Oscar Laying On Its Side? What Does It Mean?

Have you ever noticed your oscar laying on its side, on the bottom of the aquarium?

The first time you see your oscar do this, you might be inclined to panic. Because, after all, it’s usually a bad sign to see a midwater aquarium fish laying, almost motionless on the bottom of the tank. But, don’t panic, 9/10 times it isn’t anything serious at all.

So Why Do Oscars Lay On Their Sides?

Oscars, as cichlids, are quite intelligent fish with very complex behaviors. So, when an oscar lays on its side, its typically a display of submission or stress. Furthermore, oscars are territorial fish and they will see their tank as their own territory. It must feel quite defeating for oscar not to be able to defend its territory from us humans. After all, how would you feel if a bunch of hoses, buckets, and giant hands came invading your home?

Do All Oscars Lay On Their Sides Like This?

No, not at all. In fact, some oscars have the exact opposite reaction! If you go near their tank even you might find that they swim frantically at the glass and flare their gills at you. Also, watch out if you put your hand in the aquarium, because those extra confident oscars might even give you a nasty bite!

submissive oscars lay on their side at the bottom of the aquarium sometimes
By Jón Helgi Jónsson (Amything), CC BY-SA 3.0,
Oscars can be aggressive or they can be sheepish… sometimes they can be both at different times! Their personalities really are unique.

This is because intelligent fish like oscars really do have unique personalities, just like you might expect to find in a mammal. Oscars are cichlids, and most members of this group tend to have very well developed personalities. That’s probably why they’re so popular in the aquarium hobby.

How Can I Change Aquarium Water Without Upsetting My Oscar?

Well, it’s difficult. As I mentioned above, your oscar has a personality. And if your oscar is the kind of fish that really likes to sulk whenever you mess with its tank, then there’s not a lot you can do.

However, I do have a few tips you can try. Although, I can’t guarantee a change in your oscar’s behavior—but, hey, why not try?

First of all, give your oscar somewhere to hide when you do your water change. I understand oscars can get pretty big and your local big box pet store might not have a castle for him or her to hide in. Well, no worries! Because you can just use a terracotta flower pot instead. They come in sizes big enough for your fish to hide in.

Another option would be to minimize your invasion into the tank. For example, if you usually go at the poor thing with giant buckets and jugs, then maybe you should consider a more subtle approach. For example, switch from the bucket method to the siphon method. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did in the end anyway because carrying bucket after bucket of heavy water to the drain can be a real pain in the lower back!

Check out the above video on the Python water changing system. It’s awesome and it might be a more chill way to change the water on your oscar’s aquarium. Grab a python here on Amazon! (affiliate link)

Can I Make My Oscar Feel Better By Feeding It?

Maybe… but I would not recommend it feeding your oscar while it is inactive or stressed because the food might go uneaten. Food left in the aquarium will quickly rot and cause an ammonia spike. Wait for your oscar to return to its normal behavior type before feeding it again.

As an aside, I recommend Hikari Cichlid Gold (affiliate link) as a good staple food for your oscar and I also use Fluval’s Bug Bites (affiliate link) on occasion as a treat.

What About That 1/10 Chance That It Could Be Something Bad?

For most free swimming, midwater fish, laying on the bottom of the tank means something pretty bad is wrong. In fact, most of the time it’s a sign your poor fish might not make it.

So, how do you tell if your oscar is just sulking or if it’s a serious health issue?

Well, if your oscar acts up only when you mess with its tank and then later returns to its normal type of behavior, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about.

If your oscar doesn't show secondary signs of sickness, then it laying on its side probably isn't anything to worry about.
By Ashish Ghosh, CC BY-SA 3.0,
If your oscar doesn’t show secondary signs of sickness, then it laying on its side probably isn’t anything to worry about.

And on the contrary, if your oscar fish spends long amounts of time on its side at the bottom of the tank then it might be a problem that warrants more consideration. Have a close look at your oscar and check for other signs.

Does it have small holes on its head? Very small holes are just sensory pits, but larger small holes are signs of HITH (hole in the head) which is a bacterial infect.

Is your oscar breathing very fast? Or, is your oscar breathing slower than usual? These can also be signs of something more serious.

Also check for parasites and fungus. Are there flukes on the gills? Or long stringy bits of poop in your tank? And how about fuzzy white patches? Are your oscars eyes cloudy? If your oscar hits any of these warning signs then consider treating it with the appropriate medication.

Have You Ever Heard Of “Short Body” Oscars?
Further Reading On Cool Fish Network
Recommended Products
guide oscar tank mates

Header Image Credit
By Jón Helgi Jónsson (Amything), CC BY-SA 3.0,