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Old 02/24/2006, 05:50 PM
leebca leebca is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: So. CA
Posts: 2,866
Lightbulb Fish Health Through Proper Nutrition

I notice a rash of posting of fish illnesses and conditions which are fundamentally related to a deficient diet. By diet alone, some conditions can be prevented by your fish fending off the problem.

You know, 20 years ago we didn't have these pre-packaged foods found at our LFSs to feed our fishes. We made our own foods, according to recipes proposed by Moe (NOT from the Curly, Larry team) and other early authors of marine fish as pets.

What's happening is similar to what happened in the 60's and 70's to the human diet. There is a rash of 'fast foods' that are convenient for the aquarist to use. Some, like the fast foods of our day, are okay, others are marginally good, some downright little more than buying water.

If you're reading this post of mine, then I've referred you to it. Somewhere here is guidance for getting your fish back into the healthy mode, with a fully functioning immune system.

I've heard enough of this: But my fish likes. . . [or] My fish eats. . .[or] My fish only eats. . . to suit me for a lifetime. Who's in charge? Would you let your child eat ice cream and cake for every meal just because it's what they like? You have to prevent your fish from getting into wrong habits. Just because your tang eats brine shrimp and mysis doesn't mean it should be eating these meats. Provide your fish with what they should be eating.

My suggestions are all based upon a regime of 21 feedings. This covers fishes that are better off fed three times a day, and those that do well at twice a day.

No matter the types of foods you use, you must use some supplements. Your fish are caged. They can't seek out the tidbits that provide those trace compounds (e.g., vitamins and fats) they need to round out their optimal health. Fish can't produce all the vitamins and fats they need to live. So, you have to provide it.
These are some vitamin suggestions:
There are several others, liquids and water soluble solids to choose from. If you don't choose one of the above, at least choose one with multiple vitamins from more or less marine sources.
Sick and/or healing fish: Soak food of one feeding, in a vitamin every day.
Maintenance: Soak food of one feeding in vitamins every other day.
These are some fat supplements:
Sick and/or healing fish: Soak food of one feeding, in a fat supplement every day.
Maintenance: Soak food of one feeding, in a fat supplement every other day.
NOTE: Gut loaded brine shrimp with Omega 3 or HUFA type fats, or a Cyclopeze feeding may be used during maintenance to replace one fat soaking every 21 feedings.

Determine the kind of foods your fish eats in the wild. Fish can be grouped into one of three basic groups depending upon what they eat.
Fish like Triggers, Wrasses, etc. Land animals like lions are in this category.
These fish eat flesh. But they usually eat the whole organism. They don't just eat squid bodies, shrimp tails, etc., they eat the whole organism. A natural whole food would be whole mussels, opened up clams on the half-shell, frozen krill, frozen whole mysis shrimp, whole blood worms, and frozen plankton. No less than 30% of their intake must be whole foods and whole foods preferably from the ocean.

Fish like Anemonefishes (Clownfish) are in this category. People are in this category. So many people don't feed their 'Nemo' correctly.
An omnivore eater eats both flesh/meat and vegetable matter. In general, vegetable matter doesn't provide a lot of protein, however these fishes have the 'best of both worlds' in that they can obtain a lot of protein from meat and get the vitamins/nutrition that vegetable have to offer. These fish have the greatest diversity in what you can feed them. Over-all about 35-40% of their diet should be vegetables. The following threads have suggestions about feeding these fishes:
Read the middle of this thread:

Fish like Tangs, Surgeonfish, Rabbitfish, etc. fall into this category. Land animals like cows, rabbits, horses, and human vegans are in this category! Would you feed your rabbit hamburger?
They are fish that live primarily on vegetation. They have digestive tracks to extract as much nutrients and to digest the 'tough' vegetable matter they consume. These fish eat a lot and they subsequently usually have a lot of excrement. The simple reason is that vegetable matter does not provide a lot of protein per volume like meat does, so they have to eat a lot of it. That is why tangs swim so much. They cover a lot of reef area in order to eat enough. They swim more to eat more and yet expend more energy to obtain their food.

Those who keep these kinds of fish should provide some sandy substrate (even if it is a bare-bottom tank). Many of these species will swallow some sand and very small pieces of gravel. Presumably, this helps in their digestion and grinding up of their vegetable diet.

Young fish in this group usually do consume some copepods, amphipods, and plankton as they grow. Feeding some brine shrimp and mysis is not a crime BUT no way should you feed just plain brine shrimp. Always feed these fish gut loaded brine shrimp. They should contain spirulina and/or fats (Omega 3 or HUFA). AND no way should their diet contain a lot of these pods and meats.

Here's a recommended feeding regime for a herbivore:
7 feedings of gut loaded brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, or Cyclopeze
7 feedings of Formula 2 (frozen or flake); spirulina loaded foods; kelp loaded foods; spirulina wafers/pellets; etc.
7 feedings of algae (vary sources, and colors -- use red, green, brown, purple and yellow); use home grown macro algae; or buy and prepare broccoli flowers.
Thus if you're feeding three times a day, each day the fish will get algae or broccoli, a feeding of brine shrimp or mysis, and one feeding of a true herbivore food.

To a small degree the health of our fish depend upon obtaining some nutrients directly from the water they swim in. They need and use trace elements found in their water environment. Where we fail them sometimes is keeping them long term in water that doesn't contain these elements or contains these elements in concentrations too low for them.

The use of synthetic sea salts and saltwater mixes isn't the problem. The problem is sometimes we aquarists 'over clean' the water. The worst offender is activated carbon. Activated carbon removes organics the first week it is put into our system. After that it removes trace elements (and sometimes adds phosphates). It's the removal of trace elements we need to be watchful for. I've had long-term success with using carbon or carbon-like substances every other week and each time no more than 5-7 days, then removing it from the system to prevent the abnormal depletion of trace elements.

Adding small quantities of trace elements to a fish only aquarium is recommended.

In addition, for this reason (if not for the many other reasons) make sure you perform regular water changes (10% per week; 25% every three-four weeks; or more often).


Don't believe the name of the product. Products claiming to be for herbivores and/or tangs should be investigated as to what you are feeding. If the first three ingredients don't contain at least 2 vegetables, keep looking for those that do.

Same for carnivore food. Read the contents. Avoid packaged foods that contain wheat, flour, soy, and land products.

Be suspicious of ingredients listed as "meal." You want to know "what kind of meal" it is.

Avoid foods over 90% in water and less than 10% in protein (protein as a dry weight).

One of the most expensive and difficult vitamins to provide in prepared foods is Vitamin D. Read closely to see if that 'vitamin enriched' product contains this vitamin, as well as A and C.


Even though the food says it contains vitamins, it doesn't replace you doing the above recommended soaks.

A sick or healing fish should also have beta glucan included in its feed until it is healed. Beta glucan is the same beta glucan humans use and can be bought from a health food store. You want the fish to eat about 20mg of this every day. Beta glucan helps the fish restore its natural immune response to some diseases and conditions.

Brine shrimp and mysis and all prepackaged frozen foods should be rinsed in a brine shrimp net with fresh-made saltwater. This gets a lot of the free juices out that can foul a tank. It also removes excess phosphates from the food that the fish won't get to consume, but which will just pollute the tank.

Dry algae and freeze-dried foods are ideal for soaking up the supplements, but even frozen food can soak some up. After rinsing as noted above, remove as much water as possible, mix with a liquid vitamin and let sit 20 minutes for it to absorb as much as possible.

Coaxing a new fish in your QT to eat is a different story and the above may or may not apply until the fish is at least eating regularly.

Store all foods in the freezer (even flakes). Buy the freshest foods possible and don't buy more than your fish will eat in two months or so. If bulk pricing is too good to pass up, then combine a food order with fellow aquarists to get the discount, but not to get the long range volume.

Don't let your fish get into any habit of eating just one kind of food. Not only offer different foods, but also change food makers. And finally, on this subject, remember: a varied diet doesn't mean providing a variety of wrong foods, it means providing a variety of the right foods! The best time to train your fish what to eat is while it is in quarantine waiting to be added to your display. This is just one of the very important reasons to quarantine all new fish.

The right diet with supplements can prevent conditions that the fish can fend off when it is healthy. Such conditions and diseases include bacterial infections (cloudy eye), Popeye, secondary bacterial infections, internal bacterial infections, septicemia, blindness, weakened immune response, deteriorating fins, and a whole host of others. BUT. . .Know that a good diet and healthy fish does not mean it will prevent it getting nor survive Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans), Marine Velvet, fluke or worm infections, and obligate parasite attack.

An ounce of prevention. . . I hope this helps you keep your fish from contracting some of those troublesome minor infections and conditions.

Last edited by leebca; 02/24/2006 at 06:02 PM.