Aquarium fish are a very diverse group, and there are many types of food to cater to their different needs. Most fish hobbyists feed their fish dried food which can come in flakes, pellets, and wafers, but there are also options like frozen, freeze-dried and live foods. You might be wondering what ingredients might go into fish food, and what the best food might be for your fish.
The ingredients of fish food depend on whether your fish are omnivores, herbivores or carnivores, but common ingredients include shrimp meal, fish meal, squid meal, spirulina, and earthworms.
The ingredients found in fish food will vary depending on the quality of the feed as well as the type of fish you have. All prepared fish food follows the same basic formula: amino acids (proteins), lipids (fats), carbohydrates, and vitamins. For a meat-eating fish, this means it is likely to include shrimp, fish or squid meal. Fish meals are made from various parts of the seafood that have been dried in commercial ovens and ground smooth for easy digestion. For a vegetarian fish, the fish food recipe is more likely to include Spirulina (a blue-green algae that is rich in protein and vitamins). Spirulina is so nutrient dense that it is becoming a common dietary supplement for humans too.
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What is Fish Food Made of?
Most quality fish food brands use a variety of sources in their mix to give your fish a well rounded and nutritious diet. Ingredients that you should look for in an ingredient list are:
- Shrimp meal
- Fish meal
- Squid meal
Vitamins and minerals
- Vitamins B, C and E
These are not the only powerhouse ingredients in your fish food. In fact, most ingredient lists for a quality food will have a comprehensive list of great amino acids and vitamins. However, there are a few ingredients that you should keep an eye on. Some lower quality fish foods use starches as a filler to bulk up their mix. These ingredients include:
- Wheat flour
- Soybean meal
- Potato protein
These are carbohydrates and are fine for your fish in moderation, but do not provide a lot of nutritional value and should be supplemented with plenty of other more nutritious energy sources. If these ingredients make up a large percentage of your fish food, you might want to try another brand.
Types of Fish Food
Dry food is the most common fish food used by hobbyists. It is often baked at a high temperature to extend the shelf life before being flaked or pressed into wafers, tablets, and pellets. The drying process is important for preservation as moisture can lead to bacteria growth. It is important to be sure to keep your dry food container tightly sealed and stored in a cool, dry place. Flaked fish food starts to lose nutritional value after about 30 days, so try to buy it in quantities that you will use up within a month.
There are other types of fish food outside of the dry varieties that might be more suitable for your species of fish. Freeze-dried, frozen, and live fish foods are often used for fish with more specialized diets.
Freeze-dried and live foods often consist of one organism as the main ingredient, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms or water fleas. Live foods are often preferred as they mimic the natural feeding habits for fish and stimulate their hunting instincts. They also are not processed and therefore are very nutritious. However, they can be more difficult to find and are complicated to maintain with a shelf life of less than a month. Live foods can also occasionally contain pathogens that will make your fish sick, so it is important to source your live food from a reputable source.
Freeze-dried fish food options provide many of the same nutritional benefits of live food but are more low maintenance. The freeze-drying process is excellent for preservation and tends to last a lot longer on the shelf than other fish food. Since freeze-dried food can be hard for fish to break apart, it should be soaked in water for a few minutes prior to feeding to make it more easily digestible.
Frozen fish food is usually a blend of ingredients, similar to the dry food in its basic formula of protein, fats, and vitamins. Frozen fish food is often high in nutrients because a lot of the food remains uncooked prior to freezing. Many frozen foods are also high-protein mixes that eliminate a lot of extra filler ingredients. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and water fleas are the most commonly found ingredients in frozen foods, which must be kept frozen in order to stay fresh. It is important to make sure that the food is thawed out completely before feeding to your fish.
There are also types of fish food designed to tide your fish over while you are away for a few days. This ‘vacation food’ comes in a solid block form and is designed to dissolve slowly over the course of a few days so that your fish do not go hungry in your absence. However, the main ingredient in these blocks is usually agar-agar or calcium sulfate, and very little actual food. Depending on the length of your trip, it can be better to not use a vacation food block as fish can go quite a while in between feedings- as a block of vacation food will likely just dirty your tank.
Instead of buying a vacation feeding block, I highly recommend investing into a high quality automatic fish food feeder. While on vacation I recommend putting half the amount per serving to avoid Aside from using it while on vacation, you can even use it to free up time in your everyday life.
DIY Fish Food and Supplements
Some fish hobbyists decide to try and make their own fish food. The upside to this method is that you know exactly what ingredients are going into the food. The obvious downside to this method is the hassle. Taking into consideration the messy ingredients- such as fish by-products- and up-front investments in appliances like food processors, it is certainly much easier to buy a prepared food. There are many recipes available on the web for creating your own fish food, and many of the common ingredients are leafy greens, gelatin, and fish.
It is important to make sure that your fish gets enough fiber in their diet, which can be a problem sometimes when dry food is used exclusively. Constipated fish are prone to developing swim bladder problems which can be fatal. Some fish keepers prefer to amend their fish’s diet with vegetables to increase their fiber intake. This should always be done after doing proper research for your fish species, to make sure it is a healthy addition to their diet. Some common vegetables to try include zucchini, lettuce, and shelled peas. These foods need to be lightly prepared (blanching is a great option) before giving to the fish so that they are easier to eat and break down.
Fish Food at Feeding Time
No matter what type of food you choose to feed your fish, it is always important to feed the correct amount. Fish use very little energy going about their daily life and can get by on surprisingly small amounts of food. Leftover food can cause your tank to get dirtier faster and can cause algae to grow. The general rule of thumb is to only feed as much food as your fish can eat in five minutes.
In addition to the food itself, you should also pay attention to the eating behaviors of your fish. Some fish are top feeders, which means that they will be looking to eat food that is floating at the top of the tank near the surface. Middle feeding fish will look for food that has started to sink towards the middle of the tank. Bottom feeders search the aquarium floor for their food, and will need food that sinks to the bottom of the tank. Most prepared fish foods will indicate whether they float, sink, or adhere to the sides of the tank. Keeping an eye on the feeding habits of your fish will help ensure that all of your fish are getting the food that they need.
Of course, it is also vital to make sure you are following the feeding advice for your species of fish. For example, a carnivorous fish might not process a high vegetation diet properly. A fish that is not being fed the correct diet can become malnourished and develop vitamin deficiencies or parasites. Always do the extra research to make sure you know the specific needs of your fish.
A Variety in Fish Food is Best
Fish food comes in so many varieties that it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the number of choices available. However, as long as you know your fish and know what ingredients to look for, it can be easy to make sure your fish are getting the nutrients that they need. Most fish keepers recommend feeding a few different types of food to your fish. Not only will the variety be stimulating for your fish, it will also ensure that your fish are getting a well rounded and nutritious diet.