Types of Fish Feed: Ultimate Guide to Fish Food

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There are many different types of fish food on the market today. They come in many different shapes and sizes. However, not all fish food may be suitable for your fish. It is important to recognize the right type of food for your fish.

Fish feed is a very important topic for multiple reasons.

First, feeding fish a balanced diet is essential for their proper growth and well-being. The food that they eat will have a direct impact on their health. Unlike fish in their natural environment, fish in captivity rely on their feed for their nutrients. If the feed is lacking in vital nutrients, the fish may not be able to survive or grow to their full potential. If you wish to successfully breed your fish, feed quality become even more important.

Second, fish feed has an economic significance. In aquaculture, fish feed can represent over 50% of the operational cost. As feed cost remain high, finding quality feed at a reasonable price is becoming a challenge for many commercial farmers.

Lastly, fish feed can have an impact on the ocean environment, especially in large-scale aquaculture. Since 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working on ways to reduce their dependence on marine fish as a source of aquaculture feed through the NOAA-USDA Alternative Feeds Initiative. Instead of continuing to rely heavily on fishmeal and fish oil as a feed ingredient, alternatives such as plant based ingredients are being researched.

Types of Fish Food

There are many different types of fish food on the market today. The types of fish food can be broadly categorized into processed feed, dried food, fresh food, frozen food, and live fish food.

In order to fully understand what type of fish food is available today, it is important to recognize two concepts. First, there is a huge selection of fish food on the market, especially when it comes to processed food. Second, there are multiple different markets for fish food. The main markets are aquarium fish food, aquaculture fish feed, and aquaponics fish feed. It is exciting to see that there are advancements in fish food across all markets.

By understanding the nutritional requirements of fish and what type of fish food is available, both aquarium hobbyists and aquaculture farmers can make educated decisions.

Types of Fish Food
Different Types of Fish Food

Processed Fish Feed

Processed fish feed, or manufactured fish feed, represents the largest category of fish food for both ornamental and farmed fish. The popularity of commercial processed feed can be attributed to their convenience and also the fact that they have advanced in quality over the years.

Processed feed have a long shelf life. If stored properly in a cool dry place, they can be kept for months. Certain types of processed feed are known to last longer than others. Generally, pellet feed will have a longer shelf life than flake food.

Fish Feed Ingredients

Processed feed can be formulated to have all the essential nutritional components in the right ratio. Ingredients of a processed fish feed often consist of the following:


Protein requirement can be vary for different fish species. For most types of fish feed, protein will be the most expensive ingredient.

Sources of protein is typically fishmeal, created from other fish. Other sources of protein include legumes such as soybean.


Lipids, or fats, will typically comprise about 10-15% of the feed. For herbivorous fish, the typical range is 3-5%. This is a high-energy ingredient. It provides approximately twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates.

Sources of lipid is typically fish oil. The oil is extracted from other fish such as sardines. Alternative to fish oil includes vegetable oils extracted from canola and sunflower.


Carbohydrates is an economical source of energy for fish. It helps to reduce the feed cost. It can be useful as a binding agent when manufacturing the feed, especially for feed that are designed to float. Carbohydrates make up 20-30% of many commercial feed.

While carbohydrate in fish feed is economical, some fish do not tolerate it in high amounts. Enzymes for carbohydrate digestion are not present in the same amount for all fish. If the concentration of carbohydrates is too high, fish can develop signs of ill health. For example, excessive fat in liver are known to develop in some fish. In general, mono or d-saccaride are utilized better than polysaccaride. During the manufacturing process, if the starch is cooked, it can make it more biologically available to fish.

Species such as the koi fish, various catfish, and african tilapia have been shown to utilize carbohydrates better than other fish. In general, carnivorous fish and fry digest carbohydrates less efficiently than omnivorous and herbivorous fish.


Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for the growth and health of the fish. Key vitamins for fish include A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, Biotin, C, Choline, D3, E, Folacin, Inositol, and K.

Unfortunately, many vitamins do not remain stable for very long in processed feed. Oxidation can degrade vitamins very quickly. For example, the vitamin C content in a open container of flake food can start degrading within a month.


Minerals are inorganic elements that are necessary for the fish to function. Maintenance of cells, immune system, and bones, all require minerals. Key minerals needed by fish are calcium and phosphorus. Small traces of sodium, magnesium, iron, iodine, chloride, copper, potassium, sulfur, and zinc are also needed.

Fortunately, minerals have a longer shelf life compared to vitamins.

Binding Agent

The binding agent provides water stability to the feed. Typically, only a small amount is required, less than 1%. Guargum and Carboxy Methyl cellulose are binding agents commonly used.


Preservatives help extend the shelf life of processed fish feed. Preservatives can consist of anti-microbials and antioxidants.

Common sources of anti-microbial are sodium, benzoic, sorbic acid. They are typically added in very small amounts, less than 0.1%.

Common sources of antioxidants are Vitamin E, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquine.


Attractants are commonly added to fish feed to make it more palatable. This can consist of approximately 5% of the feed.

Common sources of attractants are hydrolysates and condensed fish solubles.

These components can be added in various ratios to meet the requirements of different fish species. Fish in various stages of their growth will also require different ingredients in different ratios as well. In general, carnivorous fish, juvenile fish, and fry will require a higher protein content.

Processed feed can be delivered in many different shapes and sizes as well. The main types of processed fish feed are pellet food, flake food, and powdered food.

Pellet Food

Pellet food is a popular type of fish food, especially for feeding larger aquarium fish and farmed fish. The manufacturer will grind up the feed components, extrude it with heat and pressure, then produce pellets in various sizes. Some are designed to float on water, while others are designed to sink.

Pellet food decomposes slower in water compared to other fish food. Therefore, the fish has a better chance of eating the pellet before it decomposes and pollutes the water.

In general, pellet food has a longer shelf life than other types of feed. The smaller surface area reduces the oxidation rate.

Flake Food

Flake food is another popular type of fish food, especially for aquarium fish. Flake food will float for a certain amount of time, then slowly since to the bottom. This gives a chance for all types of fish at all levels of the aquarium to feed. Flake food is great for community fish tanks where different species of fish are co-existing.

Powdered Food

Powdered food, or fry food, is often used in fish hatcheries to feed juvenile fish. The dry powder can be directly fed to the fish, or mixed in water before feeding it to the fish. Powdered food can pollute the tank water very quickly. Overfeeding should be avoided, and any excess should be removed immediately.

Other categories of processed fish feed include specialized feed such as color enhancing, medicated, vacation, and species specific fish food.

Color Enhancing Fish Food

Color is very important to ornamental fish. Color enhancers are popular for tropical fish and koi fish food. In order to allow the fish to exhibit the most vibrant color, carotenoids are added as an enhancer. In nature, fish would be able to able to eat plants and invertebrates that are high in carotenoids.

According to fishermen, rainbow trouts that are caught in the rivers with high population of gammarus exhibit the most vibrant color.

In aquaculture, salmon feed is often supplemented with carotenoids such as astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. This gives salmon its distinctive pink pigmentation.

Medicated Fish Food

Medicated fish food are used to treat bacterial infections. The advantage of medicated fish food is that it can be a direct application, as opposed to treating the entire water.

Vacation Fish Food

Vacation fish food are designed to release the food slowly, over a period of 1-2 weeks. This will allow aquarium fish to survive, while the owner is away on vacation.

Not all products will be compatible with your fish. Therefore, it is recommended to do a test run before going on vacation. If the vacation feeder does not work well, installing an automatic fish feeder may be a good alternative option.

Species Specific Fish Food

There are many fish food that are formulated specifically for your fish. These types of fish food are great if you want to make sure that you are meeting the nutritional requirement of your fish.

Today, due to advancements in feed technology, both aquarium fishkeepers and aquaculture farmers have many high quality feeds to choose from.

Dried Fish Food

Dried and freeze-dried foods is a type of natural fish food that is not heavily processed. While the nutritional value may not be equivalent to a fresh or live form, the majority of the nutritional value is still preserved in this dried form. It can be a great way to supplement a generic diet. Blood worms, Brine shrimp, plankton, krill and many other invertebrates are available in this form.

Fresh and Frozen Fish Food

Fresh and frozen fish food can be a great source of nutritious feed. Fish with specialized dietary needs can greatly benefit from fresh food. For example, when attempting to condition fish for breeding, a high protein diet of fresh food is beneficial. Some fish are very picky eaters, and they may only accept fresh food.

There are many different types of fresh food that can be fed to fish.

Various types of meat can be fed to carnivorous fish.  Depending on the type of meat, it is advisable to cook the meat prior to feeding in order to prevent introducing infectious disease to your fish. Meat containing high amounts of fat should be avoided or fed very sparingly in order to prevent digestive problems. Meats that are commonly fed to fish include shrimp, scallop, oyster, clam, mussel, crab, squid, chicken, and beef liver.

Many fresh and frozen vegetables can be fed to herbivorous fish. While vegetable matter is low in fat and protein, they consist of much needed carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins. Prior to feeding, vegetable can be blanched in order to break down the tough membranes. Vegetables that are commonly fed to fish includes romaine lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, watercress, zucchini, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beet tops, and strawberries.

This type of fish food often require a little more preparation, but some frozen food marketed for aquarium fish are conveniently packaged for individual feedings.

It is also possible to gather these ingredients and create homemade fish food. Simply, chop the ingredients and mix it in a blender, and add some unflavored gelatin mix. For storage, pour the mixture ice cube tray or storage bag and freeze it.

Live Fish Food

Live fish food is one of the best source of fish food. Fish are opportunistic feeders. In nature, many fish will eat insects and worms regularly.

Since live food is not readily available in an enclosed environment, it can be beneficial to add it as a part of their diet. Feeding live food may be necessary for fish with specialized needs such as some carnivorous fish, picky eaters, and fry. Many wild caught specimen that have not been able to adjust to processed dry feed will most likely require live food.

Not only does live food mimic the feeding habit of fish in their natural environment, but live food can provide many benefits that commercial feeds have not been able to replicate. Many fry that have been grown with a supplement of live food have proved to have exceptionally better survival rates and grow to become one of the most robust specimen. Live organisms that are suitable for as feed include bloodworms, mealworms, blackworms, tubifex, glassworm, grindal worms, white worms, redworms, daphnia, gammarus, among many others. Feeding live food at least twice a week is recommended for most fish.

If these invertebrates are collected from a garden or outdoor pond, be mindful of potential risks such as parasites and harmful chemicals. It is possible to grow your own live fish food such as white worms. Live food is a great way to supplement a varied diet.


What kind of food do fish eat?

There are many different types of fish, and their diets and vary widely. They can be carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous.

  • A carnivorous fish have a high protein diet. Some examples of fish that are often considered as carnivors are piranha, arowana, cichlids, and betta fish. For aquarium fish, there are high protein fish food available for these fish. There are even fish food made specifically for individual species, especially for popular fish species such as betta fish. In the wild, carnivorous fish may eat invertebrates such as insects, worms and snails. Some fish will eat other fish as well. These predatory fish that primarily feed on other fish are known as piscivores.
  • A herbivorous fish have a primarily plant based diet. Some examples of freshwater fish that are often considered as herbivorous are plecos, bristlenosed catfishes, and otocinclus catfish. Some examples of saltwater fish that are often considered as herbivorous are parrotfish, damselfish, and rabbitfish. Algae wafers are popular food choices for herbivorous bottom feeders. In their natural environment, these herbivorous fish will often feed on algae and other plants.
  • An omnivorous fish will consume both protein and plant matters. Most fish are considered omnivores. In fact, many fish that are often considered as either canrnivors or herbivors may be omnivores by definition. Some examples of omnivores are zebra danio, Guppy, and Oscar fish. While all omnivorous fish eat both protein and plant matter, their exact diet can vary widely. In an aquarium, flake food and pellet food is accepted by most species. In their natural environment, their diet can be a combination of plants, invertebrates, and other fish.

Are there alternatives for aquarium fish food?

There are alternatives to aquarium fish food. While the common practice is to feed processed food such as flake food or pellet food, you can try feeding fresh fish food and live fish food instead of aquarium fish food. Feeding fresh food and live food is a great way to supplement their varied diet.

What is the best fish food?

The best fish food depends on each fish species and their specific nutritional needs.

New Life Spectrum fish food is considered to be one of the best fish food by many fishkeepers. They are known for their premium quality natural ingredients.

Many breeders consider live food to be one of the best fish food, since it mimics what the fish would eat in their natural environment.

Again, the best fish food will depend on the each fish. The best diet for one fish may not be suitable for another fish.

Is there a difference between fish food and fish feed?

In general, the word “food” is reserved for food for humans and pets. The word “feed” is used for what is fed to livestock. However, fish food and fish feed could be referring to the same product.

While fish food and fish feed may be marketed differently, the products itself can be the same. An aquarium fishkeeper who owns fish as a pet will most likely use the word “fish food”. A person who breeds or keep fish with a commercial intent will most likely use the word “fish feed.”

In this article, the word “fish food” and “fish feed” is used interchangeably.

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