If you have a tropical community aquarium like most fishkeepers, it can be quite the struggle to figure out a good feeding schedule. There are endless amounts of flake and pellet brands out there and every source will give you different guidelines!
Keep reading for more information about what, how often and how much you should feed your fish.
Note: One of the biggest mistakes you can make in fishkeeping is overfeeding. Overfeeding can lead to bloated or dead fish, rotting leftovers and ammonia spikes or an infestation with scavengers like snails or planaria. It’s better too feed too little than too much and it’s very easy to overestimate how much your fish need.
What should I feed my fish?
The most important thing to figure out in order to set up a good feeding schedule is what to feed. Variety is very important, so don’t just feed pellets day in, day out. They likely don’t suit the nutritional needs of all your fish and the same food over and over again is obviously not the healthiest thing. While a (high quality) flake or pellet food like New Era makes a great staple, you should always supplement it with other foods and the occasional treat. A list with some great pellet alternatives can be found on Aquariadise here.
When choosing a food, be sure to keep in mind that not all community fish have the same needs. They can be herbivores, omnivores or carnivores that eat at the surface or the bottom of the aquarium. For example, floating pellets with a high protein content may not be the best choice if you keep algae eating bottom feeders like shrimp! The fish will eat them all before they can sink to the bottom and they don’t contain everything the shrimp need.
To keep all your fish and inverts healthy and full you may end up combining different types of food. Using those floating pellets is fine for your schooling fish, but to make sure your shrimp aren’t left hungry it’s a good idea to also toss in a few sinking algae pellets. If you’re interested in making food that’s perfectly tailored to the needs of your fish, have a look at the article about gel food.
How often should I feed my fish?
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about how often you should feed. Some food brands will mention on the container that you should feed X amount X times a day, but this is not the case! You don’t have to have a set time or amount of food because the key to maintaining a healthy diet for your fish is variety. This also means varying how often and how much you feed.
Although once is the minimum, some fishkeepers feed their fish up to five times a day to imitate the natural feeding pattern, especially with herbivorous fish, or when they’re raising fry. I like to feed at least twice a day with at least three hours in between, and adapt portion sizes based on frequency. Feeding more means smaller amounts of food each time. To figure out a good amount of food that will keep all your fish fat and happy, see the section below.
How much should I feed my fish?
Figuring out how much food your tropical community needs can admittedly be a bit of a challenge. If you don’t feed enough, slower fish may not get any food at all. If you feed too much, the fish won’t be able to eat all of it which can lead to many potentially fatal problems! It’s sometimes recommended to feed as much as your fish can eat in X minutes, but this is not the best guideline. Fish will eat as much as they can and leftovers are easily spilled, which means you may end up overfeeding quite heavily.
For a varied community setup, there is no set amount of food to give and it’s something you will learn to figure out by yourself. If you’re struggling, try sitting by the aquarium for a while after feeding and see what happens with the food. Do all the fish and invertebrates seem to have gotten their share and are there no leftovers lying around? Great! If some of the food remains untouched, you may be feeding too much. If the quicker fish eat everything and there is nothing left for the bottom feeders, you may want to feed a bit more or try to make the food more accessible as described below.
Trouble with feeding
Feeding time can come with a few problems! If you’re having trouble with the food being blown in all directions by the filter flow before your fish are able to reach it, a feeding ring (for floating pellets), feeding cone (for bloodworms and other sinking foods) or feeding dish (for shrimp) may come in handy. It may take a while for the fish/inverts to notice where the food is, but most will learn quite quickly and there will be less uneaten food rotting away.
If you’re really having trouble with your fish not being able to find the food in time or being a fussy eater, you can try teaching them to eat from feeding tongs to make sure everyone gets their fair share! This tactic is often used with larger puffer species and slow fancy goldfish.
If you’re still not sure how your feeding schedule should look or if you want to share a tip, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!