Angelfish Scales are Peeling Off – Causes & Solutions

Novice hobbyists will sometimes face some unexpected situations when caring for their angelfish. Once such situation refers to the fish losing its scales, since that’s not a normal sight in any fish tank.

So, should you expect your angelfish to lose its scales and what are the causes for that? Let’s see!

Do Angelfish Shed Their Scales?

No, angelfish don’t shed their scales like reptiles or insects. The scales actually play an important role in the fish’s health. The accomplish 2 primary things:

  1. Protection – Fish scales are made of a combination of enamel and dentine, which are 2 of the materials that form teeth. They are strong but also flexible and will form a flexible armor, protecting the fish against predators and parasites. The fish will also secrete mucus that will spread all over the scales, making the fish slippery and hard to catch.
  2. Smoother locomotion – The scales improve the fish’s speed through the water. They achieve this by providing the fish with a smooth, mucus-covered surface that reduces water friction and improves aquadynamic. So, the fish will move faster and smoother through water, using its speed to outswim various predators.

Scales can be removed individually, but their absence will impact the fish’s protective mechanisms and impact its swimming capabilities. So, fish don’t shed their scales on purpose. If your angelfish is losing scales, you need to investigate the situation asap.

5 Reasons Angelfish Scales Are Falling Off

There are several reasons why angelfish lose their scales:

– Physical Damage

This is the exclusive result of bumping or rubbing against sharp or rugged water decorations. The fish may experience cuts, punctures and lose its scales in the process. This problem isn’t unique to angelfish either. Many other fish will struggle to preserve their bodily integrity in heavily decorated tanks. Bettas are a good example with their wide and long fins, always prone to such incidents.

This problem is more prevalent among novice aquarists who put more value on aquascaping than on their fish’s health. Volcanic rock is a usual culprit since it often comes with jagged edges that could slice the fish’s fins, tail, or body. Some driftwood species come with similar problems. The Spider, Manzanita, and Tiger driftwood species are of significant concern due to their sharp and long branches.

Solve the Problem:

You basically have 2 options here that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Firstly, avoid dangerous tank decorations, to begin with. Settle for safer options since the fish’s health and bodily integrity is more important than several extra esthetic points.

Secondly, you can doctor the elements yourself. Polish the rocks’ jagged edges and cut and smoothen out the driftwood and other decorations. This will make them safer for your fish to avoid any injuries in the long run.

– Aggressive Mates

Angelfish are a semi-aggressive species that can handle itself in a community tank. However, they will only grow up to 3-4 inches, so they can easily become the victims of bullying. Larger, more aggressive, and more powerful fish will bully, attack, and even eat the angelfish in some cases.

In many cases, injuries can also be seen due to poking or the angelfish looking to escape the attack and bumping into rocks in the process. Not to mention, constant bullying and tension will stress the angelfish, negatively impacting its appetite, behavior, and immune system.

So, your fish may experience health problems as a result.

Solve the Problem:

Only pair angelfish with other species similar in size and behavior. They should share the same preferences for water parameters and food to ensure prosperous cohabitation. Some compatible options include dwarf cichlids, dwarf gouramis, plecos, mollies, and other angelfish.

Avoid overly shy fish since your angelfish will bully them.

– Infectious Disease

If your angelfish is losing scales due to an infectious disease, the situation is rather grim. Ich is such a condition, but other bacterial or parasitic disorders might be responsible as well. If your fish starts to lose its scales, consider the following:

  • Quarantine the fish immediately – Most fish conditions are viral, so they will spread to other fish fast. Quarantine is necessary to prevent the spread and give you time to assess the fish’s condition.
  • Diagnose the illness accurately – This may be easier said than done, considering that many fish disorders are deadly in late stages. They also share many symptoms, causing confusion among novice aquarists trying to separate them accurately and fast.
  • Provide optimal water conditions – The sick fish will be housed in a hospital tank which needs to provide optimal water conditions. These include 0 ammonia and nitrites, stable temperatures and pH, and high oxygenation. You may need to complete daily partial water changes to keep the angelfish’s habitat stable, safe, and clean.
  • Ensure optimal treatment – The treatment’s profile will depend on the disorder’s nature and specifics. Either way, adding a bit of salt or using a water conditioner will benefit your fish visibly. These will promote mucus production, boosting the fish’s natural healing capabilities. A good water conditioner will also imbue the water with the necessary vitamins and minerals your fish requires to remain healthy long-term.

Depending on the condition, you may need to use antibiotics, in which case I recommend speaking to a fish professional. This will help you avoid any potential problems related to misusing the medication.

– External Parasites

External parasites are common in fish and are generally dangerous since they can kill their host and spread to other fish fast. Hexamita, Ich, and Gill Flukes are notable mentions here due to how common, and aggressive they are. Your fish will display specific signs when infected with a skin parasite.

Some of these signs include scratching behavior, loss of appetite, weight loss, red and inflamed gills, excessive skin mucus, etc. In some cases, you can actually observe the parasite moving on the fish’s skin. In this case, immediate treatment is necessary to combat the problem.

Solve the Problem:

When it comes to dealing with skin parasites, consider the following treatment methods:

  • Quarantine – This is self-explanatory since we have already discussed the benefits of quarantining the sick fish.
  • Increase water temperature – This one is tricky since the increase in water temperature may affect the fish. Increasing the tank water temperature will speed up the parasite’s life cycle and improve the treatment’s effectiveness. Ideally, you should boost the water temperature to 85-92 F, so long as your angelfish can take it. I recommend increasing the water temperature by 1-2 degrees F daily until you reach the target values. Don’t spike water temperature suddenly since that will kill your fish.
  • Daily water changes – Changing 20-25% of the tank water daily is essential to disrupt the parasite’s life cycle. The water change will eliminate the parasite’s eggs floating in the tank water, along with any pathogens that have already detached from their host.
  • Salt – Most skin parasites cannot survive when salt is added to their environment. For instance, in the case of Ich, one teaspoon of salt for every 5 gallons of water is enough to eradicate the parasite. These values may vary for other organisms, so I advise consulting with a fish vet to pinpoint the most effective approach.
  • Antibiotics – These may be necessary in case your fish shows signs of secondary infections. These are actually common when dealing with skin parasites since these worms cause skin ruptures that function as gateways for various bacterial microorganisms swimming in the water.

You should also provide your angelfish with a clean and balanced diet and monitor its progress daily. I recommend keeping the fish quarantined for about 3-4 weeks to make sure the situation is stable.

– Bad Water Parameters

Polluted tank waters can spell disaster for your angelfish. Ammonia, nitrites, chlorine, dangerous nitrate levels, all these will impact your fish’s behavior and health immediately. The angelfish will first display signs of stress like appetite loss, hiding behavior, apathy, difficulties swimming, etc.

As the situation progresses, the fish may also exhibit red skin patches, bloody gills, severe weight loss, bloating, etc. When that happens, the situation is rather extreme, and your fish may die.

Solve the Problem:

Consider the following:

  • Perform frequent water changes, preferably weekly, depending on how many fish you have and the tank’s size
  • Remove fish waste and food residues whenever necessary
  • Keep the environment clean to prevent algae deposits
  • Have a water test kit ready at all times to monitor relevant water parameters

These steps will keep the tank water clean, clear, and well-oxygenated and boost your angelfish’s quality of life and lifespan.

Will Angelfish Regrow Its Scales?

Yes, angelfish will regrow their scales if you correct the problem leading to them losing the scales in the first place. Angelfish are hardy creatures and will heal relatively fast.

Assess their problem, correct it, and the fish will regain their scales shortly.


Angelfish are adaptable and hardy for the most part, but even they will face some health issues occasionally. The fish’s scales are vital to its survival since they protect against parasites and predators and improve its swimming capabilities.

If your fish is starting to lose its scales, assess the problem immediately. This will prevent the situation from escalating and provide your fish with immediate treatment to reverse the damages.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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