By Aaron Guzman

Garra Rufa

Garra Rufa – the “Doctor Fish”

Most aquarists in need of an algae eating fish will seek out some variety of Plecostomus. But for those in search of more personable and unique characteristics in an algae eater, the Garra Rufa may be the perfect choice. They may not be the easiest fish to obtain, but they are fascinating additions to the freshwater aquarium.


General Information about Garra Rufa

Garra Rufa, also known as Doctor Fish or Garra Logsuckers, originate from various regions in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, including Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

Garra Rufa are excellent algae eaters

Garra Rufa are peaceful community fish and excellent algae eaters.

Though they are hardy and capable of tolerating cooler waters, Garra Rufa are a tropical fish and will prefer such conditions. Unlike most algae eating fish and bottom feeders, Garra Rufa are rarely sedentary and will frequently swim the entire region of the aquarium. They are very peaceful and should be kept with other peaceful fish in community aquariums.

Specialized medical procedures have formed around the husbandry of Garra Rufa. These “Doctor Fish” are being used in clinics to help clean and remove skin infected with psoriasis, while leaving healthy skin intact. While not a cure for the disease, Doctor Fish have been noted as being an effective therapeutic treatment for temporary alleviation of symptoms. Because of their success in the medical field, their use has become progressively more widespread.

Doctor Fish are used to treat psoriasis

Doctor Fish are gaining in popularity, especially in spas and treatment centers across Europe.

Unfortunately, Garra Rufa rarely breed in captivity. When they do, they act like typical egg scatterers. The parents must be removed to avoid predation upon the eggs. Males can be identified by their tubercles and they tend to have longer pectoral fins than female Garra Rufa.

These days most breeders and clinics resort to hormone injections to initiate spawning between Garra Rufa. There is much controversy over the ethics of this approach—not simply because injections and the introduction of hormones are an unnatural method for initiating breeding, but also because of the pain and physical damage the fish must endure.


Housing Garra Rufa

Garra Rufa can reach a maximum length of 16 centimeters (about 6-7 inches). While they are not the largest fish, they should be provided with plenty of swimming space and hiding places. They should be kept in an aquarium of at least 30 gallons.

Garra Rufa are active algae eaters

Garra Rufa are active algae eaters and sometimes latch onto other fish.

Garra Rufa are a peaceful fish and should be kept with fish that possess a similar temperament. Much as their common name suggests, Garra Logsuckers enjoy sucking onto and eating algae from various objects, including other fish. While this is not necessarily an act of aggression, the Garra Rufa can inadvertently cause damage to fish by either sucking off their slime coat or even removing scales. Garra Rufa will most likely target larger, slow-moving fish. As such, these types of fish should be avoided as tankmates.

Garra Rufa can tolerate a range of water conditions and temperatures. PH should be maintained at 7.0 (neutral) and temperature should be held constant between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (18-30 degrees Centigrade).


Feeding Garra Rufa

While typically sold as algae eaters, Garra Rufa are not picky when it comes to other foods. They are omnivores and will require a balanced diet. Algae and comparable vegetable mater should compose the core of their diet. Algae wafers, spirulina, and seaweed are great choices. Pieces of zucchini and unsalted green beans are also great choices.

Garra Rufa are used for treating psoriasis.

If you give them the chance, Garra Rufa will clean the dead skin from your hands, as they do with psoriasis patients in clinics.

Occasionally meaty foods should be included in the diet. Pieces of fish flesh, shrimp flesh, and live foods such as bloodworms, blackworms, and brine shrimp are all happily accepted. If live foods are not available, make use of frozen substitutes.

Garra Rufa are an intriguing species. They are hardy and capable of living within a range of conditions and communities. While there is a rising demand for this fish, great challenges revolve around its breeding and husbandry. Until these issues are resolved, many ethical and moral debates will surround the Garra Rufa.


Source: Baensch, Hans; Fischer, Gero. Aquarium Atlas Photo Index. 2nd Edition. 1997.


Photo Sources (top to bottom): Dances, Michelle Jo, Dina Middin, Giniro, U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chelsea Kennedy


8 thoughts on “Getting to Know Garra Rufa

  • April 7, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Hi there, I want to buy about 1000 or 2000 garra rufa fishes, do you know where can I buy them? Or do you have some? Thank You!

    • April 21, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      That’s a great question. As far as I am aware, no one in the nation is currently breeding Garra Rufa. In order to aquire the quantites you are looking for you are either going to have to contact a fish warehouse or distrubutor, or you will have have to make direct contact with an exporter.

      For example, Seagrest Farms lists them in their catalog:

      Please let me know what you find! I too would like to purchase a large lot of Garra Rufa.

      • February 10, 2016 at 5:50 pm

        I have those doctor fishes and i am lucky to have them. Further I have put them with Koi.

  • July 8, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I was thinkin about getting some garra rufa fish and I was wondering if they were freshwater or saltwater. Thanks.

  • October 10, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I purchased several Garra Rufas off of Ebay. I have them on my deck in a wine barrel. I converted into a barrel pond. I LOVE them! Such a great peaceful happy addition! They get along great with my Least Killifish, and freshwater shrimps! After a day of gardening. I gently put my hand in the barrel, and they all come and give me the best manicure! They so docile and friendly! My grandson loves them too! He puts his hands in and get ‘kisses’ !
    I have to agree…yes..very easy to take of..I do have a filter, air hose and heater, plus
    live plants and cholla wood. I also have LED colored lights. Beautiful at night!!!!!

    • December 20, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Maggie, can you post a picture of that set up please, sounds amazing!

  • January 14, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    My dr fish have had babies I’ve counted but am sure there are more….from what I’ve read on here about breeding I’ve been very lucky….I’ve had the adults for about 6 months so I know that female wasn’t pregnant when I brought her. …

    • January 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm


      Could you please post or email me some pictures of your baby doctor fish and your setup? Please give us as much detail about your current project and how you got these fish to spawn. I would be happy to share them on this website.

      From my research and experience, doctor fish are notoriosly difficult to breed in captivity, which is why the major markets (like china) make heavy use of hormones.

      Keep us posted! I am exicted to hear about your progress breeding Gara Rufa!


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