nitrate level be kept below 40 ppm in planted tanks, and less than 20 ppm in non-planted tanks.
Download our free infographic to help you determine the frequency of water changes for your aquarium.
What fish can be kept with Discus?
Tank mates must meet two criteria: they should be able to live in high temperatures and they cannot outcompete the discus for food. In general, discus are slow feeders, so if you put them with speedy, bullet-shaped fish (like barbs or even huge schools of tetras), the discus will tend to lose that race. Even hot water fish like angelfish, clown loaches, and German bluerams can be too fast to them.
You might instead start with a discus tank that only has them as the centerpiece fish. After they are eating well, you can gradually add cardinal tetras and Sterbai cory catsfish to the tank, or a bristlenose pleco. Avoid having too many tank mates as the discus could lose their nutrition.
Cardinal tetras are a popular tank mate for discus tanks, but don’t get so many that they outcompete the discus for food.
What is the best food for discus fish?
People feed discus animals food that is too large, but they don’t realize that their mouths are very small. Therefore, if you see them eating the food, spitting it out, and then mouthing it again, you may have a problem with the size of the food.
Frozen bloodworms look great as they are small and easy to eat. But discus can easily become dependent on them. To ensure they get all the nutrients they require, make sure you give them plenty of small food items. Prepared foods such as Hikari Vibra Bites (Sera Discus Granules), Tetra Discus Granules (Tetra Discus Granules), and Hikari Discus Bio-Gold have proven to be very successful. Other suggestions include frozen or live brine shrimp, live or freeze-dried blackworms, and live microworms.
Why Are Discus Fish so Expensive?
We hinted at this previously, but tank conditions must be pristine for breeding and raising fry. It’s very time- and labor-intensive work, especially since discus take longer to reach full adult size compared to other cheaper fish like guppies. There are many options for discus to be bought from local breeders, fish shops, and even online. However, if you have never owned discus before, we advise that you stay away from extreme prices. In other words, don’t buy the cheapest ones that may have quality issues, and don’t buy the $300 adults that may die from your lack of experience. To minimize bullying, make sure you buy a group of them.
It’s much simpler to keep discus fun than taking care of breeding and raising discus fry.
How do you keep your Discus fish happy?
This care guide’s main message is to
. Make sure to heat the water, keep it stable and clean, and make sure they are properly fed. Don’t let kids tap on the glass, and limit the amount of traffic near their tank. Also, don’t put their aquarium right next to the TV with lots of loud noises and flashing lights. Anything you can do to help these shy creatures feel safe will go a long way in enhancing their health and quality of life.
Last but not least, reduce your stress. Many discus beginners spend too much time worrying about whether they will accidentally damage their discus. Instead of enjoying their magnificent beauty and relaxing, many people don’t realize how important it is to reduce their stress. With these simple guidelines, you’re on your way to having a successful, enjoyable discus tank for many years to come.
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