Best feeder fish for turtles

One of the greatest controversial topics is whether you should put feeder fish in an aquarium with turtles or not. Similarly, many turtle owners also question whether feeder fish are healthy for their turtles or not. In this article, we shall find out the answer to all these questions and, if so, the best feeder fish for turtles.

Turtles are lovely and adorable pets. While they may not be as cuddly as dogs and cats, they are entertaining to watch and have a long lifespan, with most even outliving their owners. However, taking care of turtles is no walk in the park. It requires you to know and understand how to create a suitable home for them as well as what foods ensure they are strong and healthy throughout their life. Despite the species or age, turtles are exotic pets that enjoy a varied type of diet. As such, you need to provide them with a combination of commercial foods as well as natural and live foods and treats to ensure they live a long and happy life.

Turtles enjoy eating fish as they provide them with lots of essential nutrients that aid in their growth and development. However, is it safe for turtles to feed on feeder fish?

Feeder fish

Introducing feeder fish in your tank is a fun way to add variety to it while offering your turtles an additional source of food. Turtles are known to be natural hunters. As such, they enjoy chasing down their food and eventually capturing them for consumption. Some feeder fish are excellent sources of food as well as fantastic helpers when it comes to cleaning a tank. They will help in cleaning your tank by eating any residue food materials and algae in your aquarium; thus, assisting in maintaining clean water.

While feeder fish have several benefits when kept in an aquarium with turtles, there are also some long-term health risks you have to put into consideration. Despite the mental stimulation that turtles gain when chasing them down in their tank, cheap feeder fish have been found to negatively impact the health of turtles by infecting them with parasites and other infections that could potentially result in health risks or even death.

For instance, one of the most popular feeder fish you will find in tanks with turtles is the goldfish. While they are visually appealing, they are reported to have spiny bones that may damage your pet turtle’s throat and intestinal system. Since turtles consume small fishes by sloppily tearing them apart, they are likely to have random bones stick to throats and their insides, potentially causing harm.

Similarly, goldfish are rich in fat content. The nutritional requirements of turtles suggest that they require about 30-40% protein, and the rest of the nutrition should come from green and leafy vegetables as they provide essential minerals and vitamins. Regardless of the age and turtle species, turtles do not require high levels of fat in their diet, as it can lead to a Vitamin E deficiency. When a turtle has vitamin E deficiency, it means that they possess weak bones and shell, as well as a slow healing process.

In addition to the nutritional risks, turtles are messy eaters. When they consume feeder fish, they leave pieces of its body floating on the water surface. As such, turtle keepers have a more difficult job to clean their tanks since fish bodies decompose quickly and contaminate the water with nitrites and ammonia, which is harmful to the wellbeing of the turtle.

More so, wild fish are not advisable to keep as feeder fish in your tank, alongside your pet turtle. Often, they host a variety of parasites and bacteria on their slippery bodies that could lead to several infections and diseases for your turtle.

Another health risk associated with feeder fish for turtles is that they can lead to a thiamine deficiency. Some fish species, like the goldfish and Rosy Red minnows, contain thiaminase, which is an enzyme that blocks the absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamine).

Once these fish are eaten for a long time, a chronic thiamine deficiency develops in your turtle, making it more susceptible to infections and diseases, have a reduced appetite and metabolism, develop potential muscular disorders, become more lethargic, and even death in extreme cases. Other types of fish species that contain thiamine include Gizzard Shad, Fathead minnows, Bullhead and channel catfish, carps, and Spottail and Buckeye shiners, among many others.

As discussed above, there are many reasons why pet owners should not invest in feeder fish for their turtles. Since turtles are known to eat a large number of feeder fish at once, turtle owners often buy cheap feeder fish for them as it is more economical. However, the associated health risks, in the long run, are fatal for our shelled pets. If you choose to feed your turtle feeder fish, it is essential to invest in some pet-quality fish.

The best feeder fish for turtles

With many experts advising against feeding turtles with feeder fish, there are certain feeder fish that offer your turtle with the necessary nutritional dietary needs for living a long and happy life. If you opt to feed your pet turtle with such fish, you must ensure they are:

  • Free of thiamine
  • Not high in fat content
  • Free of any parasites, bacteria or infections
  • Small enough for easy consumption
  • Easy to digest without causing any throat or intestinal issues

Since you cannot determine how healthy a specific type of fish is to your pet turtle, it is best if you feed them live fish every once in a while. Chasing down fish for a turtle provides great mental stimulation and excitement, and it also ‘livens’ up your tank’s environment. If you really must feed them live fish, do so at least every once or twice in a month.

There is a variety of healthy feeder fish you can use to feed your turtle. Some of them include;


These are small and brightly-colored tank pets that possess a well-arranged body pattern on their lithe bodies. They are relatively agile swimmers who prefer staying at the bottom of the tank. With their unique body shapes that enable them to propel faster in the water, these fish are perfect companions and feeder fish for your turtle.

Most killifish measure about four inches in length while others can measure up to ten inches in size, depending on the type. These fish contain a variety of red, blue, green, and even yellow spots that provide a beautiful sight for your tank. They are well-defined, and their beautiful body layout is a lovely and attractive sight.

These fish can live anywhere between three months and five years. They jump quite high and may fall out if the aquarium is left open. You have to make sure that the aquarium is clean at all times for their survival as they can easily contract diseases in contaminated water. More so, they do not contain thiaminase, which is harmful to your pet turtle.


As one of the most popular fish in aquariums, guppies are fantastic feeder fish for your pet turtle. They offer a lot of nutritional benefits to your turtle as well as add plenty of color to your tank as they come in different sizes, colors, and shapes. These tropical freshwater fish are also quite peaceful, easy to maintain, and relatively cheap to purchase.

Guppies have an average lifespan of two years and can grow up to 2.4-inches in length. They can survive in a 5-gallon tank or bigger due to their fast rate of reproduction. However, most experts recommend a ten or 20-gallon tank if you are planning to breed them. They are omnivorous fish who enjoy both plant and animal matter. Their primary diet consists of good quality fish flakes, but they are likely to eat anything you offer them as they are not fussy eaters.

However, you should choose products that are rich in proteins and those that do not contain any filler such as soy and wheat. Supplement their fish flakes by feeding them frozen or live foods such as bloodworms or shrimp. They also consume vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, and peas, which are an ideal source of vitamins and minerals for them.

Mosquito fish

Mosquito fish are freshwater fish that eat mosquito larvae for sustenance. Often, they are used to control mosquito larvae breeding in unmaintained or unused swimming pools, birdbaths, private ponds, water troughs, and aquariums.

These fish are omnivorous and feed on small invertebrates, including mosquitoes and algae. Similarly, one large female mosquito fish can consume hundreds of mosquito larvae daily. Mosquito fish usually do not need to be fed during the warm months. In the winter, when larvae are scarce or if the water source does not possess any plant life, feed these fish dry cat or dog food or tropical fish flakes. Feed them as much as they can eat in five minutes, twice a day. Overfed mosquito fish may not eat mosquito larvae, and too much food for the fish may also cause bacterial bloom, which is harmful.

Turtles can enjoy eating this fish species as it does not contain thiaminase and is quite nutritious. However, catching your own mosquito fish is risky as it may introduce some bacteria, pathogens, and parasites to your pet turtle, which is harmful to their health.


Popular in North America, Bluegill is a freshwater fish that measure about six inches in length but can grow up to twelve inches in size. They weigh less than a pound and are dark green. These fish have an oval shape with bars that run vertically across their sides. There is a black ear flap behind their ears, has a small mouth, and two dorsal fins. Female bluegill is yellow, while the belly of a breeding male has a rusty red color.

Also known as a copper nose, sunfish, or bream, these fish feed on microscopic animals while in the wild. They are not picky eaters and will eat almost any human scraps, including corn, crackers, and bread. More so, they are excellent swimmers as they can change their direction quite fast, confusing any predator. As such, they are great companions for turtles as they provide them with a challenge when it comes to hunting; they also do not contain thiaminase and are quite nutritious.

Channel catfish

The channel catfish is a large and smooth-skinned fish with a greenish-gray or bluish body. It also contains whisker-like protrusions around its mouth and small black spots all around its body. This fish can grow to about four feet in length and weighs more than 50 pounds.

These fish feed on a wide variety of foods, including crustaceans, mollusks, insects, fish, snails, small birds, and snakes. Younger channel catfish have a more omnivorous diet as they enjoy eating both animal and plant matter.

Channel catfish is a viable option for your aquarium if you are looking for feeder fish for your turtles. They are easy to catch and maintain. They do not contain thiaminase and are a healthy and nutritious treat for your shelled pet.


There are several feeder fish available in the market for your pet turtle. However, you have to make sure that you purchase pet-quality fish and avoid cheaper ones as they could cause long-term health risks in your turtle. Expert turtle owners recommend breeding your own feeder fish to prevent infecting your turtles with parasites, bacteria, and other infections.

Kerry Blake

Since I was young, I have always had a thing for sea creatures. Being raised along the beach gave me the chance to interact with all kinds of reptiles, including turtles. I have always found this creature quite fascinating, and at a young age, I asked my parents to get me one as a pet. My love for turtles is what inspired me to pursue marine science when I got to college. Specializing in this field made learning so much about such reptiles. If you would like to get a pet turtle at your home, this guide will be of great help.

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