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How Often Should I Feed My Fish?

Fish can’t meow or tug at your pant leg. They can only gape longingly through the aquarium glass until their message gets across: feed me. But don’t be fooled by how desperately a fish attacks its food at meal time. The diet of a fish in the wild is opportunity-based. They take what they can get, when they can get it, because they don’t know when they’ll next get the chance. They can behave this way even as pets. But rather than bend to their will, it’s best to keep a steady hand and commit to a solid feeding routine that also adheres to your personal schedule. Just remember that that routine will look different depending on the type of fish.

The Basics

The general rule of thumb is that most fish can make do with one feeding a day, although it’s also okay to have two smaller feedings. The most important thing is to not overfeed. Uneaten food and excess waste production can lead to clogged filters and unhealthy bacteria in the water. To help prevent this, follow the widely accepted guideline of providing only enough food that can be eaten in five minutes or less. It may not seem like much of a meal to you, but most fish require up to 24 hours to fully digest their food. 

But if you have several types of fish in one tank, it likely won’t be enough to chuck in a handful of feed and let the crisps fall where they may. Understanding some general categories of fish will help you determine if you need to do specifically targeted feedings to accommodate individual needs.

Feeding Zones

Fish can also be categorized by which part of the tank (or water column) they feed in: top-feeders, mid-range feeders and bottom-feeders. Fish flakes are thin and light enough to float, making them a good choice for top-feeders and even middle feeders. Fast-sinking pellets, meanwhile, are geared toward bottom-feeders. When deciding on food, make sure the shape and size of the food matches up with the mouth sizes of your fish.

Sleeping Habits

Another important feeding factor is when your fish sleep. Fish obviously won’t eat if they’re asleep. Your diurnal fish—the ones active when your aquarium lights are turned on—should be fed during the day. Any nocturnal fish, however, should be fed when the lights are turned off and there’s less competition from their diurnal companions.


Of course, what type of food you use depends on the unique diet of your fish, which break down into the familiar species of carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore. When it comes to feeding frequency, the key thing to remember is that herbivores actually require more food throughout the day because of their smaller stomachs. So one feeding won’t be enough for them. But by installing your tank with live plants, you’ll be giving them an additional food source to graze on. Want to know more about species preferences?

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