What Can Catfish Eat?

Catfish are common, mostly omnivorous fish species that are found in most parts of the world and there are over 3,000 subspecies.  They are called catfish because of their barbels that resemble cat whiskers.  This group of fish is members of the ray-finned fish.  They are easily identified by their whisker-like barbels and they do not have any scales.

In the wild, they eat what is available to them.  Some seasons, they may focus on larger foods such as small mammals, crustaceans, fish or plant matter.  In tough times, they can adapt to survive on detritus or carrion meat.

As a rule of thumb, a catfish needs to eat about 2.5% of its body weight per day.  This can however be tough to determine if you do not have a scale.  To see if your catfish is getting enough food, you can simply keep an eye on it.  Add its food to the tank and keep an eye on your catfish.  If it consumes all food within minutes then you should add more food.  If too much food is leftover, you can clear the tank and reduce the amount of food you offer daily.

What Do Catfish Eat?

Commercial fish food

Catfish can eat just about any commercial fish food you offer them.  For fry, high protein fish flakes are an ideal food source.  For larger catfish, other commercial fish foods such as pellets are also a perfect food to offer to keep them healthy.

Fish and fish eggs

Catfish love to hunt for other fish species.  They usually eat fish that are much smaller than they are but can also nibble at carcasses of larger fish to consume them.  Most catfish are also cannibalistic.  They will feed on smaller catfish and in catfish farms, cannibalism is a serious concern while raising larvae and fry.


Catfish will eat all sorts of insects that live or fall into the water.  Young catfish, mostly feed on aquatic insects such as dragonfly larvae, water beetles, fly larvae, mosquito larvae, and others.  You can use all sorts of insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, and earthworms as bait to catch catfish.


This large fish species will also feed on various crustaceans they find in their natural environment.  Animals such as crabs, decapods, lobsters, procambium, crawfish, cherax, water flies, water fleas, isopods, and many others are terrific foods to offer this fish species.

Aquatic plants

Catfish also eat plant matter.  They will feed on aquatic plants that grow in the water such as algae, lotus plants, water lettuce, and many others.  They may also feed on non-aquatic plants that happen to fall into the water such as grasses and soft leaves.  This fish species can also feed on aquatic plant matter called detritus.

Fruits and vegetables

Pet owners are often advised to offer a pet catfish some fruits and vegetables to ensure that they get enough nutrients.  You can offer them certain veggies raw or even cooked and cooled.  If you cannot find natural algae or detritus to feed your catfish, you can also supplement them by offering them fruits and veggies such as apples, bananas, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, and many other foods.


Some catfish species like the Candiru are parasitic.  This fish species will latch onto its prey and feed on the blood of its host.

Small animals

Catfish are also fond of catching and eating small animals such as mice, rats, lizards, small birds, pigeons, frogs, and many others.  They often catch these animals when they fall into the water or catfish may snatch animals like frogs or birds of the riverbank or from above the water.


Catfish love to eat carrion meat.  They will feed on just about any dead animal they find drifting about the water.  Catfish may even scavenge on the carcass of larger animals such as cows or deer and they are happy to consume meat that has become slightly decayed.

Diet Variation

Catfish are detritus feeders which mean they can eat almost any food they can find at the base of a tank or on the river floor.  They will also eat just about any type of fresh food they can find including fruits,

Younger catfish, while growing, eat more frequently than adult catfish. Also, in regard to their size, young catfish eat more food.

Additionally, feeding habits, including food quantity, is different from one catfish species to another. Fish living in captivity are fed in certain quantities calculated according to their size.

For example, young African catfish needs to eat about 2,5% of its own body weight every day. Daily food intake depends of water temperature, oxygen level and other external factors.

How Often Do Catfish Eat?

Catfish are at their most active in summer.  The warmth of the water boosts their metabolism and they start to eat much more compared to other seasons.  Ideally, you should feed this fish species once per day, or seven times per week.  They can however survive relatively long without feeding any food at all as long as their bodies can enter a hibernated state if the water is scarce.

All of the above shows a usual meal consumed by catfish. Of course, there are some examples.

Huge catfish species, like wels catfish, well known occupants of river Ebro, have been observed while feeding, and they would eat much larger pray than usual, including larger mullets, rodents that accidentally end up in the water, frogs and even some aquatic birds.

Not all catfish will do that but it clearly shows that they will feed on anything available at a given moment.

Different catfish species prefer different food sources. For anglers that is a very important information because baits should be chosen accordingly.

Channel catfish will eat the following: fish, clams, snails, insects, small mammals, crustaceans, small birds, vegetation. Flathead catfish prefers fish, insects and crustaceans. Blue catfish mostly eats fish and large invertebrates. North African catfish feeds on planktons, shrimp, fish, birds, snails, dead animals, seeds, nuts, grain and fruit.

Pellets for Catfish?

Protein content in those pellets is around 30 percent, and different pellets are used according to the water temperatures.

Floating pellets are recommended when water temperature is above 18 degrees Celsius, slow sinking ones are used when temperature is between 15 and 18 degrees and below 15 degrees, sinking pellets should be used.

When the water is cold during winter, catfish both in captivity and in the wild, spend time inactive in deeper and warmer waters without surfacing. That is the reason behind sinking pellets.

In addition to pellets, different natural food sources are often available to farm-raised catfish. Some are fed with live fish, worms or any available food source. There are also frozen mixtures available on the market that contain shrimp, fish and plants.

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