I got an interesting question from a reader, Brooke, she asked my advice on how to help an underweight fish get back to a healthy weight. I’ve done this with my rescue Betta, Bub, and I think that this is a very important and often overlooked aspect of fish-keeping. The obvious answer would be to feed the fish and feed it a lot, however, I disagree with this method for a few reasons. Many fish like Bettas or African Cichlids, especially those from Lake Malawai, are very prone to constipation even when healthy, and throwing a bunch of food at them at once might only make things worse.
There are numerous reasons your fish could be underweight, most likely they stopped eating due to stress or illness or injury. Sometimes you’ll buy a fish that’s underweight or sometimes you’ll just get an incredibly picky fish that is reluctant to eat.
In my experience, the best way to help a fish get back to a healthy weight and regain it’s physical strength as well as regaining healthy immune system function consists of three main things:
- High quality food (New Life Spectrum, Omega One, etc.)
- Vitamin Supplement like Vita-Chem or Seachem’s Nourish
- Seachem’s Garlic Guard
And sometimes feeding a food like San Fransisco Bay Brand’s Beefheart Plus is effective, especially with carnivorous fish like Bettas or Puffers. Obviously if you’re dealing with a herbivore that doesn’t digest protein very well like Malawi Cichilds I would strongly advise not using Beefheart as it’s extremely high in protein.
First though, let’s briefly go over why you should be using a high-quality food even though it’s pretty self-explanatory. Higher quality foods contain more natural ingredients, more vitamins, they’re easier to digest because they use less unnatural fillers and the list goes on. If you want to learn more about fish food specifically, click here!
It’s very important than when feeding you should always aim for smaller feedings throughout the day, especially with an underweight fish. I find that this helps prevent constipation for obvious reasons, it allows the fish to actually make use of the food and a fish that’s hesitant to eat is unlikely to gorge itself and you’ll end up with a lot of leftover food on the bottom of the tank, decaying and affecting water quality.
Now, let’s talk about vitamin supplements. These are vital when you want to regenerate a fish, so to speak. The two products I recommend are Vita-Chem and Seachem Nourish, however, I’ve had more success with Vita-Chem. In layman’s terms, Vita-Chem is a multivitamin for fish. That’s as simple as it gets. In more detail though, it’s a vitamin supplement that’s absorbed through the fish’s tissue or ingested directly which means even if the fish isn’t eating, you can add Vita-Chem directly to the water column and still get the benefits. It helps provide essential vitamins like Vitamins C, B1, B2. B6, B12, E, K and numerous amino acids.
This will get essential nutrients to a fish even when they refuse to eat, it’s not a substitute for food, but it might be enough to get the fish to a place where they will eat. Or better yet, it’s very effective in combination with food to strengthen a fish quickly and safely. It promotes a strong immune system, increased growth, fin regeneration, breeding activity and like I mentioned will sometimes restore a fish’s appetite.
When dealing with a sick fish, I add the recommended amount directly to the water column at least twice per week. Sometimes every other day. The days I don’t add it to the water column I add it directly to their food, if they’ll eat.
Now, another product I always keep handy is Seachem’s Garlic Guard. This is a great flavor enhancer, rich in Vitamin C and is believed to have some anti-parasitic properties to it. I find it much easier than crushing up garlic and mixing it with water. I use this product primarily to defrost frozen fish foods as I find it to be way more beneficial than simply defrosting in dechlorinated tap water. It can also be used to entice a fish into eating and I’ve even heard people say they use it to cure ich. Which I will say is completely false, the antioxidants in Garlic Guard help minimize oxidation caused by parasite’s toxins, but it will not eradicate any parasites by itself. If you want to learn how to actually defeat ich, click here!
If you have any specific questions for me, feel free to message me on Facebook!