Anyone who cares for cichlid species knows that feeding them is one of the best parts of keeping them. But, what’s the best food for your cichlids if you want to improve their growth rate and colors?
Should a healthy diet include vegetables, forms of cyanobacteria such as spirulina or live treats? The answer to this varies on the type of fish of course. If you’re the owner of South American cichlids, it could be quite different than if you’re keeping the gorgeous African cichlids coming from Lake Malawi.
Even with a decent amount of research, you start getting inundated with more questions as things go along. Should you go for pellets or flake meals? What brand suits Mbuna species the most? Should you get something specific if you have a species-centered tank such as one housing primarily peacock cichlids? What sort of foods should I get if I’m raising baby fry and want to kickstart their growth? Is there something else you should consider?
I’m going to attempt to answer these and more questions throughout this article.
We’re also going to take a look at the best foods for growing massive African cichlid species.
So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
|Food Name:||Type:||Recommended for:||Price bracket:|
|1. TetraCichlid Floating Cichlid Sticks||Pellet Sticks||Medium to Large Cichlids||$|
|2. Aqueon Cichlid Food||Pellets||Cichlids With Smaller Mouths||$|
|3. Northfin Veggie||Pellets||Mbuna and Other Herbivorous Cichlids||$$|
|4. TetraCichlid Balanced Diet Flakes||Flakes||African Cichlids||$|
|5. Omega One Super Color||Pellets||All Juvenile Cichlids||$$$$|
|6. Hikari Cichlid Gold Floating Pellets||Pellets||All Juvenile Cichlids||$$$|
|7. Hikari Cichlid Gold Sinking Pellets||Pellets||Large South American Cichlid Species||$|
|8. TetraMin Balanced Tropical Flakes||Flakes||Mixed Cichlid Communities||$$|
|9. API Fish Food||Pellets||Slow-Feeding Top-Dwelling Malawi Cichlids||$$$|
|10. Repashy Soilent Green||Gel Premix||Malawi Herbivorous Cichlids Such as Mbuna||$$$$|
|11. Zoo Med Spirulina 20||Flakes||All Cichlids||$$|
|12. Omega One Freeze Dried Blood Worms||Freeze-Dried Treat||All Cichlids||$|
|13. Northfin Fry Starter||Powder||Cichlid Fry||$|
|14. New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula||Pellets||All African Cichlids||$$$|
A Complete Guide on Food for Cichlids and Its Role In Their Development
Way back when I originally got into aquariums, I initially did it under the idea of caring for a wide range of cichlids.
I enjoyed the concept of keeping a variety of fish happy and healthy outside of their natural ecosystem through my efforts, and cichlids were some of the first fish species I fell for.
However, I found the amount of actual information available on the Internet for the proper feeding of these fish is limited. For this reason, I have prepared this short guide on how to choose the right food for your cichlids:
1. Watch out for too much Meat
Here’s what you should know about feeding cichlids meat:
Most cichlids are omnivorous, meaning that they ideally subsist on a good combination of meat and plant-based foods. Where this can go awry in cichlid tanks is when too much meat-based food is introduced into their digestive systems. African cichlids are primarily herbivorous, which means they possess longer intestines. Though meat food can induce faster growth, too much of it could cause a disease called The Malawi Bloat which is almost always fatal without immediate and expert care. For African cichlids, meat-based foods should be given sparingly, mostly as a treat, and no more than twice a week, but preferably once.
2. Vegetables as a Source of Fiber for a Better Digestion
Fiber is excellent for your cichlids.
This can take many forms, ranging from specialized pellets and flakes to simply using veggies as a source of fibers that can be dropped into the tank during feeding hours.
That being said, here’s what you should know about providing vegetables for your aquarium cichlids:
A good amount of vegetables throughout the week is an excellent way to keep your cichlids happy, and their digestive tract in good working order. Even the carnivorous species would benefit from the occasional veggie, as it is an outstanding source of fiber for the fish. Improved digestion helps with breaking down foods, which in turn speeds up the growth rate in fish
3. Stick to a Regimen and Don’t Overfeed
The general regime rule for feeding cichlids is:
Feed cichlid species as much as they will eat in about 2 minutes and leave nothing behind, once or twice a day. To master the right dosage is key here, because if adequately offered the multiple meals could improve growth even further. Issues with overfeeding come up with inexperienced owners not understanding that cichlids will eat just about anything put in front of them, even if it’s to their detriment. Remember that even though these fish may constantly look hungry, they’ll be fine waiting for their next meal.
A good way to set a certain amount of food per offering without worrying about spilling too much is using the so-called programmable automatic fish feeder.
This device releases a set amount of food on a timer, which can come extremely handy if you’re a beginner and don’t want to take risks with overfeeding.
It also is an outstanding help in maintaining a fish feeding cycle while you’re out of town.
I have not done a head-to-head test with all of them but one automatic feeder that I personally trust is this one from Eheim (visit the link to see the device on Amazon.com).
4. How to Decide Between Flakes and Pellets
The size and temperament of the cichlid species you keep should influence the type of food they should be fed with.
This is especially true in a tank with a decent amount of denizens swimming around it.
Here’s what to know about choosing between pellets and flakes when feeding cichlids:
Shy or juvenile cichlids can have trouble with large pieces of food or keeping up with big heavy eaters. Most flake foods are ideal in that situation, as they are able to be eaten quickly and float around the water column for longer. However, pellets tend to bring a more nutrient-dense offering and are ideal for larger and bolder cichlids.
5. Sparingly Offer Live Foods
Or not at all.
The problem with live food treats and cichlids is sort of two-fold:
Firstly, live food treats throw the diet of your cichlid fish off course slightly. Most of the time this isn’t a long-term issue, but you’re risking potential digestive issues that can end up being fatal in the most extreme cases by adding weird proteins to the mix randomly. Secondly, there’s the issue of parasites. A lot of store-bought live foods can be riddled with nasty parasites that can cause serious harm to your fish. Also, it’s generally advisable to stay away from live Tubifex.
6. Spirulina is Excellent for Cichlids
I didn’t really know what Spirulina originally was when I was browsing around for cichlid foods.
I saw it come up a lot in the ingredients of the higher quality foods, so I eventually did a bit of research on it.
It’s great because it’s sort of a best of both worlds type of food that covers most of the bases for cichlid diets.
Protein contents could go up to 60g per 100 grams, which is almost 3 times higher than the protein content of 100 grams of beef.
Furthermore, there’s a study suggesting that a Cichlid diet supplemented with spirulina improves the immune response of cichlids against viral infections.
Digging deeper I stumbled upon more scientific research showing that regularly feeding spirulina to cichlids improves their growth rate, enhances colors and improves egg production and hatching rates.
Plus, my fish seem to like it, though they seem to like just about anything.
What’s the Best Snack for Cichlids to Improve their Growth Rate?
I’ve probably tried over 30 products in an attempt to identify the best cichlid food.
The truth is, as long as you’re not doing a bizarre overfeeding schedule and they’re getting a good amount of fiber they will be alright.
1. TetraCichlid Floating Cichlid Sticks – For medium to large cichlids
So, these were recommended to me from a friend that has a tank with quite a few very large Oscars.
They seem pretty happy, so I figured mine would be as well. So far, so good.
This is for fish who need a pretty protein-rich diet, it’s very dense, and will last you quite a while.
The pros here are that medium to large-sized species of Malawi cichlids or Oscars really respond to it, you get a decent amount for your money, and it adds a lot of important nutrients to their diet.
My observations show that it is also one of the best products for any big African cichlids and the husky ones I’ve seen to get fed with it seem to think so as well.
It’s a deceivingly simple product, not that that’s a bad thing, as the formula for these contains a wide variety of supplements to promote growth and coloration alongside a fairly balanced diet.
As far as the best food product for cichlids that really focuses on their continuous growth, this one is up there.
The cons are that you should probably supplement this with some fresh cut veggies for some of their meals to ensure proper fiber content, but I personally enjoy that process.
The brand is well-known and offers flake types and other sizes for smaller and younger cichlids as well.
2. Aqueon Cichlid Food Pellets – Budget option for Species with Smaller mouths
Here’s a good budget-friendly option from a decent brand.
You get a large number of pellets for what you’re paying, and the material make up is fairly solid.
My African cichlids, who to be fair are not exactly “picky” eaters, actually seem to respond well with this and their small size even allows for juveniles to get in on the frenzy.
This cichlid food contains plenty of complex proteins and good oils to ensure solid growth as well, and even enough to maintain some pretty flashy colors.
Cichlids let you know what the best foods are for them pretty readily, and I’ve had no complaints on that end.
Once again, you should definitely supplement this with freshly cut veggies, which is a bit of a pattern you’ll notice on a lot of the foods on this list.
The only real complaint I would have on these is that “slow-sinking pellets” basically translates into floating pellets.
This means you need to be careful not to drop too much during a single feeding, in case some of your cichlids don’t like going for the surface.
You don’t want these bobbing around messing with your water chemistry all day.
3. Northfin Veggie – Mbuna species love it
Vegetable-based fish foods are much more rare on the market than the complex protein pellets and flakes, and good ones rarer still.
Luckily, Northfin Veggie is well aware.
I initially purchased these as supplementary food for a few different cichlids I had, as I was worried they weren’t getting enough veggies in their diet, however, it ended up being a mainstay for my Mbuna species.
My Malawi cichlids adore this particular brand and their colorations have really started to shine since I began to use this as a staple of their diet.
I recommend it to anyone who comes to me with a Mbuna tank, for real. It contains a healthy mix with fiber, including the superfood spirulina.
These are slow sinking pellets and their size is ideal for medium to large fish.
Slow sinking can sometimes be an issue if you have particularly shy bottom feeders, so make sure everyone is getting their fill.
Price-wise, it’s not astronomical, but it’s definitely not a budget choice either.
4. TetraCichlid Balanced Diet Flakes – Probably the Best Overall Score
Another one from Tetra.
They’re popular for a reason, you know?
Overall review-wise, this is probably the best food for growing African cichlids and other mid-water feeders on this particular list.
This is also one of the best values I’ve seen as well, 1 ¾ lb tub for just under $18 USD is hard to beat.
The actual flakes are of good quality, with thought put into the ingredients.
It has everything needed for solid growth, and as a staple or base food it should promote a fairly healthy life for your cichlids.
Like the other Tetra product, from earlier in the list, some amount of fresh vegetables is recommended to ensure your fish are getting all the fiber they need.
The biggest problem you can get with this, like with all flake foods, is user error.
Overfeeding can cause some problems with water balance and fish health.
Furthermore, and even though Tetra provides a pretty solid container for this food, be careful how you store this many flakes.
Water getting into the mix or if it is kept in an overly humid area can cause some long term issues with your supply.
This is a problem with any large amount of food, fish or otherwise, but I figured I should mention it since the container is so large.
5. Omega One Super Color – For Vivid Coloration in Young Specimens
Here is one of the best I’ve found for balanced dietary needs.
I like these because not only does it come with a lot of complex proteins and fats, but there’s a fair amount of spirulina and plant matter is the mix to help with digestion.
The small size makes them ideal as a staple in the diet of small cichlids that come from lake Malawi, or any smaller cichlid that you’re trying to get some growth out of.
My fish responded well to the introduction of this one, which makes sense when you consider the ingredients.
This food is full of quality stuff, including Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids and even spirulina.
Evidently, that mix resulted in some very vivid colors for my Malawi species, alongside a decent growth rate.
The Omega acids are supposed to help the fish with their immune system, and mine looked very healthy and appeared even more energetic than normal.
I think it may be important to mention that this fish food also smells good, even to my human sensibilities, which is a nice change of pace.
The price point is also surprisingly affordable, considering it has ingredients that rival even the highest-end brands.
Issues, again, can arise through improper storage.
I usually put food like this in a separate container, such as a mason jar, to keep it pristine.
You don’t want it getting wet, it deteriorates fairly rapidly once compromised.
Also, these actually sink pretty quickly.
Watch out for your midwater feeders and try to aim some close to them as you do your daily feedings.
6. Hikari Cichlid Gold Floating Pellets – Jump Start for Juveniles
These ended up in my food rotation for awhile due to difficulty finding a good floating pellet my juvenile Tiger Oscars would respond to.
They were having trouble with my previous food, as it was sinking a bit too fast and they weren’t very good at finding food on the bottom.
These worked handily.
As I see that other users too confirm the results I got in their online reviews.
Anyway, these pellets also ended up being some of the best food I’ve found for juvenile African cichlid growth as well.
Just make sure to supply vegetables as a source of fiber.
The biggest issue I had here was that they’re a bit small for larger fish, and it definitely should be supplemented by either vegetables or some sort of algae to ensure proper digestion.
Still, it’s a great protein-packed floating pellet.
It can easily be used as a staple diet for many types of cichlids.
Another thing to consider is that this is not the most budget-friendly option on the market.
The quality is top-notch, and the fish grow very quickly, but this is twice the price of other brands on this list.
7. Hikari Sinking Cichlid Gold Pellets – For large South American cichlids
I figured I’d follow up on the last Hikari recommendation with this one, which I tried around the same time.
I like to stick to a certain brand when I’ve had success with it, a lot easier to see what’s working and what isn’t that way.
Anyways, this was for improving the diet of my South American Cichlids.
They found these particular pellets fairly palatable, I think.
The protein mix is solid in these, and the amount you get for the price is definitely a good deal.
Nutrient-wise, it was sufficient to get some decent growth out of them over its tenure in the tank.
It’s a good middle-of-the-road budget brand.
There’s nothing spectacular going on here, but there’s nothing too bad either.
8. TetraMin Tropical Flake Food – For mixed cichlid species aquariums
Another Tetra product, they make quality food what can I say?
I like this purchase because I was looking for a bulk product that would be good for multiple cichlids, including my Malawi.
This was for a mixed species fish tank, and I wanted something that everybody would enjoy.
This seemed to do the trick.
The fun thing about adding this to a mixed tank is the literal frenzy of fish coming from all directions trying to gobble up as much as they can.
It’s quite cool to watch.
Beyond that, it’s a well-balanced food for most types of cichlids, which is nice.
My Mbuna reacted particularly well to this food, showing faster growth and enhanced bright colors.
Same issues on this one that apply to pretty much every flake and fish food on the market.
Watch your storage, especially in bulk, as deterioration can happen in a wet environment.
Also, regular algae and vegetables really help make up for the lack of fiber in most fish food.
Aside from a balanced meal consisted of both some fiber and a healthy dose of protein, this cichlid food comes at an excellent price.
9. API Fish Food Pellets – For community tanks with slow top feeders
So, here’s another one of the foods with a ton of outstanding reviews I checked out.
I actually had a couple of reservations when I initially checked it out due to some idea in my head that made me think that food that is cleaner for the water might be worse for my fish.
Spoilers: that’s not true at all.
This food is fine, and I actually recommend it for aquariums with slower top feeding fish now.
This food is also a fantastic choice as pellets for Malawi cichlids because it fits right into their natural diet, and it stays together longer than some of the other pellets I’ve tried that tend to dissolve a bit too quick for some of my fish.
A quick note here, some customers have said the formula has changed recently.
10. Repashy Soilent Green – Algae-based supplement for a balanced menu
All the previous entries to this list have been pretty effortless ways to feed your fish, but a lot of them should be supplemented with certain greens and the like to ensure proper digestion.
Soilent Green, however, does not suffer from these issues.
This stuff is absolutely amazing.
It’s a complete algae-based diet replacement that covers all the protein and fiber that your cichlids need.
Some of the best quality food I’ve seen, seriously.
It’s nice to see something on the market besides pellets and flakes.
The only downside is there is a bit of work involved before feeding this to your fish.
One part Soilent Green powder to 3 parts boiling water, let it cool or pour into a mold and then finally store it in the fridge or freezer.
Don’t let it keep too long, treat it like any other fresh food and keep for no longer than 2 weeks for best results.
I can see people having problems here if they don’t want to put that much work into feeding their fish, but this is for sure one of the best in the world for both growth and coloration.
11. Zoo Med Spirulina 20 – Enhances colors nicely
I was looking for a good and inexpensive Spirulina source for a bit before I found these guys.
The reviews looked good so I ordered them for my African cichlids whose colors weren’t all they could be.
I’d say these were a solid purchase.
Coloration improved after just 2 weeks, as expected, so the product is at the very least exactly what it claims to be.
On top of that growth rates also improved, probably because of the spirulina itself.
The issue I had with it, on the other hand, was that a lot of the spirulina was pretty crushed up by the time I received it.
I couldn’t use a decent amount of it because it was dissolving into the water fairly rapidly when they were that small.
All that being said, it was still a good value purchase at the price point they sell it at and the product is legitimate.
It might have even been my mail carriers fault, who knows?
Buy this food if you have cichlids that are just about to breed or if you’d like to just get them something for their colors.
12. Omega One Freeze Dried Bloodworms – Best for an Occasional Treat
I said earlier that using bloodworms as a staple diet isn’t a great idea for most cichlids, and I stick by that.
However, they really do seem to enjoy them.
Live foods are a no-no but some quality freeze-dried foods from time-to-time can be pretty fun for both you and your fish.
This particular brand has always been pretty solid, they deliver a good product with no risk to your cichlids.
I bust these out seldomly when showing off some of my bigger, hungry fish to friends.
13. Northfin Fry Starter – Best for Cichlid fry
A caveat to everything I’ve listed thus far, pretty much all of it is only suitable for at least semi-mature cichlids.
But what if you’re raising from fry?
That’s where Northfin comes in.
This starter is 100% krill based, with no fillers or anything else that might not go well with the young one’s diets.
This is ideal, which possibly makes Northfin Fry Starter the best food for cichlid fry in my book.
I haven’t had any issues with the actual quality of this product, but the packaging leaves a bit to be desired.
There’s no way to reseal this so I highly recommend putting the contents into a secondary airtight storage container after you open it.
Otherwise, it’s really hard to beat.
14. New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula – Premium Growth and Coloration Enhancement
I’ll start out by saying I was incredibly impressed by the ingredients of this product when I was reading about it, which led to my purchase.
Like, I borderline want to eat this stuff and I figured I might as well try the best for my African cichlids.
Using this food appropriately will get you the best possible growth for your cichlids while bringing out their colors like nothing else.
I don’t think I’m overstating the quality of this particular product. My cichlids managed to grow an immense amount during my little “trial” period with this food.
Colors were almost glowing, a well.
The downside is the price and that the pellets are fairly small, which is an issue with certain fish when they get larger.
I still recommend the brand to anyone though.
You get a decent amount for the price, and even if you’re spending more than on other brands it’s not THAT much.
Your cichlid’s colors will pop, and it’s a great balanced diet offered here.
What Should You Pick for a More Pronounced Fish Color?
Bright colors are a helpful visual indicator of fish health and quality of life.
So, of course, you want to make sure they really shine.
Have a look at a couple of food options that are best for stimulating more pronounced colors in cichlids:
Quality fats and proteins tend to be the go-to, but you need to make sure to balance that with plenty of fiber to ensure healthy digestion. I try to make sure all foods I talk about here fit that criteria, or I make sure to give a heads up about what it’s lacking. That being said, if I had to pick just two food products from the list as the best for stimulating cichlid color I’d go with either New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula or Zoo Med’s Spirulina 20.
New Life offers some amazing ingredients that cover fiber and vitamin needs as well as the fats and proteins, but at a higher price point.
Zoo Med’s Spirulina 20 has an ingredient spread that is, in my opinion, top-notch and is great for coloration.
A Balanced Diet for Healthy Specimens
An awareness of what cichlids should and should not eat on a regular basis is important for the best results of your fish keeping efforts.
Here’s what makes up an ideal cichlid diet:
African cichlids are omnivorous feeders that need a varied diet of animal and plant-based foods. A good flake that covers multiple types of fats and proteins alongside something such as spirulina and plenty of veggies should be all that is needed.
Avoid things such as live foods or any type of mammal meat, as it can cause digestive issues leading to bloat.
Bloat is nearly always a death sentence and should be avoided at all costs.
Some species coming from lake Malawi, such as the Peacock cichlids have similar dietary concerns, however, they are mostly bottom feeders. Sinking foods, are then, ideal as long as you make sure they get a good spread of veggies and proteins.
Mbuna diet, on the other hand, is almost solely vegetarian.
In nature, Mbuna cichlids subsist mostly on algae, so a similar diet in captivity is needed. Cyanobacteria mass such as Spirulina is, again, a good choice here and any flakes or pellets that make up most of their nutrients from seaweed and other types of algae.
It’s advisable to seldomly (once a week) feed pure fish protein to Mbuna cichlids because it will help them with balancing out the intake of some vitamins.
South American cichlids, on the other hand, are definitely carnivorous and will actively seek fish protein or smaller insects and worms. They will enjoy foods that have lots of fish meal, but an occasional vegetable supplement should be offered to help with digestion.
There are a few things when feeding your cichlids that are good rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Don’t feed them more than they can eat in about 2-3 minutes, 1 to 2 times a day.
Most species tend to always want to eat, but overfeeding can lead to illness. Even if they seem hungry to keep it limited to this time frame.
- Certain cichlids are territorial over food.
African cichlids specifically are notorious for this. Limited and regular feeding will help negate this somewhat.
- Short fasts are OK.
You shouldn’t let them go for too long, due to territorial issues that can crop up. However, a day or two without feeding per week is perfectly healthy.
- Healthy cichlids will always seem hungry.
In the wild, cichlids are always trying to eat unless they’re sleeping or breeding.
The problem is that they have basically a limitless source of food available to them with you but their instincts don’t understand that.
Don’t overfeed your fish.
Over to You
There really isn’t all that much to feeding cichlids.
Just take some time and effort to learn about their habits and what kind of food is good for them.
From South American specimens to Mbuna and other African cichlid species, all can live a thriving and happy life in captivity, as long as their diet is properly minded.
Choosing the food that’s best for cichlid growth is as simple as choosing the best for your cichlid’s health.
Drop me a comment below and tell me what you ended up buying for your aquarium.