What To Feed Catfish

The catfish is plenty good enough fish for anyone - Mark Twain

Feeding catfish isn’t as simple as most people seem to think it is.  The idea that they’ll flourish and thrive if they’re fed on the same food as the other denizens of your aquarium, shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed out of hand, but at the same time shouldn’t be one that you unduly focus on.

Yes, they’re fish, but catfish aren’t like the other fish in your tank, they’re special, and special fish require a special diet. 

The Catfish - The Bottom Feeders of The Fish World

Catfish, named after the barbs that adorn their faces that resemble a cat’s whiskers, are often referred to, in aquarist circles, as “bottom feeders” because of the way they lurk at the bottom of a fish tank, content to wallow their days away as the rest of the fish world passes them by. 

There is, however, some basis in fact and a reason why they lurk at the bottom of aquariums, and it’s an incredibly simple one. While it’s partly due to the location of the catfish’s mouth, which because of their flattened head, is on the underside of their body, there are a couple of other factors that keep catfish at the bottom of your fish kingdom. 

The other reason why they spend an inordinately large amount of time at the bottom of aquariums and fish tanks are first and foremost, because catfish are negatively buoyant, and tend to sink rather than float.

They don’t float because they have an inordinately small gas bladder  (the organ that helps fish to float) and secondly, their heads are exponentially big for the size of their bodies and are incredibly heavy thanks to being mostly formed out of bone.

Almost all of the poor old catfish’s woes can be blamed on, and laid at the door of, their heads. 

It isn’t all bad news though as their heads not only serve as a rudimentary hydrofoil, which helps them navigate their way through the waters of your fish tank, they’re also perfectly shaped for digging through the gravel at the bottom of a tank and helping catfish to find the food that other fish might have missed.

Are Catfish Scavengers?

You probably noticed that we mentioned that catfish like to root around in gravel at the bottom of the tank to find stray bits of food that the other fish in the tank might have missed.

They do this because, by nature and design, they’re scavengers. Their barbs, or whiskers, are ideally suited to helping them rummage through the sand at the bottom of rivers and oceans and the gravel at the bottom of the tank.

Even though they’ll mostly eat whatever they can find, simply letting catfish scavenge for food isn’t enough to ensure that they stay healthy and won’t provide the sort of balanced diet that they’ll need to flourish in your aquarium.

If you want to make sure that your catfish stay happy, healthy, and remain active, you’re going to need to feed them the right sort of specialist diet.

Are Catfish Carnivores?

In the strictest sense of the word? Yes, catfish are carnivores, as they eat insects and other much smaller fish, but not all of them subsist on a solely meat-based diet.

While it’s true that some sub-species of the genus that catfish belong to do thrive on carnivorous lifestyle, the fact that most catfish will also happily scavenge for food and will, and do, consume vegetable matter and algae, it’s actually more accurate to describe them as being omnivorous. 

A catfish’s approach to food is more open than a lot of aquarists think it is, but if you’re looking for a specialist good to help them thrive, you have to take into account the carnivorous part of their nature and make sure that what you’re feeding them is a carnivore, as well as omnivore, friendly. 

So What Is The Best Food To Feed Catfish?

We’ve talked about catfish’s tendency to favor the carnivorous part of their diet, so it’s important to know that the food that a catfish is going to need should be high in the one thing that all carnivores savor and require as part of the balanced diet, and that’s protein. 

The good news is there are pellet based fish foods, like Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets that are designed to be high in the proteins and vitamins that catfish need to keep them healthy and can also be used as a primary source of food by the other fish that share their aquarium space with your catfish.

While it’s true that pellets take a long time to break down if they’re not eaten, which can, over a long period of time, result in them contaminating water of your aquarium, as catfish are natural scavengers, any pellets that dop sink to the bottom of the tank, will eventually be taken care of by the very fish they were meant to feed.

As they have a carnivorous side, catfish like all meat-eaters in the wild, prey on other species to survive. Because of this, a lot of pet stores will recommend that you try to introduce small crustaceans and shrimp into the ecosystem of your aquarium, which in theory is fine, but is often a lot more difficult to do in practice.

Don’t worry though, there’s a much simpler way to keep you catfish fed on a steady diet of shrimp than letting hundreds of them loose in your tank. You can cut out the middleman, and feed your catfish and all of your other fish on a high protein food like Tetra Shrimp Wafers that’ll keep all of the citizens of your aquarium happy without having to worry about the impact that trying to introduce small crustaceans to your tank will have on its inhabitants. 

There is, however, a final wild and wacky thing that your catfish will adore and will stimulate their scavenging instincts and also encourage them to eat any algae that might begin to blossom in your tank.

That crazy foodstuff? It’s out of date cheese. It’s like nectar from the gods of the deep for catfish and will send their scavenging instincts into overdrive.  We know, it sounds nuts, but coupled with the other food that we’ve told you about, it’ll help your catfish to outlive you. Sometimes fish truth is far stranger than fish fiction.