Do Aquarium Fish Get Bored (or Lonely) in A Fish Tank

By Jecinta Muturi @aquariawise

Do Aquarium Fish Get Bored (or Lonely) in A Fish Tank

Do aquarium fish get bored in a fish tank?

This is a question that many fish enthusiasts ponder.

Some people believe that fish can get bored in a tank, while others think they don’t because fish are constantly interacting with their environment.


The answers and results from the limited research vary and is barely conclusive.

In my experience, though,…

Fish do not get bored like other pet animals, such as parrots and mammals. Fish are more likely to become stressed when the tank environment is not optimal but not bored. Aggressive and self-harming behavior resulting from boredom is also rare in fish.

That said,…

There is plenty to explore about fish behavior, including stress and boredom.


In the remainder of this blog post, we will find out whether or not aquarium fish get bored in a tank and try to come to a compelling conclusion.

Do Fish Get Bored in Small Tanks

As noted above,…

Fish do not get bored in aquariums, even inside small tanks, but they can become stressed. They will interact with their environment and enjoy swimming in caves, decorations, and toys inside the tank but not process complex emotions, such as boredom, even if the toys are removed.

Evidence only shows that fish can be stressed and become aggressive and unsettled in the wrong environment.

If given a choice between two identical tanks, fish will often change their behavior depending on the water conditions in each tank, remaining active in the correct parameter and skittish or sluggish in the wrong setting.

In the appropriate tank, the fish will swim around and explore, while in the other, they stay in one spot. The fish may stress-swim in circles or up to the surface more often than usual in the tank with a less-than-ideal environment.

A better way to look at it is by studying boredom in other pet animals and comparing it to fish.


Boredom is characterized by an emotional state where an animal has insufficient stimulation and often resorts to repetitive behavior, which may be self-harm or annoying notes Atomfullerene on this Reddit post.

He continues to say that this behavior often diminishes when toys or a companion are provided, which is not apparent in fish.

Unlike a dog that will bark for hours-on-end or a parrot that will self-harm when bored (not stimulated), your fish will swim merrily in the tank unless the water parameters are off.

Do Fish Get Bored or Lonely

As observed through the length of this post, fish do not get bored or lonely in the sense other animals do. They do not process complex emotions like most non-fish pets and are more likely to be stressed than bored or lonely.

Moreover, if the environment in a fish tank is not ideal hence stressful, fish do not react to stress through aggression. A stressed fish will stay in one spot or swim erratically, depending on the cause.

In a fish tank with limited oxygen, your fish will swim and stay near the water level, whereas a fish in an aquarium with ammonia or nitrites will gasp, breathe heavily, and swim in a darting motion.

Aggression in fish only increases in events of territorial disputes or to establish a hierarchy and not boredom or loneliness.

However, make sure you keep schooling or shoaling fish in groups. Although a fish will not get lonely or bored while kept singly, it is likely to get stressed since schooling perceives safety and comfort in numbers.

How Do I Keep My Fish Entertained

As a fish enthusiast, you want to ensure your fish are happy and healthy. One way to do that is to keep them entertained. Here are a few tips on how to do that.

First, make sure your fish have plenty of toys to play with. You can buy the toys at the pet store or DIY your own. Some easy homemade toys include tiny caves quarter-filled with sand and pebbles, PVC pipe with holes drilled in it, or hoops.

Second, change up the scenery occasionally. If your tank looks drab, switch out some decorations or add a new plant.

Third, watch your fish. Some fish are more active than others, and some prefer to hang out in specific areas of the tank. Try to observe your fish’s behavior and cater to their needs.

What Do Fish Like to Play With

There are a lot of different opinions on what makes a good toy for a fish, but most fish owners seem to agree on a few key points.

First, fish toys should be durable and stand up to a lot of abuse in the fish tank. It should not be made from materials that will fall apart after wear or release unsafe pieces inside the tank.

Second, the toy should be interesting for your fish, providing different textures and shapes to explore.

And finally, it should be safe, with no sharp edges that could harm the fish.

There are a lot of different toys on the market that fit these criteria, but here are a few of our favorites.

A mirror. It allows fish to see their reflection and play peek-a-boo with their image, but don’t let fish aggressive tankmates that look alike, such as betta, get used to the mirror because it can cause long-term stress.

Leaf hammocks and marimo moss balls are ideal for slow fish since the items do not move a lot. But if you want to stimulate your fish a little more, you can place a ping-pong ball for them to knock around.

Some fish, like betta, can learn tricks, so you may also want to add activity toys like hoops and ping-pong balls.

For bottom fish that enjoy foraging and exploring the bottom of the tank, such as cichlids, add a few stationary toys, such as hideaway pipes, coconut huts, caves, and rock formations.

Perhaps one last thing to kick out boredom is to keep schooling and shoaling fish in groups. Create a community with fish that accept tankmates but observe stocking and pairing rules.

For fish that prefer being alone, such as male bettas and pea puffers, add plants and the recommended toys to keep them happy.

That’s all for this post.

I hope that we’ve answered your question sufficiently.

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