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What Do You Feed Your Freshwater and Saltwater Fish?

Feed Your Freshwater and Saltwater Fish Well This Holiday Season!

Thanksgiving approaches, and hosts have started planning their feasts, taking into account the needs and tastes of their guests: loaded mashed potatoes for Dad because they’re his favorite, gluten-free stuffing for your cousin with the allergy, meatless pot roast for your vegetarian sister, etc.

But before you head out to celebrate, you need to make sure the fish in your aquarium have eaten as well—and their dietary needs and tastes are just as varied as ours. Whether freshwater fish or saltwater fish, large or small, predatory or not, you need to plan your feedings to get all the right nutrition to the right inhabitants of your aquarium.

Feeding is just one part of aquarium maintenance though--read our beginner's guide for a more complete overview!

So, what kinds of food do different kinds of fish need to stay healthy and active?

Flakes, Pellets, and Wafers

Processed dry food is a solid food choice for many different species of freshwater and Saltwater Fish Freshwater Fish Foodsaltwater fish, and comes in a variety of shapes and formulations.

Flakes are the most common type of fish food and the easiest to use. These are the small, flakey pieces of food that you sprinkle into the aquarium a pinch at the time. The top-feeders will swim right up to the top of the aquarium to eat it up.

You should take note of what sort of flakes you’re feeding your fish, though. Saltwater fish and freshwater fish have different nutritional needs, so you should feed marine flake to the former and tropical flake to the latter. In addition to those generalized flakes, there are also ones specially formulated for particular species, such as cichlids and goldfish, so check if your fish require something similar.

In addition to flakes, there are also wafers which are bigger and heavier. These are not only appropriate for larger fish, but are also your way of feeding the bottom feeders, as they sink to the bottom of the aquarium.

Pellets are typically somewhere in between. Some float, others sink quickly, and yet others sink slowly. Some even stick to the glass on the side of the tank, providing food for middle-feeders.

Which form of processed food you feed your fish should be based on whether they are saltwater or freshwater fish, large or small, and where in the aquarium they feed. You also need to take into account the basic nutritional balance your fish require. For example, carnivorous fish require diets consisting of 45-50% protein, while herbivorous fish require far less.

So, make sure to investigate the nutritional needs of each species in your aquarium so you can put together a feeding plan that helps all of them get what they need.

Freeze-Dried, Frozen, and Live Foods

Sometimes, processed foods aren’t enough on their own to keep your fish healthy, and they need something that more closely resembles prey they might catch in the wild. You have a few different options for addressing this.

Freeze-dried organisms such as krill, bloodworms, plankton, and others make for a great dietary supplement, providing lots of nutrition and flavor for your fish. An additional benefit of freeze-dried foods is that they’re less prone to transmitting disease the way live foods like feeder fish sometimes do.

Frozen foods are another option to consider. This includes whole frozen organisms such as krill, brine shrimp, mysis, silversides, and earthworms, as well as chopped frozen clams and squid. There are even frozen food mixes specially formulated for species including sharks and discus.

An advantage of frozen foods is that, because they are closer to what the fish would be eating in nature, they can be useful not only as a dietary supplement but also in stimulating the appetites of fish that are rejecting other types of food.

If even this doesn’t work, however, you may consider the use of live feed. Doing so can activate the natural predatory instincts of a recent arrival that’s refusing to eat other food in its new environment.

This might mean crustaceans such as crayfish. These are best purchased from bait shops, as wild ones may contain traces of pollution they’ve come into contact with, like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. When buying, you should go for the small ones whose claws won’t injure your fish.

It might also mean insects such as crickets, mealworms, and more. Again, avoid wild ones which may make your fish sick. If you’d like, you can even feed them fish flakes or other food rich with nutrients that will get passed on to your fish.

Bait shops also stock a host of other critters you can use including earthworms, snails, slugs, caterpillars, and more.

Then there are feeder fish. Whether or not you use them is your decision, as there’s debate around whether it’s necessary or beneficial. If you do use feeder fish, there are a few rules to remember:

  • Don’t give freshwater feeder fish to saltwater fish, or vice versa. This is not nutritionally appropriate and can cause health problems such as liver disease.
  • Don’t use store-bought feeder fish. These are often poorly taken care of and live in unsanitary tanks, due to them only being raised as feed. As such, they can infect your fish with many different diseases and parasites. If you use feeder fish, breed your own.
  • Don’t overdo it—most fish naturally only eat other fish as a dietary supplement, not a staple.

Regardless what you decide about live fish though, there is one thing you can be sure of: don’t feed beef heart to your fish. While this used to be recommended, it’s no longer considered advisable because the steroids used to raise cows can cause health problems in your fish.

Other Treats for Herbivorous Freshwater and Saltwater Fish

For the vegetarians in your aquarium, there are other foods you can use to give them some variety.

Spirulina is a very nutritious algae that’s great for saltwater fish like clownfish and tangs, as well as herbivorous cichlids.

Seaweed is also available in the form of dried sheets, and is appreciated by plecos, cichlids, and tangs.

Romaine lettuce leaves are also popular fish treats, as are cucumber slices among goldfish and plecos, and frozen peas and lima beans among goldfish and pacus.

Fish diets are as varied as that of humans, and when you have a big group with different tastes, it can be hard to figure out a feeding schedule that satisfies all their nutritional needs, just as it can be hard to plan a Thanksgiving dinner that gives everyone what they want.

Luckily, there are experts you can talk to at Living Art Aquatics. We’ve been designing aquariums, offering fish husbandry products and consultations, and raising and caring for freshwater and saltwater fish in Crystal Lake, IL and the Chicago area for decades. So if you have questions about planning a diet and feeding schedule for your aquarium, simply give us a call at (847) 737-5151.

Take the time to keep your fish healthy and well-fed, and this Thanksgiving they’ll be thankful to have you as their owner!

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