Goldfish Food and Feeding: The Ultimate Guide

Note: This guide is massive! To aid reading, I condensed each section and included links to related articles for more in-depth information. I also plan to turn this goldfish food guide into a PDF that you can print out and use as a reference. Happy feeding!

Feeding Goldfish: The Ultimate Goldfish Food Guide

[Goldfish] are hearty feeders and accomplished beggars, and they will gladly encourage you to overfeed them. – David E. Boruchowitz, author of Aquarium Care of Goldfish

Overfeeding is a common problem in aquariums.

If you’re not sure how much goldfish food (or even what) to feed new goldfish, you’re not alone. Horrendous products like this have very low nutritional value, are packed with filler content, and instantly cloud the water during feeding time.

Sadly, a majority of fish owners buy their first goldfish without learning the essentials of proper goldfish care beforehand. They’ll buy a goldfish from the pet store, put him into a small glass bowl, and feed the fish so much goldfish food that the filtration system (if they’re using one at all) can’t keep up with the ammonia buildup.

Next thing you know, the poor fish is laying on its side – or swimming upside down!

Too much food can get embedded beneath the gravel and decay, emitting harmful toxins into the water. Too little food can lead to nutritional deficiencies and prevent your goldfish from growing as they should.

In the end, you have very stressed out fish.

Since you’re reading this guide, I’m guessing you want to get it right the first time (before bringing your goldfish home to meet the family). Or maybe you already lost a goldfish from the above scenario, and you’re looking to turn things around for the next one. In any case, I’m glad you’re here. Because you’re about to learn some crazy useful tips on what goldfish eat, how much goldfish food to feed, and when your goldfish will want their next morsel.

Ready to get those fingers dirty? It starts with understanding how goldfish eat.

It’s Munch Time

Did you know that goldfish actually have teeth in their throat?

Well, they do. While goldfish do have several small teeth in their jaws for gripping and tearing food, a majority of their teeth are found in the throat. These teeth make it easier for your goldfish to grind up food and essentially eat that long worm whole (though I still recommend chopping up live worms before feeding young goldfish). And because goldfish have a protractile jaw (a jaw that can move outward while feeding), they’re pros at finding and nibbling on leftover food mixed between the substrate.

Neat, huh?

What’s more, goldfish don’t actually have a “true” stomach. Their lack of a stomach can cause digestive problems when fed the wrong goldfish food, fed too much food at once, or even fed food that isn’t prepared in a certain way. Fancy goldfish especially have trouble because of their bulky bodies (and the position of their internal organs in the body).

Luckily you don’t have to worry about that. By the time you’re done with this guide, you’ll be a goldfish food expert.

What’s on the Goldfish Menu Today?

Maine coon cat and goldfish food nutritionThere are so many different brands of goldfish food on the market, ranging from cans of dry food to packages of freeze-dried blood worms. But be careful of which brands you feed your goldfish. Some brands use tons of cheap fillers in their goldfish food that don’t actually give your fish real nutritional value.

While most commercial brands do strive to provide your goldfish with the balanced diet they need to stay healthy, the level of nutrients a particular brand has will vary. By simply looking at the ingredients on the back of the can, you can get a feel of how one brand of food compares with the next. And later, your goldfish will thank you with vibrant colors and years of entertainment.

To start with, there are several different types of food you can buy. Dry food (including flakes, pellets, sticks, and wafers) are the most used and marketed goldfish food available.

Dry Goldfish Food

Simply browse through the fish isle at your local pet store, and you’ll see dozens of commercial goldfish food cans on display, most of which are dry food. Some are specially formulated to sink in the water, while others naturally float at the top of the aquarium. Flakes are known to float at the water surface, while pellets often sink to the gravel below (though not always – you can buy pellets that float as well).

With so many options of dry goldfish food available, which should you buy? Goldfish graze at both the top and bottom of the aquarium. Though, they do spend most of their time energetically sifting through the substrate for any tasty tidbits they missed during feeding time. Unless your goldfish is sick or known to have buoyancy problems, both floating and sinking food will do just fine.

Sick goldfish will usually only touch food that sinks to the bottom, so it’s always good to have a supply of sinking pellets to make sure everyone gets a bite. Since dry food that floats causes goldfish to drink in packets of air from time to time, some fish hobbyists even go the extra mile and only offer their goldfish sinking pellets to avoid buoyancy and swim bladder issues (fancy goldfish are especially prone to swim bladder problems).

Floating dry food has its advantages though. Flakes and floating pellets are easier to manage. Since they can be quickly removed after the feeding period, they won’t accidentally get caught under rocks and pollute the water.

Ultimately the brand of goldfish food you choose is up to you. But if goldfish food often get caught under rocks, you might be feeding too much food at once. If you have trouble making up your mind, you can always feed your goldfish both floating flakes and sinking pellets (variety is always a good way to go).

If you have sensitive fancy goldfish, I highly recommend that you soak dry food first before feeding. Dry food expands when filled with water, and if your goldfish happens to eat a pellet before it expands, it can cause internal problems (food may soak in liquid from your fish’s internal organs, expand, and clog intestines). To make it easier for your goldfish to digest each meal, simply fill a cup with aquarium water and soak the dry food for 5 to 10 seconds before feeding. If you’d rather not pre-soak dry goldfish food, green veggies are also good for digestion (we’ll talk more about these later).

Live Goldfish Food

Nutrition can vary depending on what is offered and how the live food is fed. Many fish enthusiasts recommend feeding a very nutritious diet to live food before feeding (this process is called gutloading) so that your goldfish can benefit from the extra nutritional value of its meal. Best of all, your goldfish will love every bite!

Brine Shrimp Hatchery - Live Goldfish Food

Live goldfish food is also an awesome source of protein. In fact, it’s often used to get goldfish ready for breeding. The extra protein is good for young goldfish who are still growing and fancy varieties with developing head growths, like oranda and lionhead goldfish.

You can even cultivate your own live food. Brine shrimp is a popular choice. Hatching your own brine shrimp can even be a fun learning experience and eggs hatch relatively quickly (within 24 hours under the right conditions). Some fish hobbyists also like feeding their goldfish earthworms they find after spring showers, though these will need to be cleaned thoroughly (make sure you collect your earthworms from areas where herbicides aren’t used).

Live food can have several risks though. If you’re not careful, live goldfish food can contain diseases that will infect your goldfish. Brine shrimp and earthworms usually don’t carry disease, but other foods can. Of course, there are steps you can take to reduce such risks and foods you can buy instead to eliminate risk altogether. Most live food is available at the pet store in small amounts, and generally these will be safe for your goldfish to eat. Live foods available include brine shrimp, daphnia, tubifex worms, glass worms, and aquarium snails. In fact, aquarium snails are a goldfish delicacy!

Another option is to offer your fish live aquatic plants. Goldfish especially love duckweed, and they’re relatively easy to grow as long as lighting requirements are met.

Frozen and Freeze-dried Food

With frozen or freeze-dried food, your goldfish basically receive all of the nutrients of live food without the risk of infection. And just like live food, your goldfish will go crazy for a bite!

While often available in chunks, freeze-dried goldfish food can be broken up for younger goldfish. Though full-grown goldfish are just as happy eating them whole.

Freeze-dried food can be purchased in many different varieties, the most popular being brine shrimp and blood worms. Pet stores also carry tubifex worms, krill, plankton, Mysis shrimp, cyclops, daphnia, and mosquito larvae. Krill is especially effective in boosting high carotene levels, contributing to beautiful contrasting colors in goldfish and necessary for red pigment growth.

While specifically found in marine environments, squid and algae are great additions to your goldfish’s stable diet. They’re also excellent sources of nutrition.

If you’re queasy about cultivating your own live food, freeze-dried food is a healthy alternative that your goldfish will love (since they don’t often resemble the organism being fed).

Occasional Goldfish Treats

Goldfish treats fed once a week or a couple of times per month can create excitement during feeding time and is a wonderful way to give your goldfish the well balanced diet needed to live long-lasting lives.

Goldfish are primarily herbivores. Yes, they are omnivores and so eat meat as well. But, just like how plant matter was their main source of food in the wild, they should also be fed a good diet that includes lots of greens. Their digestive systems are more sensitive than other species of fish (you may recall that goldfish don’t have “true” stomachs), so plants make it easier for them to digest their food. If you feed your goldfish too much meat without enough vegetables in the diet, you’ll run into problems later.

Soft vegetables, like frozen peas (with the skin removed), frozen zucchini, boiled broccoli, and diced boiled potatoes can be used in addition to freeze-dried meals (egg yolk is another favorite, though messy). Veggies are often recommended for older goldfish to help with digestion. Goldfish struggling with swim bladder problems or swimming upside down will also appreciate a few more greens in their diet.

“Planting” lettuce leaves in the gravel will give your goldfish something to munch on if you don’t use live plants often. They’ll also enjoy fresh seaweed from the pet store, and you can use a veggy clip to keep any vegetables you feed underneath the water and in plain view for your goldfish.

But while homemade vegetables offer tasty treats, it’s important that you never feed your goldfish anything with spices. Keep vegetables natural and soft by boiling the food or thawing goldfish food out if frozen.

I do recommend feeding freeze-dried food, like brine shrimp and blood worms, once or twice a week to supplement your goldfish’s stable diet of dry food. And while dry goldfish food usually will include the best of both worlds (both plants and meat), you still should include other greens in the diet.

Variety Is Key

Your goldfish will quickly grow bored of eating only one type of goldfish food day after day without the added variety (would you like to eat oatmeal every day of your lifetime?). Feeding only one type of food can cause other issues as well.

No matter which brand of goldfish food you buy, not one of them will have all of the vitamins and minerals your goldfish need to thrive. Yes, there are certainly brands more nutritious than others, but any one brand simply can’t fulfill all of your goldfish’s needs at once. And if your goldfish are lacking in a particular food group, you run the risk of some serious problems down the road. Your goldfish won’t be able to grow properly and may even face life-threatening illnesses caused by nutritional deficiencies.

It’s essential that your goldfish have a varied diet, so that you can ensure they’re always receiving the proper amount of nutrients their bodies need for quality goldfish care. To keep things exciting, both for you and your goldfish, include all three food types in your goldfish’s diet: dry food, live or freeze-dried food, and your selection of veggies.

I recommend that you use one or two dry goldfish food brands as a stable diet on a daily basis, then mix in freeze-dried or live food several times per week for variety. Once or twice per week, add a veggy treat to keep things interesting. But don’t just stick with one brand of food.

Mix it up a bit. Your goldfish will reward you by staying active, happy, and healthy.

Goldfish Food: How Much Is Enough?

Feeding goldfish: hungry goldfish looking for goldfish foodEveryone has their own preferences on how much goldfish food their fish need for quality goldfish care. But the general consensus is to feed no more than your goldfish can consume in 5 minutes (per day, not per feeding). Pay careful attention to signs that your goldfish has had enough. A slight bulge in the belly and decreased vigor when looking for food are all indicators of when to stop feeding. Depending on how much your goldfish eat in the time allotted, sometimes a feeding period can last less than the full five minutes.

But before we get into how much goldfish food to feed, you’ll need to first figure out how frequently you’re going to feed your goldfish (to calculate how much time will go into each feeding session). Because a goldfish’s digestive system can’t handle so much food at once, you should strive to feed your goldfish multiple times per day but with less food during each feeding session. So, if your goldfish’s dining schedule includes four or five separate feeding sessions, you’ll only want to feed as much as your fish can consume in a minute or less (probably less). Personally, I like to feed my goldfish two to three times per day, each feeding session about 1 to 2 minutes long.

Remember that goldfish are cold blooded and require less food than warm-blooded creatures (like us humans). Goldfish don’t need to use the calories in their food to maintain body heat like we do. So if you’re ever unsure of when to stop feeding your goldfish, you should stop. Try feeding less when you think you should feed more, and gradually you’ll get the hang of how much food your goldfish really need to thrive.

Your goldfish may wag their fins and beg for your attention when you pass by the tank. It’s your job to resist feeding them outside of regular feeding periods, no matter how much energy your goldfish put into their little show.

One of the most harmful things you can do is feed your goldfish too much food.

Going Away for a While? No Worries!

If you’re all set to pack your bags and head out to your next vacation spot, you may worry how your goldfish will cope without food for the duration of your trip (or if you should ask a friend or relative to look after your fish while you’re gone).

Automatic Goldfish Feeder

After all, no one wants to come home to find dead goldfish floating around the tank. But you might be surprised: Goldfish can actually go a long time without goldfish food, as long as water quality is maintained and your fish are in good health.

In his book Aquarium Care of Goldfish, David Boruchowitz states, “A fish without food for a week is just hungry, not starved.”

If you’re going on a short vacation for a week, you probably won’t need to worry about feeding your goldfish. Goldfish are cold blooded after all and can go without food longer than humans can.

However, if your vacation will take longer than a couple weeks and you’re worried about your goldfish’s welfare, ask a friend or relative to look after your fish every couple of days. You can even write out a feeding plan, or give your temporary caregiver labeled plastic bags with each meal separated. Make sure to tell whomever is caring for your goldfish never to give them more than one bag per meal.

There are automatic fish feeders available at your local pet store that will evenly distribute goldfish food over the course of several weeks. This makes goldfish care easy and simple while you’re away, as long as everything else is in order.

Conclusion

Your goldfish need a varied, balanced diet if they’re to receive all of the nutrients they need to thrive. While one brand of goldfish food will supply your goldfish with most of the nutrients needed, you should still include other foods (freeze-dried, live, or homemade vegetables) to the diet. Feeding your goldfish one or two brands of dried food most of the time, with freeze-dried or live food and boiled vegetables worked in once or twice a week, is often best.

If you monitor how much your goldfish eat on a daily basis and maintain a healthy aquarium environment, you won’t need to worry about nasty goldfish diseases or malnourished pets.

So what’s on the goldfish menu today?

Share your goldfish care tips in the comments below!

32 Responses to “Goldfish Food and Feeding: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. sneha says:

    Hello,
    My query is my gold fish is repeatedly come up side in the water tank…is he hungry or its. Jst a play in water…pls help me…i purchased him bfore three days.

    • Hi Sneha,

      Does your goldfish rub his whole body against the glass or just the tip of his head? If your goldfish is rubbing his body against the aquarium, your goldfish might be showing an early indication of a parasite infection. Are there visible signs of illness?

      If your goldfish is just wiggling his nose against the aquarium walls whenever you pass by, there’s nothing to worry about! My goldfish will often do this when I pass by the tank, because they know feeding time is soon. Sometimes they’ll even give me a vigorous show, wiggling their noses up and down the glass where I’m standing, their tail fin flapping wildly in the water. This is just their way of showing me how excited they are to receive food.

      I often notice the young goldfish doing this more often than the adults, though my females are especially more hyper before feeding time. The males usually just swim to my corner of the tank and occasionally nudge their noses against the glass while my females will relentlessly move up and down my corner of the tank. I suppose how vigorously your goldfish take part in the “feeding dance” depends on the personality of your fish. These are just my observations.

      Once my goldfish are fed, they usually don’t spend any more time on my corner of the tank. They’re too busy looking for food. But I’ve noticed that even if I pass by the tank an hour or two hours later, my goldfish still won’t bother dancing against the aquarium walls because they know feeding time is over at that time of day. Goldfish are very attuned to their feeding schedule.

      Because your goldfish is new, he’s likely still unsure about when feeding time is, and if you feed your goldfish at different hours of the day (not necessarily at the same times), this might confuse your goldfish. So it might seem as though he’s doing the “feeding dance” every time you pass by the tank. That’s why I recommend feeding at only certain times during the day, rather than feeding irregularly. If I’m feeding dry food, I also like to show my goldfish the actual can of food before feeding – so they can anticipate the food and know what to expect when I flip open the tank cover.

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