There are a number of different foods available which you can feed your fish, including flakes, pellets, frozen, and live feeds. It is important you choose a food that suits the requirements of the fish you wish to keep.
For most species, a good quality flake or pellet food will provide a balanced diet with all necessary vitamins and minerals. As long as you select a good quality flake or pellet food, there is no need to vary the brand (although it does not hurt to change between good quality brands). Whether you feed flakes, pellets or both will depend on the fish you have.
However, it is certainly beneficial to feed your fish supplementary flakes or pellets and frozen foods as a supplement and to vary their diet. Live and frozen foods reflect most closely what fish eat in their natural habitats, and their feeding can lead to your fish being more vibrant, colourful, and more likely to breed. However, they may lack some essential vitamins and minerals, which a prepared food will provide.
Frozen foods are recommended over live foods for a number of reasons outlined below.
FLAKES AND PELLETS
Flakes are designed to float at first and then to slowly sink through the water. This is because some fish like to feed at the tank surface (eg gouramis, danios), while others prefer to take food from the middle layers of the tank (tetras, barbs), and still, others take food from the bottom (eg catfish).
Flakes are the best choice as a staple diet when you have small community fish, especially if you have a mix of species that swim at all water levels in the tank or mainly at the top and middle levels. Flakes may not be sufficient however to satisfy the needs of larger fish, and the amount reaching the tank bottom may be small, meaning catfish can miss out.
Pellets are also more concentrated than flakes, and more economical. There are both floating and sinking pellets available. Floating pellets are best for larger fish (eg cichlids) which will generally take food from the surface. These come in a range of sizes so that you can choose one that suits your fish. Sinking pellets are best for catfish.
For algae eaters, you can also get sinking wafers with a high concentration of spirulina, which is a highly nutritious alga. Some pellets combine both floating and sinking granules in one tin. These are good for community tanks with slightly larger fish, or where there are bottom-feeding fish (eg catfish) present as well as middle water and top-level feeders, for cichlids were not all fish feed at the top, and for larger goldfish, which feed at all levels in the tank.
Large pellets are not suitable for all fish, since some fish cannot fit them into their mouths, but micropellets or granules are usually small enough even for quite tiny fish. Because pellets are more concentrated, it is easier to overfeed with pellets than with flakes. Use caution feeding pellets, especially if you have not had much experience with keeping fish.
Another alternative is press-on feeding tablets. These can be pushed onto the glass at any level in the tank and release small particles of food.
LIVE AND FROZEN FOODS
There are many types of live and frozen foods available. The most common live foods are brine shrimp (also known as artemia) and black worms. Tubifex, daphnia, earthworms, white worms, mealworms, and others may also be available. Brineshrimp is a small saltwater shrimp. Blackworms are long, but a very thin freshwater aquatic worm. While these live foods can be quite nutritious, we urge caution in their use and always recommend the frozen over the life. This is for a number of reasons, but two in particular.
- The first is nutrition: unless live foods are very fresh, much of their nutrition is lost, and if the live food itself has died off, it will decay and can even produce toxic by-products.
- The second is the disease. Live foods are capable of carrying disease, while frozen foods do not.
In most cases, you will also find frozen foods to be much more economical than life. Live foods can also make fish fussy and more prone to aggressive behaviours. Other live foods which can be recommended are: Daphnia, or water fleas, are a small crustacean and are highly nutritious.
However they are difficult to grow and are highly seasonal, so may be difficult to obtain. Earthworms are an excellent supplement for large fish, especially predatory species. White worms are very small burrowing worm. These make an excellent treat for small fish. Mealworms are not actually a worm, but the larval stage of a beetle. They are a good occasional treat for predatory species, but should not be given too often due to their relatively high-fat content.
You may be able to collect other live foods yourself, but there is a risk of introducing disease if you collect insects etc from natural waterways. Any flying insects (including flies) are suitable to give your fish, so long as they have not been sprayed with fly spray. You can also collect earthworms from the garden, and mosquito larvae from rainwater tanks. Some foods which are available live are also available in a frozen form, eg brineshrimp and daphnia.
Other frozen foods include plankton, mysis shrimp, krill, bloodworms, beefheart, vegetable diets, and various mixes to suit specific diets or community tanks with a mix of fish. Bloodworms are not actually a worm, but a midge larvae (similar to mosquito larvae). They are nutritionally similar to blackworms, and although an excllent treat, should not be fed too often, particularly to rift lake cichlids and vegetarian fish. Plankton, mysis shrimp and Krill are saltwater shrimps etc with similar nutrition to brine shrimp, but generally a higher protein and fat content.
They suit the diets of medium and larger fish and are an excellent addition to marine fish dinners. Krill is especially good for predatory fish. These foods are quite suitable for rift lake cichlids etc as they are still low in fat compared to bloodworms and beefheart. Beefheart is extremely lean red meat. It is high in protein and a great supplement for predatory fish. It is often offered mixed with the liver which is also low fat but very high in vitamins and minerals.
Non-predatory fish should not be given large amounts of meat, since this can lead to fatty degeneration of the liver. Vegetable diets contain spirulina and other nutritious algae. They are a good supplement for any type of fish, and are highly recommended for herbivores. Other frozen foods contain a mix of ingredients, eg brineshrimp, worms, beefheart and spirulina. These are suitable as a supplement for community tanks. Some contain a mix of ingredients targetted at a particular type of fish (eg discus).
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FOOD
When choosing a flake or pellet food, look at the nutritional information on the tin. There are flakes and pellets designed to meet the different needs of different groups of fish. For goldfish, you do not need a very high protein food (around 35% is fine), and you should choose one that is low in fat (about 5% – good goldfish foods will fit this description). If you want your goldfish to grow faster, or to help the fancy head growths of orandas and lion heads to develop, you should feed a higher protein (35 – 45%) goldfish food, or include some tropical fish food in the diet of your goldfish. If doing this, be sure to also supplement their diet with live or frozen food – frozen brine shrimp or mysis shrimp being the most ideal – as a rich diet can otherwise lead to constipation and swim bladder problems. Brine or mysis shrimps are an excellent supplement for goldfish in any case, and the naturally occurring pigments in these shrimp (particularly brine shrimp) help bring out the deep red colour in goldfish. Earthworms are also a great treat, especially for larger goldfish. Goldfish feed at all levels in the aquarium, and either flakes or pellets are suitable.
Flakes or small pellets are usually best for small goldfish, while medium to large pellets is better and more economical for larger goldfish. Other coldwater species will generally survive, but not thrive on a diet of goldfish food. It is best to supplement their diet with a flake or pellet food designed for tropicals, plus a mix of frozen foods. Tropical fish have stricter dietary requirements and require a higher protein food (40% or more). Foods with a higher protein content are generally higher quality, but you should also consider what source of protein they use. Look for foods that use high-quality proteins such as fish, shrimp or krill, and algae meal, rather than a poorer quality potato or soy meal.
Other desirable ingredients are brine shrimp, carotene (a natural colour enhancer), and spirulina (which boosts fish’s immune systems and is also a colour enhancer). For a community tank where fish feed at all levels, choose a flake or small pellet with a mix of floating and sinking types. If catfish are present you may wish to add extra sinking pellets or algae wafers to be sure they do not go hungry, or use a small granule food (like flakes these mix both floating and sinking components, but granules sink a little faster getting more food to your catfish). Supplement the diet of community fish with frozen foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, and mysis shrimp or community mixes, and supplemental feeds such as brine shrimp and/or spirulina enriched flakes or pellets.
Press-on feeding tablets are also an excellent supplement, they are highly nutritious, but can be expensive if used as a staple diet. Cichlids are generally more active and predatory by nature, and in the wild, their diet contains more fat and animal protein. Cichlid foods generally have a higher percentage of fat (7 – 8%) which is ideal for these fish. Flakes or pellets are suitable, with pellets being preferable for larger fish. Supplement the diet of primarily piscivorous species with frozen foods such as brine shrimp, earthworms, mealworms, bloodworms, mysis shrimp, plankton, krill and lean beef heart (or beef heart & liver), or supplemental flakes or pellets with a high level of shrimp meal. Some species, particularly lake Tanganyikan species, angelfish, and dwarf cichlids are not as predatory. Foods designed for angelfish usually contain more vegetable matter and are suitable for any of these species.
Their diet can also be supplemented with spirulina enriched flakes or pellets, all of the frozen foods above (although not too much beef heart or mealworms), and frozen vegetable diets. Marine diets are also suitable. Others, such as Tropheus species and mbuna (from Lake Malawi) are primarily vegetarian and should be fed a similar diet to herbivores (see below). Herbivores. Some fish are primarily herbivorous (eg plant or algae eaters). These species will benefit from the addition of spirulina either as flakes, pellets, wafers, or press-on tablets or in frozen form. Other good frozen foods are brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, plankton, and daphnia. Extra plant matter can be introduced by offering blanched lettuce leaves, peas, or zucchini. Limit the amount of high protein and meaty foods to these fish.
How much should I feed my fish and how often?
You must be careful not too overfeed your fish. This is one of the most common mistakes made by people who are new to fishkeeping, and it can lead rapidly to major problems and fish deaths. But, what exactly is overfeeding? Overfeeding does not refer to how often the fish are fed, but to how much they are given at any one time. Fish can be fed a number of times a day, once, twice, three times or even more. It is recommended to feed your fish at least once a day, although a normally well fed fish will survive a few days without food and suffer no ill-effects. Feeding your fish more times a day means that they will grow faster, and waste products (eg nitrate) will build up more quickly in the aquarium, since the fish are processing more food per day. If you have a small tank, or, particularly one without a filter, then you should limit your feeding to once a day (or two very small feeds). In larger, filtered aquariums, it is generally best to feed the fish two or three times a day, but you can feed them even more often if you like (eg if you want them to grow faster). Feeding your fish more times per day can also help to distract them from nibbling at your water plants, but this does not always work. However, as mentioned above, it is the quantity of food given at each feeding that is most important. While some general rules state a number of flakes or pellets per fish, these can be misleading, since flakes and pellets vary in size and in the amount of food they contain. You should aim to give your fish the amount of food they will consume in a period of about 2 – 3 minutes in small tanks with few fish, or in 4 – 5 minutes for larger tanks with more fish. A fish’s stomach is only about the size of its eye, so the amount of food needed is very little. Begin by feeding much less than you think the fish will eat. If they consume it all in less than a minute, add a little more, until you can accurately gauge the correct amount. If, after 4 to 5 minutes, there are any food particles floating in the water or sitting on the bottom of the tank, then you have given them too much. Remove the excess food with a net or siphon, and give less at the next feeding. The exceptions to this are press-on tablets and algae wafers, these are generally designed to release food slowly over a few hours rather than be consumed in a few minutes. However, after this period there should be no food left over.