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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 12, 2012

Nutrition for Health

By Patrick Donston


Nutrition is as important to fishes’ optimal health as it is for dogs and cats. Food research and development is one factor contributing to the success of the growing hobby. However, a problem that exists is that aquariums are usually kept with multiple species with varied nutritional requirements. That is why it is difficult for manufacturers to develop one food for all tropical fish. Even balanced cichlid foods can be incomplete for certain species. Research analysis for nutrient requirements on ornamental tropicals is sparse and largely measured on growth rates. Most information comes from observation and not scientific studies. With that in mind, I would like to share some observations.

I like using food soaks to supplement our food-sources. Garlic, vitamin C, HUFAs and astaxanthin are incorporated in our weekly feeding and stocked for customer purchase.

Garlic is an antioxidant and widely thought to be a disease inhibitor. I know a few prominent store owners who view this to be the best way to rid marine ick in reef aquariums. Recently, an aqua-culture forum discussed and discounted garlic’s ability to heal anything in relation to fish diseases. We use garlic less than other food soaks, probably because we have observed positive results with the next three.


Vitamin C acts as a major catalyst for protein synthesis, bio-molecule construction, and immune cell production. We have been using it for years with great results in healing lymphocystes and secondary bacterial infections. A customer will ask, “Is that the same Queen Angel I saw here 2 weeks ago; what did you do?” Our explanation, “nothing, but vitamin C infused pellets.” I’ve been told vitamin C can be over used, resulting in immune system “crashes.” However, neither we or our customer have experienced such problems in the 12 or so years we’ve been administering it. We’ve even tracked customer purchases of fish we’ve fed or they’ve fed extended vitamin C soaks. Our findings indicated no after-effects.

I like using HUFAs (highly unsaturated fatty acids) for marine fish supplementation. A carrier for fat soluble sterols and quick ATP production, dietary lipids are important sources of energy needed for health and growth. Freshwater fish generally have a lower energy demand, thus lipids or fats may be stored in excess. Caution should be considered not to over use HUFA soaks with fresh ornamentals. Studies show marine fishes fed a proper fat to protein balance will have a higher tolerance to stress and/or pollution. Most manufactured dry foods contain the proper balance of amino acied, although lack sufficient fat content needed for most marine tropicals.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid needed for pigmentation of skin and is known as “nature’s antioxidant.” Fish do not have the ability to synthesize astaxanthin, thus have to ingest it as a food source. It is produced in small crustaceans such as cyclops, plankton, krill and arctic pods. It is a wonderful food source for African cichlid color and a dietary requirement for certain marine fish, such as anthias and wrasses. Feeding freeze-dried foods such as krill can be messy in our systems. We like to use a krill spray on pellets or small frozen/refrigerated planktonic crustaceans, such as arctic pods or cyclops.

I advocate nutrition for optimal fish health. Nutrient requirements of ornamental fish are not completely understood, thus more studies need to be done. Most of our understanding is observational through trial and error. I have found food soaks to be a positive supplement to obtain and maintain optimal health of certain fish. As for add-on sales, I recommend placing food soaks by dry pellets. Food soaks should not be used on flake foods since they disintegrate nor on frozen foods because the soak will not take. Like most supplements you sell, try them in your shop and see for yourself. If you and your staff see the results, they will become “no-brainer” sales.

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I'm not sure that this is a testimonial for soaks so much as an indicator of the inadequacy of highly processed fish food, but the conclusion is the same regardless :-).

I prefer whole food sources of nutrients based on the species' wild diet, due to our limited knowledge of species-specific dietary requirements. If the diet is based as closely as possible on the wild diet, we have a much better chance of providing everything they require, known and unknown.

It's always good to hear about a variety of methods though, thanks for sharing your experiences., Delta, BC
Posted: 3/12/2012 12:42:45 PM
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