As aquarium owners, we are responsible for satisfying one of the fundamental needs for our aquarium’s existence: Food. As a responsible aquarium owner, it’s important to consider your pet’s diet a priority. Here we list some common rules of the hobby below along with tips from the pros at Parrott Aquatic.
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While reading, it’s important to remember all fish have different dietary needs, so it’s important to do your research before you get your new pet. Whether you like the majestic slow-moving fish full of color or the mean-looking, sea monster, predator-types, be ready and educated on their needs. Your pet’s diet is determined by several different factors: size of the fish, age of the fish, water temperature, and food quality are just a few. We’ve listed some general rules below to help you get started. To determine the best frequency, portion size, and nutritional content for your fish, ask a professional.
Examples of Determining Fish Diets:
- Younger fish = more active = more food (more frequently, in bigger portions, or in higher quality nutritional value)
- Older fish = less active = less food
- Larger fish = more food
- Smaller fish = less food
- Warmer water = higher metabolism = more food
- Colder water = slower metabolism = less food
Please note, these are just a few general examples to help you understand how your pet’s dietary needs may differ from fish to fish. Remember to check with your local professional for a confident answer on what works well for your fish. Below are some other rules to keep in mind when feeding your aquarium pets.
TIP #1 Don’t Overfeed Your Aquarium. (Consequences)
We made this the number 1 rule because it’s the easiest to violate. We see this most often with beginner hobbyists. Although we know they mean well, they’re actually causing a lot of harm to their tanks. You can overfeed your aquarium several different ways through feeding too often (frequency), feeding too much (portions), or feeding foods too high (or low) in nutritional content. The results from overfeeding your tank can be devastating if not properly resolved.
Overfeeding your aquarium could result in:
- Aquarium inhabitants becoming more prone to illnesses.
- Aquarium inhabitants becoming more susceptible to stressors.
- Aquarium inhabitants becoming more likely to develop more health issues in the future.
- Overfeeding directly affects your aquarium’s water quality causing it to be dangerously imbalanced.
TIP #2 Don’t feed your aquarium too often. (Frequency)
Humans have a daily routine and so do fish. How and when you feed your aquarium should be routine just like the eating routines you’ve established in your own life. If you train your fish to know food will always be available at a certain time of day, it will reduce your fish’s stress in its great hunt for food. Feeding several small meals a day for fish is ideal, but we know how difficult this can be to fit into your busy life. An auto feeder is a great alternative. If you can’t feed multiples times a day, and you don’t want to drop money on an auto feeder we recommend just feeding a couple times a day – morning and evening, much like breakfast and dinner for us.
- If you begin a feeding routine, you will notice some behavioral changes. At Parrott Aquatic, our fish feeding friend is Angie. When Angie walks into the shop in the evening, the fish swim to the side of the tank next to their feeding hole and wait for sweet fish food to fall from the sky.
- If you only feed once a day pause your filtration pump and feed lightly a couple times as to allow fish time to get a few bites.
- SPECIAL NOTE: If your fish lacks a stomach, it is better to feed them smaller meals more frequently to avoid causing disruption to the natural feeding cycle.
TIP #3 Don’t feed your aquarium too much. (Portion Control)
- Size matters! Another general rule is a fish’s eye is equivalent to the size of its stomach. Use this when determining portion sizes for fish in your aquarium.
- Remember, just like in humans, it’s not healthy for fish to have a full stomach all day every day.
TIP #4 Choose the right food for your aquarium based on your fish’s needs. (Nutrition)
Nutrition is a big one because just like for humans, it’s extremely complex and should be tailored to your fish’s needs. We encourage you to seek the advice of your local professional to determine exact dietary requirements for your fish, but you can use our guidelines to learn more below.
Just like on land, there are herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores all requiring operating on different diets. And just like us, their diets are broken down into macronutrients (proteins, lipids [fats], carbs, etc.), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and trace elements (zinc, etc.). With that said, all fish require some levels of everything. Below you can learn how different parts of a fish’s diet supports their health.
Fish Diet Breakdown
- Protein: Aids in the growth and repair of cells and tissues.
- Lipids (fats): Provide energy and allow processing of important nutrients.
- Carbohydrates: Provide immediate energy. Carbs are used most efficiently in fish with primarily vegetarian diets. Carbs are not processed well by primarily carnivorous fish.
- Vitamins & Minerals: Use sparingly as needed for balance.
TYPES OF FISH DIETS:
Obviously, herbivores will eat a plant-only diet. Remember there are very few true herbivores and carnivores in aquariums. Most aquarium pets will fall on the omnivores spectrum eating both plants and meat to some degree. And carnivores eat – you guessed it – meat! Now you know how food works for fish, it’s time to choose their food – good luck, we’ll see ya next time! At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “But wait…there are SO MANY OPTIONS! Where do I start?!” We’ve got you covered there, too. Let us explain a few of the most common kinds of fish food below.
Vegetarian Fish Food:
- Dry Food: Flakes, Powder
- Fresh Food: Lettuce, Spinach, Zucchini, Green Peas (in fish-sized bites)
- Live Food: ALGAE! Phytoplankton and zooplankton just to name a couple. Plankton is one of the smallest forms of food known. But plankton supports so, so many diverse species! Even some predators!
- Liquid Food: Phytoplankton-based
Omnivore Fish Food:
- See Vegetarian and Carnivore Fish Food
Carnivore Fish Food:
- Freeze-dried Food: worms
- Live Food: *Brine Shrimp worms, crustaceans
- Fresh Food: *Brine Shrimp, seafood
- Frozen Food: *Brine Shrimp
- Liquid Food: Zooplankton-based
- *Note: Meat eating fish are more easily satisfied with crustaceans and fish. Some a little more specific than others.
*Brine Shrimp Notes:
- Brine shrimp is one of the best live foods. Texture and flavor of the brine shrimp will vary depending on what they are fed. You can get brine shrimp eggs and rather easily hatch your own live brine shrimp food at home. Don’t let the water from the brine hatchery drain into your tank. Make sure to get a brine shrimp net to strain out the live shrimp to reduce the amount of water transferred into your tank.
- Daphnia is a less common live food. You can find a starter colony from other local hobbyists. These can live in your aquarium until consumed by the fish. You’ll enjoy watching your fish enjoy these. The best part? They come in so many varieties!
- Remember, fish have specific preferences much like us. Source your live food from different places until you find the one your fish likes best.
*Fresh Seafood Notes:
- Do not prepare too much fresh seafood for your fish – you’ll end up throwing it away.
- Fresh seafood is great if you make your own food at home because it has a lot of beneficial properties.
- If you need help finding fresh fish in your area, check your local seafood market or grocery store.
- Only use raw seafood. Make sure your seafood isn’t “pre-cooked” because the food to lose a lot of valuable nutrients.
Okay, so that’s the general break down of a fish’s diet and how it supports their health. Now, just like in human diets, there are sneaky foods that try to trick us into eating things we think are good for us, but actually aren’t (…cough, cough…butter…cough, cough…). Do you remember those pet-parent-shaming Blue Buffalo commercials on TV that compare food ingredients? That’s what we’re going over next! Let’s make an easy list o some things you want in your fish’s food and some things you want to avoid.
Things You Want:
- “Whole” anything (fish, shrimp, etc). Whole = less processed = more nutritional value.
Things You Want to Avoid:
- “Meals”. Just like in those Blue Buffalo commercials that shame pet-parents for feeding their dogs corn meal – avoid feeding your fish meals like “fish meal” or “shrimp meal”.
- Artificial Flavors
TIP #5 Deliver food correctly.
Not only do you have to choose the right food for your fish, but you have to deliver it in the right way, too. Fish aren’t naturally fed by humans, and instinctively have a preferred way they like to receive their food. Think about it – you wouldn’t eat a bowl of ice cream with a fork, right?
- Remember, most fish just swallow food whole. So be sure to choose the appropriate size food particles to make it easier for your fish to swallow and digest.
- Some invertebrates have some unique ways of eating from scavenging to filtering the water for liquid food.
- If you choose to use liquid foods follow the instructions on the label to avoid causing harm to your pets and your water quality. Use them sparingly at first, and be sure to monitor your water quality for any inevitable changes. If you aren’t logging your aquariums vitals, please see pro tips for advice. 🙂
TIP #6 Use supplements sparingly.
Only use supplements if they are really needed, and always use them sparingly to start. To determine if you need to use a supplement, you must use an aquarium test kit to ensure you add the correct amount. Adding too much of any supplement throw off your water quality. Supplement use will be more common in aquariums with corals that require higher calcium levels. If you’re keeping a fish-only or a fish-only with live rock aquarium, you may rarely use supplements.
TIP #7 Use scavengers for cleanup.
Most fish will eat all they are going to within the first 5 minutes of feeding. Afterward, it’s important to clean up the excess to avoid it causing a water imbalance. Scavengers – every aquarium needs them to clean up uneaten foods particulates and other yucky things. Their service to the ecosystem and aquarium hobby is invaluable.
- Remember when you feed your fish, you are indirectly feeding your inverts, too.
- A good variety of invertebrates is essential to success. Too many of one grazer or scavenger and someone on the crew is hungry!
- While we cannot cover every individual fish’s dietary needs, you can source a lot of information from books and online. When conducting your own aquarium research, it’s good to remember this is a hobby and look for credible sources.
- If you do not have a logbook for your aquarium, please mail a $20 fine to me and then buy one. We all need to keep track of who, what, and when we do things from maintenance to livestock adds – especially when we add new foods or supplements.
- So, as you probably figured out there is a balance to nutrition on multiple levels. Don’t get rattled! Patience and trial and error are key to your aquarium’s success. Feeding should not be burdensome. Aquariums are supposed to be a relaxing hobby so don’t think twice about it. If you don’t feel comfortable choosing alone, please call us! We will be happy to guide you in the right direction.
Thanks for taking time out to read our article. We hope it was helpful. If you have questions or need help choosing the right diet for your fish, the friendly Pros at Parrott Aquatic are happy to help. Give us a call!