I’ve posted on the blog here several times about how much I hate to lose a fish. I don’t consider them pets like I do my dog, but I take my responsibility of keeping them seriously. When they get ill, I try my best to treat them if I know what’s wrong. All cichlid keepers will eventually experience sick fish. So how do you recognize the behavior of a cichlid that is ill?
There are usually a multitude of cues, but sometimes they aren’t obvious. First of all, you need to have some idea about what is “normal” behavior for the fish you keep. Also, many cichlid species have unique, and normal, behavioral quirks – lay horizontal on the substrate, hang upside down under rocks, and other “odd” actions. If you know what is normal behavior for your fish, you’ll quickly recognize the abnormal.
How does your fish behave when its being fed? What part of the tank does it typically swim in? How does it behave around other fish, especially its own species. Abnormal behavior for a fish that always comes to the surface to eat whenever you feed would be that it hangs back and only eats food that gets near it, or stops eating altogether. Or you have a fish that is always swimming back and forth in the tank but one day its perched on the substrate or parked in a back corner.
Also, you should be able to distinguish normal passive behavior from intentional behavior like breeding or territorial aggression. All fish display odd behavior when breeding. By odd I mean body shaking, rapid tail movement, etc. These same movements might also be indicative of defensive behavior.
On the other hand, some cues aren’t behavioral in makeup. For example, color and other physical body changes might also be indicative of a problem. Has its colors faded? Are its fins clamped or are they erect and outstretched? Are there growths or bumps on the fish or is some part of the fish enlarged? Like normal behavior, your fish has a normal appearance, however more detail about this is subject matter for another post.
You can only know what “normal” behavior for your fish is when you observe it and establish its baseline behavior. Most fish profile resources don’t typically include comprehensive descriptions about “normal” behavior. You’ll usually need to figure that out on your own. However, you can always ask other cichlid keepers. If you’re on social media and can identify someone who has experience with a species you’re keeping or want to keep, ask them how the species normally behaves without a breeding mate or without conspecific tankmates of the same gender.
Nonetheless, this kind of understanding all comes with experience. Eventually, you’ll develop a “sixth sense” about your fish and you’ll often know when something is wrong before it’s too late to help it.