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Carnivorous Pet Fish Care

Mychelle Blake
Oscar fish close up

Carnivorous fish have a diet made up of proteins including insects, crustaceans, and sometimes other fish. Some of the most popular aquarium fish are carnivorous and are easy choices for even beginning hobbyists.

Caring for Carnivorous Fish

While caring for many of the more popular carnivorous fish isn't that difficult or different from other fish, there are some key items you must be aware of to keep them properly. This includes their diet and which species are compatible in a tank with them.

Carnivorous Fish Diet

Some carnivorous fish eat live food such as small feeder fish, brine shrimp, bloodworms, crickets, mealworms, and snails. Others will eat the same in a frozen form, or a mix of the two. You can also purchase pellets and flakes designed for carnivores. Most fish do well with a diet consisting of the three options to provide variety. One caution with using feeder fish is that many carry diseases and are often unhealthy, so you will want to be sure the source you purchase them from has healthy fish. You can also raise your own, although this is more work and an additional expense. If you feed brine shrimp, you can also purchase live ones from a pet store or raise your own very simply and cheaply using a hatchery.

Carnivorous Fish Tank Mates

Some carnivorous fish can live with other species peacefully while others cannot. Make sure that you research your fish before putting them into a community tank. For example, bettas can live with smaller, peaceful schooling fish, and with female bettas, but you cannot put two males together. On the other hand the Oscar can only live safely with other Oscars. Some carnivorous fish will eat other fish you place in the tank if they're small enough. Others will ignore smaller fish if the tank they live in is large enough to accommodate everyone. If you're not sure which fish will work with your carnivores, consult your local fish specialty shop staff for advice.

Common Carnivorous Pet Fish

There are several species of carnivorous fish that are easily obtained from a pet or fish specialty store. Each has their own specific dietary needs.

Angelfish

These graceful and lovely fish are actually omnivorous although they tend to rely more on eating as a carnivore in their natural environment.

  • Angelfish will eat smaller fish in a tank, such as tetras and do best in a tank with other angelfish, or a tank large enough that smaller fish can be safe.
  • Angelfish should eat a diet of species-appropriate flakes and pellets, as well as brine shrimp and mosquito larvae. These can be live, freeze-dried or frozen.
Angelfishes in a fish tank

Betta

The beautiful Betta, also known as the Siamese fighting fish, is considered a carnivore although they can live on an omnivorous diet.

  • Bettas can live with other fish as long as they are smaller and more peaceful with less impressive fins, such as corydoras, tetras, and plecos. Males cannot live with other male bettas, however.
  • While bettas are aggressive to many other fish, they will eat the fish they attack and kill as they will fight to protect territory and not out of hunger.
  • They should be fed a diet of commercially made pellets or flakes made for bettas and giving frozen or live bloodworms and brine shrimp.
Siamese fighting fish

Cichlid (Jack Dempsey)

While many cichlid species are omnivorous, the Jack Dempsey cichlid is most definitely a carnivore. Because of their temperament, Jack Dempsey fish are not a good choice for the beginner fish keeper. They are also known for being aggressive and territorial and will most definitely eat smaller fish.

  • They do best with tank mates of similar size and temperament, as they're less likely to bully a fish too large to eat and with a similar attitude. Good choices are angel fish, Oscars, and some other cichlid species.
  • The larger your tank, the less likely aggression is to occur as well.
  • Jack Dempsey fish will eat a mix of pellets and flakes made for cichlids along with live bloodworms, brine shrimp, crickets, snails and small feeder fish.
Blue and black cichlid swimming

Discus

These colorful, round-shaped fish are best kept with intermediate to experienced fish lovers as they have very specific water needs. While they can eat plant matter, they are primarily carnivorous.

  • Discus are peaceful fish who will not eat other fish and in fact should not be paired with aggressive species as they're likely to get bullied and hurt.
  • They can live well with gouramis, tetras and some corydoras.
  • In addition to providing them with plant food like algae and spirulina, they can eat insects, crustaceans, amphipods and copepods. They will enjoy live mosquito larvae, brine shrimp and blood worm and even chopped up beef heart.
Discus Fish In Aquarium

Killifish

There are more than 700 species of these small, colorful fish which are considered an "intermediate" level fish to keep because of their personality and diet.

  • They can be housed with their own species but males can be aggressive to other males as well as to male fish of other species that are of a similar size and shape.
  • You can have multiple females in one tank, and they can live peacefully with many types of tetras.
  • Killifish need to eat live food and do not do well on flakes or pellets, which makes keeping them more difficult. The cheapest way to keep killifish is by raising their food yourself although this will take more time and effort and some types will have to be purchased from a supply store.
  • Killifish typically eat brine shrimp, daphnia, mosquito larvae, tubifex worms, black worms, white worms, fruit flies, and beef heart.
Killifish in aquarium

Oscar

The Oscar is a highly intelligent fish that are generally kept in a tank only with other Oscars. They are considered omnivorous but they are primarily carnivorous in the wild.

  • Oscars are likely to eat other fish in a community tank if they're small enough. They will also eat shrimp and snails in the tank.

  • While they are best living with other Oscars, you can put them in a large community tank with peaceful fish of the same size like other cichlids, arowanas and plecos.

  • Oscars can be fed flakes and pellets made for cichlids and enjoy live and frozen brine shrimp, daphnia and bloodworms.

Oscar swimming underwater

Pea Puffer

This cute little fish is primarily carnivorous and best with intermediate to experienced fish owners. Despite their tiny size, the males are aggressive towards other males and you can only keep one male in a tank, but more than one female is fine.

  • They do best in a puffer-only tank but if you have a large enough community tank, they can live with smaller schooling fish like tetras, danios, barbs, and rasboras.
  • Pea puffers need a diet with a small amount of algae and the rest consisting of protein.
  • They will eat larvae, copepods, fleas, insects, bloodworms, and brine shrimp. These can be live or frozen.
  • They will also eat small snails and shrimp species placed in the tank.
Puffer Fish Swimming In Sea

Keeping Carnivorous Fish As Pets

While the term might make you think carnivorous fish are all aggressive and hard to keep, there are many popular aquarium fish that are carnivorous and suitable for beginners. Some have more specific care requirements that might make them better choices for more experienced owners, but with enough research even a beginner can tackle successfully the care of carnivorous fish with more needs like discus, Jack Dempsey fish and killifish.

Carnivorous Pet Fish Care