Do fish know when to stop eating? Is it bad to overfeed?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

I’m that type of parent, like most of us, who would feed her child until the child himself rejects another spoon. This is how I know when to stop. Lately, I’ve bought some Betta and Goldfish. So, now I’m a pet parent also. I really try hard to feed them healthy food as much as I can. Unlike my baby, fish don’t give a signal that they’re full. So, I took help from some expert pet parents about when to stop feeding the fish? Do fish really know when to stop eating? And what if I overfeed them?

The answers to these questions are for all who have fish or want to keep them. Here’s what I found out:

Fish don’t know when to stop eating. It’s quite possible that they’ll continue eating even if they’re full. So, you have to be very careful about feeding them just the right amount of food. Overfeeding may lead to different problems that can also cause the death of your fish.

So, if fish don’t know when to stop eating, then what you should do to avoid overfeeding? What are the consequences of overfeeding and how to avoid it? All these questions are answered in this article. So, hang in and read further.

How often should you feed your fish? (Video)

Do fish know when to stop eating?

No, fish don’t know when to stop eating. They’ll continue eating whenever there is food available near them, even if they aren’t hungry.

The eating habits of fish are altogether different from ours. They are opportunists- they’ll eat whenever they see the food. In oceans, they get a lot of food. So, they continue eating it bit by bit. And when there are days they don’t find the food, they can live for several days without food.

So, the same is the case with your fish in the tank. They’ll gobble up the food whenever you throw it inside the tank. Don’t get in the trap. Most of the time, they aren’t starving even if they seem so.

Signs when your fish is full:

The fish itself wouldn’t tell you when to stop feeding, obviously. But certain gestures show that now they are full. You have to see those gestures and stop feeding as soon as you realize that they’re full.

Wouldn’t munch on the next flake you throw:

Throw the flakes or pellets one by one. Notice the behavior of your fish. If they catch the pellet tight from you, then they need more food.

As soon as they slow down and don’t come up eagerly, then it means they’re full now.

So, if you continue throwing flakes, the result would be unclean water because of the decomposition of that food. This can lead to serious health hazards.

Wouldn’t be excited when you come near the tank:

Your fish know you as you feed them. That’s why they swim faster and become excited as you head towards the tank.

But when your fish are full, they’ll swim slower even if you’re coming towards them. They wouldn’t be much excited at your sight (or the food you’re bringing).

So, if you’ll feed even when your fish isn’t excited to be fed, then you’re overfeeding them, and it can lead to health problems.

Too much debris:

You’ll notice too much waste food and fish poop on the substrate. It means they don’t need to be fed for a day or two. Don’t forget to clean the tank properly.

This debris, once decomposed, will make the tank water polluted with ammonia and nitrites.

Is it bad to overfeed?

Yes, it is. Overfeeding isn’t good for your fish and the fish tank they’re living in.

Often you don’t know when to stop feeding your fish. Or you get too much tempted and continue feeding, watching them gobbling up the food. But by doing so. you might be overfeeding them, which isn’t good for them.

Overfeeding your fish can cause many problems. Let’s discuss them:

High levels of ammonia and nitrites:

When the leftover food settles in the tank, it begins to decay. During this decaying process, ammonia and nitrites are released as a by-product. These stay in the tank and are toxic to fish.

Low pH level:

When the food decays, certain acids are also released. These acids make the water acidic, and the pH lowers. Many fish, especially fish that live in an alkaline environment, can die.

Low oxygen level:

The oxygen level in tank drops because food uses oxygen to decompose. The decaying process releases carbon dioxide that can suffocate the fish.

Fin rot:

Fin rot is an infectious disease that eats away the fins of your fish. If left untreated, your fish might die due to fin rot.

The fins of fish get torn and damaged, they decolorize, and the fish find it difficult to swim properly. Many red patches also appear on the fins.

Fin rot is caused by the poor health of fish and no cleanliness. These conditions are very suitable for the bacteria that causes fin rot.

Want to know if fish would grow the damaged fin back on not? Click here to read about it.

Fatty liver:

Fatty liver is a disease caused by overfeeding. When a fish eats too much, fat starts accumulating around the liver. As a result, the liver can’t function properly.

Fatty liver is more common amongst African cichlids and rainbow fish. Your fish can also die if left untreated.

Digestion problems:

Due to overfeeding, your fish can experience various digestive issues. Your fish can suffer from bloating, constipation, swelling in the stomach, and can even die.

The waste products start accumulating in the fish’s body as its digestion process is very slow. This waste can poison your fish as well.

Cloudy water:

Due to food particles in the tank, the water can turn cloudy. This water doesn’t look and feel good. Your fish also wouldn’t be happy in that cloudy water.

This cloudy water also makes it difficult for the oxygen to bind with it. So, oxygen levels will also go down.

Algae bloom:

The condition of the tank, due to overfeeding, gets worse, and these conditions are suitable for the algae to grow.

Algae bloom isn’t good for your fish, as there would be very little oxygen level. Algae also cause the tank to smell bad.

Clogged filters:

Due to waste food and debris, the air filters can get clogged. And due to these clogged filters, the oxygen level drops even more and fish can’t breathe properly.

How to avoid overfeeding?

It’s not that hard not to feed your fish too much. You just have to stick on a routine and follow it. Not overfeeding your fish keeps them healthy and active. Here are some of the rules of thumb that you can follow to avoid overfeeding.

Schedule the feed times:

Sticking on a schedule develops a habit in your fish to feed on time and helps you not to overfeed.

Don’t feed whenever you get time. Feed your fish two times a day and keep those meals well apart. You can choose morning and evening times to feed your fish.

Mealtime should be short and quick:

Don’t prolong the mealtime. When your fish would be hungry, they would jump and gobble up the food. Feed your fish within five minutes and not more. After five minutes, your fish’s tummy would be full, and the rest would count as overfeed.

Know the gestures of your fish:

Don’t ignore what your fish is telling you. If they aren’t very excited at food’s sight, then don’t feed them. Also, if you find too much debris, then also skip the meal.

You can skip fish’s meal whenever you feel they’re full. Fish don’t mind skipping meals, unlike us humans.

One person in the family feeds the fish:

Make a rule that only one person would feed the fish. This eliminates any chances of double feeding in case of confusion.

But if that person isn’t available, then another should take the charge and feed the fish, after making sure the former person hasn’t fed them.

Feed nutritious food:

Feed food full of nutrients. This way even if you feed two to three pellets per fish, they’re hunger would be satisfied. Unlike the unhealthy food that doesn’t have many nutrients.

How to know your fish is hungry?

That’s the tricky part, but you should be able to know when your fish is really starving. Feeding an already full fish can result in many complications that are already being discussed.

So, now it’s the time to understand the gestures your fish would make whenever they’ll be hungry.

Moving to the top of the tank:

The hungry fish would move to the surface in the search of food quite often. They’ll jump and see if you’re coming with the food.

They can also come to the surface when they want to have more oxygen or when they’re playing. So, only this movement wouldn’t make it sure that your fish is starving. Maybe they aren’t, so you have to see for other signs as well.

Showing aggressive behavior:

Your hungry fish would be aggressive. It’s quite possible that they’ll show their aggressive behavior by fighting. Notice this behavior keenly.

To test whether your fish is showing aggressive behavior because they are hungry, drop a pellet, and see if they jump and take it within nanoseconds or not. If yes, then the fish are really hungry.

Moving anxiously at your sight:

When your hungry fish will see you, it will swim fastly and move around. You’ll notice the excitement.

The fish see you as a “thing” that gives them food. So, whenever you’ll come near the fish tank, they’ll think you’ve brought food, and it will make them excited and anxious.

Catches the pellet right away:

Your hungry fish wouldn’t wait for a second and will catch the flake or pellet the moment you throw it in the tank. They’ll probably move their tails and fins, asking for more.

Digs the substrate:

The fish that’s hungry will go down and dig substrate in the search of food. Mostly, scavenger fish show this behavior as they’re habitual of eating from the substrate.

So, if your fish is digging the substrate eagerly, then it’s time to feed.

Whenever you see your fish giving the above gestures, then feed them. But don’t overfeed them. Even if they’re starving, a few pellets per fish are enough for them to be full.

The Bottom line:

Feeding your pet fish might be tricky. This is because fish don’t know when to stop eating and you might continue feeding them even if they’re full. This overfeeding can have many health problems that can even lead to death.

So, it’s important to know when your fish is hungry and how much you have to feed them. Above, we have mentioned every detail you need to know if you don’t want to overfeed your fish and maintain its good health along with a clean fish tank. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to feed the right amount to your fish. Happy feeding!

Related Questions

What to do if you overfeed your fish?

If unknowingly you’ve fed your fish too much, then it’s best not to feed them for the next two to three days. Clean the debris continuously to avoid poisoning.

Clean the water more than usual and allow the fish to swim more. Remove ornaments to make some space. Fish would be able to digest food when they’ll move and not have food for the next few days.

Is it okay not to feed fish for two days?

Yes, it’s pretty much okay to make sure you fed your fish well before. Then they can survive without food for two to three days.

But if your fish are already hungry, then they’ll need to be fed. Starving them for two more days can make them really sick.

Do fish need big meals?

No, fish have small tummy with a sensitive digestive system. They need really small meals to fill themselves.

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