To know if your catfishes are underfed, you need to regularly observe their weight gain. Underfed fishes will always fail to develop well. Also, observe how they rush feed each time they are fed. In addition, unequal sizes and cannibalism are common occurrences with underfed fish. Diseases are also not far from them and which may at times lead to their death.
The common occurrences with overfeeding include water contamination; this is because the excess feed will lead to excess waste production. Also, you will always found feed remnants on the surface of water. It could also lead to their death if they greedily consume excess feeds. So, it is better to give them adequate quantity of feeds.
Signs of Overfeeding Catfishes and other Fishes
Feeding our aquarium fish is one of the most fun activities of aquarium keeping. Feeding time provides personal interaction between the aquarist and fish and brings the fish up close so we can see them.
It’s one of the best times to see their colors and scale patterns and check on their health. Many fish seem to recognize their caretakers and will come to take a closer look when you approach the tank and you may even be able to enjoy hand feeding your fish.
There are no discussions that proper nutrition keeps aquarium fish colorful, healthy and disease-free. No matter the reason feeding is important and fun.
But the fact is, feeding should be done cautiously as overfeeding causes nothing but problems in the aquarium.
The question here is:
Proper feeding aquarium fish is a blend of art and science.
But luckily there are signs that can tell you if you are giving too much food to your fish.
Keep reading to find out what these signs are and what you can do about it.
1. My fish are always hungry
Many freshwater tropical fish and goldfish will come to the front of the tank and “beg” for food.
This is a learned behavior and does not mean they are hungry.
Remember, fish are built to scavenge or prey on foods in the wild.
They have to find it and capture their food.
In nature fish search for tiny crustaceans, algae, and even other fish to eat.
Aquarium fish have food added daily.
Fish soon learn that your presence at the aquarium means food.
Their instinct is to eat, eat and eat.
Aquarium fish eat by simultaneously opening their mouth and closing their gills.
This creates a suction, helping the fish pack food into its mouth.
Don’t be fooled into think they’re hungry just because they’re snapping at the water surface.
2. Adding “extra” food for later
Some aquarists, worried their beloved fish will be hungry later, add more food than the fish can consume at one feeding.
They believe the extra food will serve as a snack later in the day.
If this is your concern, you can use an automatic fish feeder that will schedule the time of release of the food in the tank.
The truth is, fish food left in the aquarium will quickly soften and fall apart in the water.
Floating pellets may hold together but their nutrition is leaking into the water.
Invisible microbes immediately start decomposing uneaten fish foods.
The reason the food disappears is primarily due to decomposition, not consumption by the fish.
This leads into the next symptom of over-feeding.
3. Food on the bottom of the tank
Whenever you see flake food resting on the bottom of the aquarium and no fish are eating it, you know you’ve feed too much.
If flakes are not consumed within a minute or two, chances are they will just soften and decay on the bottom of the tank.
Over time the flakes will form a rotting sludge layer in the gravel.
Once the flakes get soggy, fish tend to ignore them.
One exception is feeding bottom feeders like corydoras catfish and loaches.
Bottom feeders will sometimes come to the surface for flakes.
Other times you have to moisten flakes to get them to sink to the bottom.
In this case just be sure there are no “leftovers” to decay when the fish are done feeding.
Small sinking pellets are great for target-feeding bottom-dwelling fish.
4. Pellets floating on surface
Some floating pellets are highly compressed.
They float for hours on the water surface.
But there should never be any uneaten pellets drifting around the tank.
If there are, it means the fish are done feeding and aren’t interested in food or they’ve over-eaten and can’t force any more food into their mouth.
Uneaten food will usually decay and fall apart in the water. The pellets are “gone” but they weren’t eaten by the fish.
This leads some aquarists to believe their fish enjoyed the extra food.
5. Dirty gravel
All aquariums eventually need a good gravel cleaning.
Organic debris like algae cells and partially decomposed fish waste will accumulate over time.
Over-feeding accelerates the process, leading to dangerous conditions that can harm the fish.
Rotting food will consume oxygen fish need to live.
Beneficial bacteria that normally live on the surface of the gravel get overtaken by more aggressive bacteria that thrive in sludgy conditions.
Some of these “sludge-loving” microbes are responsible for fish disease problems.
Disease-causing microbes thrive in dirty aquariums.
Much of the “dirt” in aquariums is caused by over-feeding.
The more you feed fish, the more solid waste they produce.
Solid waste normally gets broken down and recycled.
But when you shovel food into the fish, they become “poop machines” that convert all the extra food they can’t use into solid fecal material.
This builds up in the gravel and causes water quality and fish health issues.
6. Cloudy water
Hazy, cloudy water is almost always caused by a bloom of bacteria in the water.
Even though the bacteria are harmless, something triggered them into an explosive growth mode.
Uneaten fish food feeds the bacteria!
The sense food and eat.
This gives the bacteria energy to reproduce. Many bacteria reproduce every few hours. Eventually the water becomes cloudy due to millions of bacteria in a feeding and breeding frenzy.
Reduce feeding and the water will clear.
7. pH low
The decomposition of organic waste, like uneaten fish food, produces acids.
These acids neutralize some of the pH stabilizing carbonates (KH) in the water.
Low pH is sometimes caused by over-feeding when the carbonate hardness is naturally low to begin with.
Be sure to test KH when you experience a low pH problem.
Low pH can suppress the biological filter and lead to harmful ammonia levels.
Here are some suggestions on how to raise the pH in the aquarium.
8. Ammonia problems
As fish consume and digest protein-rich foods, they excrete ammonia from their gills.
Ammonia build-up in the water damages the gills, stresses fish and leads to disease problems.
Over-feeding the fish beyond what they need to live a healthy life results in higher ammonia loading in the tank.
You can over-feed the fish and over-feed the biological filter’s ability to rapidly remove ammonia.
Chronic over-feeding will cause a surge in ammonia.
9. Nitrite problems
Ammonia is converted to nitrite and then nitrate, by the biological filter.
Nitrite is very toxic to fish.
Over-feeding can cause high ammonia and nitrite levels or just high nitrite.
As nitrite prevents the fish’s blood from carrying oxygen, this stresses the fish and can lead to death or increased susceptibility to disease.
Test for ammonia and nitrite as part of your maintenance plan.
10. Fat fish
Healthy aquarium fish are normally slender and streamlined, making it easy to swim through the water with little resistance.
Some hybrid tropical fish and goldfish have been bred to have rounded bodies.
No matter what kind of fish you keep, it’s possible to feed so much the fish become obese.
Excess fat builds up inside their body and presses on their organs. Feeding fish so much food their bodies bloat up at each feeding will cause digestive problems.
In nature, most aquarium fish graze on food throughout the day.
They eat tiny amounts of food at a time.
In the aquarium it is sufficient to feed small amounts several times a day, even once will satisfy most fish’s nutritional requirements.
There is no need to keep feeding the fish until they physically can’t swallow any more food.
We all like to feed our fish.
It’s rewarding to see our fish respond to us and eat the food we provide.
Our fish look to us for their food and care.
Over-feeding degrades water quality, creating stressful conditions that lead to disease and possibly death.
Fish will always act like they are hungry.
Over-feeding can reduce their quality of life by forcing their body to build up fat deposits.
If you enjoy feeding your fish as much as we do, feed smaller amounts of food several times a day.
You’ll get to enjoy your fish more and they’ll stay happy and healthy!
Overfeeding Fish: Why It’s a Problem and How To Avoid It
Overfeeding is the major cause of fish loss. Overfeeding results in the accumulation of waste due to uneaten food and increased amounts of waste produced by the fish eating more than they really need.
Overfeeding fish is so easy to do. First, we forget how small they are: our appetites are much bigger than their stomachs! Second, feeding is one of the only ways we can interact with the fish, so we tend to do it too often. Third, fish quickly learn that our approach often means food is on the way. They come to the front and top of the tank, appearing eager and hungry. Don’t be tempted to think this is an indication that they are famished and need food immediately. Overfeeding is definitely too much of a good thing, and can lead to serious consequences.
Problems associated with overfeeding fish
Accumulated uneaten food and fish waste pose a number of problems, as listed below. First, they can result in lethal changes in the water chemistry. The breakdown products are toxic and can stress fish, making them prone to other diseases. Overeating, itself, can cause health problems. Finally, the pond or tank can become very unsightly, not pleasing to the eye, or the fish.
High ammonia and nitrites – The protein in uneaten food and fish waste is broken down into ammonia and nitrites, which are extremely toxic to fish.
Low oxygen levels – When organic material (uneaten food and fish waste) decays, it is an aerobic process, meaning it uses oxygen and produces carbon dioxide. This means there is less dissolved oxygen in the tank or pond for the fish to use.
Low pH levels – Just as the breakdown of organic material lowers the oxygen level, it also lowers the pH of the water because acids are produced during the process. Since each species of fish has an optimal pH range, those fish that prefer an alkaline pH are especially stressed.
Fin rot – Fin rot is a condition in which the fins can develop a moth-eaten, shaggy appearance. It most often occurs when fish are stressed, which is a common result of overfeeding.
Fatty liver – Fatty liver, or hepatic lipidosis, is a disease more commonly seen in African cichlids and rainbowfish, and is the result of overeating. It affects the function of the liver and can result in death of the fish.
Improper digestion – In ponds, the amount and type of food must be changed as the weather becomes colder. Below 60°F, you should feed wheat-germ-based food exclusively to your koi, and since bacterial processes will gradually slow, the amount fed should be decreased. Below 50°F, the bacteria in a fish’s digestive system are no longer able to process food and you should stop feeding altogether.
Algae bloom – Algae growth is one of the most common problems seen in ponds and aquariums. The number one cause is overfeeding. Unsightly blue-green and red algae multiply when there are large quantities of dissolved organic material, nitrates, and phosphates in the water, common occurrences when fish are overfed.
Cloudy water – Cloudy water in either a pond or tank is usually due to decaying organic matter. If due to overfeeding, the water will generally clear if the fish are not fed for 2-3 days (for most fish this is not a problem).
Mold – If the gravel, plants, and other décor have white, cottony material growing on them, the problem may be mold or fungus. As with algae, these organisms grow when there are increased levels of organic material in the water.
Planaria (flatworms) – Planaria are small white or tan worms that are good indicators that water quality is not optimal. They are most often found in tanks where overfeeding has occurred. Although generally considered harmless, they will eat fish eggs.
Clogged filters – Filter systems are designed to remove the normal amount of waste materials and breakdown products from the water, not correct the excessive problems that occur with overfeeding. Uneaten food and waste materials can collect on the filters, continue to produce toxic products, and clog the filters thereby reducing their capacity to function even more.
How to avoid overfeeding fish
The first step to avoiding overfeeding is to understand how easy it is to do, and how harmful it can be. This will give us the motivation to develop good habits when it comes to feeding our fish. Try to incorporate the following tips to prevent overfeeding:
Feed on a schedule – Most tank inhabitants will do well if fed twice daily. If possible, more frequent and smaller feedings are preferred. In the wild, most fish do not eat large “meals” like we do, but are foraging and “nibbling” throughout the day.
Feed the proper amount – The best way to determine how much to feed your fish is to observe them at periodic intervals while they feed. Add small amounts of food at a time (e.g., 3 flakes per fish). If all the food has been eaten within several minutes, feed a small amount more. The general rule of thumb is to only feed them as much as they can eat within 4-5 minutes. Anything not eaten after 5 minutes will likely never be eaten. As you observe your fish eating, check that all of them are eating. Some fish will eat within seconds, others, such as the scavengers, take more time. Not eating may be a sign of illness or due to more aggressive or larger fish prohibiting other fish from eating.
A common error is to feed according to tank size – adding more food to a larger tank, even if it has the same or fewer inhabitants as a smaller tank. Always feed based on the number of inhabitants, not the size of the tank. Regardless of the size of the tank, spread the food out over the surface of the water to allow more fish to eat at the same time.
- Feed the proper food – Feeding an improper, poor quality, or stale food will not only lead to malnutrition, it will lead to more waste, since the fish will not eat it. Choose the appropriate form (e.g., flake or pellet) and the appropriate size based on the tank or pond inhabitants. Some fish will need floating food, while others prefer food that sinks. Research the feeding habits of your species, and feed accordingly. Be sure to use fresh, quality food.
If switching to a new food, feed sparingly. Fish may take time to identify the new diet as food.
- Remove uneaten food – If there is uneaten food left after a feeding, remove as much of it as possible with a siphon or fine net. Irregardless of the size of your filtration unit, it was not designed to correct all the problems associated with overfeeding.
If you know or suspect overfeeding has occurred, perform a partial water change by siphoning 25% of the water from the bottom of the tank. Use the siphon to pick up as much debris from the substrate as possible.
Include scavenging inhabitants – Scavenger fish (catfish and loaches) and invertebrates can assist in eliminating some of the uneaten food that falls to the bottom of the tank or pond. They are not a “fix-all” but can be helpful in removing food that falls to inaccessible areas of the tank that may be difficult to siphon or clean.
Educate family members and “fish-sitters” – In general, it is best if only one family member feeds the fish. If such a schedule is not possible, use a simple log or calendar to mark off when the fish have been fed to avoid duplicate feedings.
When leaving on vacation, you have several options:
Use an automatic feeder that your “fish-sitter” can check on.
If you will only be gone 2-3 days, most fish will not have a problem if they are not fed during that period. Be sure they have been fed well for the week or so prior to leaving.
If you have herbivorous species, add a live plant, such as Anacharis to the tank. Many fish will nibble on the plant when other food is not available.
If you are going to hire someone to care for your fish, try to find someone with experience. Contact your local aquarium or pond society for possible contacts. Review the feeding instructions with them carefully, and pre-measure individual portions for them.
Use proper filtration – When designing your aquarium or pond, be sure to size your filtration units correctly; bigger is always better. Provide routine maintenance on your filtration system to ensure it is operating at peak efficiency.
Here are some amazing fish farming books to guide and assist you further: