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FISH / new pets

A Set-up Guide for Your New African Cichlid

Tips for home and health


6 things to know about your new African cichlids"

  • They can live up to 10 years
  • They grow about 4 to 8 inches long, depending on the species
  • They should live only with fellow cichlids or other semi-aggressive tropical fish.
  • They’re likely to eat smaller tank mates
  • They are very territorial and need lots of hiding places
  • Cichlids are best for experienced fish pet parents

Your African cichlid's new home

Set up the aquarium at least one day before you add any fish.

Aquarium and stand

  • The minimum size of your aquarium depends on how many cichlids you have and how big they will be as adults. Cichlids of 6 inches or less need at least a 20-gallon tank. Cichlids up to 8 inches long need at least a 29-gallon tank.
  • If you plan to have multiple cichlids, follow this formula to determine whether the tank should be even larger. The aquarium should have two gallons of water for every inch of fully-grown fish.
  • Place the tank near a power source in a low-traffic area, away from direct sunlight and drafts.
  • Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. Pick a very sturdy, stable base for your aquarium, then fill the tank with water.
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What to put in your cichlid's tank

  • If you will be using an under-gravel filter, add it first.
  • Layer about 3 inches of gravel on the bottom of the tank. (That works out to 1½ pounds of gravel per gallon of water.) Rinse the gravel before putting it in the aquarium.
  • Fill the tank about halfway up with dechlorinated water.
  • Add the thermometer and other necessary equipment.
  • Time to decorate! Add plants, rocks and fish furniture. Because cichlids are territorial, provide enough furniture that each fish can establish its own turf. Cichlids also like to hide, so put several cave structures in the tank. Rinse all décor before adding it to the tank.
  • Finish by filling the tank the rest of the way with water.
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  • An aquarium filter should be able to process all of the water in the tank three to five times an hour. For example, the filter in a 20-gallon tank would need to push through at least 60 gallons of water each hour. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for choosing and setting up the filter.
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Heat and lights

  • Check the temperature your African cichlids will need before you bring them home. Tropical fish need warm water that’s between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Choose an aquarium heater with 5 watts of power for each gallon of water in the aquarium. A large aquarium may need a heater at each end.
  • Wait 15 minutes after filling the tank before turning on the heater.
  • Place the heater close enough to the filter to distribute the warmed water.
  • Run the tank’s filter and the tank’s hood light for 24 hours, then check the water temperature and adjust the heater if necessary.
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Adding African cichlids to your aquarium

  • Bring your cichlids home right away after you buy them.
  • Place them in your aquarium — inside their bag — for 15 minutes so they can get used to the new water temperature.
  • Next, use a net to transfer the cichlids into your aquarium. Try not to bring too much of their old water with them.
  • Add only one to three cichlids at a time to make sure the filter can handle all the new action in the neighborhood.
  • The chemical balance in your aquarium will change with every new fish you introduce, so check the tank’s pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels regularly.
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Water quality testing

PetSmart offers free aquarium water testing. Bring in a sample and we can test its quality within minutes.

What to feed your cichlids

Feed your cichlids flake or pelleted food daily, with supplements of frozen or freeze-dried brine shrimp or tubifex worms. Some species of African cichlids also like vegetable matter and can be given algae wafers or plants, like Anacharis, to nibble on.

Keeping cichlids healthy

If your cichlids display any of these symptoms of illness or distress, talk to a PetSmart store associate or a veterinarian familiar with fish health:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Fins clamped to the sides
  • Scraping body on rocks
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Inflamed or discolored skin or fins
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General aquarium health and environmental guidelines

  • Fish and aquatic animals can transmit disease to humans. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after interacting with your aquarium. Children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with immune-system problems should take extra care.
  • Keep fish away from food and areas where food is prepared.
  • Never release fish into the wild.

PETSMART CARES Pets purchased at PetSmart are part of our exclusive Vet Assured™ program, designed by PetSmart veterinarians to help improve the health and well-being of our pets. Our vendors meet a high standard in caring for pets and screening them for common illnesses. This program also includes specific standards for in-store pet care.

The PetSmart Promise: If your pet becomes ill during the initial 14-day period, or if you’re not satisfied for any reason, PetSmart will gladly replace the pet or refund the purchase price.