Are Discus Fish Hard To Keep Alive?

Discus fish have a very bad reputation for being difficult to keep alive. Discus are probably on the higher end of the price range so careful consideration of what is required to keep Discus is needed.

In this article we will tell you the truth and answer the question of whether Discus fish are truly hard to keep alive.

Getting Some Fresh Perspective

Let’s go to extreme’s for a moment and venture into the dog world. Most everyone is familiar with the giant Great Dane and the smaller Chihuahua. Deciding between both these dogs requires several obvious decisions before bringing one of them home. Some of them would be:

  • Do you have enough space in your home?
  • Are you going to be able to afford feeding the dog?
  • What extra doctor fees will I pay for having a larger dog versus a smaller dog

And so on… The same can be said about Discus fish. Deciding to keep Discus over Tetras or Oscars require you to understand the difference in care each species requires for a long healthy life.

Discus are no harder to keep alive than any other tropical fish when the proper knowledge and commitment is in place.

Discus Special Requirements

It is true, Discus require a bit more time and preparation. It is not as simple as sprinkling in some flake food and adding water only when half the tank has evaporated.

Here are some important points to consider about Discus:

  • Discus require frequent water changes. Note, frequency does not equal volume of water. If you decide to change 100% or 20% at a time, the point is to keep consistent frequency of the water changes. No more than once a day, no less than once a week.
  • Discus need friendly tank mates who will not challenge them for food. Discus do great with smaller fish like Lamp Eye Tetras and Coryodoras. Discus will not do well with aggressive dominate fish like Angelfish or other cichlids.
  • Food must be a healthy variety of proteins like beefheart, krill and shrimp as well as vegetables and plants. Most are pre-packaged in frozen cube form. California Blackworms are a great source for live foods. Do not make the mistake of feeding the same food day after day, variety is key for growth and longevity.
  • Breeders and Tropical Fish Stores are key contributors of how healthy and how long your Discus will live. Pick your Discus sources wisely. As far as I know, in all of my experience, I do not know of a case where a Discus was saved from the brink of disease and lived a long healthy life. Nor have I ever seen a stunted Discus that should have been culled grow into a contest winning Discus. Be picky and ask a ton of questions about the Discus you want to buy. It’s your money and Discus are not cheap! Ask about the food that is fed to the Discus, how often is the water changed and so on.

These are just a few points to consider, if you have questions please ask them below in the comments.

Discus Are Easy To Keep Alive

Discus really are easy to keep alive, when those who choose to keep Discus as a hobby take the time to learn a bit before starting.

Keeping Discus as a hobby can be a very rewarding experience. Discus live for a very long time, they learn to recognize owners, can be hand fed and uniquely raise and feed their own fry.

Like anything you choose to take on in your life, take the time to learn as much about it as possible before taking on the commitment. I am certain thousands upon thousands of Discus have met their demise to inexperienced hobbyist who didn’t bother to read a book or search the internet for more information. And call it a guess, but I am pretty sure that these people are the first to complain about how delicate Discus are and how hard they are to keep.

Do your homework, Discus are great and easy to keep.

Questions For You

What questions do you have about Discus?

Have you kept Discus before?

What myths or rumors have you heard about Discus?

11 thoughts on “Are Discus Fish Hard To Keep Alive?

  1. We are currently writing a guide on “How to breed Discus” that will be available on this site. Sign up for our newsletter. Our newsletter group will be the first to know when it is released.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Is it true that you must leave a 4 watt globe on during the night when you turn the main tank light off so the fish feel secure and are not frightened by a quick change?

    • Hi Elisabeth,

      In my opinion, no, it is not true…

      What you do want to avoid is flicking lights on to often as this will eventually cause your Discus to freak out and crash into something in the tank, the tank walls or worse yet jump right out of the tank…


  3. I am going to go to the next step – discus – after so many years of tropicals, Oscars and now Aftican Cichlids. I have a 225 and want to dedicate to a discus tank. I am reading so much conflicting information…I wonder if the skills and knowledge I have acquired over these several years is what I should depend on? I like the idea of other dither fish but I see pictures and read that Angels, Rummy Nose, Cardinal Tetras, Gouramis, Austrailian Rainbows, etc. are acceptable. I read “Yes” then I read “No” due to potential exposure to parasites and protozoas, from said fish to the discus.

    Can the tankmates be dosed in broad spectrum medications to cleanse them free of parasites? In a tank size – I suggested – how many discus will it support – including plants and a piece of driftwood? How does one introduce discus to a tank – like the usual manner bags floating to acclimate to temp., slowly adding tank water to bag water to acclamate water quality/chemestry, pour fish into tank, or net them then place in the tank?

    Reading what the breedres suggest, I should be using RO filtration for my tank. I do not know of any living creature that will not benefit from carbon based filtration system(s). Baskets and canisters are what I intend to use – for agitation of the surface, an aggressive return of the water to the tank, and complete BIOLOGICAL, MECHANICAL and PHYSICAL filtration and – possibly a second canister – for water polishing.

    Do not misunderstand, I understand fishkeeping but the information suggests multiple avenues to keep discus so I would like as much honest and clear information that I can receive. My years of experience should be able to sort through and place in order the correct information I recieve.
    Thank you,

    • Hi Tim,

      Glad to Hear you are giving Discus a chance. They are an extremely rewarding fish that gets more beautiful as the get larger. I’ll try to offer you my best opinions, as I am an entusiast wih several years of keeping and breeding these magnificent animals.

      As far as your tank size goes, I like to give my fish at least 8-12 gallons per discus, depending on if you want a community tank or a soley discus tank. Nowadays with as many color varieties discus come in, and wether you plan to breed them in the future, I would opt for just discus. However, with the proper selection of other fish, they do quite well in a community setting.

      For the community setting, rummy nose, cardinal, and black&white tetras, australian rainbows, bushy nose plecos, rams, and corydoras are good candidates. Just keep in mind it would be good to have different retreats for these fish(i.e. driftwood, caves, pots, plants..)for them to thrive. I tend to stay away from angel unless they are tank-raised and free of all parasites. Small Gourami

      • s, like dwarf or flame seem ok, however I have had no personal experience with them.

        I don’t like to medicate my tanks unless I am absolutely sure ther is a problem, but if you feel the need I like API general cure, as it works for many ailments and have not had a problem with it to date.

        As for water qualtiy discus are quite resilient when acclimated properly. They prefer a PH of 6.0 – 7.0 and a hardness(GK) of about 3 and a conductivity of anywhere from 50-110. This does not mean these are exact parameters, unless you are trying to breed them. Then they are.

        RO/DI filters are great if you can afford the luxury, however you will need to add trace elements to the ultra-pure water. I like, not to name-drop, Kent R/O Right and follow the instructions. I am only telling you what has worked for me. If you are used to useing another company, such as sea-chem or other company, by all means, use what you are comfortable with. Biological filters work great too, again it just depends on what you would like to accomplish…to keep or to breed?

        Hope this info was helpful, please feel free to contact me with any other questions.

  4. Hi, just bought 6 discus, and put them in my 80 gallon tank, my pH is 7.6. they are about 2″ each, but they are very skittish, and dull. Additionally they have their fins tight to them. Is this normal discus behaviour, what can i do?

  5. sanjay do one think 1st. change water 30 % regularly up to 21 days. and try to level Ph below 7 . discus baby can be happy with a ph 6.8 – 7.2. try to feed live warms.

  6. I have just bought a juwel rio 125 tank and intend to pit discus and cardinals in, i have 25 years of fish keeping experiance but never cept discus how many discus do you think i should keep and what filtration do you advise. Regards Rick

  7. Just wanted to say thanks for this news letter and the imformation you are giving out.
    I have thought about keeping discus for years, was always scared because of all the conflicting imformation out there.
    Well i purchased 6 discus about a month ago and all are alive and well in the main tank now ,i am enjoying them. May have to get a bigger tank and get some more ,

    thanks again for all the imformation

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