Garra Rufa “The Doctor Fish”: Care Guide

Species Snapshot

  •     Species Name: Garra Rufa
  •     Common Names: “Doctor Fish”, “Pedicure Fish”
  •     Size: 4-5”
  •     Lifespan: 6-12 years
  •     Native Distribution: Eurasia (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan)

Whether you’ve come across this “doctor” on social media, or have known about its grazing methods being in a hobby, the Garra Rufa is a fun, interesting fish to add some cleaning expertise without needing a medical degree. The origin of the nickname “Dr. Fish” lies outside of the aquarium hobby, where the fish is sometimes utilized for its (questionable) ability to eat dead skin cells at beauty spas and clinics that specialize in treating skin conditions. In the aquarium trade, it is known for its algae-consuming hobby, making it an excellent addition to planted tanks and tanks suffering from algae overgrowth. 

Anatomy and Appearance 

Garra Rufa has a minnow-like appearance, with a scaleless head, two pairs of barbels, and a crescent-shaped mouth. The species as a whole have a relatively thin, long, and rounded cylindrical structure. As it is often found in clear, swiftly-flowing, highly-oxygenated waters, this body type and build allow it to avoid being swept away in the current. Regarding body and fin coloration, this can be highly variable, but most populations have a dark-colored spot near the upper extremity of the opercle and another on the caudal peduncle (which tends to be more prominent in young individuals). Male specimens are generally more slender and smaller than their female counterparts, with longer pectoral finds. During the mating season, males develop bridal buds on the top of their mouths & cheeks, making identification between the two genders easier.

Ideal Tank Setup

Temperature: 60-75

pH: 6.0-8.0

gH: 6-16

Ideal tank size: 30 gallons (for a small group)

Given its natural habitat of fast-flowing, highly oxygenated waters, the Garra Rufa would fare well in a tank with good filter flow and oxygenation. In regards to the substrate, these fish would prefer a smoother, rounded type such as soft sand or fine-rounded gravel. Medium-high brightness lighting is ideal as it will encourage algae and biofilm growth on surfaces to promote natural feeding and grazing behaviors. Aquascaping the aquarium with rockwork and wood will help break up potential line-of-sight territorial disputes. They do enjoy having some shaded areas throughout the tank, hardy plants such as groups of Anubias can withstand the curious grazing of Garra Rufa while also providing some shade. One often overlooked behavior is that these fish are excellent escape artists, crawling up the sides of the aquarium glass with ease. As such a tight-fitting lid on the tank without holes will help ensure none perform any Houdini acts!

The doctor fish.

Diet and Feeding

While algae and biofilm are considered the main sustenance for these fish, their diet in captivity will need to be supplemented with other food sources as solely relying on naturally occurring foods will result in some very hungry fish! Additional feeding with algae wafers, spirulina, Repashy, and fresh fruit & vegetable offerings should all be considered when feeding your Garra Rufa. Of course, meaty dried, frozen, and live offerings will be readily consumed and welcomed particularly if one is interested in encouraging breeding behavior.

Temperament and Tank Mates

While primarily a peaceful fish, Garra Rufa has been observed to fight with members of its kind to establish a pecking order if kept in a group in small quarters. Therefore, ensuring ample space with obstacles present to break up the line of sight can help prevent skirmishes from occurring. They are also boisterous feeders, so slower-moving fish can sometimes be left a little hungrier than they’d like if they aren’t up to the task. However, Garra Rufa is mainly known to be playful and curious, darting around the tank exploring and interacting with all kinds of inhabitants. They enjoy hiding and resting amongst plants, rocks, and wood alike so a varied aquascape with numerous nooks and crannies is encouraged.


As of this writing, the Garra Rufa has not been known to be bred in the home aquarium but continues to be bred commercially via hormone injection. In the wild, they are egg scatterers, with the parents not being the most attentive caretakers, at times consuming their eggs and fry.

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