One of the most common mistakes made by novice aquarium hobbyists is overfeeding their fish. Overfeeding can not only lead to unhealthy obesity in fish but it can also result in excess waste build-up at the bottom of the tank.
Not only is it important to feed discus fish the appropriate amount, but it is also imperative that they be given the proper foods. Discus fish have strict nutritional needs that cannot be fulfilled by ordinary flake foods. In order to keep discus fish healthy and thriving, they must be given a varied diet of high-protein foods including live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods.
Nutritional Needs of Discus Fish
Discus fish are carnivores and, as such, they require a high-protein diet in order to thrive. Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids, both of which are necessary for the nutritional well-being of discus fish. The diet of mature discus fish should be made up of between 35% and 45% percent protein but newly hatched fry and juvenile discus fish may require a diet consisting of up to 50% protein. Many novice discus fish keepers make the mistake of thinking that because discus fish are carnivores, their entire diet should be made up of protein. Excess protein in the diet of discus fish, however, will be broken down into sugars during which process excess ammonia will be released into the tank water.
Fats, or lipids, are another essential component in the nutritional needs of discus fish. Though carbohydrates and proteins can be broken down into energy, fats supply discus fish with almost twice the amount of energy as an equal amount of either. Discus fish that have a diet lacking in fats may experience fin deterioration, stunted growth, decreased fertility, and increased susceptibility to disease. The best source of fats for discus fish is crustacean oil, a substance that is often omitted from flake foods.
Like humans, discus fish also have a need for vitamins in their daily diet. Vitamins are not used to produce energy but they do contribute to the growth and the production of enzymes in the body. Drying foods destroys a majority of the vitamin content which is why frozen and live foods are such an important part of the discus fish diet. Algae, crustaceans, and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A and foods such as eggs, wheat germ and leafy green vegetables also contain vitamins.
Minerals are just as important as vitamins in the diet of discus fish. These inorganic compounds, especially calcium, are necessary for the growth of cartilage and bone. Crustaceans, whole fish and bone meal supplements are some of the most common ways to add minerals to the diet of discus fish.
Types of Discus Fish Food
One of the most popular types of live food for discus fish is bloodworms. In reality, bloodworms are not worms at all but mosquito larvae. These larvae are rich in protein and can also be purchased in frozen or freeze-dried form. Tubifex worms are another popular live and freeze-dried food for discus fish but if they are harvested from unclean sources they may introduce harmful bacteria into the discus tank. White worms are a valuable source of fats for discus fish and should be offered several times a week.
A variety of frozen fish foods are available, many of which are high in protein. Some popular types of frozen fish food include shrimp, fish, and plankton in addition to bloodworms, tubifex worms and other insects. Frozen foods retain a high percentage of their nutritional value and, as long as they are kept frozen, they will remain uncontaminated. Depending on the type of food, some frozen foods are available in cubes which can simply
be dropped into the tank – the food will be distributed as the cube melts in the warm aquarium water. These foods are typically more expensive than freeze-dried foods but the higher nutritional value makes it worth the price.
While some freeze-dried foods lose more than 50% of their nutritional value during the drying process, they are still an important part of the discus fish diet. Some freeze-dried foods available on the market include tubifex worms, shrimp, plankton, and crustaceans. These foods should typically be stored in a dry place, though some need be kept in the refrigerator.
Even inexperienced aquarium hobbyists are capable of creating their own homemade foods for discus fish. The most common ingredient in homemade foods for discus fish is beef heart. Beef heart is high in protein but also contains about 18% saturated fat which is difficult for fish to process. Thus, beef heart should be used sparingly in the diet of discus fish. Chicken, mutton and turkey hearts can also be used in homemade fish foods as well as cooked seafood like mussels and cockels. To make homemade fish food more convenient for distribution, grind it into a paste and mix it with gelatin as a binder then scoop it into small balls to be dropped into the tank.
How to Feed Discus Fish
Discus fish should be fed an amount approximately equal to 3% of their body weight. In an average-sized discus fish weighing about 75 grams, this would equate to 2.25 grams of food at each feeding. While newly hatched fry and juvenile discus fish can be fed more often, mature adults should be fed twice daily. During each feeding, only provide as much food as discus fish are able to consume within three to five minutes. This will prevent the accumulation of uneaten fish food at the bottom of the tank.
Administering live foods can be tricky and may result in having food scattered all over the aquarium. To avoid this, place live foods like blood worms in cone-shaped feeders that float on the surface of the tank. These feeders generally have holes or slots large enough to allow discus fish to access the worms in the cone. Flake and freeze-dried foods can be sprinkled on the tank surface in small amounts, though some discus fish may wait for the food to sink to eat it. Some freeze-dried foods, like tubifex worms, come in cubes that can be stuck to the side of the tank.
If discus fish have not consumed all of their food within a fifteen-minute timeframe it is wise to remove the excess from the tank. While the fish may pick at some of the food that sinks to the bottom of the tank, the majority of it will simply accumulate and begin to break down into ammonia. This is why it can be helpful to have a few nicely selected bottom-feeding community fish in your tank as discussed earlier as the food at the bottom will be taken care of.
By removing uneaten fish food before this is allowed to happen, the tank water will be that much cleaner. Paired with regular water changes, these practices will make for a clean and clear discus tank.
Quick Summary of Discus Fish Nutrition
Protein: 35% to 45% of diet, 50% in juvenile fish and newly hatched fry; provided by blood worms, tubifex worms, shrimp and beef heart
Lipids (Fats): source of energy, provides twice as much energy as an equal amount of carbohydrate or protein; provided by white worms
Vitamins: provided by algae, crustaceans, vegetables, eggs, and wheat germ
Minerals: inorganic compounds needed for bone growth; provided by crustaceans, whole fish, and bone meal supplements
Amount to Feed: 3% of body weight twice daily, average 2.25 grams for mature discus