Roger Häggström, 1998
Cichlid Room Companion

Artificial Respiration for Fish

By , 1995. image

Classification: Captive maintenance.

The idea of giving fishes artificial breathing may seem like a strange topic in an Cichlid magazine. But it is a serious matter that one of those days can save the life of your favourite fish.

Everyone that has been engaged in the cichlid hobby for some time, has come across one or two cichlid species that are more delicate than the average cichlid. This happened to me when I bought my first five Sciaenochromis fryeri. Until then I had only had the more robust Mbuna cichlids in my aquariums.

Everything went as expected, the fishes became bigger and bigger and eventually it was time for the spawning. I let the female remain for two weeks in the aquarium after the spawn (my usual strategy) and then it was time for the transfer to a smaller aquarium. As usual I drained 25% of the water from the aquarium, took out all the stones and other decorations and started up the chase of the fish with one net in each hand. My aquarium is big, over 8 feet long, and the fish turned out to be a clever one, so it took some time before I got the female in the net. When I finally put the fish in a smaller aquarium it didn't behaved as I expected it to. It went belly up and was hardly not breathing at all. And as I was looking at is, it became stiffer and stiffer in the body and in a couple of minutes time it was dead. A complete disaster.

I discussed this event with Lars-Erik Forsberg, former editor if the Ciklidbladet and the leading authority in Sweden in the subject of fish- diseases. He told me that this was a stress-symptom that was not uncommon, especially among longish predator fishes like the S. fryeri. This kind of fish has the ability to do short and fast rushes, like a human 100 meter sprinter. And when they do this, they burn their "fuel", glycogen in the white muscle fibres, very rapidly. If, as in the case of my S. fryeri female, they are chased around for some time, all the glycogen in the muscles is burned, with a resulting high level of lactic acid. The high level of lactic acid then paralyses the muscles in the fish, beginning with the muscles in the tail region, and then onwards. When the stiffness reaches the heart of the fish, the fish dies. He also told me that the antidote to the lactic acids is oxygen.

This facts I discussed with one of my friends, Jan-Erik Hägglund, that also kept the S. fryeri at that time. A couple of weeks later he had a S. fryeri female that he wanted to move to a separate tank. The same story repeated itself, the female became stiff and was about to die. Then he thought about the things that we had discussed and came up with a good idea. "Why not grab a hold of the gill covers of this fish and move them manually? This way the fish will get oxygen!." No time to spare, and he started to move the gill covers to and forth. As soon as he started this action he could feel the body of the fish getting softened, and after one minute doing like this, the fish escaped from his grip, completely healthy!

I have tried this scheme myself on a couple of occasions, and it has always worked. The best way of avoiding this kind of problem is of course to catch the fish as rapidly as possible, the problem is that sometimes the fish don't want to cooperate. So, if you ever have problems with fishes going stiff in the net, why not try a little artificial breathing!


Häggström, Roger. (Jul 15, 1996). "Artificial Respiration for Fish". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Feb 29, 2024, from: