Angel fish are great aquarium fish to have, but oh no, my little angel fish is gasping at the surface, what do I do? Yeah, it can be pretty scary to see your angelfish, or any other fish for that matter, gasping at the surface. So, why is my angel fish gasping at the surface? Does an angel fish need air bubbles?
There are a few causes which can lead to angel fish gasping for air, the most common cause is improper aeration and oxygenation but it can also be due to poor water quality, improper temperature or simply the fish is hungry.
5 Reasons Why Your Angel Fish Is Gasping At the Surface
Yes, it can be a pretty scary sight to find your angel fish gasping at the surface, and no, this is not normal at all.
You may have heard of labyrinth fish. These are fish which have a special breathing apparatus, much like the human lungs, which allow them to breathe gaseous air, just like we do.
However, no, the angel fish is not a labyrinth fish and it can take in oxygen from the air like we can. The angel fish needs to suck in all of the oxygen it breathes through the water using its gills.
So, why is my angelfish gasping at the surface?
1. Not Enough Dissolved Oxygen In The Water
The first and most common reason as to why you might find your angel fish gasping at the surface is because they need to breathe, but there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water.
Since angel fish are not labyrinth fish, they need to absorb all oxygen through their gills from the water. If there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water, they will move to the parts of the water which contain the highest concentration of dissolved oxygen.
Oxygen is a gas, so it rises, which means that the surface of your aquarium will have more oxygen present than the bottom. Therefore, the most likely culprit here is a lack of dissolved oxygen, which then forces your fish to the top in search of more oxygen rich waters.
The easy solution here is to add an air pump and a bubble or air stone in order to oxygenate and aerate the water. Remember that you want the level of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium to be around 8 PPM.
2. Poor Water Quality
Another reason why your angel fish may be gasping at the surface is due to poor water quality. This is especially the case when you do not have a good filtration unit, an old and dirty filter, or just no filter at all.
It can also occur if you have a large population of fish in the tank combined with a filter that is too small and cannot keep up with aquarium filtration needs.
The worst things here are ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, which occur when fish waste, plants, and food are left in the aquarium, break down, rot, and release these substances.
Ammonia & Other Substances
Even small amounts of ammonia and these other substances can be extremely harmful to fish, and usually lethal if left unchecked.
While it is hard to know what fish feel when they swim in waters of subpar quality, with a lot of ammonia, it is assumed that it produces a burning sensation, and makes it very hard for the fish to breathe.
Simply put, they go to the surface in search of cleaner waters and easier breathing conditions.
The simple solution here is to upgrade your filter, or just clean out your old one, replace the media (here are some good media options), and ensure that it can handle the proper amount of water for your aquarium.
3. Bad Water Temperature
The next reason why you might see your betta fish gasping at the surface is due to the water being either too hot or too cold for it to live in comfortably.
Now, this is usually more the case with water that is too warm, but it can also happen when the water is too cold. Just for reference, the ideal water temperature for the angel fish is between 23 and 29 degrees Celsius, or between 74 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Too Hot or Cold
Water that is either too hot or too cold can cause a number of issues for angel fish, as well as for all aquarium fish in general.
As you may have noticed, the angel fish is a tropical warm water fish, so if the water is too cold for it, it might just be looking for an escape to warmer waters. Water that is too cold will more or less freeze your fish, shut down its organs, and eventually kill it.
Water that is too warm, under some circumstances, can be even worse than water that is too cold, and cause even more severe issues for your angel fish.
Either way, if the water is too warm, the angel fish might be looking for a way out so it can cool down, if it is gasping at the top. Do keep in mind that water that is very warm also holds less dissolved oxygen than cooler water, so this could be contributing to the issue as well.
Whatever the case, you need to find a way to get the aquarium water to the ideal temperature for your angel fish.
4. A Lack Of Aeration
One thing to keep in mind here is that there is a difference between oxygenation and aeration. Oxygenation is how much dissolved oxygen is in the water in total. However, aeration is how well that oxygen gets spread around in the aquarium.
For example, the water near the surface might have ample amounts of dissolved oxygen, but you have no water flow going on to move that oxygen around and aerate the whole tank.
This could be another reason why your angel fish are gasping at the surface. The solution here is to get a stronger water pump or some kind of device that creates some water movement so that the oxygen spreads around more, thus creating a fully aerated aquarium.
5. Looking For Food
The other reason why your angel fish may be gasping at the surface, or at least looks like it is gasping, is because it is hungry and looking for food.
Keep in mind that this is by far the least likely cause of your angel fish gasping at the surface, but it is a possibility none the less.
To be fair, it might look like it is gasping, but in all reality, it may just be looking for food.
Of course, the solution here is to ensure that you are providing your angel fish with the right food, and with enough of it too.
Do Angelfish Need Air Bubbles?
The short answer to this question is no, not really. Now, all fish of course require there to be oxygen in the tank. That much is a given.
However, most well kept aquariums will always have adequate dissolved oxygen levels in the water to sustain all fish including angel fish. An aquarium with a large surface area, or in other words, if there is a lot of surface contact between air and water, should be fine.
Moreover, a good filtration unit, especially one with a waterfall, will help to oxygenate the water. Also, living plants will engage in photosynthesis and oxygenate the water too (we have covered our favorite plants for Angel fish over at this article).
If you have some plants, the tank is not overcrowded with fish, and you have a good filter, the aquarium should have more than enough dissolved oxygen within it.
So no, when it comes down to it, your angel fish do not require bubbles, a bubbler, or an air stone. With that being said, bubbles coming from an air stone certainly won’t hurt.
Now, if you have a relatively small fish tank with lots of inhabitants, a low power filter, and not many plants, then yes, your aquarium may not have enough dissolved oxygen for the angel fish, in which case they will need additional oxygen infusion, usually from an air bubbler or air stone.
The bottom line here is that there are a few different reason why your angelfish is gasping, or appearing to be gasping at the surface. It could be because of poor water quality, poor temperatures, because it is looking for food, a lack of proper aeration, or a lack of dissolved oxygen.
As we mentioned at the beginning, the most common reason is related to improper aeration and oxygenation so those are the first causes which you should look at.