How Much and How Often Should You Feed Fish?

how often should you feed your fish

Overfeeding is a common mistake new fish owners make. When you give fish too much food, the remain pieces can clog your filter and break down into toxins that can be harmful to your fish.

Understand How Fish Eat

Naturally, fish eat whenever they feel hungry and the food is available. If food sources are plentiful, they will eat all day. On the other hand, if food sources are pretty low, they might go for days between meals. For this reason, fish are very opportunistic and will eat whenever they get a chance.

Meaning if you offer them food, they will usually gobble it up, even if they aren’t starving. Remember that next time your fish “beg” for food. Fish do learn quickly who gives them food to the tank and will jump at every chance to be fed, even if they are not in dire need of food.

Number of Feedings per Day

How often do you need to feed your fish depends on the kind of fish you have. Generally fish do quite well on one feeding per day. However, some owners prefer to feed their fish pets twice per day. Young, growing fish might need to eat three or more times a day. Regardless of the quantity of feedings, the key is to keep each feeding in a healthy portion.

Most fish will do well with only two meals a day. The timing is not very critical, with the exception of nocturnal feeders. If you have nocturnal fish in your tank, like some catfish, be sure to feed them just before turning the lights out at night. They will hunt for food in the dark, using their strong sense of smell to find it.

There is an exception to the once-per-day feeding rule. Herbivores like Silver Dollars, Mollies, and Farowellas need to eat frequently because they have smaller stomachs that cannot handle a lot of food. In nature, they would nibble all day on plants. They should be fed several small feedings per day or be provided with live plants that they can nibble on. Goldfish do not have a stomach at all, so they should not be fed a large meal all at once. They naturally feed on algae and other food items all day, so it is better to feed them several small meals during the day rather than giving them a big meal only once a day.

Newly hatched fry and younger fish who are not fully grown need frequent feedings of special foods designed for fry.

Determining the Right Amount of Food

A good rule to follow is to give your fish no more food than they can consume in less than five minutes. When in doubt, underfeed. You can always give them another small portion if necessary. 

Also, keep in mind that the type of food is just as important as the amount given to your pet. You want to make sure your little fish are getting the proper nutrition they need to stay at best health. Also, if you have a bunch of fish, you’ll need to consider every species’ dietary needs and find food to balance that out.

What Happens If You Overfeed Fish?

If you overfeed your fish, the effects may not be noticeable at first. But little by little you will start seeing change in your pet’s energy.

It is possible for some fish species to develop fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). Overfeeding can also stress them and the negative effects on the aquatic environment itself will affect their health.

Uneaten food will produce by-products (ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate) and that can be harmful to your pet fish. In the event that you do overfeed, promptly remove the leftovers using a net. If you do not remove the excess food, you risk affecting the chemistry of the water. Nitrite and ammonia levels can rise the oxygen and pH can badly drop to life-threatening levels. The by-products can also make the water cloudy, promote an algae growth, or encourage mold or planaria to grow out of control.