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Can fish get their colour back?


When fish lose their bright, vibrant colors it can be alarming for aquarium owners. A fish’s color is an indicator of its health and seeing it fade is usually a sign that something is wrong. The good news is that in many cases, fish can regain their color if the underlying problem is identified and corrected. Proper water conditions, diet, and reducing stress are key to helping fish get their color back.

Why Do Fish Lose Color?

There are several potential reasons why a fish may start to lose its color:

  • Stress – Being stressed can cause fish to lose color. Stressors include bullying from tankmates, overcrowding, and sudden water changes.
  • Poor Water Quality – Issues like high nitrate, low oxygen, improper pH and hardness can all impact color.
  • Parasites or Bacterial Infections – Sickness often causes fading colors as the fish’s body focuses less energy on coloration.
  • Poor Diet – Not getting proper nutrients from their food can lead to pale color.
  • Old Age – Very old fish sometimes start to lose vibrancy as part of the aging process.

It’s important to identify and address the underlying problem causing the color loss. Fixing water quality, treating disease, reducing aggression from tankmates, or improving diet can all help regain natural coloration.

How to Help Fish Regain Color

If your fish is losing color, here are some steps you can take to help it get its color back:

1. Check Water Parameters

Use a water testing kit to check for levels of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, hardness, and oxygen. Compare to the ideal ranges for your particular fish species. A partial water change can help reset any parameters that are off. Make sure to use a dechlorinator any time new water is added.

2. Treat Disease or Parasites

Look closely for any signs of disease like white spots, reddening, torn fins, or swelling. Treat appropriately with medications if disease is suspected. Parasites may also need medications. Quarantine sick fish in a separate tank when possible.

3. Improve Diet

Feed a high quality pellet food with added carotenoids and vegetables for optimal color. Supplement with freeze dried krill, brine shrimp, or spirulina. Variety provides well-balanced nutrition.

4. Reduce Aggression

Make sure tankmates are compatible in terms of species, size, and temperament. Break lines of sight with plants and decor. Add extra hiding places. Remove aggressive fish if needed. Proper schooling numbers can reduce stress.

5. Add Aquarium Salt

Salt can help relieve stress and fight infection. Use 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons. Remove carbon from filters when using salt. Avoid with sensitive fish like tetra species.

6. Use Supplements

Color enhancing supplements with carotenoids or other pigments can temporarily improve color. They are available in flake or liquid form. Follow product dosing instructions carefully.

7. Be Patient

It can take days or even weeks for color to fully return once conditions improve. Allow some time for the fish to recover and relish in a less stressful environment. Their colors should come back on their own.

Tips for Keeping Fish Color Vibrant

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to maintaining bright fish coloration. Here are some general tips:

– Perform regular water changes to keep nitrate low and replenish essential minerals.

– Test water parameters frequently and correct any issues promptly.

– Feed a varied, high quality diet with marine algae, krill, shrimp, spirulina, and other natural ingredients.

– Quarantine new fish before adding to the main tank to prevent disease transmission.

– Reduce crowding and overload filters to allow proper oxygenation.

– Maintain ideal water temperature. Increased temperature can fade some species.

– Use dim lighting or provide hiding places to limit stress.

– Purchase high quality, vibrant fish from a reputable source. Avoid fish that already appear faded.

– Breed selectively for color traits to develop more colorful lineages.

Can Color Loss Be Permanent?

In most cases, if the underlying problem is corrected, fish can regain their vibrant colors. However, there are certain situations where color loss may become permanent:

– If the fade is due to very advanced age, the fish may not be able to regain full color.

– Prolonged malnutrition can cause irreversible loss of color. Scale structure degrades.

– Chronic high stress may permanently inhibit color expression.

– Permanent skin/scale damage from disease can prevent coloration.

– Certain medications like erythromycin are suspected of inhibiting color long-term.

So while most cases of color loss are reversible, it’s important to identify and address the cause early on before permanent damage occurs.

Color Loss in Specific Species

While any fish can lose color when unhealthy, there are some species that are more prone to color changes:


Goldfish are famous for changing color as they age or become stressed. Patches of darker gray or black can appear and disappear. Fancy varieties tend to be more prone than single-tailed types. Their pigment cells migrate as they regenerate scales. Providing proper care and diet should help goldfish maintain best coloration.


Bettas can lose vibrant finnage and body color when unwell. Fin rot is common. Their flowing fins are delicate and require clean water. An unhealthy betta will look pale, washed out, and listless. Fixing water quality and diet helps bring back their jewel-like appearance.

Molly Fish

Mollies can lose color due to hybridization and poor water conditions. Wild caught mollies are usually more colorful than mass-produced breeds. Providing live plants, algae, and a dark substrate helps bring out their best reds, blues, oranges, and yellows.

African Cichlids

Rift lake cichlids are prized for their bright colors. But stress, diet, and water parameters can cause them to lose color. Metallic yellow labs turn white when stressed. Red peacocks look washed out. Good water flow, rocks, plants, and proper tankmates helps keep their colors vibrant.


Rainbowfish get their namesake colors from specialized pigment cells that refract light. When unhappy, these shimmering stripes and spots fade. Species like threadfins, milleniums, and bosemanis need excellent care and high quality foods to really make their colors shine.

Can Color Changes Indicate Health Problems?

Yes, a loss of color in fish is often an early indicator of health problems or environmental stress:

Color Change Potential Cause
Faded body color Parasites, bacterial infection, poor water quality
Loss of metallic sheen Inadequate diet, kidney dysfunction
White spots appearing Ich parasite infection
Red streaks on fins Ammonia burns, septicemia
Black patches Injury, fin rot, melano tumor

Fish colors evolve to communicate health status. Bright vivid patterns indicate fitness. Changes in coloration should prompt aquarists to test water parameters, examine fish closely, and review diet and tankmates. Early action prevents more severe disease and mortality.

How to Safely Add Color

While addressing environmental issues is best, there are some safe supplemental ways to temporarily enhance fish coloration in the short term:

Color Enhancing Food

High quality foods with carotenoids from seafood and produce improve red, yellow, and orange pigments. Ingredients like krill, spirulina, marigold extract, and shrimp provide natural colors.

Blackwater Extract

Leaves, cones, and bark release tannins and acids that chemically alter water, improving brightness of reds and yellows. The blackwater effect benefits some species.

Environmental Enrichment

Subdued lighting, floating plants, dark gravel and natural wood all enhance color contrast. Improved tank decor can bring out a fish’s best colors.


Certain vitamin supplements claim to improve color like beta carotene and astaxanthin. They provide pigment molecules. Follow label directions closely.

Any color aid should be considered temporary. fixing underlying health and environmental issues is still required for permanent color improvement. There are no shortcuts when it comes to fish care!


Losing color is a common problem for aquarium fish, but in most cases it can be reversed. By identifying and addressing the root causes like water quality, stress, nutrition, and disease, fish can regain their natural vibrant coloration. While some loss can become permanent, taking prompt action gives fish the best chance of looking their brightest. A healthy, colorful fish is a sure sign of a well-maintained aquarium.