Do Fish Get Bored Living in a Tank? Facts You Should Know


Have you ever wondered, “do fish get bored living in a tank?” Fish most likely get a little bored in their tank from time-to-time, but that’s a normal part of life. Whether or not fish are under-stimulated to the point where they become unhealthy depends on the specific situation and is up for debate among experts.

Like humans, fish can become bored if their tank does not provide them with enough simulation. As long as the fish is fed, exposed to social interactions (if needed), and provided some environmental stimulation, they will likely be healthy, happy fish.

Do Fish Get Bored Living in a Tank

Fish Need Stimulation

Just like us humans, stimulation is essential. For example, if a schooling fish is kept alone in a tank, then yes, it will become bored and start to act unusually. Socialization is so vital for schooling fish that some will become so stressed that they die prematurely. So having a proper environment in your fish tank is essential to your fish’s health and longevity.

Fish Boredom Isn’t Exactly Like Human Boredom

If you’re worried about if your fish gets bored living in a tank, keep in mind it’s a different kind of boredom. 

Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, we should consider the point that fish and humans are vastly different animals and fish do not experience emotions as humans do. For example, some think fish swim up and down the glass in their tank because they are bored, which is their pacing way. 

But fish are most often observed doing this following a change in tanks, so it likely has more to do with stress than boredom.

Point being, the question of do fish get bored living in a tank might not be the right question to ask. Perhaps ensuring your fish get a healthy amount of regular stimulation is a better way to look at it.

How Do You Know if Your Fish is Getting Bored?

So that begs the question, how do you know when your fish is getting the right amount of stimulation? It begins with understanding your fish. Like people, different fish will have different needs. Even though having some information about what that fish species tends to need, it’s essential to keep an eye on your fish and make sure they’re healthy.

Going back to the schooling fish example from earlier, it’s key to know whether your fish needs a companion or two before taking it home. While you’re standing at the pet store, a quick Google search will tell you whether your fish is okay with being alone or not. This is one of the most significant contributing factors to your fish tank’s environmental health.

However, whether the fish is schooling or not isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to socialization. Like humans in this instance, how sociable different species of fish are exists on a spectrum where some fish aren’t very social except during spawning time. Or they are social within their species but attack fish of other species, and a plethora of social behaviors in between.

The main takeaway here is the need to cater to the fish species you have. On top of sociability, fish need a certain amount of space to stay healthy, even more so if there are multiple fish in the space. So, odds are the classic goldfish bowl is not going to provide enough space for your fish.

Environmental Stimulation

Even with the right size tank, having a fish in an otherwise empty glass box could cause them to become bored. Most fish do not require a lot of stimulation, but they at least need some. Adding things like aquatic plants and some small structures for your fish to explore are all that’s needed in most cases to keep your fishes brain stimulated and healthy. It’s even better if you’re able to rearrange the aquarium every few weeks to a month.

This is another area where having social fish can be beneficial too because other fish in the tank are reliable means to keep one and other stimulated for their entire lives.

What Does a Healthy Tank Look Like?

A healthy aquarium should be like a micro-ecosystem in your home or office where fish, plants, and aquatic bacteria are all in rough equilibrium. If you think of it that way, meeting your fish’s environmental needs can make a lot more sense, but let’s go over the basics one should consider before getting their first fish.

  • Consider the kind of fish you’re getting. How much space does it need? Does it need to be around other fish?
  • If other fish are needed, how much space do they need?
  • Do my fish have places within the tank to explore and hide in?

Some Argue That All Fish Kept in Tanks Are Bored

It should also be mentioned that some sources, like the Animal Welfare Institute, argue that all fish kept in tanks are chronically bored because a tank cannot provide nearly as much stimulation as a natural environment does.

While they do have a point, it seems like fish don’t become any less healthy than they are in the wild when they are given the things that they need to be healthy. So this debate winds up becoming an ethical one rather than an argument about what’s better for the fish. That said, their point is entirely valid and worth considering if you’re thinking about getting fish as pets.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of factors to consider before diving into the world of fish ownership. Having concerns about whether your fish is bored or not is a completely normal part of the process. And getting informed on the subject is the right first step towards having an aquarium full of healthy, happy fish.

The most important things to consider to ensure your fish are as healthy as they can be are the tank’s size, the number of fish, and some things to interact with inside the tank. As long as these needs are met, you can be confident that your fish will not get too bored. While it’s normal to be bored sometimes, chronic under-stimulation can be unhealthy; even in fish.

Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

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