How many times a day should I feed my fish?

When it comes to feeding fish, one of the most common questions is how often you should feed them. Many factors come into play when determining the ideal feeding frequency for pet fish, including the species, size, age, and health of the fish. Setting up a proper feeding schedule is important for the health and wellbeing of aquarium fish. Read on for a deep dive into how many times per day you should be feeding your freshwater and saltwater fish.

The Basics of Fish Feeding

Fish require nutrients from food to survive and thrive. In the wild, fish spend most of their time foraging for food. However, in an aquarium, they rely completely on the fishkeeper to provide them with a healthy, balanced diet. There are a few basic rules of thumb when it comes to feeding aquarium fish:

  • Provide a variety of foods – Fish benefit from variety just like humans. Offer flakes, pellets, frozen and freeze-dried foods.
  • Use quality foods – Look for reputable brand names and avoid generic store brands with lots of fillers.
  • Adjust amounts to fish sizes – Smaller fish need smaller portions than larger tankmates.
  • Don’t overfeed – Uneaten food pollutes the tank and leads to disease.

How often you feed your fish depends largely on the type of fish, their sizes, and activity levels. Here are some general guidelines:

Baby Fish

Young, growing fish generally need to be fed more often than their adult counterparts. Baby fish have higher metabolisms and need the extra nutrition to aid development. Fry and juvenile fish can be fed 3-5 small meals per day. Spread feedings out over the course of the day. Offer small amounts that they can consume within a few minutes. Then, remove any excess food to keep the water clean.

Small Fish

Small species of fish that only grow to be an inch or two fully grown need multiple small meals each day. Examples include neon tetras, guppies, bettas, and white cloud mountain minnows. For these diminutive fish, aim for 3-4 light feedings daily. Their stomachs are tiny so they can only eat a little bit at a time. Feeding them more than once a day helps ensure proper nutrition.

Medium Fish

Many common beginner fish fall into the medium size category, growing to between 2-4 inches in length. This includes goldfish, platies, swordtails, mollies and some tetras. These fish do well with 2-3 feedings per day. Make sure not to overload their stomachs at any one meal. Spreading out their diet over multiple feedings prevents waste and overeating.

Large Fish

Large aquarium fish that exceed 4 inches or more only need to be fed once or twice daily. This includes oscars, angelfish, discus and other cichlids. Their stomachs are bigger so they can be fed larger portions less often. Limit them to what they can consume in 2-3 minutes. For particularly large fish like mature oscars, feeding once a day may be sufficient.

Bottom Feeders

Fish that feed on material that has settled on the tank bottom benefit from multiple small meals throughout the day. This includes catfish like corydoras and plecos. Feed sinking wafers, tablets or pellets. Allow those to settle then drop another small amount in a different area of the tank a few hours later. This gives bottom feeders access to food all day long.

Saltwater Fish

Marine fish often have very specific dietary needs. Herbivores graze on algae most hours of the day. They require frequent feedings of marine algae and vegetation. Target feed them 4-6 smaller meals daily. Carnivorous saltwater fish may only need one or two larger meals per day. However, fish new to captivity may need more frequent feedings to acclimate. Ask an expert for advice catered to your particular fish species.

Benefits of Multiple Feedings

Breaking up your fish’s diet into 2 or more smaller meals has some notable benefits. Here are reasons why most experts recommend feeding fish several times through the day rather than one large daily feeding:

Prevents Overeating

When fish are given a large quantity of food at one time, it is easy for them to consume more than they can process. Fish do not have a stomach the way humans do. Food passes directly through their intestines. Eating more than they can digest leads to health problems. Multiple smaller meals prevent fish from gorging themselves to discomfort.

Allows Proper Nutrient Absorption

Fish absorb nutrients best when given smaller amounts of food. After a large feeding, much of the food passes through their system not fully digested and absorbed. Their digestive systems are optimized to take in a little food consistently. Feeding smaller amounts more often allows fish to utilize more of the nutrition.

Mimics Natural Grazing

In nature, most fish spend hours grazing on algae, bugs and other foods. They rarely experience large infrequent meals. Eating steadily throughout the day is more natural for their digestion. Multiple feedings mimics their wild foraging habits.

Keeps Water Cleaner

Breaking up meals into smaller portions means less uneaten food stays in the tank between feedings. Smaller amounts of waste have less impact on water quality. Heavy feedings can dirty the water with excess fish waste. More frequent water changes may be needed when overfeeding occurs.

Reduces Aggression

When a large amount of food is dumped into an aquarium, faster and more aggressive fish often outcompete slower ones. Less assertive or injured fish may miss out on eating. Multiple smaller feedings give all tank inhabitants better chance to get their share.

Signs Your Fish Are Not Getting Enough Food

If fish are receiving adequate nutrition from their diet, they should appear robust and energetic. Look for these clues that your fish may not be getting enough to eat:

  • Loss of color
  • Clamped fins
  • Gaunt appearance
  • Lethargic movement
  • Increased aggression
  • Picking at objects
  • Rooting through substrate
  • Rapid breathing

Try spreading out feedings to additional times per day. Increase portion sizes slightly if fish appear underweight. It may take a few weeks for their health to improve after adjusting the feeding protocol.

Signs of Overfeeding

Likewise, fish that receive too much food can display obvious symptoms. Watch for these signs of overfeeding:

  • Excess waste production
  • Uneaten food accumulation
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Bulging eyes
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Bloated stomach

If fish appear overweight or water quality declines, cut back on feeding amounts. Try offering smaller portions multiple times a day instead. Closely monitor fish after adjusting diet to ensure health improves.

General Feeding Guidelines by Fish Type

Fish Type Number of Feedings Per Day
Bettas 2-3
Goldfish 2-4
Guppies 3-5
Tetras 3-4
Mollies 2-3
Corydoras 3-4
Angelfish 2
Discus 1-2
Oscars 1-2
Plecos 2-3
Cichlids 1-2
Saltwater Fish 3-6

Use these general numbers as a starting point. Adjust to meet the needs of your particular fish. Pay attention to their behavior and health to find the optimal feeding frequency.

Feeding Schedules for Specific Fish

To determine the best schedule, consider the natural feeding habits and lifestyles of different aquarium fish.


In small tanks, bettas should be fed 2-4 small meals daily. Offer a variety like flakes, pellets, frozen or freeze-dried foods. Feed just enough they can consume in a minute or two. Bettas have small stomachs and fare best with multiple smaller portions throughout the day. Make sure any uneaten food is removed promptly.


Fancy goldfish thrive with 2-3 feedings per day. Feed morning, mid-day and evening. Single-tail varieties are prone to overeating, so stick to 2 smaller meals daily. Avoid large portions that dirty the water. Optimal feeding times are morning and night. Vary diet between flakes, pellets and treats.


These lively fish need frequent small meals to fuel their high activity levels. Feed guppies 3-4 times daily in amounts they can polish off within 2-3 minutes. Remove any excess shortly after. Floating and sinking foods both work well. Try flakes, pellets, freeze dried treats, etc. Spread feedings regularly throughout daylight hours.


Small tetras eat best when given multiple tiny meals per day. Neons, embers, and cardinals do well with 3-5 tiny feedings. Only offer as much food as they can consume in a minute or two. Vary their diet between micro flakes, mini pellets, and freeze dried treats to ensure balanced nutrition. Tetras fare best with daylong grazing.


Angelfish thrive with 2 moderate sized meals daily. Feed them once in the morning and again at night. Cater amounts to the size of the fish. Small juveniles need less than full grown adults. Angelfish are prone to overeating, so watch portion sizes. Give them a variety of flakes, pellets and occasional freeze-dried or fresh treats.


Discus fish require optimal water conditions and frequent small feedings. Offer them 2-3 meals per day in amounts they can finish within 2 minutes. Juveniles need more frequent feedings for proper growth. Remove any uneaten food promptly. Vary diet between flakes, pellets, freeze-dried worms, etc. for balanced nutrition.


Oscars grow large quickly, especially when fed properly. Adults only need 1-2 feedings daily. Feed an amount they can consume within 2-3 minutes, a couple times per day. Juveniles may need an additional small feeding midday for optimal growth. Oscars are intelligent and enjoy interactive feeding sessions.


Common plecos and other suckermouth catfish need to graze on vegetables, algae and meaty foods. Feed sinking wafers or pellets 2-3 times daily. Supplement with blanched vegetables like zucchini tied to rocks or driftwood. Use algae wafers to help satisfy their vegetarian diets. Sinking carnivore pellets also make excellent plecostomus food.

African Cichlids

African rift lake cichlids do well when fed once or twice daily. Offer a high quality cichlid pellet or flake formula. Feed only an amount they can consume within a couple minutes. Malawi Mbuna eat more algae and need occasional spirulina fortified foods. For Tanganyikans, supplement with live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or daphnia.

Saltwater Fish

Marine fish have diverse dietary needs based on species. Herbivores require multiple grazing sessions on marine algaes. Target feed them small amounts 3-6 times daily. Carnivorous fish may only need 1-2 larger meals. Ask an expert about foods and frequency ideal for your particular saltwater fish species.

Tips for Proper Fish Feedings

Follow these best practices for successfully feeding your aquarium fish:

  • Research proper diet for your fish species
  • Select a high quality food with optimal nutrition
  • Know proper portion sizes based on fish sizes
  • Feed only what fish can consume in 1-3 minutes
  • Vary diet between various food types for balanced nutrition
  • Adjust frequency based on fish behavior and health
  • Spread feedings throughout daylight hours for community tanks
  • Remove uneaten food promptly to keep water clean
  • Fast fish 1-2 days per week for good digestive health
  • Never overfeed – this is the #1 fishkeeping mistake


How often you should feed your fish depends on several factors like fish species, size, health status and age. In general, most aquarium fish do best when given multiple smaller meals spread throughout the day. This mimics their natural feeding habits in the wild. When in doubt, start conservatively with 2-3 small feedings daily. Adjust frequency and amounts slowly based on close observation of fish growth, behavior and health. With a proper diet and feeding schedule, aquarium fish can thrive for many years.

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