Why do fish lay at the bottom of the tank? How can you tell if this is normal fish behavior or if you need to intervene?
Fish lay at the bottom of the tank for a variety of reasons. These include non-concerning reasons such as being bottom-dwelling fish and simply resting. More concerning reasons include abnormal water parameters, stress, illness, and more.
It’s only natural to be a bit concerned when your pet fish choose to lay motionless at the bottom of the tank.
Making the distinction between what is normal fish behavior and what is not will help you enjoy your fish more in the long run.
In this article, we will go over the normal reasons why your fish may be lying at the bottom of the tank as well as the more concerning reasons.
We’ll also get into what red flags to look for if laying at the bottom of the tank is a new behavior.
Why Do Fish Lay At The Bottom Of The Tank? Normal Reasons
The most common reasons why fish lay at the bottom of the tank are that they are bottom dwellers, newcomers, old-aged, or simply resting.
These are perfectly normal, non-concerning reasons.
Here is a table that briefly summarizes them all:
|Some fish naturally spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank.
|Fish often rest and sleep at the bottom of the tank.
|As fish age, they may rest near the bottom of the tank more often.
|Newly introduced fish may lay at the bottom of the tank as they acclimate to their new environment.
Fish that spend the majority of their active hours near the bottom of the tank might just be naturally inclined to do so.
Some loaches, cory catfish, or plecos are perfect examples of content bottom dwellers that you’ll see roaming the lower levels of your aquarium.
If you have a planted tank with many low-growing plants, fish might prefer hanging out near the bottom to explore the mini aquatic jungle.
Bottom dwellers are often also bottom feeders.
They prefer roaming at the bottom of the tank because that’s where they also eat.
They will either gulp fish food as it sinks to the bottom or scavenge for leftovers among the gravel.
It’s perfectly normal for fish to rest and sleep while lying at the bottom of the tank.
Healthy fish will do this between sessions of active and energetic sessions of swimming.
You should keep the lights on your aquarium on a diurnal schedule (8-10 hours of light per day) to encourage your pet fish to rest.
Providing them with cave-like decorations and live plants is also a good way to keep fish stress levels low.
Laying at the bottom of the tank to rest can be stressful, as the fish will feel exposed and vulnerable.
Aquarium fish have relatively short lifespans, the most common species averaging around 3-5 years.
As they age, your pet fish might tend to rest near the bottom of the tank more often than before.
In between periods of time when the fish are active, short breaks or resting shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When first introducing new fish to a tank, they will instinctively look for places to hide.
If your aquascape lacks refuge areas, newcomers will resort to laying at the bottom of the tank.
With compatible tank mates, healthy fish will get over their fear soon, and start exploring their new home.
So, if this behavior is temporary, there’s no reason to worry.
Concerning Reasons Why Fish Lay At The Bottom Of The Tank
There are other, more concerning reasons why your fish may be laying at the bottom of the tank.
Here is a helpful table that briefly goes over these concerning reasons:
|Hiding due to bullying
|If a fish is being harassed by others, it may hide at the bottom of the tank.
|Some fish may claim the bottom of the tank as their territory, leading to conflicts.
|Low or high water temperature
|Fish may lay at the bottom of the tank if the water temperature is too low or too high.
|Poor water quality
|If the water quality is poor, fish may lay at the bottom of the tank.
|Strong water flow
|If the flow of water is too strong, fish may lay at the bottom of the tank to escape the current.
Hiding at the bottom of the tank
You notice a fish choosing to lay at the bottom of the tank, even though they’re typically mid-level swimmers or surface feeders.
Monitor the fish, and see what happens whenever it tries to swim away from the bottom.
If it’s getting harassed by a bully or getting nipped at, there’s a tank mate incompatibility issue.
This can also happen if:
- Your tank is not large enough.
- The aquarium is overstocked with fish.
- You have too many fish sharing the same swimming level in a tank.
- Add more hiding spots (decorations, live aquarium plants) to give vulnerable fish more refuge areas.
- Identify the bully/harasser, and remove it if the harassment continues past the “asserting dominance” phase. Repeat offenders can seriously injure their tank mates if you take no action.
- Get a mix of bottom dwellers, mid-to-top swimmers, and surface feeders to divide the space inside your aquarium.
- Check to see if your tank is overstocked, using AqAdvisor. If it is overcrowded, consider getting a bigger tank.
- Get an additional tank for the distressed fish lying at the bottom of the tank. If they’re simply incompatible with the other fish in your community tank, this might be the only solution.
Displaying territorial behavior at the bottom level
In the opposite scenario to the one listed above, a territorial fish might lay at the bottom of the tank to claim it as its territory.
This doesn’t often happen in an established tank that’s aquascaped to accommodate this normal fish behavior.
Noticing fights for dominance and aggressive behavior happening mostly at the bottom level of the tank? A struggle for territory might be the root cause of this behavior.
- Make sure your tank setup is large enough to allow territorial fish to claim a territory within it.
In a tank that’s too small, aggression is bound to happen, as fish can’t avoid staying out of each other’s space.
- Aquascape your aquarium to visually divide it into sections. A few tall background, or midground, live plants, can do wonders in getting a territorial fish off of the bottom of the tank.
- Check for tank mate compatibility before introducing any new fish going forward. And if you do have bottom dwellers that have to share their space with a territorial fish, make sure they have plenty of refuge spots.
Water temperature is either too low or too high
A fish, or more, laying at the bottom of the tank is exponentially more concerning when coupled with:
- Labored breathing and obvious erratic gill movement.
- Change in appetite, sometimes eating more, can lead to overeating troubles (constipation, bloating, etc.).
When the water temperature inside your aquarium drops too low, your fish might lay motionless at the bottom of the tank to conserve energy.
On the opposite spectrum, if the water temperature rises dangerously high, fish will stay on the bottom because that’s where oxygen levels will be higher.
A sudden increase in water temperature can also trigger your fish’s metabolism to accelerate.
They will eat more and produce more waste in the process.
Too high of a water temperature, paired with insufficient aeration (water circulation), is a recipe for disaster!
So are frequent and drastic changes in water temperature.
- Get an aquarium heater with a digital controller to keep the water temperature inside your tank stable. Make sure the heater has the appropriate wattage for the capacity of your particular setup.
- Research the optimal water temperature range you should be aiming for, depending on the fish species you’re keeping.
- Avoid keeping tropical fish in the same tank as coldwater fish because their water temperature needs are complete opposites.
Significant drop in water quality and unstable water parameters
Fluctuating water parameters go hand in hand with overall poor water quality inside a fish tank.
The biggest red flags, in this case, are sudden changes in your fish’s behavior.
These changes will more often than not be visible in most of the tank’s inhabitants.
Hardier fish species will just lay at the bottom of the tank when the water quality drops.
But more sensitive fish will be at high risk for diseases. Stress-induced drops in fish immunity can lead to:
- Fungal infections
- Bacterial infections
- Parasite infestations
- Self-inflicted injuries from erratic swimming
- Research the optimal water parameter ranges for the fish species you’re keeping.
- Use aquarium test kits to monitor pH levels, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate concentrations.
- Aim to keep water parameters (pH, water hardness, salinity, etc.) at a constant level, rather than chasing the perfect value on a test kit.
- Fluctuations are more dangerous and stressful for fish than having a pH level that’s at the bottom of the recommended range.
Sometimes you put together the pieces to the puzzle too late, even as a seasoned aquarist.
If your fish are not only lying at the bottom of the tank but also displaying other concerning symptoms, quarantine them.
If all your fish show obvious signs of distress, there might be a disease running rampant inside your fish tank.
The flow of water is too strong
- Fish constantly swimming hard just to stay in place: This is a clear sign the current is too strong and tiring out your fish. They will struggle to maintain their position.
- Fish avoiding parts of tank: If you notice fish steering clear of certain areas, it likely indicates the water flow there is too intense. This limits their usable habitat.
- Fish laying at bottom: Fish laying on the substrate is a telltale behavior that they are trying to escape an overwhelming current. They feel trapped and exhausted.
- Adjust filter flow rate: Most filters have a flow control lever or valve. Start by reducing the flow gradually to find the optimal setting.
- Use adjustable pump: Opt for a water pump with adjustable flow control. This gives you flexibility to tweak the current strength as needed.
- Disrupt flow with decor: Strategically place rocks, wood or plants to block and divert the direct water flow. This creates calmer pockets.
- Use multiple smaller filters: Having several filters with lower individual flow rates distributes the current more evenly.
- Aim spray bars up: Pointing spray bar outlets upward at the surface breaks up the current. Angling them can help too.
- Add filter media: Extra media like filter floss can slow excessive flow from an oversized filter. Use this if flow valves don’t reduce enough.
- Match pump size to tank: Make sure pump capacity isn’t overkill for the tank volume. Oversized equals overpowering flow.
- Try a wavemaker: More controllable than powerheads, wavemakers create pulsing currents that are less stressful.
Diseases That Can Cause Fish To Lay At The Bottom Of The Tank
Stress-inducing tank conditions (off-balance water chemistry, poor water quality, etc.) can trigger a disease outbreak among aquarium fish.
As a precaution, always quarantine diseased fish in a “hospital tank” when monitoring their condition.
A quarantine tank also makes it easier for you to medicate the fish in question.
Learn how to identify the symptoms of the most common diseases that can cause fish to lay at the bottom of the tank.
Noticing this first concerning sign can help you treat a disease in its more manageable early stage.
Here is a table that goes over diseases that can cause fish to lay at the bottom of the tank:
|Loss of appetite, labored breathing, fish gather in areas with higher oxygen levels
|Test water for ammonia levels, perform water change, avoid overfeeding
|Swim bladder infection
|Loss of buoyancy control, difficulty floating upright
|Check water quality, fast fish for 24-48 hours, feed more fiber, use antibacterial solution
|White spot disease (Ich)
|White spots on fish, rubbing against substrate, lack of appetite, erratic swimming
|Raise water temperature, medicate in quarantine tank
|Open wounds, possibly from conflicts with other fish or sharp objects in the tank
|Quarantine wounded fish, treat wounds with antibacterial solution
Ammonia poisoning is one of the deadliest conditions that can be easily overlooked when fish are lying at the bottom of the tank.
You should test the water to determine ammonia/nitrite levels in the aquarium.
If more than one fish is showing a sudden change in behavior, ammonia poisoning is highly likely.
Ammonia poisoning symptoms also include:
- A loss of appetite
- Labored breathing
- Fish gather in areas of the tank with richer oxygen levels (at the bottom of the tank or near the filter’s output)
- Adding too many fish in an uncycled tank without using a bacteria starter
- Deep-cleaning a tank and disturbing the aquarium’s established culture of good bacteria.
- Use aquarium test kits to determine the ammonia level inside your tank. The only safe ammonia level is zero, so any other reading should be a red flag.
- Do a 25-50% water change to dilute the concentration of ammonia as quickly as possible. Use dechlorinated water or tap water that’s been sitting for at least 48 hours.
- Avoid feeding your fish more than the bare minimum until the biological balance gets
- Cycle your tank if it’s a new setup.
- Monitor ammonia levels weekly.
Swim bladder infection
If your fish laying at the bottom of the tank is accompanied by a loss of buoyancy control, a swim bladder infection might be the reason.
A fish’s swim bladder is a gas-filled organ that makes it buoyant.
When healthy, the swim bladder allows the fish to swim and float at all levels of the aquarium.
When fish are suffering from a swim bladder infection, they will either get stuck floating only near the water’s surface or sink to the bottom of the tank.
You’ll also notice the affected fish struggle to float upside.
- Dangerously low water quality
- Swim bladder infection can sometimes be a secondary infection to other bacterial infections
- Develops as a secondary condition to kidney malfunctions, impacted eggs in females, etc.
- Check water parameters, and address the root causes of poor water quality.
- Stop feeding your fish for 24-48 hours. Most fish will do just fine with a brief fasting period.
- If constipation is the trigger of the swim bladder infection, feed fish more fiber.
- If you suspect a bacterial infection, give your fish a salt bath (1 Tbsp salt to 3 gallons of water) using aquarium salts.
- Use an antibacterial solution that binds to fish food to treat the swim bladder infection itself. As this isn’t a surface-level infection, treating from within is the most efficient way to cure your pet fish.
White spot disease
White spot disease, or ich, is an illness caused by ciliated parasites (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis).
The disease manifests on aquarium fish as white spots and can cause fish to:
- Lay at the bottom of the tank
- Rub against the substrate and other rough surfaces inside the aquarium
- Display obvious signs of distress (lack of appetite, erratic swimming, etc.).
- A weakened immune system
- Water temperature outside the fish’s comfort zone
- Poor diet
- Stress-induced response to being kept with incompatible tank mates
- Improper transfer (from store to home, or when being relocated in another tank)
- Any stress factor that has a big enough impact on the fish’s immune system.
- If you’ve caught the ich in its early stage, raising the water temperature inside the fish tank can help kill the parasite. Aim for 78-80°F until the issue is resolved. Of course, don’t do this when keeping coldwater fish.
- Medicate the affected fish for 10-14 days in a quarantine tank, using formalin, malachite green, copper sulfate, or methylene blue.
- You can also try giving fish a potassium permanganate bath.
Open wounds are an invitation for disease!
That’s why you should immediately quarantine a fish that’s lying at the bottom of the tank and is visibly injured.
Quarantining wounded fish will also prevent them from being vulnerable, as some of their tank mates might opportunistically harass them.
- Fin nippers
- Run in with bullies
- Fights for dominance, territory, or mating rights
- Accidentally bumping into decorations with sharp/rough edges
- Getting thrown about by a strong filter with a high flow rate
- Address the factors that contributed to the injuries taking place in the first place.
- Get a filter with a slower, or at least adjustable, flow rate.
- Separate fin nippers, bullies, or territorial fish permanently from the wounded fish.
- Replace sharp-edged décor items with smoother ones.
- Quarantine the wounded fish lying at the bottom of the tank.
- Treat the wounds, and prevent infections using an antibacterial solution, like MelaFix.
For a more in-depth look at why betta fish, in particular, might stay at the bottom of the tank, check out this informative video:
FAQs About Why Fish Lay At The Bottom Of The Tank
Why is my fish sitting at the bottom of the tank?
This behavior likely indicates your fish is stressed or ill.
Check water conditions like temperature, pH, and toxin levels to ensure the tank environment suits your fish’s needs.
With optimal habitat, they should become active again.
Why is my fish lying on its side at the bottom of the tank but not dead?
Your fish may have swim bladder disease affecting its buoyancy.
Severe stress or exhaustion can also cause fish to lay on their side.
Test water parameters and contact a vet if concerned to determine the causes and get them swimming properly again.
Why won’t my fish move from the bottom of the tank?
Lack of movement often signals sickness or stress from poor water quality, overfeeding, or disease.
Test water parameters and consult a fish health expert to identify causes and get advice on improving conditions to get them moving again.
Why is my fish laying at the bottom of the tank but still breathing?
Your fish breathing but not swimming could indicate illness or a stress reaction to recent environmental changes in the tank.
Watch closely for any concerning signs and cues from your fish.
Why is my fish staying at the bottom of the tank and not eating?
If your fish is staying at the bottom of the tank and not eating, it could indicate various issues.
Possible causes include water quality problems, stress, illness, or overfeeding.
Check the tank’s water parameters, ensure proper nutrition, and monitor for signs of disease.
Consulting with a veterinarian can help determine the exact cause and provide appropriate treatment.
Why is my fish laying on the bottom of the tank gasping?
Gasping signifies dangerously low oxygen levels in the tank water.
Also check for gill damage or disease that could cause this behavior. Increase oxygen with water changes, proper temperatures, adding air stones.
How do I get more oxygen in my fish tank?
To increase oxygen, use air stones, live plants, maintain proper water temperatures (warmer water holds less oxygen), and use filters to help circulate air in the tank.
Small adjustments can greatly boost oxygen for fish health.
Do fish sleep at the bottom of the tank?
Fish do not sleep in the same way humans do, as they do not have eyelids.
However, they do rest and become less active at night.
Some fish may rest at the bottom of the tank during these periods, but it is essential to provide them with proper hiding spots and a comfortable environment to ensure their well-being.
How do I destress my fish laying on the bottom of the tank?
Optimize their environment, diet, and care while avoiding sudden changes.
Watch closely for signs of stress from your fish.
Your calm, consistent presence helps reduce stress too.
With proper TLC your fish will feel more relaxed and secure.
When fish lay at the bottom of the tank, it’s a good idea to monitor them closely, especially if this is a new behavior.
You now know what the concerning red flags that go along with this behavior are.
If your fish are just content to hang out near the bottom of the tank, there’s no reason to worry.
Consider adding a few additional décor items or live plants to your setup.
Your fish will use them to rest without feeling exposed or vulnerable.
Resting without being on high alert will help your fish feel safe, and be confident and active the rest of the time!
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