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How Often To Feed Cichlids? How Long Can Cichlid Go Without Food?

How Often To Feed Cichlids? How Long Can Cichlid Go Without Food?

Credits: Calwhiz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

I have been feeding my cichlids 2-3 small meals per day. Then, one day, out of the blue, I googled how often to feed cichlids, and boy, was I surprised. There was a barrage of answers – and one small hiccup.

None of the answers matched with the other. There are many different answers, from giving just one meal a day to fasting cichlids to giving an amount they can finish within 3 minutes.

I even started doubting my own feeding pattern! So, I rang up my veterinarian friend, Ravi, and asked him to settle the matter for once and for all. 

While at it, he also gave me some valuable insights on a cichlid’s dietary needs I wouldn’t have known otherwise. So, here’s an article that tells you how often to feed cichlids and so much more. 

Buckle up! 

How Often To Feed Cichlids?

Adult cichlids should be fed 3-4 times a day – an amount they can consume within 30 seconds every time. This feeding style helps to curb a cichlid’s aggression over resources. And cichlids are avaricious (borderline obnoxious) eaters – which means they can consume a sizable amount of food within half a minute or so. 

That being said, I dug through several forums and was amazed at the diversity of the answers. Some owners reported giving one big meal a day. Some shared they give norill (krill and seaweed

mixture) in the morning and commercial food at night. 

And some owners even reported fasting their cichlids once a week to regulate their metabolism and clear their digestive tracts – which I found is actually true upon research. 

Also, big, sedentary fish can go much longer between meals than small, active fish. 

So, the point is – there’s no one rule set in stone. It all boils down to your cichlid’s species, what he’s used to, and your convenience, too. For example, someone who’s to be away in the daytime cannot be expected to feed their fish thrice a day, right?

Bottom line: As long as your fish are healthy and have a good appetite, they’re gonna be okay! 

How Often To Feed Cichlid Fry?

Credits: DonkerDink on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Cichlid fry need to be fed 5-6 times a day. For the first few days, they rely on the yolk sac for essential nutrition. However, by the time the yolk sac is fully absorbed into their bodies, they are big enough to start eating independently.

How Long Can Cichlid Go Without Food?

Cichlids can quite easily go without food for 7-10 days. But that doesn’t mean you should test their limits. Since they’re used to having meals timely, starving them could have severe consequences on their health. 

How Long Can Cichlid Fry Go Without Food?

Cichlid fry can go without food for 1-2 days. After that, there’s a good chance they’ll fall dead from starvation. 

How Do You Know When Cichlids Are Hungry?

Credits: Allison Martell on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Cichlids will always eat like they’re famished. But suppose you find your cichlids digging around the substrate, foraging into unusual areas, or inspecting the top of the aquarium. In that case, it probably means that they’re ready for their next meal. 

The thing with fish in captivity is that they’ll go hungry even if you miss feeding on one occasion. In the wild, these fish eat whenever they find food. But since our pet fish are accustomed to a specific feeding schedule, it’s best not to meddle with it.

So now, let’s go back to the basics. Starting with:

What To Feed Cichlids? 

Most cichlids are omnivores who’ll eat any plant or animal matter they can fit inside their mouth. In captivity, a cichlid’s staple diet should consist of sinking pellets or flakes of good quality. You can further supplement their diet with microorganisms, vegetables, and even fruits. 

Diet-wise, there are 4 kinds of cichlids: carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, and macro-predators. And it’s essential to understand your cichlid’s innate dietary needs before formulating a diet plan for him. 

For example, the Tropheus species of Lake Tanganyika are herbivores with long intensities. So if you overfeed them lots of live or frozen food, they’re bound to develop the dreaded cichlid bloat.

If not treated on time, this condition will effectively invite death. But luckily, there are proven methods to cure it. If you want to know, don’t miss this article.

That being said, herbivores do need some meaty diet to an extent, and carnivores also require some plant matter. But remember, these should only be seen as supplements – not staple meals. 

Half of your woes should vanish if you have rounded up on a quality flake or pellet brand. For example, you won’t have to go through the hassle of preparing a meal for your fish every single time. 

If not, here are our top recommendations that we bet your cichlids will love. 

Ron’s Cichlid Food

Ron’s someone who’s successfully bred African cichlids for a quarter of a century – so I bet he knows his trade.

  • Sinking pellets made with veggies and fruits 
  • Fortified with minerals and protein 
  • 100% natural and premium ingredients 
  • Veteran-owned and made in the USA

Zoo Med Spirulina 

I primarily use spirulina flakes for my fish. Since spirulina is 60-70% protein, I don’t have to worry much about fortifying their diet with insects or frozen food. 

  • Contains seven major vitamins: A1, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, and E
  • Boosts egg production and hatching rate
  • Fortified with easily absorbable antioxidants like beta-carotene and chlorophyll 

Omega One Super Color Sinking Cichlid Pellets 

The number of five-star reviews for this one on Amazon is crazy! This food is a tad bit low on fiber but more than makes up for it with nutritious ingredients like marigold extract and salmon skin, which contribute to color enhancement. 

  • Formulated with Alaskan seafood, ocean kelp, and spirulina 
  • Naturally insoluble – hence, keep the water cleaner 
  • Ingredients sourced sustainably from Alaskan fisheries 

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What Veggies Can Cichlids Eat?

Here’s a list of veggies cichlids can safely consume:

  • Peas 
  • Romaine lettuce 
  • Spinach 
  • Cucumber 
  • Zucchini 
  • Boiled carrots 


Boil the frozen peas for a few minutes, so they soften. I read somewhere to peel the pea and just fish the inner flesh, but I have been feeding the whole pea without any issue. 

Romaine Lettuce And Spinach

Thoroughly wash the lettuce and spinach since they’re often laden with pesticides. Then, take a few leaves off and stick them to the tank’s wall using a suction cup. 


Cichlids love nibbling on cucumbers. So cut them into thin slices and stick right to the glass. You can also tie them to a rock to prevent them from drifting. 


My cichlids love the taste of zucchini as well. Like cucumber, cut them into thin slices and tie them to a rock to stop them from floating. 

Boiled Carrots

Your cichlids will readily feast on carrots as well if they’re mushy enough. Just make sure they’re thoroughly boiled and have a very soft texture. 

Tips For Feeding Veggies To Your Cichlids 

In captivity, cichlids can sometimes be too picky with what they eat. If they deter vegetables at first, make sure to season them lightly with garlic powder. It’s safe and used quite commonly as an additive in fish food to encourage eating. 

Most vegetables should be first boiled and made soft before giving. And don’t forget to remove all the uneaten bits as soon as they’re done. Veggies get soggy and diluted very soon – making your water dirty in no time. 

Watch this video of African cichlids munching on veggies:

What Fruits Can Cichlids Eat?

Here’s a list of vegetables cichlids can safely consume:

  • Strawberries 
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Banana 
  • Orange 

Not all cichlids have a taste for fruits, but there’s nothing wrong with trying. If you’re giving fruits containing seeds, make sure to deseed them first. You can also remove the skin from fruits like blueberries and oranges. 

Most fruits have shallow protein content. Thus, they won’t really contribute to nitrogen buildup in the tank. But they could most definitely mess with the water’s acidity. So, anything they don’t eat should be removed promptly. 

Foods To Avoid For African Cichlids

  • Beef Heart 
  • Tubifex 
  • Bloodworms 
  • Food Meant For American Cichlids 

Beef Heart 

Any food containing even the slightest traces of beef heart is a big no-no. This is because cold-blooded cichlids cannot utilize the fat they get from warm-blooded animals for energy use. 

Thus, the fatty buildup in the liver increases, which ultimately degenerates the organ. 


Tubifex refers to those red worms found in muddy rivers. They’re usually sourced from polluted streams. And you definitely don’t want to expose your cichlids to potentially life-threatening diseases these worms carry. 


Bloodworms aren’t downright toxic for cichlids. Most will love snacking on them. But bloodworms are often linked with Malawi bloat. So, it’s best to avoid them. 

Food Meant For American Cichlids 

African cichlids have entirely different dietary needs than American cichlids. The latter are carnivores – food meant for them is often loaded with protein and fat – both of which are toxic for cichlids if consumed over the limits. 

Things To Keep In Mind When Feeding Cichlids 

  • Some pellets swell after they come in contact with water. You should soak them before feeding your cichlids. Otherwise, they will swell inside your fish’s digestive tract – causing it to become distended, irritated, or constipated. 

  • Frozen food like brine shrimp, krill, plankton, bloodworms, microworms, and daphnia should be fed very sparingly. For herbivore species, you can completely ignore them. Overfeeding these foods is an invitation to bloating. 

  • Fish are cold-blooded animals. The fat they gain from consuming animal matter has a considerably higher melting point. As a result, these fat deposits build up on the liver, leading to cirrhosis.

  • If you have yellow, orange, or red cichlids, you need to feed them a specially formulated diet to boost the colors. All above-mentioned commercial foods have this property. 

  • Herbivore cichlids have long intestinal tracts. Thus, they’re more susceptible to digestive problems. For instance, Mbunas’ intestines are 4 times the length of their body!

  • In nature, cichlids need to continuously consume food to fulfill their metabolic needs as they primarily feed on algae and detritus. This behavior is carried over in captivity. But just because they seem hungry, don’t feed too much cause that would be overkill.

Conclusion: How Often To Feed Cichlids?

I’d recommend feeding cichlids 3-4 times but only give them an amount they can finish within 30 seconds. Don’t worry – cichlids are greedy eaters and devour a good amount of food during that time. 

However, when researching for this article, I came across different answers ranging from feeding once a day to feeding amount they can consume within 3 minutes. 

There is no rule etched in stone. It all boils down to what’s best for your cichlid and is convenient to you as well. As long as your cichlid is happy and doesn’t deter food when given, you’re good to go.

Happy Reading!

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