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What Can You Feed Fish Other Than Fish Food? Here Are Alternatives

what can fish eat

Have you ever been in the position where you have to ask yourself what you can feed fish other than fish food?

Do you want to experiment with homemade fish food? Are you aiming to feed your pet fish a varied nutrient-packed diet? Or, did you just run out of store-bought fish food?

Regardless of the reason that brought you to this article, you’ll find plenty of ways to feed your aquarium fish without relying on fish food flakes.

Now, if you’re reading this article worried that your fish are starving just because you don’t have ready-made fish food on hand, let’s address your worries first.

Most aquarium fish can safely go between 3-7 days without being fed. Some hardy species are able to fast up to 14 days, given the right conditions, although this type of fasting should be reserved for emergency situations.

So, if you’ve just realized you’re out of fish food, don’t panic!

Beginner fishkeepers often overfeed their pet fish, so having to skip a few feedings makes them feel like bad fishkeepers.  In reality, even if you’re out of fish food for 1 week, most aquarium fish would do just fine. And it might even benefit some of them.

Now that we’ve gotten the urgency of the matter out of the way, let’s see what else you can feed fish other than fish food!

What To Feed Fish If You Don’t Have Fish Food

Ran out of the fish food that your pet fish are accustomed to? It can happen to any aquarist, but while you’re waiting to restock your stash, there are plenty of food options to choose from.

Experimenting with new calorie sources can be an awesome thing for the wellbeing of your fish, whether you’re doing it on purpose or you’re being forced to by your circumstances.

A balanced and diverse diet, complete with a variety of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients, is the best diet you can offer fish in captivity. They wouldn’t be as spoiled in their natural habitats.

So, don’t feel like you’ve failed your fish just because you ran out of their staple fish food flakes. You might be surprised how well some fish species do when introduced to new food.

We rarely think of it, but some fish actually get bored of the same food and will eventually act uninterested during feedings, especially carnivores.

You can feed your aquarium fish a varied assortment of easily accessible (and budget-friendly) food if you don’t have fish food on hand. But you should keep in mind that their diet should also include specialty store-bought fish food, depending on the needs of the species you’re keeping in your tank.

The food you can safely feed aquarium fish, other than fish food, will also depend on the type of diet your pet fish eat: herbivorous, omnivorous, or carnivorous.

Here is a list of popular aquarium fish and their diets:

Herbivorous Aquarium Fish

Omnivorous Aquarium Fish

Carnivorous Aquarium Fish

Surgeon fishGoldfishBetta Fish
Parrot fishMolly fishAngelfish
Silver Dollar fishGuppy fish Oscar fish
Bristlenose PlecosTetra fishDiscus
Some CichlidsBarb fishKillifish

What To Feed Carnivorous Fish Other Than Fish Food

alternative fish food
Betta fish (Betta splendens)

Carnivorous fish don’t have the ability to digest vegetable matter, and although you might see Angelfish or Bettas nibbling on plants, their digestive systems are simply unable to extract nutrients from the plant.  Carnivores have a short intestinal tract connected to a large stomach for holding chunks of food.

Larger carnivorous fish can store an entire fish in their stomachs, which they ingest in one bite. That’s why they have larger mouths and sharp teeth like Arowanas have.

You can feed the carnivorous fish in your tank the typical live or frozen food most fishkeepers use:

  • Brine shrimp;
  • Bloodworms;
  • Daphnia;
  • Crickets;
  • Mealworms;
  • Snails.

Or you can experiment with food choices that might seem to be out of your comfort zone but will actually be tasty treats for the predators in your aquarium:

  • Organs;
  • Beef heart;
  • Whitefish (cod, tilapia, pollock);
  • Table shrimp;
  • Chicken scraps.

Of course, you shouldn’t feed carnivorous aquarium fish everything listed above, neither should you turn these food sources into a staple diet for your carnivores. They still need specialty fish food flakes/pellets to meet their quota of vitamins and minerals.

In any case, avoid feeding carnivorous fish fatty meats, and even oily fish, as the excess fat might buildup around your fish’s heart and even damage their liver and reproductive system.

A carnivore’s diet shouldn’t have a fat concentration higher than 6%. Oily, or greasy, meats can also lower the water quality inside your tank during feedings.

Keep in mind that carnivores can be picky about trying new food, so they might need to fast for a while before being hungry enough to tear into a protein-packed serving of beef heart.

What To Feed Omnivorous Fish Other Than Fish Food

food for fish at home
Guppy (Poecilia reticulata)

Most aquarium fish will eat an omnivorous diet in the wild, but some might have a preference for meaty foods (like fairy wrasses), while some will prefer to munch on algae and plant matter (like bottom-feeding catfish).

Omnivorous aquarium fish have a digestive system that can process nutrients like both carnivores and herbivores can, making them the easiest pet fish to feed when you run out of fish food.

To find out if the omnivores you’re keeping in an aquarium have a stronger taste for meaty foods than for plant matter, you will have to go through some trial & error.

Here are some protein-rich food alternatives for fish food flakes designed for omnivores:

  • Insect larvae;
  • Insects;
  • Crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, copepods, crabs);
  • Snails;
  • Hard-boiled egg yolk.

For the omnivorous fish in your tank with a taste for veggies & greens, you can feed them:

  • Cucumber (seeds & soft inside removed);
  • Lettuce;
  • Boiled/Steamed peas;
  • Boiled/Steamed carrots;
  • Boiled/Steamed potato;
  • Boiled/Steamed broccoli;
  • Boiled/Steamed pumpkin;
  • Boiled/Steamed cauliflower;
  • Zucchini (seeds & soft inside removed);
  • Edible aquatic plants (duckweed, Egeria densa, Hygrophila).

The egg yolk might have taken you by surprise, but they’re actually popular for feeding fish fry and the newborns of livebearers. Egg yolk chunks are also a great treat for some pet shrimp (cherry shrimp, for example). Feed it sparingly, though, as it can mess with the water chemistry inside your tank.

Most omnivorous fish will gladly eat any of the food options listed above, especially if you have them fast for 2-3 days. Keep in mind that these food alternatives shouldn’t become the main nutrient sources for your aquarium fish. You still need to make sure your omnivores get enriched fish food flakes.

What To Feed Herbivorous Fish Other Than Fish Food

Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus sp.)
Bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus sp.)

There are few aquarium fish that eat an exclusively herbivorous diet, but there are countless fish species that will nibble on live plants in a tank without being herbivores:

  • Goldfish;
  • Angelfish;
  • Koi fish;
  • some Tetras.

Avid plant-eaters, like silver dollars or Chinese algae-eaters, can eat a varied diet of plant-based food when you’re out of specialty fish food flakes.

An herbivorous fish’s digestive system is designed to efficiently break down plant matter, while their flat teeth work like tiny grinders. Herbivores in aquariums can only eat so much food before they are physically unable to fit any more in their stomachs. And with small stomachs come frequent feedings!

Here’s what you can feed herbivorous fish other than fish food flakes:

  • Steamed/boiled root vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes, etc.);
  • Softened peas;
  • Lettuce and other leafy greens;
  • Some fruits in small portions (apples, mangos);
  • Spirulina;
  • Edible live aquatic plants (duckweed, Brazilian waterweed, Hygrophila).

Herbivorous fish, like omnivores, will be easier to feed new food alternatives, as they are less likely to be picky eaters like carnivores can sometimes be.

See plecos devouring a cucumber here:

Homemade Fish Food

Homemade fish food is an awesome complementary calorie source for your pet fish. It can cut down your costs, especially if you’re feeding a large number of large fish (Koi fish are an excellent example!).

It’s a smart move to get your aquarium fish accustomed early to food alternatives you can make at home on a budget. You should, of course, supplement their mineral, vitamin, and nutrient needs with specialty fish food according to their dietary needs.

Listed below are 2 homemade fish food recipes you can make ahead, freeze in smaller portions, and keep on hand for up to 12 months in your freezer.

Homemade fish food jelly:

This is a great recipe to feed greedy omnivores, like goldfish, koi fish, corys, molly fish, etc., as they will devour the food quickly, so you avoid running the risk of water pollution.

Ingredients

Instructions

½ cup shrimpPuree all the ingredients, except the gelatin, using a blender.

Hydrate the gelatin following the instructions on the packaging.
Add the hydrated gelatin to the pureed ingredients and mix.

Pour the mixture into silicone molds, and freeze until solid.

Add a frozen cube into the tank and let your fish pick at it.

If there’s a large piece of leftover jelly at the end of a feeding session, make sure to remove it.

½ cup white fish (cod, bass or pollock)
½ cup blanched peas
½ cup cucumber
½ cup leafy greens
2/3 cup granulated unsweetened gelatin

Carnivore-friendly homemade fish food jelly:

You can use the same method to prepare a homemade fish food jelly that’s a bit more carnivorous fish-friendly by mixing:

  • 1 cup of white fish;
  • 1 cup of shrimp;
  • 1 cup organs;
  • puree the meat and mix it in with 1 cup of hydrated granulated gelatin.
  • Freeze and store in the freezer for up to 1 year.

What Human Food Can Fish Eat?

pea pufferfish
Dwarf Pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

 

There are two types of human food that your pet fish can safely eat in reasonable quantities:

  • Fresh food | Unprocessed

Depending on your aquarium fish’s diet, you can feed them pieces of whole foods that you would use when cooking your meals.

Fresh vegetables and fruit, raw meats (no fat), greens, etc., can all be safely consumed by your pet fish.

You just have to make sure these fresh foods have the appropriate texture (not watery or oily) and that they fit the dietary properties your fish need (don’t feed meaty foods to herbivorous fish!).

The food should not be processed (pickled, canned, etc.), as it can contain additives, preservatives, and other ingredients that can be hazardous for fish when ingested.

  • Cooked food | Unseasoned | Minimally processed

Cooked vegetables (peas, cauliflower, pumpkin, carrots, etc.), boiled or steamed, are great food alternatives to fish food flakes once in a while for your omnivorous and herbivorous aquarium fish.

You can even feed some fish (goldfish and koi in particular) cooked rice or oatmeal. Keep in mind that cooked human food should never be fed to pet fish if it’s been seasoned (with salt or spices).

Some fish cannot digest certain types of grains that are staples in a human’s diet. So, if you’re experimenting with feeding your fish cooked grains, do it with caution!

What Fruits Can Fish Eat?

Plant-eaters and omnivorous/herbivorous fish in your tank can benefit from being fed small quantities of fruit once in a while because they can get a vitamin/mineral boost while digesting fruit.

Here are some fruits you can safely feed your pet fish:

  • Apples;
  • Mangos;
  • Pears;
  • Papaya;
  • Plantains.

You can feed them as-is without softening them up like you would root vegetables in appropriately sized chunks. Even the invertebrates in your tank will appreciate a fruit treat (snails in particular!).

One fruit you should never feed your pet fish is avocado! Both the skin and pit of the avocado contain persin, which is a toxin that leeches into the body of the avocado. It’s considered deadly for most house pets, so you should definitely not feed it to your fish.

Even with fish-safe fruits, you should only feed them to your pet fish in small quantities sparingly. It’s not the type of food that aquarium fish would ever encounter or feed on in the wild.

What Vegetables Can Fish Eat?

The list of vegetables you can safely feed your pet fish is generous:

  • Boiled/steamed root vegetables;
  • Lettuce and other leafy greens;
  • Zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers (with seeds and soft inside removed);
  • Peas.

You shouldn’t feed aquarium fish vegetables that are particularly acidic (tomatoes), watery, or with a strong flavor. The omnivores/herbivores in your fish tank will happily munch on veggies you already have in your fridge.

When feeding your fish veggies, make sure to remove any large leftover pieces, as these will start to quickly decompose and can turn the water inside your tank toxic.

If you have omnivorous fish in your tank that like to gulp up food (like goldfish or koi fish), you can serve the veggies in bite-sized chunks to make it easier for them.

Make sure you give your bottom feeders a chance to taste-test the veggies. Just keep an eye on the tank during the feeding, and remove the leftover pieces of veg once everyone’s done feasting. 

What Fish Food Should You Feed Your Fish?

red hook silver dollar fish
Redhook silver dollar (Myloplus rubripinnis)

Ready to restock your fish food stash after experimenting with alternative fish food options?

Here are some popular fish food choices that meet 100% of the dietary needs of aquarium fish:

  • Freshwater fish food

Specialty fish food for freshwater fish is engineered to bring out and intensify the color of ornamental aquarium fish. The ingredient list on this type of store-bought fish food is designed to offer fish a well-balanced diet, keeping them active, healthy, and content.

  • Saltwater fish food

Specialty fish food for saltwater fish is meant to fulfill the nutritional needs of marine fish. You can supplement with food alternatives once in a while, but this type of fish food should be the staple diet of your saltwater fish.

If you’re also growing corals in your reef tank, consider adding coral food into your feeding routine. It’s designed to promote faster coral growth and better colors.

  • Enriched fish food:

If you have a pet fish that’s still recovering from a disease, or an infection, you should consider feeding fortified probiotic-packed pellets to help boost their immune system and help them deal with medication dosing better.

How Often Should You Feed Your Fish?

How often you should feed your fish depends on countless factors, but there are some general guidelines you can follow. Going by age is the easiest way to determine how your fish feeding schedule should look like:

  • Newborn Fry: 4 to 5 times daily for at least the first 2-4 weeks of their lives;
  • Juvenile fish: 2 to 3 times daily;
  • Adult fish: 1 to 2 times daily.

Regardless of their age, sick fish will eat significantly less frequently, if at all.

How Much Should You Feed Your Fish?

can you feed fish bread
Cory catfish (Corydoras acutus)

When feeding fish their regular fish food flakes, a few flakes for each fish should be enough. You can better gauge the amount of fish food you should feed your fish by timing them during a feeding.

They should be able to eat all the food within 2 minutes.

If you’re feeding your pet fish using alternative food options (veggies, fruits, meat, etc.), you should definitely start out small, with maybe a chunk of food at a time. Remove all uneaten/leftover food from the tank after 5 minutes or so.

Overfeeding fish is extremely dangerous for pet fish, as they can’t really tell when they’re full. This can lead to constipation and other issues. Leftover food that starts decomposing inside the tank is harmful to fish because it lowers water quality, spiking ammonia levels.

FAQs

Q: Can fish eat rice?

A: Yes, boiled unseasoned rice can be fed to aquarium fish that will eat it. As always, you should start out with small servings of rice to see if your fish have a taste for it.

Q: Can you feed fish bread?

A: No, bread and bread crumbs are one type of human food that you should definitely not be feeding to your aquarium fish. Bread contains sugar, salt, and additives that have no business being in a fish’s digestive system.

Bread can also bloat fish beyond recovery, and broken-off pieces of bread will cause your tank’s filtering system to malfunction. Not even worth a try!

Conclusion

It’s easy to find calorie-rich food alternatives to feed your fish, other than store-bought fish food.
Whether you do it for cost efficiency, or just to add variety to your aquarium fish’s diet, feel free to experiment.

Consider the needs of the specific fish species you’re keeping in your tank when trying out new food, and keep in mind that most aquarium fish will need enriching, vitamin-packed specialty fish food to thrive.


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