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What Do Goldfish Eat? 3 Foods You Should Feed Your Fish

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By Lindsey Stanton

goldfish eating in pond

Want to know one of the funnest parts about keeping goldfish? Feeding them of course. Who can resist seeing those wiggly little fins and pleading eyes! But this begs the question (no pun intended!): What do goldfish eat? 

There are 3 very important things every goldfish should be eating on a regular basis to avoid boredom and malnutrition. Let’s get started!

What do Goldfish Eat in the Wild?

bubble eye goldfish
Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

There’s a simple rule of goldfish keeping that will help you get a LOT farther ahead in your hobby: The closer we mimic natural conditions for our goldfish, the healthier they will be. Guess what? The same is true of their diet.

We typically think a goldfish only needs a pinch of flakes a day and they’re good to go (sadly, most flakes contain nothing a goldfish would eat in the wild). The carp is the wild ancestor of the goldfish, and we can learn a lot about what goldfish eat by learning the natural diet of the carp.

If a goldfish lived in the wild, it would eat this stuff all day long in a river or pond:

  • Algae
  • Plants
  • Rotting plant matter
  • Insects and worms
  • Little fish here and there

As you can see, vegetable matter makes up a big portion of their diet, but also protein found in insect and marine-based animals. They are scavengers, and rely on processing large amounts of food to get the small amount of nutrition they need. In captivity, we can feed them very concentrated foods that supply all their needs in just a small amount per day. But this isn’t a balanced diet like they would have in the wild.

So, what exactly IS a balanced goldfish diet? This brings us to my next point.

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What Should You Feed Your Goldfish? — The 3 Aspects of a Balanced Diet

Let’s face it: Goldfish will eat just about anything. But not everything they CAN eat is necessarily good for them. A balanced diet will be primarily made of the following:

  • Good quality fish food (gel food, pellets)
  • Fibrous veggies (spinach, lettuce, kale, cilantro)
  • Natural treats (earthworms, bloodworms, krill, daphnia

1. The Staple Diet of Pellets, Gel Food or Flakes

Goldfish can get by for a limited period of time without this. But ultimately if you want your goldfish to be healthy and not suffer from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, you need to be feeding your goldfish a complete staple diet.

What exactly IS that? The diet staple is something that provides your goldfish with all the nutrition it needs for the day (with the right ratios of protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, and minerals)—something that rummaging around in your refrigerator won’t be able to do.

Good quality fish food manufacturers formulate foods that are designed to do just that.Only a small amount per day is required to get your fish loaded up on all those nutrients—in a very yummy way!

The three main types of goldfish foods are pellets, gel food, or flakes. You really only need to pick one—and each kind of food has its own advantages. My advice? Choose what works best for you.

  • Gel food is absolutely wonderful for swim-bladder-problem-prone fancy goldfish because it’s so moist, provided you purchase a good brand.
  • Pellets can be another very good option. Some people soak these, but it isn’t necessary if you use a quality brand.
  • Flake food is very common (probably the most commonly found fish food at the pet store) and usually the least expensive. However, it can be tricky to find a flake food that isn’t mostly fillers and low-quality ingredients.

You might want to check out our article on the Best Goldfish Foods for Fancy & Single-tailed Fish for our reviews of the different brands and our top picks.

goldfish eating flakes
Image Credit: Leonardo Macedo, Shutterstock

2. Foraging Material like Fibrous Veggies

It’s super important to make sure your goldfish gets all the nutrition it needs with its daily feeding of the staple diet. And sure, maybe your fish would stay pretty healthy with just that. But the rest of the day, your fish’s digestive tract is not moving like it would naturally be doing if it lived in a pond. This state of stagnation can make your fish more prone to issues like constipation.

I’ve had many fishkeepers tell me that their swim bladder problems went away once they started regularly providing regular foraging for their water puppies. Goldfish are ravenous little beasts. They live to eat and they LOVE to eat – it’s what they are meant to do from sunup to sundown! In the wild, a goldfish would spend every waking moment chowing down on all the goodies in a pond or river.

But in a closed aquarium? It’s usually slim pickings. This means your goldfish spends all day long after its little bit of diet staple pellets or whatever without ANYTHING to do! That’s a big part of why they beg so much.

But if you keep feeding your fish pellets or gel food or flakes every time you see it looking all sad and bored, it will end up overfed and sick from that rich processed food. They only need as much as they can eat in 30 seconds of that stuff once a day.

How do we solve this problem? Simple. Give them fibrous foraging material like leafy greens and other veggies! My favorites are lettuce, spinach, and cilantro—though there are others as well. It really makes it easy to use a veggie clip.

Goldfish should have UNLIMITED ACCESS to this foraging material 24/7. It is probably a good idea to remove and replace uneaten veggies after a few days to avoid too much rotting debris accumulating in the tank and fouling the water.

How much of this you need to feed really depends on the size of the fish and how fast they will go through it.

Many fish die as a result of improper food and/or portion sizes, which can be easily prevented by proper education.

The Truth About Goldfish New Edition

That's why our best-selling book, The Truth About Goldfish, covers exactly what you can and can’t give your goldies when it comes to mealtime. It’s even got a section dedicated to keeping your pet fish alive and well-fed when you go on vacation!

Remember: It might take a bit of time for goldfish to get used to eating their greens if they’ve only been given yummy pellets, flakes, or gel food. It’s like going from eating hamburgers to a salad.

If they aren’t eating the veggies, withhold the rich processed food until they do. They won’t starve, and they will eventually cave once they get hungry enough. It usually takes a few days, but in some cases (especially if the fish has been overfed) it could take as much as a week or two before they come around to the veggies. But once they do, they will discover how much fun it is to nibble on these all day long!

Tip: You can wilt the veggies first by steaming them to soften them up—this really helps in my experience.

3. Treats for Something Different & Nutritious

They say variety is the spice of life. And the same is true for the life of a goldfish! (You would get bored of eating the same thing every day… day after day…) It’s a good idea to break things up with a nutritious treat—usually given 2–3 times a week.

Treats like live and/or dried foods offer the benefits of a boost of protein and color-enhancing properties—great for fish you are trying to get to grow bigger or develop more into its full potential. The best part? Goldfish LOVE them!

My favorite treats for goldfish are sun-dried krill, earthworms, and frozen bloodworms. These foods are also great to feed a goldfish that has recently been through stress such as shipping.

It’s really important not to overdo the treats. Too much can make your goldfish overweight and unhealthy. But in moderation… They are a great addition to your goldfish’s diet!

krill Tarpan
Credit: Tarpan, Shutterstock


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Foods a Goldfish Can Eat: The Big List

Below is a list of foods goldfish can eat. I’ve tried to make it very comprehensive, though I’m sure not every single thing is on here. Goldfish will eat just about anything after all. Please note that some of these foods can cause harm to the fish if fed in excess or over a long period of time (some are probably not a good idea period). Just because a goldfish CAN eat some of these does not mean they should.

1. Fish Food

fish food flakes for tropical fish
Image Credit: Roger Utting, Shutterstock

  • Pellets
  • Gel Food
  • Flakes

2. Vegetables

Image Credit: Pixabay
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado—in very small amounts (high fat)
  • Broccoli (steamed)
  • Brussel sprouts (steamed)
  • Chard
  • Cilantro—excellent foraging!
  • Cucumber (peeled)
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Peas (deskinned)
  • Pumpkin (cooked)
  • Red bell pepper
  • Spinach
  • Squash (cooked)
Not Recommended
  • Corn—HIGHLY not recommended
  • Bok Choy—goldfish aren’t fond of this
  • Carrots (steamed)—goldfish aren’t fond of this

3. Fruit

assorted berries
Image Credit: Alex Block, Unsplash

  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Grapes (skinned)
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Watermelon

4. Treats

brine shrimps in a tank
Image Credit: Napat, Shutterstock

  • Algae (I recommend avoiding processed algae wafers as they are usually high in wheat)
  • Black soldier fly larvae—a great frequent treat
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Earthworms
  • Freeze-dried Bloodworms
  • Frozen Bloodworms
  • Garlic
  • Houseflies
  • Krill (sun-dried)
  • Shrimp
Not Recommended
  • Turkey (ground and raw)—not recommended
  • Egg yolks—not recommended other than for young fry
  • Beef (ground and raw)—not recommended
  • Bread—not recommended

Now It’s Your Turn

Are you going to try offering your goldfish foraging? Did you learn something new?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, so drop me a line!

See Also: Feeding Human Food to Betta Fish

Featured Image Credit: Andrea Geiss, Shutterstock

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