Best Tropical Fish Food

Updated April 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
30 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
183 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best tropical fish food

A tank full of tropical fish not only adds beauty and color to a room, it also can bring about relaxation in owners who watch their fish swim to and fro. Perhaps that’s why fish are the third-most popular pet in the United States, after dogs and cats. Fish generally are far easier to care for than either of the more popular furred pets — no need for walks, litter box scooping, or a sitter if you go away overnight — but they do require proper housing and feeding not just to thrive but also to survive.

Just like any animals, tropical fish have certain dietary needs to be met if they are to stay healthy. Given the many different types of fish food, however, it can be a little overwhelming to scan the pet store shelves and find the right product. That’s why we’ve written this handy guide for choosing the best tropical fish food for your finned friends.

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Tropical fish require a diet high in protein and very low in carbohydrates to remain healthy.

What are tropical fish?

Before getting started on the food requirements fish have, it helps to understand the three basic categories of fish commonly kept in home aquariums. Each group has its own food and care needs.

Tropical fish are native to freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams in tropical or warm climates. These fish require heated water to keep them healthy — typically between 75°F and 80°F. Some common tropical fish frequently kept as pets include guppies, platys, barbs, and danios.

Cold-water fish are also freshwater fish, but these species hail from chillier climates, and so they do best in water that’s between 60°F and 75°F. Goldfish are the most popular species of cold-water fish kept in home aquariums.

Saltwater fish are native to the oceans and require salty aquarium water to survive as well as careful attention to water temperature and condition. As a general rule, these fish are much more difficult — and expensive — to keep than freshwater fish.

Dyk1
Did You Know?
The main protein source in non-vegetarian fish foods should be seafood, not plant protein or grains.
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Key considerations

Fish nutrition

The majority of tropical fish kept in aquariums are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. Tropical fish require a diet high in protein, low in fat, and very low in carbohydrates. Even fish that mainly eat plants require at least 15% to 30% of their diet to be protein.

Good tropical fish foods contain mostly high-quality protein sources such as fish, shrimp, or squid. Typically, there will also be plant ingredients, often green algae or kelp. And while grains are commonly used in tropical fish food, they shouldn’t be the main ingredient, as fish do not digest carbohydrates well. Finally, most balanced fish foods include vitamins and minerals for optimal health.

Types of tropical fish food

Flakes: Dried flakes tend to float on the surface of the water for a while before slowly sinking, making them an excellent choice for fish that feed at or near the top of the tank or in the middle of the tank. There are many specialty flakes designed for specific species of fish, or for various health benefits, such as to brighten the color of your fish. Most dried foods, especially flakes, are nutritionally balanced to serve as the sole or main part of your fishes’ diet.

Crisps: This style is slightly thicker than flakes. They float on the surface a little longer and dissolve more slowly. This is another excellent form of dried fish food for species that feed on the surface or towards the middle of the tank. Crisps can be too thick, however, for very small tropical fish such as neon tetras.

Pellets: These sink fairly quickly to the bottom of the tank, where, naturally, bottom-feeders such as catfish, plecostomuses, and loaches eagerly devour them. Many pellets are made of algae, as bottom-feeders often prefer plant-based foods.

Stick-on tabs: While not as common, a few brands make these. Press the food on the inside front wall of your tank and enjoy the show! Fish smell the food and quickly gather to gobble it up. This is a fun way to feed species that tend to eat toward the upper level or middle of the tank.

Wafers: These large tablets don’t dissolve nearly as quickly as most other forms of dried tropical fish food, and they sink quickly to the bottom of the tank. They are intended for bottom feeders such as plecostomus and other algae eaters.

Frozen: This type of tropical fish food is generally used as supplemental feeding, not as the sole diet for your pets. These look like miniature ice cubes and can be dropped straight into the tank. Most frozen foods are single-ingredient — typically either bloodworm, brine shrimp, or daphnia. Most fish enjoy these foods, but they are especially liked by carnivorous species or omnivores that lean toward carnivorous, including angelfish, cichlids, and killifish.

Freeze-dried: Another supplemental food that’s especially liked by carnivorous species, these likewise are single-ingredient protein sources. The most common are tubifex worms, bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp, and krill. Sprinkle freeze-dried food on the surface of the water and watch your fish come running.

Live: While definitely not the most convenient type of food, many species of tropical fish enjoy a treat of live food on occasion. Not all pet stores carry these, but those with a large aquarium department often do. The most common live foods for fish include tubifex worms, red worms, daphnia, and brine shrimp. You’ll want to serve these in a specially designed cone feeder to keep the live food contained while your fish nibble.

Dyk2
Did You Know?
Dried flakes are by far the most popular type of tropical fish food.
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Tropical fish food prices

Inexpensive: Luckily, most tropical fish foods won’t break your budget. You’ll pay less than $5 for the majority of dried foods in 1- to 2-ounce containers.

Mid-range: The $5 to $10 category includes larger sizes of dried food, as much as eight ounces, as well as one to two ounces of freeze-dried food.

Expensive: Typically, frozen foods are costliest; expect to pay up to $25 for a package of 30 cubes of fresh-frozen worms, brine shrimp, krill, or similar small seafood.

Dyk3
Did You Know?
Some specialty foods help brighten the color of your tropical fish.
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Tips

  • Tailor to your fish. In a well-balanced community tank, you likely have three basic types of fish: Those that feed on the surface and have slightly upturned mouths, those that feed in the middle of the tank and have centered mouths, and bottom-feeders, who typically have slightly downturned mouths. Surface and mid-tank feeders do well with most types of food, while bottom-feeders thrive when offered pellets or wafers that sink rapidly. Offer both types of food each day.
  • Size matters. Match the size of the food to your fishes’ mouths. Very small fish, such as neon tetras, can’t manage large pellets, while larger types of fish, such as oscars, prefer correspondingly larger types of food, including wafers, pellets, or crisps.
  • Monitor feeding frequency. The majority of common aquarium fish do well on one feeding per day, but if preferred, you can split their meal into two daily feedings. Just be sure to offer only half as much food at each session.
  • Mind your technique. Sprinkle or drop small amounts of food onto the surface. Your fish will quickly come to recognize feeding time and will likely gather near the surface of the water when it’s time to eat.
  • Pay attention to quantity. When it comes to the amount of food, it’s better to err on the side of less. Only feed your fish as much food as they can consume within five minutes. Any more than this, and the food will dissolve and spoil, leading to cloudy water, an overgrowth of bacteria, and possibly sick fish.
  • Use separate feeding times based on food type. Feed non-flake foods, like frozen or freeze-dried varieties, at a separate time from the flaked food. This helps assure that all the food will be consumed quickly.
  • Use a vacation feeder if needed. If you plan on traveling, you’ll want to ensure your fish are still fed on schedule. Vacation feeders, also called time-release foods, accomplish this goal. These foods are basically blocks of tightly packed food that dissolve slowly over a period of time — some last up to 14 days — providing a source of food to your fish while you are gone. Note that many fish don’t like these feeders, however, and some can cause cloudy water.
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Only feed your tropical fish as much food as they can consume within a few minutes.

FAQ

Q. Can I feed my goldfish and tropical fish the same food?

A. While it won’t hurt your goldfish to occasionally eat the same food as your tropical fish, it’s not a good idea to feed it to them regularly. (Of course, these two types of fish should always be kept in separate tanks, due to their different water temperature requirements.) Goldfish, for instance, require a higher percentage of carbohydrates in their diet than most warm-water tropical fish, so they thrive on food formulated specifically for their needs.

Q. Can I feed my tropical fish fresh fruit or vegetables?

A. Many tropical fish enjoy an occasional treat of fresh fruit or vegetables. Before offering the treat, wash the produce very thoroughly, and then cut it into small bits that your fish will be able to nibble quickly. Remove any uneaten food after a few minutes. Fruits and vegetables that are especially good to offer fish include peas, broccoli, spinach, peeled grapes, cucumber, squash, apple and banana.

Q. Does tropical fish food go bad?

A. Dried forms of tropical fish food won’t go moldy, but they can become stale and lose nutrients. It’s best to store your fish food where it won’t be exposed to high heat or freezing temperatures. Also, avoid getting any drops of water in the container. Check the “best by” date on the food and toss if it’s past its prime.
 

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