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Understanding The Dietary Needs Of Carnivorous Aquarium Fish

Carnivorous aquarium fish have special dietary needs and a varied diet supplying ample protein should be part of your feeding regimen. Get feeding tips to ensure your carnivorous fish are healthy and thriving!

 

Aquarium fish can be divided into three categories based on their dietary needs – these three groups are herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. These labels are used to describe the kind of foods the species in each group eat. Herbivores need a largely vegetable-based diet, carnivores are meat eaters and omnivores require a healthy balance of both vegetables and protein. While there are some basic nutritional needs that all species of aquarium fish have in common, carnivores have a few specific needs that must also be met. Unless you understand the dietary needs of the carnivores in your tank and you are equipped to fulfill them, your fish may not thrive and grow to reach their full potential.

What is a Carnivore?

pike cichlid xs 19581767To put it simply, carnivores are predatory, meat-eating fish. In the wild, carnivorous species of fish feed on insects and insect larvae, crustaceans and other fish. Species belonging to this group require a higher level of protein in their diet than herbivores and omnivores do in order to survive. While all fish require some level of protein to achieve healthy growth, carnivores need a diet made up of between 45% and 70% protein. Compared to the 30% to 40% recommended for herbivores and omnivores, this percentage is significant. Carnivores do need some vegetables in their diet but, unlike herbivores, plant-based foods should not be the staple diet for these fish.

cichlid flowerhorn xs 15862801Species of Carnivorous Fish
 
•    Archerfish                                                                                                             
•    Bettas (Siamese Fighting Fish)
betta male xs 14472219•    Discus Fish
•    Frontosa Cichlid
•    Hatchetfish
•    Killifish
•    Loaches
•    New World Cichlids
•    Oscars
•    Pencilfish
•    Pike Cichlidsbetta female xs 4025486
tetra xs 7646574•    Piranha
•    Pipefish
•    Puffers
•    Tetras
•    Tilapia
•    Trigger Fish
 
Nutritional Needs of Carnivorous Fish

Protein should be the main component in the diet of carnivorous species of fish but these fish require a variety of other nutrients as well in order to thrive. Fats, or lipids, are necessary to insulate the body, to promote healthy cell function and to maintain body temperature. In addition to these functions, fats also act as the body’s energy stores. Carbohydrates like starch, sugar and cellulose also provide energy. Typically, carbohydrates enter the body via plant matter so most carnivorous species of fish do not get, nor do they require, a high level of carbohydrate in their diets. In fact, the bodies of carnivorous fish are not equipped to handle large quantities of carbohydrate.

vitamins xs 21699156In addition to these dietary basics, carnivores also need vitamins and minerals in their diets. Vitamins and minerals are essential for the growth of healthy bone, scales and tissue. Vitamin C, in particular, is instrumental in bone development along with healing and digestion. Vitamins B2 and B6 deal with enzymes and Vitamin B1 helps to breakdown carbohydrates and promotes healthy growth and fertility. Calcium and phosphorous are the two most important minerals for aquarium fish – these minerals are necessary for maintaining healthy scales, bones and teeth. While some vitamins and minerals may be ingested naturally through the foods you give your carnivorous species of fish, it is often necessary to provide supplements or to “gut load” live foods to ensure that fish get the vitamins and minerals they need.

Recommended Foods for Carnivores

worms xs 4656355Insects – Some of the most popular insects used as food for carnivorous species of fish include bloodworms, white worms, tubifex worms and micro worms. All of these insects are available in live, frozen and freeze-dried forms. While most insects are a good source of protein for carnivores, some insects like white worms can also supply healthy lipids. Because live and frozen foods can be expensive, many aquarium hobbyists choose to cultivate their own insects for use as food for carnivores.

goldfish xs 2018338Fish – Feeder fish can be a great way to supplement the diet of larger carnivores like Oscars. The most commonly used type of feeder fish are guppies and goldfish because these fish are small and inexpensive. When using feeder fish, however, it is wise to first quarantine the fish for at least one week to ensure that they are not carrying disease. Feeder fish can also be gut loaded with fresh vegetables and spirulina wafers as a means of supplying carnivores with additional nutrients.

fish-meal anchovies xs 1525967Fish Meal – Fish meal can either be made from fishery waste or from whole fish harvested specifically for making fish meal. Meal made from whole fish is far superior to the alternative and it is an excellent source of protein, fats and vitamins as well as Omega 3 fatty acid. Small, bony fish like herring, anchovies and Pollack are frequently used for fish meal and though this type of food can be expensive, it is a great way to provide carnivores with the nutrients they need to thrive.

brine-shrimp-plus OceanNutritionShrimp – Brine shrimp make an excellent meal for all types of fish and they are easy to come by. Because they have such high water content, the nutritional value of brine shrimp is somewhat limited, but they do act as a source of high-quality protein. Stick with reputable brands like Ocean Nutrition to ensure quality and freshness. Brine shrimp can be purchased in live, frozen or freeze-dried forms and the eggs can also be purchased to be raised and cultivated at home. Some frozen foods have supplemental vitamins added in for immune support. Another form of shrimp recommended for carnivores is shrimp meal – a product made from cull shrimp. This product is an excellent source of fats and supplemental protein.

beef-heart xs 11793264Beef Heart – Though it is commonly recommended for carnivorous species of fish, beef heart is a type of food that should be used sparingly. Beef heart is an excellent source of protein and it can be a great food for juvenile fish who need a high-protein diet in order to grow. Because it contains around 18% saturated fat, however, beef heart can eventually put stress on the kidneys and digestive tract.     

Tips for Feeding Carnivorous Fish

In order to ensure that your carnivores get all the vitamins and minerals they need, you may need to "gut load" your live foods. Gut loading is the process of feeding live foods like insects and feeder fish healthy foods. When your fish eat these live foods, they ingest the nutrients the foods were “loaded” with as well. Popular foods used for gut loading include spirulina flakes, algae wafers and fresh vegetables. This tactic can be used for virtually any kind of live food and it is a great way to ensure the long-term health of your aquarium fish.

When it comes to keeping your carnivorous aquarium fish healthy, how much you feed them can be just as important as what kind of food you feed them. Carnivores have a short digestive tract and some larger species do not need to eat every day. Do not feed your fish more than 3% of their body weight each day and only provide as much food as they can eat in 3 to 5 minutes. Overfeeding can result in excess waste build-up in the substrate of your tank which can have a negative effect on water quality. When feeding your fish live worms, use a feeding cone to keep the worms contained until they are eaten.

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