Do Aquarium Fish Get Itchy?

4 min read

Itchiness – that unpleasant feeling both humans and animals suffer alike. Aquatic creatures experience this feeling every now and then.


Aquarium fish get itchy just like anyone else in the world. When you notice your aquatic friends rubbing themselves against the tank’s walls, gravel, or rocks, that means they are itchy.

When fish show such behavior, it might be a sign that there is too much metal in the water, like copper, for example. Another reason might be the presence of a parasite.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means when you see your fish rubbing against things and explore the various options of what it might mean:

Why Are My Fish Rubbing Against The Tank’s Interior?

Catfish PetAquariums Do Aquarium Fish Get Itchy?

Your fish might be displaying this kind of behavior for several reasons. They might be doing this not because they are itchy but because of other causes, too.

It’s Part Of Their Natural Behaviour

Sometimes when it’s time to mate, fish tend to rub themselves against walls, rocks, gravel, or any solid surfaces found in the aquarium.

Such behavior is natural and instinctive to them. As long as your fish do it occasionally and they seem in good health overall, there is no reason to worry.

However, if it starts happening regularly, check the water parameters as it could be a sign of ammonia building up in the tank’s environment.

They Are Itchy

Yes, aquarium fish do get itchy, and this is a likely possibility if they rub themselves. They will scratch against the aquarium’s walls, rock, gravel, and any other decoration to seek relief.

Also, there might be too much metal in the water, such as copper. Try increasing the water temperature to solve the problem and increase the salinity a bit.

This should eliminate the ICH (a commonly met fish parasite) without the need to introduce medication.

Your Fish Is Sick

It happens, sometimes fish do get sick, and rubbing against rocks might be a sign of an illness or death in worst-case scenarios.

High ammonia levels in the tank might be the reason why ammonia turns poisonous for the tank’s inhabitants, eventually.

Test the water to monitor the ammonia levels and make sure the pH level is accurate. Remember to change the water regularly as per your fish and aquarium’s needs.

The Fish Are Stressed

As serene and peaceful fish may look, they do get stressed. When fish is bullied, they attempt to escape by hiding among plants, rubbing against rocks, or laying on the substrate in the aquarium. Lack of companionship can also cause stress and trigger such kind of behavior.

They Are Bored

Just like humans, fish can get bored every now and then, especially if they are placed in captivity after living in the wild before.

Try to keep your fish entertained by adding mirrors, live plants, caverns, floating objects, plants, caves, and decorations to keep your fish busy and feeling as if it is in their natural environment.

How Can You Tell If The Fish Is Ill, Stressed, or Bored?

That is a challenging mission but not impossible to accomplish. For one, observe if the unusual behavior occurs regularly or only occasionally.

Rapid gill movements, frantic swimming, rubbing on hard surfaces, loss of appetite, and labored breathing are all signs that something is wrong.

In addition, check the water’s conditions regularly and make sure the chemical balance is in check at all times.

How Do You Know Your Fish Is Itchy?

Together with the reasons listed above, other signs of fish itchiness include:

  • Missing scales
  • Bruising or traumas of the head and fins
  • Bacterial and/or fungal infections

Why Do Fish Get Itchy?

Fish have a layer of slime over their scales that protect them from the water and anything harmful that might come with it – fungi, microorganisms, bacteria, and harmful chemicals.

Just like people they would start rubbing and scratching in an attempt to get rid of whatever is bothering them.

How Can You Cure Your Fish From Itchiness?

To begin with, try following the simple measures below. In case the itchiness does not subside, seek advice from a vet specializing in aquatic animals.

  • Check the water’s chemical balance
  • Check the ammonia levels
  • Change the water regularly
  • Run check for fungi/bacteria
  • Increase slightly the water temperature and the salinity levels
  • Observe the presence of other signs – bullying by other fish in the tank; lack of appetite; frantic swimming, loneliness, boredom.


In short, aquarium fish do get itchy. It might be a completely normal behavior based on instincts or the “itchy behavior” might be caused by boredom, loneliness, bacteria, or diseases.

Whatever the reason keep an eye on your fish if they display rubbing and scratching tendencies regularly and try testing out different options on how to cure them. If they fail, seek the help of a professional.

Written by:

Pet Aquariums

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