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Do Puffer Fish Need More Oxygen?

You might have seen a news report stating that pufferfish hold their breath when they are inflated. And while they are inflated they acquire oxygen by absorbing it through their skin.

Instead of normal breathing through the gills, an inflated pufferfish absorbs oxygen directly from the water through its skin. This helps it compensate for the oxygen debt that is created when the fish is forced to stop breathing while it is puffed up.

This makes us wonder do puffer fish need more oxygen than other fish species and whether all puffers need an air stone or air pump in the tank.

Do Puffer Fish Need More Oxygen?

a couple of puffer fish swimming
A couple of puffer fish is swimming | Credit: User10095428_393 / Canva.Com

The fact is that well-established tanks will usually have the optimum conditions necessary for a pufferfish to survive. So, you already might have a filter, aquatic plants, and perhaps, even a pump to take care of your pet’s oxygen requirements.

Even if you do not have an air pump, you need not rush out to buy one. Puffers usually only need more oxygen while they are puffed up. And normally, a puffer will only puff up if it is stressed or feels threatened.

Under normal circumstances, a healthy puffer will be able to acquire all the oxygen it needs from the water thanks to the aquatic plants and regular water changes and filtration. 

Naturally, in an overcrowded tank, a pufferfish might not get adequate oxygen. Not just the puffer, but all its tankmates might also show signs of labored breathing and may even come up to the surface of the water to breathe in oxygen. This is a clear sign that your tank is lacking in dissolved oxygen levels.

How to Tell You if Your Puffer Fish Needs More Oxygen

Puffer fish is trying to swim to the surface
Puffer fish is trying to swim to the surface | Credit: marrio31 / Canva.com

There are several signs that indicate that a puffer fish needs more oxygen than it is getting. For one, you might see it gasping for air. Here are some other signs:

Coming to the water’s surface

The concentration of dissolved oxygen is highest at the tank water’s surface. So, a pufferfish coming up to the surface is clearly trying to indicate that it is not getting adequate water from the lower sections of the tank.


A fish gasping – also known as piping – indicates shortness of oxygen. It is a clear sign that your pet needs more oxygen.

However, a pufferfish might even gasp if the ammonia levels in the water are high. High ammonia and nitrites interfere with the functioning of the gills in your fish

So, a pufferfish gasping in the tank or on the surface of the tank could either indicate a lack of oxygen or unsuitable water parameters.

Other abnormal behavior

Pufferfish are normally slow swimmers. But if you see your pet swimming erratically or fast, seems off-balance, or is breathing rapidly and generally acting crazy, then it could indicate a lack of oxygen or some other stress in its environment.

Tests to determine dissolved oxygen levels

It is important to test the oxygen levels in your tank using portable oxygen meters or chemical testing kits. Move the meter’s probe all over the tank to determine areas with low currents and low oxygenation – also called dead spots. 

If dissolved oxygen meters are expensive for you, you could use chemical test kits. Chemical test kits are an affordable way to ensure that all water parameters in the tank, including oxygen, pH, ammonia, nitrates, etc. are up to the mark.

Ensuring there is adequate oxygen in the water is very important for your puffer’s health. So, you might want to test regularly.

RCYAGO Smart Bluetooth Dissolved Oxygen Meter

RCYAGO Smart Bluetooth Dissolved Oxygen Meter
  • Dissolved oxygen refers to the concentration of molecular oxygen dissolved in water, generally expressed in mg/L (ppm) and saturation percentage (%), which is the percentage of dissolved oxygen in 1L of water. when measuring and calibrating, needn't open the protective cover of the electrode, just put the electrode in the solution for measurement.
  • Bluetooth dissolved oxygen meter with accurate real-time Bluetooth data transmission and clear measurement values. It allows you to save, manage and share test data at any time without worrying about data loss.
  • Detachable probe, easy to replace, equipped with 6 probe protective covers. The film inside the protective cover cannot be taken apart. After using for a period of time, the test value is inaccurate and the calibration is still inaccurate, and the membrane sleeve needs to be replaced.
  • Digital dissolved oxygen meter fully customizable parameter settings. set do max or min limit values according to the user's requirement. If testing results are out of range, the digits will display in red, notifying you of any values exceeding your preset range.
  • Adopts the digital screen display with backlight, multi-parameter display at the same time, mobile phone App control backlight display. If it is not used, it will shut down automatically after 10 minutes. oxygen solubility will be affected by temperature, atmospheric pressure, and salinity. our instrument with temperature compensation can meet normal use.

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Factors Affecting Oxygen Consumption

Many factors affect the oxygen levels of an aquarium: your tank’s population, temperature, water filtration, etc. Let us study these in detail:

Tank’s population, size of the fish, and capacity of the tank

If you have several fish in the tank, then the oxygen consumption will be high. All fish need oxygen, so over-stocking will naturally shorten the supply. Moreover, if you have an overstocked tank with several fish, they will all produce waste. Excess waste means more ammonia followed by a depletion of oxygen.

too many puffer fish in one tank
Too many puffer fish in one tank | Credit: gyro / Canva.com

Water temperature and salinity

According to the FDACS, as water temperature increases, the amount of dissolved oxygen it can hold decreases. This indicates that the oxygen levels will vary throughout the day if temperatures fluctuate where you live. 

If you use a water heater to maintain the optimum temperature between 72 and 78 F for your puffer, then the dissolved oxygen levels could decrease as the water warms up.

Similarly, salinity levels can impact the levels of dissolved oxygen – the higher salinity levels, the more they use up the oxygen in the water.

Marina Standing Thermometer, Fahrenheit and Celsius Aquarium Thermometer, 11202

Marina Standing Thermometer, Fahrenheit and Celsius Aquarium Thermometer, 11202
  • Fish tank thermometer designed to sink to the bottom
  • Remains standing in a vertical position
  • Accurate and easy-to-read thermometer
  • Provides readings in Fahrenheit and Celsius
  • Includes safety zone indicator appropriate for most tropical fish

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Supplies in the tank

Live plants in the tank produce oxygen during the day but tend to use up oxygen at night. Also, oxygenation from plants depends on aquarium lighting. In the presence of lighting, plants produce oxygen but in the absence of lights, they contribute to depleted oxygen levels.

If your tank has no-to-low light for prolonged periods, then the plants could deplete the oxygen in the tank.

How to Increase Oxygen Levels in Your Fish Tank

Yellow puffer fish is swimming close to the surface of the tank
Yellow puffer fish is swimming close to the surface of the tank | Credit: Claudia Bunke / Canva.com

There are several ways to increase dissolved oxygen in your puffer fish’s tank:

Add an air stone

A bubble wand or an air stone circulates the air around your pufferfish’s water to improve oxygenation. Another benefit of using an air stone is that it also lifts the water around the tank which causes other unwanted gases produced by your tank inhabitants to be released out of the water.

Uniclife Aquarium Air Pump Adjustable Quiet Oxygen Aerator Pump

Uniclife Adjustable 64 GPH Air Pump 2 Outlets with Superior Fine Bubbles Air Stone Bar Accessories for Aquarium Fish Tank
  • Silent Combination: Extremely quiet operation with multi-level muffler. The superior air stone bar emits fine and silent bubbles.
  • Adjustable Airflow: Feature a pressure knob to control the amount of air for dual outputs
  • Patented air stone bar: It produces micro bubbles and bursts silently on the water surface. Ideal for shrimp and betta tank
  • Steady Output: Deliver 64 gallon air per hour for up to 60 gallon tank with only 4 Watt low power consumption. Max Pressure: 0.016 MPa.
  • All Accessories Include: 6.6 ft. Airline Tube, 2 Grey Air Stone Bar, 2 Non-Return Valve, 4 Connectors and 6 Suction Cups

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Improve the tank’s circulation

Circulating your pufferfish’s tank water is one of the best ways to increase dissolved oxygen. Stagnant water usually has lower levels of dissolved oxygen, so circulation is very important. 

To circulate the water, you can perform weekly water changes, use a HOB filter, or, add an air stone at the bottom of the tank. HOB or hang-on-back filters are very efficient in moving water from one side of the tank to the other.

AquaClear 50 Power Filter, Fish Tank Filter for 20- to 50-Gallon Aquariums

AquaClear 50 Power Filter, Fish Tank Filter for 20- to 50-Gallon Aquariums (Packaging may vary)
  • Aquarium filtration system that offers superior contact time with filter media and energy efficient pump lowers operating costs
  • Quick and easy installation; we recommend that you clean aquarium filter every 2 weeks for maximum operation and efficiency
  • Provides optimal mechanical; chemical; and biological filtration
  • Comes equipped with AquaClear Foam; Activated Carbon Filter and BioMax and Cycle Guard for superior water quality
  • Filtration volume is up to 7 times larger than comparable fish tank filters

Last update on 2022-12-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Aerate the water for surface agitation

Oxygen levels are highest at the surface of the tank. So, it makes sense to agitate the water at the surface so the oxygen gets evenly distributed throughout the tank. Make use of bubblers, wave makers, or spray bars for agitating the water’s surface. Hang-on-the-back or HOB filters also do the trick.

Fluval FX Spray Bar Kit, Aquarium Filter Water Aeration Accessory

Fluval FX Spray Bar Kit, Aquarium Filter Water Aeration Accessory
  • Specifically designed for Fluval FX2, FX4, FX6 High Performance canister filters
  • Increases the amount of oxygen in your tank for healthier fish and plants
  • Distributes water evenly for delicate aquascapes and eliminates dead spots in your aquarium
  • Attaches to your filter outlet with hose adapter (all attachments included), extendable from 25-55 inches (64-140 cm)
  • Increases and decreases surface agitation depending on positioning: Below surface - Place Spray bar below the water to create gentle, consistent water movement; Above surface - Place Spray bar above the water in order to get the best surface agitation and oxygenation

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Avoid overstocking

As mentioned above, too many fish in the tank will reduce the oxygen levels in the tank. Ideally, you must follow the thumb rule of 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. For pufferfish, this thumb-rule changes to 5 gallons per 1 inch of fish since most species of puffers are rather territorial.

Overstocking will cause consumption of all available oxygen, so keep the tank optimally stocked.

Add plants with appropriate lighting

Aquatic plants perform photosynthesis which helps increase oxygen levels. So add several aquatic plants into your tank. However, you must also make sure to also add proper lighting since the combination of low-to-no light with aquatic plants might consume all of the dissolved oxygen.

It is recommended that you provide at least 8-10 hours of light to a planted aquarium to maintain good oxygen levels. Choose the type and size of lights based on the size of the tank, the individual requirements of the chosen plants, as well as those of your species of pufferfish.

hygger 16W Full Spectrum Aquarium Light

hygger 16W Full Spectrum Aquarium Light with Aluminum Alloy Shell Extendable Brackets, White Blue Red LEDs, External Controller, for Freshwater Fish Tank (24-30 inch)
  • 🐠【Ultra Bright Led Light】this aquarium led light is DC12V/16W, 5730 large leds, super bright, makes the aquarium water look more sparkly clean.Suggest for fish tank 24 inch to 30 inch in width, support low-to-mid light level plant growth. Input: AC100-240V/60HZ. Suitable for freshwater aquarium, not for saltwater use
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  • 🐠【Brightness & Timing】 you can adjust the light brightness from 100% to 10% according to your prefer or the light needs of the plants, 5 levels of brightness in total. Besides, on the external controller, you can set the lighting time to 3, 6 or 12 hours by pressing the third button for 1 to 3 times
  • 🐠【Durable Aquarium Light】low profile mounting bracket fish tank light, with aluminum alloy metal shell,has a nice feel and fast heat dissipation. With high-quality leds, energy efficient, can last up to 20000 hours of lighting

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Can puffer fish breathe oxygen?

Yes, pufferfish need optimum levels of oxygen to survive. They breathe oxygen and rely on their gills for oxygen even when they are inflated.

Can pufferfish only inflate 7 times?

For a pufferfish, survival depends on its ability to inflate. Inflating is a survival mechanism so there is no limit to how many times it can inflate. Having said that, inflating is rather stressful to your fish and could weaken it greatly.

Do puffer fish need water to breathe?

Many species of pufferfish live in shallow waters and often come up to the surface of the water to breathe. So, they can breathe in and outside water but they definitely need water to survive.

Conclusion – Do Puffer Fish Need More Oxygen

Pufferfish will acquire most of the oxygen they need from the dissolved oxygen in the tank. In some cases, the water oxygen levels can get depleted and if that happens, your puffer might appear distressed. It might come up frequently to the water’s surface to breathe or may even gasp for air. 

If you notice this, it is time to test the water to ensure optimum oxygen levels. Adding some aquatic plants with proper lighting, a HOB filter or an airstone could help increase the tank’s oxygen levels.

We hope this guide helps you maintain your pufferfish’s tank appropriately.

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