Do Angelfish Get Lonely? Can They Get Depressed?

It’s not a shame to love and care for your angelfish. Personally, I treat them as pets who require attention and entertainment. There were even times when I only had a single angelfish and started to wonder whether or not it gets lonely. That was when I began researching that topic a little deeper. In fact, I spent over two days doing so.

Yes, angelfish do get lonely and even depressed. Scientists have previously shown that fish react negatively to a lack of stimuli. Therefore, if your angelfish has no companions and prefers swimming at the bottom, it may indicate it is lonely. To solve this issue, add a few companions to the tank or perhaps even use a bigger one.  

Nevertheless, it is difficult to tell how your angelfish feel since they don’t show any gestures. Therefore, as we move forward in this article, I will show you a few techniques to better evaluate the spirit of your angelfish.

Can Angelfish Get Lonely or Depressed?

This question is challenging to answer, especially for new fish owners. This is because fish are expressionless. You have no way of knowing what they are thinking. Unlike dogs whose facial features change according to their mental and emotional state, fish are blank slates.

Angelfish are no different. Some people argue that this trait is evolutionary, and it prevents fish from displaying signs of illness. This keeps them from becoming the targets of predators that might single them out because they appear weak.

As such, you have no way of knowing whether or not your angelfish is lonely, not without looking for additional signs. But is it even possible for angelfish to become lonely? There are several answers to that question:

  • What is loneliness? For a creature to feel lonely, it must have some sort of awareness that it exists alone in its environment. Once it gains this awareness, it must also experience some negative sensation in response to this isolation.

Everyone knows that angelfish are intelligent creatures that have enough awareness to take note of the presence or absence of other fish in their tank. But would they care if you suddenly isolated them? Yes, they would. Why? Angelfish are a social species.

They prefer to live in groups with other fish, either fellow angelfish or different species. By isolating them, you are forcing them to acclimate to unnatural conditions. This can lead to boredom and then loneliness.

  • Angelfish are susceptible to loneliness, but this isn’t true for all angels. Like all intelligent creatures, angelfish have distinct personalities. While some angelfish might fall prey to loneliness if you isolate them in a tank, others will survive and even thrive all on their own.

Plenty of fish owners will tell you that they keep singular angels in a tank, and they haven’t encountered any challenges. Of course, you can also find fish owners preaching the opposite. You should approach this issue on a case by case basis.

Let your angelfish tell you whether or not it is lonely.

  • Loneliness is dangerous in fish. Some people treat it as a temporary reaction to unexpected isolation. But loneliness has the power to kill your angelfish. It will affect your angel’s appetite. It can also induce stress, a condition that will attract additional physical ailments.

You can’t blame fish owners for dismissing this issue. Loneliness is a dangerous condition in human beings because it can lead to depression. It is from depression that other illnesses and even death manifest.

Fish owners cannot imagine their fish suffering from depression. You can blame this on their bland expressions. Fish owners also believe that those colleagues that diagnose their angelfish with loneliness and then depression are merely projecting.

They are no different from people who believe that their plants can hear them. However, the idea of depression in fish is rooted in science:

  • First of all, you need to understand that medical experts have started using fish to develop anti-depressants. This is because the neurochemistry of fish and human beings is quite similar. Julian Pittman, a Troy University (Alabama) professor, doesn’t need convincing that fish suffer from depression.

He is actively working to develop medical products that can treat depression, and he is using fish to do his research. Julian has an experiment that he uses to prove that angelfish suffer from depression.[1]Opens in a new tab.

He has a tank that has been divided into two sections, namely: the upper section and the lower section. A black line drawn horizontally at the center of the tank is used to demarcate the borders of these two sections.

He uses a zebrafish for his experiments. Whenever the zebrafish is depressed, it will drop to the lower half of the tank. When its spirits rise, it swims to the top. This is proof that fish can experience depression, and the consequences of the condition are physically manifested in their behavior.

Julian doesn’t wait for his test subjects to contract depression naturally. He uses alcohol to induce the condition, but the results of his experiment cannot be questioned.

  • Like human beings, Julian believes that the severity of depression in fish varies, and this can be seen in the amount of time they spend on either side of the tank.

Some people argue that scientists like Julian are confusing depression with conditions like anxiety. But Julian believes that the symptoms his subjects display are an unmistakable sign that they are fighting depression. Not only do they refuse food, but they stop playing and exploring, just like human beings with depression.

Julian doesn’t necessarily say that depression in fish is caused by loneliness. But he argues that a lack of stimulation is to blame. This is what happens when an angelfish is lonely; when it doesn’t have any playmates in the tank to keep it occupied.

If you have ever doubted your angel’s ability to experience negative emotions like loneliness and depression, Julian Pittman’s work has proven otherwise.

How to Tell That Your Angelfish Feels Lonely & Depressed

But now that you know that angelfish can experience depression, how can you identify it in your angels? After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know that it exists. With angelfish, you need to watch for the following signs:

1. Watch Its Colors

Angelfish are known for their vibrant colors. Experts argue that the presence of distressing factors can cause these colors to diminish. If you notice that the colors of your isolated angelfish are growing dim, it might be lonely. Colors can brighten as a result of stress. But if your fish is alone in a tank, you can conclude that loneliness is to blame. That might also be the case with Betta fish.[2]Opens in a new tab.

I’ve previously discussed that phenomenon in a different article; why do angelfish stripes fade and disappear. I highly recommend that you read it if you suspect that is your case. I included there six essential solutions to eliminate that issue and ensure your angels appear with intense, beautiful colors. 

2. Consider Its Activity

As was mentioned above, the activity of your fish can speak volumes about its emotional state and distress.[3]Opens in a new tab. Fish are curious creatures that prefer to spend their days exploring their environment. As such, if previously active angels are suddenly floating at the bottom of the tank, they might be lonely.

That is particularly true when you’ve done everything right, and your angel doesn’t leave the lower sections of the tank. In this article, I talked about it and mentioned all the possible steps you should take to avoid that issue. However, if loneliness is to blame, you probably have to introduce some companions.

3. Eating Habits

Angelfish are voracious eaters. They will eat for as long as you keep feeding them. They do not reject food. In fact, they will fight other fish for their food. For that reason, if your isolated angelfish starts losing its appetite, you can assume that the loneliness is becoming a problem.

Study the tank. Is there uneaten food? Are the angelfish eating at a much slower pace than before? Are they eating less? Are they reacting sluggishly to the presence of food? All these signs should encourage you to find a solution to your fish’s loneliness.

4. Social Interaction

Angelfish are active creatures. Depending on how long you have kept them, once they see their owners, they should react with excitement. This should also happen at mealtimes and in moments where you are trying to engage them by drawing on their tank, tapping on their glass, etc.

In a different article, I talked about whether or not angelfish recognize their owners, and the ultimate conclusion was that they were. If you are interested, I also included there a few techniques to help them see you as their grower and possibly like you even more. 

Angelfish are not like dogs that can leap into your arms in excitement. But they can still interact with you using their bodies, the way they swim and loop and jump and the like. If your angelfish has refused to react to your behavior in any way, you should worry.

If they are not sick, they are probably lonely and depressed. Sickness isn’t that hard to spot. Ill angels are ragged and may feature blemishes or spots. Their fins also tend to fray. You can’t miss a sick angelfish, not if you look closely enough.

What Should I do if my Angelfish Feels Lonely?

Of course, the fact that your angelfish is lonely and depressed rather than being sick isn’t a good thing. That depression and loneliness will eventually lead to illnesses. Once you know that your angelfish is lonely, you should take steps to remedy the situation. Your options include the following:

  • The first solution is the most obvious. If your fish is lonely, add new fish to its tank. If possible, add more angelfish. If you don’t have angelfish, find fish that your angel can live peacefully with. This will immediately solve all your problems. Once the angel has company, the signs of stress will dissipate.
  • If you can’t add more fish, get a bigger tank. Fish are curious creatures. A complex environment can keep them stimulated. Add plants, flower pots, cages, decorations, basically anything that can create the sort of productive environment that will encourage your angel to explore, banishing its boredom.

This cannot happen with a small tank. Angelfish need plenty of room to explore. If it feels like your angels have grown too familiar with their environment, rearrange the entire setup. This will trick your fish into thinking that it has entered an entirely different landscape.

  • Angelfish are pets. And like most pets, you need to play with them. Try placing a mirror in front of their tank. They will spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they are seeing. You would expect the angelfish to recognize its image in the mirror, but your angel doesn’t know what it looks like. 

So it has no way of knowing that it is looking at a reflection. You can also draw on the aquarium. This will entertain your angel. Don’t use a permanent marker. That way, you can rub your drawings off before adding new drawings.

Rather than tapping the glass, trace your finger along the walls of the tank. This will attract the interest of your angel. This probably sounds like a lot of work. But if you cannot find your angelfish suitable tankmates, you must take the responsibility of playing with it to alleviate its boredom.

Conclusions

Angelfish are amazing creatures. However, they do have quite a complex personality. They are widely known for their aggressive temperament, although less is given to their social characteristics. Apparently, they prefer swimming in shoals and might get lonely if presented with no companions in the fish tank. 

The best way to tell that your angelfish is depressed is by observation. If its colors fade and it prefers swimming at the bottom, it should raise your suspicion. That is particularly true when you already took care of the water temperature, pH levels, and feeding schedules. 

In that case, try introducing a few other fish to the tank. Perhaps even get a bigger aquarium for your fish to explore. Hopefully, you will eventually see your fish in its proper shape, with bright colors and a decent amount of energy.

References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/science/depressed-fish.html
  2. https://aquariawise.com/how-to-play-with-betta-fish
  3. https://petcentral.chewy.com/how-to-spot-signs-of-distress-in-your-fish-before-its-too-late/

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