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Few images summon up quiet beauty the way an aquarium full of colorful fish can. Watching them swim gracefully through their environment, then quickly darting back again gives so many of us hours of enjoyment.
For lot of us fish owners, a simple goldfish or a long finned betta provided our first experience as a pet owner, and it ignited a lifelong enjoyment of our aquatic companions!
Just like all pets — and us — your fish need to eat! Like most fish owners, you want to make sure that you provide a healthy life for your pets and just like a properly maintained aquarium, the right food for your fish determines how positive of a life they will have.
Of course, when you head to the pet store you will walk into aisles upon aisles of fish food. With all the varieties available, how can you know what food will provide the best nutrition for your fish? Below we’ll provide some guidance on what your fish need to thrive. In addition to reviewing the information we also recommend talking to a veterinarian who works with fish to help ensure that your piscine friends get all the nutrition that they need!
A few things to consider
Although many people think of “fish” as one particular kind of animal, remember that you’ll find hundreds of different species living in aquariums around the world. With that in mind, remember that they may not all have the exact same dietary requirements. For that reason, make sure that you do specific research on each species in your aquarium, and consult with an expert if you have any uncertainties. As you consider what your fish will eat, keep the following in mind:
– Freshwater and Saltwater fish may require different foods or feeding schedules
Different fish live in different environments, and thus have varying diets. You’ll want to ensure that the needs of the particular species get met. Additionally. The need for different food isn’t just because of different dietary requirements. Freshwater fish have the ability to survive in more varied environments, while saltwater fish tend to require very specific environments. The wrong food can change the pH balance of the water in your aquarium, to the detriment of your saltwater fish.
– Different species may require different foods
If you have multiple species in your aquarium or tank, they may not all eat the same food. Make sure that you supply the proper nutrition to every variety of fish that you have. Additionally, some fish prefer to eat at the bottom of a tank, while others prefer going to the surface, so plan your feedings accordingly. You may need to observe feeding to ensure that all of your fish get the food they need.
– Overfeeding is a common problem
While you must ensure that your fish get the nutrition that they need, take care that you don’t feed them too much. Fish have more intelligence than we often credit them with — often they learn to connect your presence with feeding, leading them to swim excitedly toward the top or front of the tank when you approach. While this makes them appear more hungry than usual, don’t give in to the temptation to give them extra food.
Overfeeding can lead to a lot of serious problems, including
– High ammonia levels
– Low oxygen
– Low pH level
– Fatty liver in some species
– Fin rot
– Algae blooms
– Planaria or flatworms
– Clogged filters, from poor water quality
These issues are serious, and the best way to prevent them is to avoid overfeeding your fish. We will provide instructions later in this article to help you ascertain exactly how much food your fish require.
Feeding fish based on their dietary needs
With the huge variety of fish species in the world, it should come as no surprise that their diets vary so much! What you feed your fish will depend largely on what they would eat in the wild. Fish run the gamut when it comes to diets; some are carnivorous, others herbivorous, and some omnivorous. While the omnivores will eat foods that both of the others enjoy, you will want to make sure that you feed them accordingly so that you meet all of their dietary needs.
What to feed carnivorous fish
Carnivores eat meat. Examples of carnivorous fish include bettas, tetras, piranhas, arowanas and pipefish. Carnivorous fish require a diet composed of at least 45 percent protein — although some species will require up to 70 percent! That doesn’t mean you should drop a steak in your aquarium, although you can feed your carnivorous fish both live and frozen foods. What should you feed your carnivorous fish? Try the following;
You can purchase tubifex worms, blood worms, microworms and others either live or frozen, and they provide an excellent source of protein. If purchased alive, make sure to rinse them and keep them in a separate tank prior to feeding them to your fish; some worms may get exposed to disease during breeding, so you want to make sure this won’t spread to your tank. Many predatory fish get extra exercise from hunting down the live worms, providing an extra health benefit.
Many carnivorous fish are predators, so live feeder fish can provide an excellent source of protein. Be warned that they too can carry diseases, so you must observe them for a week or so in a separate tank to prevent spreading disease to your pets. Just like how predatory fish will enjoy hunting live worms, many will get even more exercise chasing down feeder fish in your aquarium.
Frozen fish can also make a great source of protein, though it obviously won’t supply the thrill of the hunt. Most other forms of meat that humans eat aren’t healthy alternatives for fish, so avoid them altogether.
– Brine shrimp
Brine shrimp provide excellent protein and nutrition to your fish, and though buying them live can become cost prohibitive, frozen brine shrimp provide the same nutrition at a lower cost.
What to feed herbivorous fish
Herbivores are plant eaters. Examples of herbivorous fish you might find in an aquarium include parrotfish and surgeonfish. Herbivores in the wild tend to eat more frequently than carnivorous fish, and require a good deal of fiber; this may necessitate changes in your feeding patterns in your tank at home, so observe closely while feeding.
Herbivorous fish provide a service to your aquarium’s health. Especially in saltwater tanks, these fish are incredibly important — they help keep algae in balance with the ecosystem in the aquarium. Because of that, you’ll want to ensure they receive the right nutrition to keep them healthy. Do this by feeding them the following;
– Plants and algae
Many beginners make the mistake of using fake plants in their tank, but plant-eating fish need these growing in their environment. The same is true of algae! While too much algae can create a problem in your tank, you need a healthy balance. You will want to include live plants and algae in your aquarium to provide some base nutrition to your herbivorous fish. This won’t fill all the needs for your fish, however. You simply can’t cram enough live plants into the aquarium to keep them fed.
– Algae wafers and flake food
Because there isn’t enough live plant matter in your tank, you will want to supplement their diet by providing algae wafers and flake food. Make sure that the flake food that you feed them is developed for herbivores. Feeding them commercial food developed for carnivorous fish will have a negative impact on their health.
– Fruits and vegetables
Many of the same plant-based foods that we enjoy can also supply necessary vitamins and minerals to your plant-eating fish. Blanch vegetables like peas, spinach, lettuce or zucchini and feed small amounts to your herbivore fish. Likewise, a little bit of apple or pear can provide minerals and vitamins to your herbivores.
Some fruits and vegetables can have an ill-effect on your fish or aquarium, so stick to those listed above, or do more research to ensure that you provide healthy plant material to your fish.
What to feed omnivorous fish
Omnivores eat both plants and meat. Examples of omnivorous fish include angelfish, clownfish and rainbowfish. In fact, most fish require at least a little bit of meat in their diet, and most aquariums benefit from providing an omnivorous diet.
Omnivorous fish will benefit from foods listed in both the carnivorous and herbivorous section, but this can vary by species. Some will eat live fish, but others may scavenge for food on the bottom of the tank. Make sure that you know the preferred diet and eating method for all of your fish. No matter the species, and no matter whether they eat meat, plants or both, all of the fish in your aquarium require additional vitamins and minerals to promote good health.
Food that all of your fish need
Regardless of whether your fish are meat-eaters or plant-eaters, they all need more in their diets, otherwise their nutritional requirements will not be met. You will want to supplement their diets to ensure that they get an adequate source of the following;
– Minerals like calcium, manganese and phosphorus
– Vitamin A
– Vitamin B1, B2, B5 and B6
– Vitamin C
– Vitamin E
These are just a few of the vitamins that your fish will need — an exhaustive list will run down the entire length of the alphabet! Just like us, fish need a lot of vitamins to ensure proper health and body functions. Without the right vitamins and minerals your fish will suffer from a number of ailments, they won’t grow properly and their lifespan will be cut drastically short! We know you don’t want that, which is why it’s so important to ensure that your fish get the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Start by feeding them the proper diet with variety. From there, we recommend including a vitamin supplement for your fish so that you can be certain that they get all the vitamins and minerals that they need. You’ll find a lot of great supplements available for sale, as well as some very poor ones. Your veterinarian can recommend a supplement that will suit the species in your aquarium.
Commercial fish food
You’ll find commercial food available for your fish regardless of their preferred food source. Just like vitamin and mineral supplements, the quality of these foods will vary a great deal! Some of them provide lots of nutritional value, and others are made of filler foods that are much less nutrient-dense. You need to spend some time looking at the different foods available to determine which one — or several — will work best for your fish.
For herbivores, you’ll want to look for the previously mentioned algae wafers and flake food, but you can also find dried foods for your carnivorous fish, including discs, flakes and pellets. Read the ingredients to check the quality of the food. Primary ingredients will be listed first; as you go down the list, those ingredients are used less. You’ll want to see fish meal, shrimp meal, spirulina and worms at the top of the list, and carbohydrates at the bottom — if at all!
Keep in mind that different fish eat at different places; some at the top, others at the bottom and some in the middle of the tank. The kind of dry food you select will feed at different levels. Discs sink to the bottom pretty rapidly, while flakes tend to float on the surface. Pellets can sink a little more slowly. You may have to experiment to see what works best for your fish.
Commercial fish food can start to lose vitamin content pretty quickly after you’ve opened it. To help prevent this, you should purchase small amounts at a time, as opposed to large quantities. Some foods may retain more nutrients if you refrigerate them after opening as well. Whatever food you feed your fish, make sure that it’s as fresh as possible.
Making your own fish food
Many fish owners enjoy making their own fish food. In this way they can ensure that the food contains only helpful nutrients, and no filler foods. Most recipes require items you already have in your house to prepare, such as a blender or mixer, sharp knives, pans and an ice cube tray. If you decide to make your own fish food, make sure that you follow a recipe for your type of fish from a source that you trust.
Just like the food that you make for yourself, you will want to use high quality ingredients free from chemicals. If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, it probably shouldn’t go into your homemade fish food!
How often to feed your fish
Overfeeding can create a dangerous environment for your fish and contributes to poor health. Knowing that, you may wonder how often you should feed your fish. The reality is that it varies from species to species, and even from individual to individual! Remember, in the wild, fish don’t sit down to specific mealtimes the way we do. This is difficult to recreate in your aquarium, so we recommend feeding most fish twice a day. This schedule doesn’t work for every aquarium, but it does provide a good general rule to start with.
Make sure that you keep your fish on a regular feeding schedule. Don’t feed them at different times every day. If your schedule makes it difficult to feed at the same time, consider investing in an automatic fish feeder. These are readily available and provide a cost-effective method to guarantee consistent feeding even if you can’t make it home right away. We also recommend using these if you ever go on vacation or need to travel for business. Well-meaning neighbors and friends often drastically overfeed fish simply because they don’t know about the hazards of overfeeding.
How much to feed your fish
Often people want a simple formula for figuring out how much to feed their fish. Unfortunately, this seldom works in practice. Each species will have a recommended amount of food per feeding, but since individuals can differ so much, the best way to know how much to feed your fish will come with experimentation.
At feeding time, give your fish a small amount of food and watch how quickly they eat it. If your fish eat all the food within a few minutes, feed them a little more. If the food isn’t eaten within roughly five minutes, then it likely won’t be. After a little bit of trial and error you will get a good idea of how much food your fish will require at each feeding.
If possible, remove any uneaten food from your tank to prevent negative changes to water quality. Don’t make the mistake of feeding for your tank size; tank size means nothing when it comes to how much you should feed your fish. Remember, you’re feeding the fish, not the tank!
As your fish grow, you may need to repeat this experiment to ensure that you continue to feed them the proper amount. Even as they grow, remember that fish don’t need nearly as much food as people typically expect, so increase the amount of food you give sparingly.
Should I give my fish treats?
Fish don’t really enjoy treats the same way that cats, dogs or even reptiles do. Since preventing overfeeding is so vital, we generally don’t recommend giving treats to your fish. That said, we do understand that feeding is one of the few ways you can interact with your fish, and that some owners like to give their pets, including their fish, treats.
Don’t feed your fish random human food or any kind of table scraps. Even if the food is generally appropriate, the way in which it was prepared, or the seasonsing used, may prove harmful to your fish.
Instead of treating, we recommend providing a diet with lots of variety — you can think of that as treating your fish on a daily basis! Review the feeding guidelines for your fish. If they have a carnivorous diet, give them the occasional live fish or shrimp to eat. You can give your herbivorous fish a little bit of fruit or vegetables. Whatever you do, remember to not overfeed them!
In many ways, keeping fish as pets provides much greater challenges than having cats or dogs. The variety in species is so great that many fish owners worry about providing the wrong food, overfeeding or upsetting the delicate pH balance of the tank. If you have read this far, we know that you have great concern for your fish and want to ensure a long healthy life for them. Hopefully this comprehensive guide to fish nutrition has helped alleviate your worries about proper feeding. Finding the right foods and proper quantities may seem daunting at first, but with a little time and effort, you will find the right combination for your aquarium.
To review, remember the following;
– Feed your fish accordingly, whether you have carnivores, omnivores, or herbivores.
– Provide a variety of foods for your fish, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements as needed.
– Feed your fish where their species eat — whether on the surface or the bottom.
– Avoid overfeeding by experimenting to learn how much food your fish require.
You don’t have to worry that your fish won’t receive the proper nutrition if you follow those steps.
The enjoyment that comes from a beautiful tank of healthy fish simply cannot be recreated elsewhere. Whether you have saltwater or freshwater fish, we hope you’ll have many hours of observing your aquatic companions. Follow what you’ve learned in this guide and you will be on your way to healthy fish that will swim in your tank for years to come.