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Is My Cichlid Pregnant or Bloated? How to Tell the Difference

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By Lindsey Stanton

african cichlid

If you have Cichlids in your aquarium, especially if you have males and females, chances are pretty good that they will mate at some point. However, Cichlids are known for getting bloated and for suffering from more serious bloating illnesses. So, is my Cichlid pregnant or bloated?

There are a number of ways to tell if a Cichlid is pregnant or bloated. You can tell by the way they swim, their appetite, their behavior, and how the males behave. It’s also important to know the difference between mouth brooders and substrate brooders, something we will touch on below.

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Is My Cichlid Pregnant or Bloated? How To Tell

There is such a thing as “Cichlid Bloat”, a condition where Cichlids get, well, bloated. It’s fairly common and chances are that if you have a Cichlid, it might get bloated at some point in time. The reason why this is so important to be able to tell apart is that Cichlid Bloat is deadly, and if left untreated, it will result in death. African Cichlids often suffer from something called “Malawi Bloat”.

That said if your Cichlid looks bloated, and it is a female, you might think that it is pregnant or carrying eggs. This can of course also be the case. So, how do you tell if your Cichlid is pregnant or just bloated? A big belly alone is not enough to figure out if your Cichlid is just bloated or pregnant, so these other factors we are about to discuss are ones you need to keep an eye out for.


First let’s take a look at some of the factors which indicate that your Cichlid is simply bloated, not pregnant.

1. Lack of Appetite

One of the most common signs that a Cichlid is simply bloated or if it is suffering from Cichlid bloat is if it loses its appetite. Bloated fish don’t feel well, just like if you were bloated. If your stomach is bloated and not feeling well, you probably aren’t going to eat very much, and the same goes for your Cichlid too.

Blood Red Parrot Cichlids in tank
Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

2. Faster Breathing

Bloated fish, especially Cichlids suffering from Cichlid bloat, will start breathing much faster than they normally do. An increased respiratory rate is often an indication of illness in fish, if not always. A pregnant Cichlid usually won’t breathe faster, but an ill and bloated Cichlid will. Of course, this means that you need to know how fast your Cichlid usually breathes.

convict cichlid
Image Credit: Bernsten, Shutterstock

3. The Waste

Something else which can indicate that a Cichlid is bloated or suffering from a serious bloat condition is if the waste or feces is white and comes out in long streaks. By now, you should know what your Cichlid’s number twos look like, and if they don’t look like they usually do, then you might have a problem. Discolored and stringy excrement is a sign of illness or bloating. A pregnant Cichlid, while she may produce excessive waste due to eating more food, the feces should look normal.

jaguar cichlid in aquarium
Image Credit: OksanaGoskova, Shutterstock

4. Reclusiveness & Lingering

Another sign that your Cichlid is bloated or suffering from something more serious like Malawi Bloat is if the fish becomes reclusive. Cichlids aren’t really known for hiding, so if it starts hiding and becomes a hermit, it’s an indication that something is wrong. At the same time, if the Cichlid starts floating near the top or bottom of the tank without much movement, this is another indication of bloating and illness.

Mbuna cichlid in fish tank
Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, shutterstock

5. Red Marks

The other sign that your Cichlid is suffering from a more serious bloat condition is if you see red marks or ulcers around the anus and on the skin. This is a symptom that will appear in the later stages of a serious Cichlid Bloat disease and is an indication that the disease has progressed to the point where it is beginning to destroy the internal organs of the fish.

three spot cichlid
Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock

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Now, let’s take a look at some of the top indications that your Cichlid is not bloated, but actually pregnant or carrying eggs.

1. A Healthy Appetite (With Eggs In Her Body)

A pregnant female Cichlid that is carrying eggs is going to be hungry. If she is pregnant, she will keep eating at the same pace she has been the whole time. More than likely, the pregnant Cichlid will start consuming more food than usual, which she needs for energy to carry the eggs and more. However, keep in mind that this only applies to the Cichlids while she still has her eggs inside of her body. We will have to take a closer look at mouth-brooding Cichlids to figure this all out.

blood parrot cichlid
Image Credit: ZinaidaSopina, Shutterstock

2. Coloration

Another indication that your Cichlid is pregnant is if her colors start to lighten and brighten. Lighter and brighter colors are usually a pretty solid indication of pregnancy. On the other hand, if the female Cichlid becomes much paler and whiter in color, chances are she is sick.

male ram cichlid
Image Credit: veronika_tvrda, Shutterstock

3. Slower Movement

When your Cichlid is bloated, they tend to become reclusive and more or less float in one spot, but when they are pregnant, they may just move a bit slower. When your Cichlid is pregnant, although she will not move as fast as she usually would, she should not become reclusive or virtually motionless.

jack dempsey cichlid in aquarium
Image Credit: Darko Cvetanoski, Shutterstock

4. How the Male Cichlids Behave

One of the biggest indications that your female Cichlid is pregnant is how the males behave. If the males become far more active and start chasing the females around, it’s a pretty clear indication that she is pregnant and ready to lay eggs. At the same time, if you have multiple male Cichlids in the tank, the males will usually become more aggressive and territorial towards each other.

Image Credit: Huy-Thoai, Shutterstock


Mouth Brooding Cichlids vs Substrate Brooding Cichlids

mouthbrooding cichlid
Mouthbrooding Cichlid, by Richelle Cloutier, Shutterstock

Ok, so we mentioned how some Cichlids are mouth brooders and some are substrate brooders. This is an important thing to know, especially when it comes to your female Cichlids and eating food.

Mouth Brooders

The point here is that certain species of Cichlids are mouth brooders, which means that the females lay the eggs, the males fertilize them, and the female will then carry the fertilized eggs around in her mouth for around 21 days until they hatch.

Substrate Brooders

On the other hand, the species of Cichlids which are substrate brooders will leave the fertilized eggs on or in the substrate. When it comes to telling if a Cichlid or pregnant or not, keep in mind that for mouthbrooders, for those 21 days when the eggs are in her mouth, she won’t eat. That’s right, she won’t eat for around 3 weeks.

Knowing The Difference

Therefore, knowing if you have mouth brooders or substrate brooders is important. If you are looking at the eating behavior of your female, you won’t know how to judge whether or not she is bloated or pregnant, if you don’t know whether or not you have mouth brooders. For example, if you have substrate brooders and the female is not eating, then she is not pregnant, but sick.

How Do I Know If My Cichlids Are Mating?

There are a few fairly easy ways to tell if your male and female Cichlids are mating with each other. Let’s take a quick look, just so you know.

  • If the males and females divide themselves into pairs, chances are almost 100% that you will see Cichlid fry in the tank within weeks.
  • If your Cichlids are mating, the males will start to become aggressive toward one another (here is how to stop that).
  • Another sign that your fish are mating is if the males begin to harass the females and chase them around the tank.
  • Female Cichlids when mating will often become much brighter and lighter in color. A brightening of their colors, especially for females, indicates that mating is around the corner. Males may become paler in color when mating season arrives.
  • The males and females will often engage in some sort of funny-looking courtship dance.
  • The male Cichlid will usually dig a little hole or nest for the female to lay her eggs in. If you see either the males or females looking like they are preparing a spawning site, then mating is occurring.

How Long Is A Cichlid Pregnant?

Ok, so one distinction we need to make here is that technically speaking, Cichlids are never actually pregnant. They hold and lay eggs, but are never pregnant. Let’s explain this in some detail right now.

How Long Do Cichlids Hold Eggs?

A female Cichlid will begin to lay eggs when she reaches sexual maturity, which is at a few months of age. A female Cichlid on average has the ability to lay eggs every 6 weeks or so, give or take depending on the exact Cichlid type. Therefore, if this cycle is followed, a Cichlid holds her eggs in her body for 6 weeks before laying them. Keep in mind that a female Cichlid can have up to 30 eggs every cycle.

Now, with mouthbrooding Cichlids, this goes one step further, because the female will then scoop the eggs up into her mouth to hold them after they have been fertilized. It will take roughly 21 days for fertilized Cichlid eggs to hatch. That is how long a mouth brooder will hold them for, more or less until the fry starts hatching right in her mouth.

Do Cichlids Give Live Birth?

No, Cichlids do not give live birth, or in other words, they are not livebearers. Cichlids are egg layers, which means that they lay eggs, and the fish fry then hatches out of those eggs. Therefore, technically speaking, Cichlids are never actually pregnant. Anatomically speaking, only live-bearing creatures can be pregnant, such as us mammals.

convict cichild
Image Credit: Dmitri Kalvan, Shutterstock

How To Get African Cichlids To Breed

Alright, so here we want to give you some tips on how to get your African Cichlids to breed. The reason we are focusing on African Cichlids is that they are by far the most popular type of Cichlid to have in a home aquarium. These are mouth brooders as well, and most aquarium Cichlids will usually be mouth brooders, another reason why we are focusing on African Cichlids.

That being said, the following tips can also work for substrate brooders to a certain extent. Let’s take a closer look at how you can entice your African Cichlids to breed.

A Flat Rock

Mouth-brooding Cichlids want a clean and flat rock to lay their eggs on. Provide your Cichlids with a clean, flat, and fairly large rock to lay their eggs on, and make sure it is somewhat secluded or separated from the rest of the tank.

Clean Water

Clean water is always ideal too. The cleaner you can get the water, the more enticed they will be to mate. You also want to ensure that the water temperature and pH are both at the ideal level for the exact type of Cichlid you have, whether African or otherwise.

bolivian ram cichlid in aquarium
Image Credit: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock

Simulate Rainfall

For some reason, Cichlids tend to mate right after a rainfall, so a good way to get them to breed is to let your filter splash for about an hour and put some slightly cooler water in the tank. This will simulate rainfall and should spur on the mating process.

Keep Them Well Fed

Keep in mind that super-hungry Cichlids will be distracted by hunger, so if you want them to breed, make sure to feed them right.

Make A Breeding Tank

If your Cichlids are still not breeding, you can try making a special breeding tank, and then put 2 males and 1 female in that separate tank. Although in all reality, Cichlids are fairly prolific breeders, so this should usually not be necessary.

How To Care For Cichlid Fry

cichlid fry
Image Credit: Toxotes Hun-Gabor Horvath, Shutterstock

Alright, so the eggs were fertilized about 3 weeks ago and today is the day when they hatch. Remember, you may not have up to 30 Cichlid fry to deal with, so knowing how to care for them is quite important.

Do Cichlids Eat Their Babies?

Yes, in fact, most fish eat their own fry in the wild, and in aquariums too. Cichlids are more inclined to eat the fry of other fish rather than their own, but they will also eat their own. Therefore, you need to remove all adult Cichlids from the tank which contains the fry, or else the fry will get eaten. It is not a likelihood that they will get eaten, but a certainty.

How Often Should You Feed Cichlid Fry?

During the first 7 days after hatching, Cichlid fry can live off of the remaining yolk in the egg sacks. Therefore, for the first 7 days, you don’t need to feed Cichlid fry. After the 7-day mark, you can start feeding them infusoria and newly-hatched brine shrimp, anything small enough they can consume. Feed them 3 times a day at regular intervals. Protein-rich fry foods and very small live foods are best.

How Long Does It Take For Cichlid Fry To Grow?

Seeing as Cichlid fry needs to be kept separate from the adults, you probably want to know how fast they grow. You can expect a Cichlid to take a full 2 years to grow to its full size (between 4 and 10 inches depending on the species). They should achieve about half of their size within 10 to 20 days of hatching, with the other 50% of their size not being achieved until about 2 years of age. That said, you can put the fry back in with the adult fish when the fry is about half the size of the adults.

large planted tank with sand amazon sword plant angelfish cichlids
Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

The Water Conditions

Keep in mind that the water conditions need to be right for Cichlid fry as well. The ideal temperature and pH level, as well as the level of lighting the Cichlid fry tank, depends on the specific type of Cichlid. However, this is important if you want as many of the fry to survive as possible. For most Cichlids, this means having a pH level between 7.5 and 8.5, with the water temperature being somewhere around 78 degrees.

How Can I Make My Cichlid Fry Grow Faster?

There are a number of ways to help your Cichlid fry grow faster, some really simple things at that.

  • Fry under 8 weeks of age should not be overfed. They should be fed no more than is indicated on the packaging of the food. 3 times a day is more than enough.
  • It is shown that Cichlids under 8 weeks of age grow fastest when fed a diet that consists of 40 percent to 50 percent protein and 10 percent to 12 percent fat.
  • Maintaining very clean water conditions along with the proper water parameters is essential for fast and healthy growth.
  • Providing them with a Cichlid-friendly environment with all the right plants, rocks, and whatever else is important too. It’s all about minimizing stress.

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As you can see, if you know what to look for, figuring out whether your Cichlid is bloated or pregnant is not very hard. Pay attention to the telltale signs, and if you spot them, be sure to get ready for the arrival of some lively Cichlid fry!

Featured Image Credit: ArtEvent ET, Shutterstock

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