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Can a Jack Dempsey and an Oscar Fish Live Together?

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I enjoy pet fish and have kept a variety of smaller and larger species. I am particularly fond of cichlids.

Find out whether these two aggressive cichlids can get along.

Find out whether these two aggressive cichlids can get along.

One of the banes of any fishkeeper's life (and perhaps one of the joys, too) is putting together a tank of fish that don't slaughter each other. Large cichlids, such as Jack Dempseys and Oscar fish, are known for levels of aggression from mild to very aggressive. So, can you keep them together? The answer is yes, providing a couple of conditions are met.

How to Keep Jack Dempseys and Oscars in the Same Tank

Here are some pointers on creating a harmonious tank for these two cichlids.

1. Get a Big Tank

First of all, the tank must be large enough. A 55-gallon will only just cut it, and many would say that's still not large enough, and a 90-gallon is needed. Space is important to fish and being crowded only increases aggression amongst already aggressive cichlids.

2. Ensure the Tank Has Abundant Hiding Places

If you are going to keep aggressive cichlids together, make sure that they have plenty of room. Make sure, too, that there are hiding places for both fish. If you have more cichlids in the tank, ensure that they have hiding places as well. Cichlids like to be able to hide, so rock caves and other places to hide are an absolute must.

3. Keep the Sizes of Your Fish in Mind

If you design your tank carefully, you can provide spaces for smaller fish to retreat when they are threatened by larger fish. As a rule of thumb, you should never put fish small enough to fit in an Oscar's mouth in the same tank as an Oscar if you are not prepared to lose them. And when I say lose them, I mean see them killed by the Oscar.

Oscar fish are carnivorous, and whilst they are happy to eat pellets, which is their recommended diet, they will eat smaller fish if the smaller fish hangs around long enough to be eaten. Some red tail sharks can live with Oscars, because they tend to be zippy, predator-aware fish who do well in amongst larger, more aggressive fish—but one day, they may be cornered and consumed, so if you are particularly attached to them, remove them from the tank.

4. Know How to Interpret Hiding and Bullying

Returning to the subject of the Jack Dempsey and the Oscar fish, JDs tend to be more retiring in general, so you can expect to see a great deal more of the Oscar than you do of the JD. This is entirely normal behavior, and it is not a result of the Oscar 'scaring' the JD. Now, depending on size and temperament, a JD may try to bully an Oscar. Some are even successful; others not so much.

My Experience With My Own Fish

In my case, I have a larger Oscar fish and a JD about half the size. This has proven to be a fairly successful mix. Whilst the JD did try to bully the Oscar at first (the Oscar was a late addition to the tank), the Oscar quickly showed him who was boss. Younger, smaller Oscars may fall prey to bullying more easily.

Your Results May Vary

The long and short of matters is that it largely depends on the temperament of the fish, the layout of your tank, and—most importantly—the tank's size.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


lauren on August 20, 2020:

My oscar is being bullied by my larger jd ad a larger convict who are inseparable

Eric on December 29, 2019:

then the oscar gets bullied...

Brodie on March 15, 2018:

What if the JD is bigger?

isaac on November 14, 2014:

I have a ocsar and 2jd one of my jd keep picking with my oscar, my oscar is smaller then my jd,will my oscar be ok?