Last Updated on April 24, 2023 by Coral Realm

A vital aspect of aquarium care is feeding tropical fish the correct foods. Tropical fish often require more than just the basic flakes from your local pet store to remain fully healthy.

The huge variety of tropical fish available holds its own problems. The huge biodiversity found in tropical marine ecosystems means that you have a huge array of tropical fish to choose from to grace your fish tank. 

But each species will often have slightly different dietary requirements. This means you have to take every fish species you own into account when you think of the best things to be feeding tropical fish. 


Feeding Tropical Fish

Feeding Tropical Fish

There are four main types of tropical fish; carnivores, herbivores, limnivores, and omnivores. Each of these groupings have different dietary needs that you need to be aware of.

Carnivores are meat eaters, and will not eat plant based foods. Herbivores are the opposite; they are plant eaters. Limnivores are mud eaters, and consume detritus, debris, and algae. They are the scavengers in your tank, and will eat the things which fall to the bottom of the tank. Omnivores will eat anything that comes their way!

You should research what species of tropical freshwater fish you have, and see what food preferences they have. You should also see how often they ideally should eat. Some species should be fed once a day, some twice, some three times etc. 

Some fish are nocturnal and forage during the night, so you should be aware of this. Don’t think that they’re sick and not eating if they are just eating when you are in bed!

Watching your fish and getting to know them is a good idea too, as young fish may have different feeding needs to the older fish, and fry will have their own dietary requirements. There will also be some individual variation as the personalities of your fish come into play.

You should be as accommodating as you can be of these needs of your fish, as if you get the feeding right they will be as healthy as possible.

We will go over the different types of food you can get, and which type of fish they would be suitable for, carnivore, herbivore etc.

Live Fish Food

Live foods are a great way for your carnivorous fish species to get their protein requirements. Carnivores need at least 45 percent protein in their diet to be healthy, otherwise they become seriously malnourished. Your omnivorous fish will also love live food every now and again.

Live foods such as earthworms, red worms, daphnia, and mosquito and fruit fly larvae are perfect for them. It also adds an extra interest for you when feeding tropical fish, as the fish will chase the live prey, and they go mad for it! 

Feeding Tropical Fish Daphnia

Daphnia, small planktonic water fleas. Credit: Per Harald Olsen/NTNU (Flickr)

It is also pretty fun finding ways of catching larvae and other live foods. It will be guaranteed to keep kids occupied!

Many prepared foods are protein enriched to get the protein levels up, but nothing is quite like a good live snack for a carnivore.

Fresh Greens

Herbivorous fish will nip at any plants you have in your tank, no matter how much you feed them, as they are grazers by nature. You can try and stop this though by giving them something tastier to eat instead.

Try popping some leafy vegetables such as spinach into the aquarium substrate, and you should see your herbivorous fish nibble at them. Just remember to keep an eye on how the vegetables are doing, and remove them before they rot in your tank.

Freeze Dried Fish Food

Live foods can often be found in freeze dried form, which means that you don’t have to store it in the freezer. Freeze dried foods often last quite a long time in the cupboard, but be aware of the use by date. You don’t want to give your fish off food!

Freeze dried food won’t get your fishes attention like the real live version, but it is a great way to add to their diet. Try out these freeze dried bloodworms, your fish will love them!

Freeze Dried Bloodworms Fish Food - 2 OZ Tropical Freshwater Betta Fish Aquatic Food
Filled with nutrients and having a very high protein percentage, bloodworms - which are a very popular food in the natural environment - are particularly well suited for finicky animals (e.g. newly added fish not accustomed with dry food. They are also perfect for most tropical fish and goldfish.

Frozen Fish Food

Live foods can also be bought as frozen. Frozen foods don’t get fish as excited as the real live thing, but you will see them get very excited! 

Frozen foods are very useful as they last a very long time and tend to keep more nutrients and goodness than freeze dried foods. When you purchase frozen fish foods, make sure that they are of good quality. Normally frozen foods are meant as a supplement to your fishes diet. 

Frozen fish food should be thawed out before being fed to your fish, so make sure that it is completely thawed before dropping it in the tank.

Pelleted Fish Food

Pellets are a great way to feed your bottom dwelling fish. They tend to sink quite rapidly so bypass the fish in the middle column pretty quickly without taking too much damage!

You can purchase pellets designed for all kinds of fish, so choose the ones which will benefit your fish most. You can get ones designed for goldfish, betta fish, and bottom feeders too. Ask your pet store for a recommendation if you need.


For most fish tank set ups you should be feeding tropical fish twice a day, though some fish may require more or less frequent feedings. As a general rule you shouldn’t be feeding tropical fish more than what they can finish in between 2-4 minutes. If your fish are still eating after this time then your are feeding them too much.

Overfeeding your tropical fish will quickly cause them to become overweight and unhealthy, and this will have a detrimental impact on their health. Check out our article on how often you should feed betta fish if you have one.

Not only does overfeeding have a directly negative impact on the health of your tropical fish, but it also impacts the chemistry of the water. Extra uneaten food falls to the bottom of the tank where it decays and causes a build up of harmful bacteria and chemicals. Hang on back filters can cope with a little extra waste but can soon become overwhelmed. Canister filters tend to have a larger capacity so can handle more wasted food but will also quickly become clogged. 

You want to watch your fish and make sure that all are eating, and none are acting strangely or not eating. This can be a sign of distress or mean the fish is unwell. 

Hopefully this guide has been helpful in how you should be feeding tropical fish! Remember to enjoy watching your fish eat and be happy!

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