Flowerhorn Skin Peeling – Causes and Treatments

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Shedding scales or peeling skin is rare, but not unheard of for Flowerhorn cichlids. Maybe you yourself noticed some missing scales in your fish.

If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about peeling fish scales.

We’ll go over the causes and solutions. I’ll also cover fish regrowing scales and how long it takes. But first, you might be wondering, is this normal?

Is scale shedding something I should be worrying about? Well, to answer your question, we first have to clarify something.

Do Flowerhorns Shed Their Scales?

If you’re wondering whether it’s natural for fish to shed their scales, it’s not! Fish don’t shed their scales under normal circumstances. If you see missing scales on your Flowerhorn cichlids, that’s a sign something’s wrong.

Such shedding is unnecessary and always caused by environmental factors (more on this later).

Still, it’s a common misconception that all scaly creatures must shed their rough skin to grow. This is true for snakes, for example.

So, you might have heard the same about fish. But fish and reptiles are very different, so their scales don’t work in the same way. In fish, the scales don’t impede growth. That’s because they aren’t interconnected and they don’t envelop the skin like in reptiles.

Instead, each fish scale grows out of the skin separated from the others. The scales overlap to form a continuous protective layer. When this protective layer is damaged, your Flowerhorns become vulnerable to attacks from other fish, fungus, bacterial infections, and parasites.

So, if you see this happening, you need to take action right away!

Flowerhorn’s Scales Peeling Off – Causes and Treatments

So, your Flowerhorn fish has missing scales. Don’t worry! There are things you can do to prevent further shedding.

The first thing you’ll have to do is to identify the root cause of the problem. After that, finding a suitable solution is pretty simple.

There are three potential issues you should look into— physical injury, scale shedding disease, and bad water quality.

Let’s take them one by one:

  • Physical Injury

This is the most common cause of shedding in otherwise well-maintained tanks. Maybe your Flowerhorn cichlid is just a victim of vicious bullying. It might have lost some of its scales after being repeatedly bit by other tankmates. If you keep multiple Flowerhorns in the same tank, violent behavior is very likely.

This species is super territorial and always ready for a fight. Keep an eye out for any signs of aggression. If you notice your fish chasing or bumping each other, that’s a sign you’ll have to separate them.

Alternatively, try upgrading to a larger tank, if possible. Each adult Flowerhorn fish needs around 75 gallons of aquarium space for itself. Crammed conditions will cause stress and increase the likelihood of bullying.

Your fish might also accidentally scrape off its scales. Cichlids in general like playing around and interacting with tank decorations. If you have sharp or rough objects in your aquarium, this might explain the injuries. Things like rocks and driftwood look cool, but they’re usually pointy and have sharp edges.

If your Flowerhorns accidentally bump into these, chances are, they’ll get hurt. You should replace the more bumpy pieces in your aquarium with safer alternatives. Acrylic decorations can look very natural but have a smoother texture.

Finally, the substrate might be another possible cause. Flowerhorn cichlids love digging and rearranging the substrate. Sometimes, they might burrow or rub themselves against it.

If you have a rough substrate like gravel, then you’ll need to replace it asap! Your fish might be tearing off their scales while playing with the rough pebbles. I recommend a sand substrate instead. This way, the fish won’t injure themselves while digging.

  • Scale Shedding Disease

Moving onto the next most common cause! Scale shedding disease, also known as “protrusion”, is a quick-acting and often fatal disease in fish. It arises due to a bacterial infection, the culprit being either Pseudomonas fluorescens or Aeromonas punctata.

This bacterial infection affects the skin of the fish. It causes small, fluid-filled sacs underneath the scales. As the inflammation gets worse, the skin texture becomes bumpy and the scales start falling off. This disease has a low survival rate and requires urgent treatment as soon as the first symptoms arise.

Take a close look at your fish. If you notice small bumps or protruding scales, start treatment immediately! Move the sick fish to a different aquarium. A round of targeted antibiotics should get rid of the infection. I recommend Sulfanilamide, Bicillim-5, or Biomycin. Besides fighting bacterial infections in fish, Bicillim-5 is also very useful in disinfecting plants.

Whichever antibiotic you choose, remember to read and follow the product instructions carefully! Because you can’t know for sure where the bacteria came from, you’ll have to disinfect the entire aquarium. I’m talking substrate, decorations, plants, everything.

This will get rid of the beneficial bacterial colonies in the tank, but it has to be done. A 5% hydrochloric or sulfuric acid solution will help with the decorations. For the substrate, I recommend either replacing it completely or boiling it to kill off all the bacteria.

  • Bad Water Quality

Never overlook the importance of water quality! Lots of things can go wrong when the parameters are out of range. Scale shedding is just one of them. Your Flowerhorn fish might also develop skin lesions, burns, digestive issues, and even organ damage.

Keep a close eye on the water quality. I recommend monitoring ammonia and nitrite levels every day. Both values should be 0. Higher numbers indicate there’s something off about your aquarium. If you don’t already, I recommend performing slightly larger water changes— roughly 25% once a week. Check your filter with each water change.

Sponges require frequent cleaning. Rinsing them regularly will keep your filter at peak performance. Also, keep an eye on parameters such as temperature and pH. The pH should never drop lower than 6.0, but should ideally be 7.0. Bump up the water temperature to 85°F if you haven’t already. This will help your fish fight off bacteria and infection.

Can Flowerhorns Regrow Their Scales?

Here’s some good news! In most cases, fish can grow back missing scales! But it takes some time, and you first have to solve the root cause of the issue. Once everything’s in order, you just have to be patient.

Feed the fish as you normally would. Keep an eye on the water parameters and check for any signs of skin injury.

If you notice any redness on the skin, this is a sign of inflammation. This might require some Melafix to treat. Otherwise, everything’s fine.

It’s difficult to say how much it will take. It depends on the age of the fish and the extent of the damage. For some, it might take a few weeks, while others will need a couple of months.

It’s a slow but steady process. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to maintain the tank in pristine conditions! I should mention that sometimes, after extensive damage, the fish might not make a full recovery.

If your fish survives scale shedding disease, it might not regrow all of its scales back.

Some skin areas might remain exposed for a very long time, potentially forever. You’ll need to be very careful about how you manage your aquarium in this case. Such fish will remain vulnerable to further infections and injury.


Shedding is not at all normal in fish. If your Flowerhorns are suddenly missing some scales, you need to take action asap. Otherwise, your fish will become predisposed to bacterial infections, fungus, parasites, and injury from their environment.

There are multiple potential causes of skin peeling in fish. Whether it’s related to aggressive tankmates, bad water quality, or a serious infection, you’ll have to investigate the causes yourself.

Good water quality is very important both for preventing and treating peeling skin and other health concerns.

If your fish already has an infection, you’ll need to start applying antibiotic treatments right away.

Now, there’s at least something positive about all this! After taking care of the cause, most fish will regrow back their missing scales. In no more than a few months, your fish should be back to normal!

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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