Aquarium fish need the right diet like any pet, feeding them with the right fish food is an important factor to keep your fish healthy and colorful. Deficiency of nourishment and/or vitamin can cause stunted growth and weakness. Fish food today comes in a wide range of formulas for different dietary needs and physical feeding habits that you can choose from basing on your fish types.
- Know your fish types and habits
- Nutritional breakdowns
- Types of fish foods and choosing guide
- Feeding the right amount at the right time
Know your fish types and habits
Carnivore, herbivore or omnivore
Fish diets are specialized; some fish species eat mainly (or only) plants, meats or both. Many fish will not simply adapt to whatever kind of fish food you buy them. This isn’t just a matter of taste because digestive system of each species is designed to digest some certain types of foods. An ingredient list will place its primary components first. For carnivores, make sure that meat based proteins (from aquatic animals) come first, while herbivores should list vegetable based proteins like spirulina or soybean meal first, with no meats.
|Diet Type||Restrictions||Popular Example||Natural Diet||Staple Needs (Daily)||Supplements (3x/week)|
|Carnivore||Derive no/minimal nutrients from vegetation||Bettas, Discus, Anthias||Smaller fish, invertebrates, crustaceans, insects||Fish-protein based (fish meals, squid meals, shrimp, krill)||Fish and invertebrates (avoid mammal proteins except beef heart or similar – which contain saturated fats)|
|Herbivore||Cannot digest meats or most land plants||Otos & Plecos (catfish), some African cichlids, tangs||Live plants, seaweed, algae||Plant-protein based – spirulina, algae, soybean meal||Live aquatic plants, dried algae or seaweed, lettuce leaves, certain blanched vegetables|
|Omnivore||Cannot digest some grains and plants (look for aquatic plants)||Goldfish, Gourami, Clownfish||A variety of animal and vegetative matter||Balance of meat & plant proteins (a good tropical or marine staple)||A rotating combination of meat and vegetable supplements (above)|
Cichlid food is specialized for different cichlid species, including discus food and angelfish food. Fry food for baby fish, guppy food, tetra food, even crustacean food can be purchased. These are “staple” or daily diets, which should be supplemented with regular, natural treats. Betta fish food is a good staple, but Bettas eat mosquito larvae in the wild, so occasional freeze-dried bloodworms keep them peppy!
Most freshwater fish food is for tropical fish if you own goldfish or koi, look for goldfish food or pond fish food designed for cold water metabolisms. If you own fancy goldfish, buy fancy goldfish food they have unique digestive tracts. The gastric system of any goldfish is prone to floating or digestive problems; some goldfish owners make their own foods to supplement commercial choices (more on this later).
If your fish doesn’t have its own tailor-made formula, don’t just grab a general tropical or marine fish food! Within a freshwater or saltwater tank, there can be big differences in dietary needs and feeding habits. Some quick research will tell you fish nutritional needs, as well as tips to encourage feeding!
Base on feeding level of fish, the fish are divided in to three groups: surface, middle and bottom feeders. Aquariums usually contain a variety of fish types, some feed on the surface, others feed in the middle and the others only feed on the bottom level.
- Top feeders such as hatchetfish, zebrafish, guppies, mollies…
- Middle feeders such as neon fish, other tetra fish, tiger barb, other barb fish…
- Bottom feeders and scavengers such as corydoras, other catfish, pleco fish…
It’s very important that you know what feeding level of all your fish, and provide them the appropriate types of floating or sinking foods. Only feeding floating foods is not adequate for an aquarium existing middle and bottom level feeders.
Always look at the nutritional breakdown: the ingredient list and “guaranteed analysis” will give you an idea of how good a fish food is, and how much of it is filler!
|Analysis||Purpose||Recommended for Carnivores||Recommended for Herbivores||Note|
|Fat||Primary source of energy||No more than 8 %||No more than 3%||Avoid saturated fats found in mammals. Marine fish need a special kind of fat, “DHA”, found in marine fish oil|
|Protein||Include amino acids; key to health and growth||around 45%||15-30%||Can come from plant or animal sources; Fry (babies) need 50% or more|
|Fiber||Digestive health||No more than 4%||5-10%||Commercial fish food is often low in fiber for less poop! Carnivores and omnivores don’t need much, but herbivores do, so supplement vegetables to help|
Moisture and Ash: fillers that result from processing. Higher moisture means shorter shelf life. Ash contains essential and nonessential minerals, impurities and pollutants – it is a byproduct of processed bone matter, so diets formulated for carnivores usually contain more. Find the lowest moisture and ash content possible.
Carbohydrates: again, used in processing as binding starches and fillers. Fish do not require carbs to function, though whole wheat is sometimes included as roughage to aid digestion. High carbs cause serious health problems. The lower the better.
Phosphorus: Most fish need minute amounts of phosphorus, less than 0.9%, for proper growth. Any more than this and you are likely to have an algae problem, as algae consume this nutrient to grow.
Calcium: bone and fish meals supply calcium, especially important to bone and tooth health if you have soft water. Good commercial foods supplement it.
Carotenoids, Krill, Spirulina: Krill & Spirulina are natural color enhancers fish normally eat in the wild; carotenoids like beta carotene, canthaxanthin and astaxanthin may be artificially added but don’t have a negative effect. (See testosterone, below).
Testosterone: The male hormone testosterone is added to some commercial fish foods as a color enhancer. It produces unnatural colors and unpleasant physical and behavioral effects. Avoid it and look for one of the additives above instead.
Vitamins: Vitamin deficiencies in fish as in any animal cause serious problems. Lack of vitamin A stunts growth and causes deformities. Vitamins E and A are needed to maintain breeding health. Vitamin K & H are needed for blood to clot and blood cells to form properly. Vitamin C aids digestion, bone and tooth health. Various B vitamins are important to normal growth and digestion.
Good commercial foods provide a mix of vitamins, but the variety needed explains why supplementation is important. Also, vitamin content of dried foods can quickly deplete over time. In addition to providing natural foods, using vitamin-rich additives is a good idea, especially in times of stress like when first introducing fish to your tank, or making any big changes. Vitamin additives are especially important if you feed your fish primarily on a diet of live, frozen or freeze-dried food.
Types of fish foods and choosing guide
Fish with upturned mouths, like Betta, feed at the water surface; fish with down-turned mouths, like catfish, forage along the ground; most other fish feed somewhere in the middle. The marine angelfish’s tiny mouth probes crevices in rock and sponge; feeding with a grid clip simulates this probing activity and encourages proper eating. Look up where your fish likes to eat to determine the format of food it would prefer.
(When choosing food size, use common sense: feed large fish large foods, like large granules or sticks; choose small or tiny foods for small fish, or crumble up larger foods.)
|Food Format||Water Level||Best For||Notes|
|Flakes||Floating||Top Feeders||Shortest retention of full vitamin and nutritional content. Replace every month.|
|Pellets or Sticks||Either sinking or floating||Sinking are good for mid-water feeders; floating good for top feeders, esp. those which find flake texture strange||Usually larger; for larger fish|
|Granules||Either sinking or floating||Sinking are good for mid-water feeders; floating good for top feeders, esp. those which find flake texture strange||Essentially smaller pellets|
|Wafers/Tablets||Sinking||Bottom-feeders and scavengers||Usually made to meet nutrient needs of bottom-feeders|
|Liquids||Circulates through tank*||Filter feeders (e.g. corals, sponges)||Often contain plankton, the microscopic natural diet of filter feeders. Generally for saltwater.**|
|Gels||Usually slow-sinking||Mid-level feeders||Commercial gels often contain medications or ingredients difficult to create homogeneous dried food with.***|
* Liquid foods can also be “directly” fed to your immobile filter feeders using a syringe-style manual feeder to bathe them in the liquid, ensuring that they are getting the full meal, especially in large tanks where it could take a while to get to them. Turn off protein skimmers when feeding plankton. More on this later.
** There are also liquid supplements and appetite enhancers for soaking dried fish food, but these are not foods themselves.
*** Homemade gels are popular with goldfish owners – the wide variety of foods that goldfish will accept includes meats, fruits and vegetables that are available at grocery stores, and the gel format allows you combine these for a balanced diet that won’t quickly disintegrate in your tank. Gels can be easier on a goldfish’s digestive system than some of the commercial choices.
Flake food is the most popular food for fish because of their conveniences such as less expensive, well-balanced when it comes to nutrition and can be easily bought online or in pet shops. Flake foods include every ingredients sufficient for the fish healthy.
Flake food is easy to feed, you simply sprinkle a little flakes over the aquarium water and your fish come up to eat them. There are many flakes for different fish species. Freshwater or saltwater fish, or even each fish species have their specific flakes and the ingredients of each flake are chosen based on the natural diet of each type of fish.TetraMin Tropical Flakes TetraCichlid Cichlid Flakes TetraFin Goldfish Flakes
Pellet, granule and stick
Pellets, granules and sticks include the ingredients similar to flake foods, however, their shapes are different. Pellets and sticks come in a variety of sizes from small to large one. While small pellets fit to the mouth of small fish, larger pellets are suitable for larger fish like cichlid. Some pellets float on the surface level where surface feeders can eat them easily, while others are designed to slowly sink to feed middle and bottom dwellers.
Pellet foods vs flake foods: You can absolutely choose small pellet foods instead of flake foods to feed small fish only, however, larger pellets are more relevant to larger fish such as goldfish, koi fish, flower horn.Tropical Micro Pellet Fish Food Hikari Tropical Semi-Floating Micro Pellets Tetra 77063 TetraCichlid Floating Pellets Tetra 77035 Tetrafin floating pellets for Goldfish Wardley sinking shrimp pellets TetraBetta Plus Floating Mini Pellets for Betta TetraColor Tropical Granules TetraCichlid Floating Cichlid Sticks
Algae wafer is another type of food that have many algae in their ingredients and are specially formulated for a vegetarian diet. Algae wafer foods are designed to sink to the bottom where they provide beneficial ingredients for all bottom feeding fish such as Placos and Corydoras that need more vegetable foods in their diet.
The fish feed algae waferHikari Tropical Algae Wafers for Bottom Feeding Herbivorous Tetraveggie algae wafers
Freeze dried foods
Freeze dried foods derive from plankton, krill, meat, shrimp, squid, and vegetable that are processed by a procedure called as freeze drying to preserve them from decay over time. These foods are highly recommended for fresh water fish because they retain the nutrients of live foods, however, you don’t need to keep or take care of them like fresh foods.Tetra blood worms freeze dried treat Tetra baby shrimp sun dried treat Omega One Freeze Dried Brine Shrimp Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Blood Worms Hikari Freeze Dried Tubifex Worms Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Daphnia
Fresh food, live or frozen
Although, modern artificial foods could even provide the fish with all nutrients needed for their life, many species prefer or only feed fresh food. Fish will be healthier and breed better if they are sometime fed with live foods. If you use frozen fish foods, remember to thaw them before feeding the fish.
Fresh foods exist in two types: live or frozen. Some fresh foods are:
- Brine shrimp, river shrimp
- Water fleas (daphnia), Cyclops
- Worms (black, white, earthworm, tubifex)
- Insect larvae (bloodworms, black mosquito, white mosquito, meal worms)
- Insects (fruit flies, flies, crickets, beetles, back swimmers)
- Feeder fish, snails, frogs and tadpoles
- Egg yolk is also a food for freshwater fish and mixture of it is being dropped in the freshwater.
Another fresh food is micro foods. They are called micro because they can only be seen through a microscope:
- Examples are green water or suspended algae. Infusoria are microorganisms that grow inside aquariums.
- Rotifers are eggs that can be bought at pet shops. These and other protists can be easier to culture or collect than to buy.
The big disadvantage of fresh fish foods is that they could contain harmful parasites, bacteria, or toxins contaminating your aquarium fish. If you want to harvest fresh foods for your fish from the nature, you should clean and rinse them carefully before feeding the fish. If you have no time to do that work, it’s good idea to buy these food types from the well-known fish food brands.
We all know aquarium fish love to eat fresh fish food than dried food and we can easily confirm that by observing how they are happy to see mosquito larvaes rolling in their house. So a diet that combine both daily convenient dried foods and sometime with fresh foods is the best for healthy of the fish.
Feeding the right amount at the right time
In nature, herbivores nibble or graze on various foods throughout the day their tiny stomachs mean frequent, small meals are ideal. (Use a lettuce clip to hang a sheet of dried seaweed, algae, or lettuce into your tank for grazing.) Carnivores, with their large stomachs, may eat one large meal in several days. Fry and young fish need frequent feedings of protein rich foods like brine shrimp.
For herbivores and omnivores, keep feedings small. Feeding once a day is fine, although many aquarists prefer to feed smaller portions twice a day, sometimes even more. Feed as much as your fish consume within 3 minutes, and remove excess food with a siphon or net afterwards. For carnivores, if using a staple food, you can follow the same rule of 3 minutes, remember to supplement 3x a week!
For bottom feeders, distract the rest of your fish to ensure that they get their share. Do this by feeding floating or slow sinking foods to the rest of your fish first, then after a few minutes, dropping in the sinking wafer or tablet. Bottom feeders may need a little longer to get to their food, but you can still remove what isn’t eaten in 5 minutes.
Corals, sponges and other filter feeders that eat liquid diets of plankton should be fed phytoplankton during the day and zooplankton at night – this mimics the natural appearance of these foods on the reef. Both phytoplankton and zooplankton are major food sources for invertebrates in the ocean, so provide them both in the aquarium as well. Turn off protein skimmers when feeding plankton, and use a manual syringe for best results.
Some fish are nocturnal, like most catfish it’s important to know if your fish are, as they’ll only feed at night! (Here’s a general guide to common aquarium species to help you figure it out.) Feed them a little after you turn the tank day lights off. A normal photoperiod day/night cycle is important to normal feeding behavior in all fish.
Overfeeding is more common and more harmful than underfeeding, most fish survive for many days without eating, as they sometimes have to in the wild. Overfeeding leads to rapid pollution of your water, not just dirty or gross, the increase in ammonia when excess food breaks down could actually become fatal. Using an automatic fish feeder can help you control your feeding.
When going on vacation, an automatic fish feeder is simply your best option. Time release food blocks are improving in quality, but there is still a chance of pollution while you are away. If you must use a fish-sitter, pre-measure meals and label them so there is no guesswork. An automatic feeder will be useful not only for vacations, but for your daily routine!