Food for Thought.... Feeding Your Oscar
Feeding your Oscar fish on a healthy and varied diet is one of the main factors for keeping your fish healthy and free from disease and illness. It's important that the diet is varied so you Oscar doesn't get bored with one specific type of food item. You must also avoid certain types of food that are known to be bad for the fishes health and welfare
Like a lot of creatures that prey on live food, Oscar fish have got very big eyes. They rely purely on their excellent eyesight to locate and hunt food. Their eyesight is so good, they can even see things behind them because of the way the eyes protrude. Oscars will feed at any depth so they will readily accept floating, or sinking food.
The Oscar fish has gained the nickname "water dog", probably due to the fact that it behaves rather like an excitable puppy when you go anywhere near the tank. However, just like your four-legged friend, Oscars will eat just about anything you give to them, so that's another thing they got in common with our canine companions. However, it is important that you look after your little friend and don't make the mistake of thinking that anything goes, food has got to be chosen very carefully.
In the wild the Oscars diet consists mainly of insects, small fish and more than likely the odd little critter that ends up in the water. You can emulate what an Oscar may eat in the wild by harvesting critters from your garden. During the summertime you can use a small net to catch grasshoppers and cricket, these are absolutely superb food that will contain nutrients that a fish requires. Other things like beetles, spiders, any little creepy crawley is going to be readily accepted by your Oscar. You can feed worms to your Oscar but you've got to be aware that worms can harbour parasites that could be passed on to your fish. What I would suggest is you either starve the worms for a few days, or manually squeeze the gut out of the worm which should remove its stomach and any nasty thing lurking in the side. If you are going to collect food from the garden many always have to be aware of pesticides. Obviously if somebody has just sprayed the garden with insecticide then you certainly don't want to be feeding your fish with anything collected from these areas of the garden.
A List of Suitable Foods for Oscar Fish
Rather than putting a huge list of food on this page, please go to our "what food can I feed my Oscar" article where you will find a large variety of different types of food that you can feed to your Oscar fish.
Oscars Absolutely Love Prawns or Shrimps
Let's take a look at various other foods that are available. You may have seen foods that are described as "freeze-dried" Freeze-drying is a process that preserves food, whole and in its original condition and most importantly, it retains all its essential nutrients which of course is very good for our fish. Shrimps and krill are often freeze-dried so these can be very good as food. On the downside, freeze-dried food can be often more expensive than its frozen counterparts. You may want to make your own food. There is already a recipe for beef heart on this website, so check that out. You can also make home-made food that can be frozen using fish-based products. There is a recipe for beef heart on this website, why not check that out. You can also put things like fish and shellfish in a blender, mix it all up and then freeze it, Oscars will really relish this. Making your own food means that you can add exactly what you want, you can add nutrients and vitamins if you like, it's nice to be all to make a nice healthy food for your pet.
Most Oscars will accept live food with relish. The most well-known live food are probably small fish, often referred to as feeders. Whereas feeders (if they are large enough) can be good for Oscars because they have all the nutrients contained in them, you must tread cautiously. Fish that are bought from the shops are often from shops are often bred in huge numbers. These are often transported many miles which stresses them out. Stressed fish often develop diseases which can be passed on to anything that eats them. Just be aware. You are probably better off breeding your own feeders if you wish to feed live food. Whereas feeding frozen or freeze-dried food is perfectly okay, it is by no means as good as feeding live food. If you can obtain safe live food, then this will be an excellent healthy supplement to your Oscars diet.
You may have seen mealworms in your local pet shop. These are normally purchased by people who keep lizards or birds, however they're excellent food for Oscars. However, what Oscars love more than mealworms,are mealworms beetles. They just can't get enough of them. This is probably a little bit more natural to them, in the wilds, you will always get insects dropping into the water. If you want to try a mealworms beetles, it is quite easy. Get yourself a box of mealworms and just leave them standing for a couple of weeks. Before too long, metamorphose will take place and the little worm will turn into a small black beetle. Go ahead and try it, your Oscars will thank you for it. If you just can't stomach the thought of handling live mealworms then many pet shops sell freeze-dried mealworms. They are normally sold for the birds, but Oscars absolutely love them whether they are alive or not.
There is also nothing wrong with giving Oscars household foods such as vegetables. Sounds silly, believe it or not some Oscars absolutely love vegetables. Try peas, carrots, aubergine, or small pieces of cucumber. I feed my fish peas on a regular basis, although the Oscars will eat them, I think it's fair to say that they probably prefer their other food. However, my other fish in the tank adore frozen peas that have just been bought from the supermarket. Feeding them on peas especially can be very good for the digestive system, so give it a go, you never know they may love it and you will actually be doing them a favour.
How Much Food and How Often?
If you have got a baby Oscar less than 4 inches then you should be feeding it at least three times a day for three minutes at a time, or until their bellies become slightly rounded. As the Oscar gets bigger it's not so easy to judge how much a fish has eaten by looking at its belly. Once you Oscar reaches 4 inches you can reduce the feeding to a couple of times a day. Feed them as much as they will eat in three minutes. An adult Oscar of over one year doesn't need to be fed any more than once a day. Although most people enjoy feeding their fish, an adult Oscar doesn't necessarily need to be fed on a daily basis. You could actually reduce feeding to four times a week without causing any harm to your fish whatsoever. Remember that in the wild fish haven't got a reliable food source like they do in an aquarium, they have got to actively hunt for their food so they are not going to be fed on a regular basis. In the dry season when the waters recede fish can often go without food for weeks, or even months at a time. Fish do not need calories so they can go without food for a long time.
When you feed your fish I would advise you not to just pile handfuls of pellets in. If you put too much food in then you may find that your fish become lazy and don't eat all of the food, or they will just chew it up and spit it out. If you put five or six pellets in at a time you will find that your fish compete for the food and will be much more eager to feed.
If you are feeding other foods such as shrimp, small fish such as frozen lance, cockles & muscles, then use your discretion and give your fish enough food to keep it happy. For example, a small 4 inch Oscar is not going to be able to eat four or five large shrimp or lance fish. I find that a 12 inch Oscar is quite happy if you give it a couple of 4 inch lance fish, they really don't need anymore. Shrimps come in various sizes so again, use a bit of common sense and don't give them too much because they probably will not eat all of it and you'll just end up with a complete mess in your tank.
Hand Feeding Your Oscar Fish
Many people ask about hand feeding Oscars, when you give them food such as shrimp and fish, you can often entice the fish to feed from your hand with these type of food, hold the fish or shrimp by its tail and hold it just above, or just under the surface of the water and when your fish get used to you, they will take the food from your hand. However, don't be surprised if you get your fingers nipped when you hand feed your Oscars. When your Oscars really get used to you, they will often leap out of the water as soon as they see your hand above the water.
Occasionally Oscars for no apparent reason will go completely off their food. Nobody to my knowledge has come up with a plausible reason why a seemingly healthy Oscar should suddenly stop eating. I have a few theories, one of which is most people overfeed their fish to the extent that the fish is never really wanting of food. Simply withdrawing food for two or three days can often trigger them back into eating again. However, some Oscars seem to take a dislike to certain types of food and almost prefer to starve themselves than actually eat. I'm not suggesting that a completely healthy Oscar will starve itself until it actually dies, I'm simply stating that if they don't like food, they will not eat it You have to remember that unlike mammals, fish can survive without food for weeks and weeks. Many fish that lives in the Amazon region have no choice in the dry season, they can last for an astonishing amount of time without eating. It may just be a case that your Oscar simply does not like a certain type of food anymore. I have had Oscars that under no circumstances would eat lance fish that are sold as fish food. I distinctly remember on several occasions trying to feed them on this type of food but they just wouldn't have it, in the end I gave up and gave them what they would eat. There is a vast variety of food available for your fish, most Oscar fish will eat just about anything that you put in your tank. The best way to ensure that your Oscar keeps eating properly is to vary its diet occasionally. Keep a couple of different types of pellet available for them, maybe keep some frozen food that you can pop in the tank for them every now and then.
Oscars Do Have Teeth
Like most fish, oscars need some way of chewing their food up. If you listen carefully when an Oscar is eating pellets, you may hear a crunching sound. An Oscar is equipped with a pair of pharyngeal teeth that are located at the back of the throat. These teeth are powerful which is why an Oscar will make mincemeat out of even fairly large fish. Oscars are incredibly greedy and will eat almost anything that they can get in their mouths, which is why it is not advisable to put small fish in with them. Another question a lot of people ask is have oscars got teeth in their mouths? The answer to this question is, sort of. They aren't teeth like you'd find in a piranha's mouth, they are a little bit what you would find in a mackerel's mouth, more a rough surface. they probably only have this so that prey can't escape. They are actually capable of drawing blood if they catch you on a sensitive part of your finger, for example just above your nail. Having said this, don't let that stop you hand feeding them because that is one of the joys of keeping Oscars.
Hand feeding Oscars is always fun. If you do buy a new Oscar, and a big one particularly. Be very careful when you feed it for the very first time. A lot of Oscars will lurch at food. It matters not to them that your hand and fingers may be in the way, they want the food and they can really go for it. Although Oscars haven't really got teeth, they can still draw blood as I have already mentioned on this page. I would strongly advise you to not let young children put their fingers near an Oscar's mouth when it is being fed. As you will see by the video below, an Oscar could very well cause a very nasty injury to small fingers.
Try and establish how your Oscar feeds. He may well be very shy and will not except food straight from your hand. Fish learn by repetition. The more you do something, the more the fish will get used to it. If your fish will not take from your hand, start off by just feeding pellets on the surface, or sinking food, whatever it you want. Once the Oscar is comfortable with taking food from the surface, don't let go of the food until the Oscar is comfortable to come towards you. He still may not take food straight from you, you will just have to bide your time. Hopefully, once has really got used to you and knows you are not a threat, he may take food straight from your fingers, or just open his mouth and you can drop food in. Having said that, some Oscars are very very gentle, and some Oscars are just pigs and they will literally jump out of the water to get to the food. I would avoid trying to hand feed these sort of fish, unless you want sore fingers.
Juvenile Oscars are often very excitable at feeding time. My young Oscar would eat everything in the tank if he could get away with it. It's very difficult with these sort of fish. A lot of people get worried that the rest of their fish are going to go hungry. Unfortunately, this is a possibility with a greedy Oscar. In cases like this, try feeding your greedy fish at one end of the tank while dropping food in at the other end. This may work, it may not. Your other option is to drop food in after the lights have gone out, this often works. If all else fails, try feeding frozen blocks of bloodworm. I have found that the Oscars will not eat all of the bloodworm so that at least there is something left for the rest of the fish. Obviously, thaw it out before you put it in because the Oscar will just eat the whole block if it gets the chance.
Beware of Some Foods
I think it's very important to mention that feeding certain foods to your oscar could compromise their health. Don't be tempted to feed catfood or dog food. Your Oscars may well love it but unfortunately this type of pet food is not at all suitable for fish. It contains far too much fat for a fish's liver to handle. If you continue to feed this type of food to your fish, you run a very high risk of it developing liver problems which would more than likely end in a fatality. Don't feed your fish on bacon, steak, or any meat that contains lots of fat. I would strongly advise you to go to your fish shop and purchase food that is specially prepared for fish. Beef heart is very popular, it is prepared especially for fish and is very lean and contains virtually no fat at all. You can also make your own beef heart recipe if you want. Doing this means that you know exactly what is going into your recipe. You can introduce extra vitamins into your Oscars diet by soaking bloodworm in liquid vitamins.
Alternatively, you could always ask your fish shop if they sell live river shrimp, your Oscar will go mad for these. They are also very healthy and good for your Oscar. You could also feed them live prawn from the sea. Even though prawns live in saltwater, they will stay alive for quite a while before they start dying. If like me, you live by the coast, these can be harvested very easily by using a dropnet and a fish bait. If you live near a harbour, go down just after dark and fish off the wall, you should catch loads. These can often be used to trigger an Oscars eating instinct again after they have stopped eating.
Let your Oscar grow at its natural rate, don't overfeed it thinking that more food will mean a bigger Oscar. Oscars grow at an alarming rate so there is absolutely no need to increase the amount of food you give it, or to make the mistake of introducing high-protein foods such as beef heart, these foods should be avoided completely.
Bright Colours Can Frighten Fish
Fish DO see colour. Occasionally, some people can't understand why their fish are reluctant to feed, they often shy away and won't come to the front of the class. Fish are often frightened by bright clothing, especially if they only see it occasionally. If you find that your fish do get frightened when you wear bright clothing, try wearing more subdued colour clothing when you feed your fish, you might be surprised to find they completely change and will be their same old selves again.
No I'm not joking, if you feed your fish an unsuitable diet for a long period of time, it could put on weight which can be bad for its health. If you do feed your fish on high protein foods such as beef heart then do it sparingly, don't feed it on this type of food two or three times a day every day or you could end up with problems. A prime example of this happening was on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The fish actually started putting on weight because of the amount of food that was being fed to them by tourists. The fish were actually put on a diet believe it or not.
Beware of Jumping Oscars
You must be aware that Oscars are very good jumpers and can easily leap out of a tank that doesn't have an adequate lid. Oscars will often jump for food, sometimes trying to snatch it out of your fingers before you get a chance to drop it into the tank. It's probably not a good idea to encourage Oscars to jump because you might end up in a situation like the chap in the video below that obviously thought encouraging his Oscars to jump was funny until one of them jumped out and landed on the floor.
Feeding Live Food
There is no specific law in the UK regarding feeding live food to your pets. However what is illegal is cruelty to animals. Vertebrates can suffer pain whereas invertebrates do not, this is accepted by most authorities. Therefore it is acceptable to feed live food such as worms, crickets and other insects. However, feeding live rodents or lizards will cause them stress and pain, in this case you will be committing a criminal offence and if anyone sees you doing it can report you. In theory the RSPCA could take you to court for animal cruelty.