Discus Nutrition

What is one of the best things you can do for you discus to help them live a long, healthy life? Nourish them with a healthy diet. In this article, we'll begin by briefly explaining how your discus obtains energy. Next, we'll delve into what protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals do for your discus, and we'll recommend the quantities and sources of these nutrients that you should feed your discus. 

Energy

Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates will supply your discus with energy. The energy of each of these components is measured in calories. Carbohydrates and proteins provide four calories per gram, while fats provide nine calories per gram. No need to calculate how many calories your fish needs daily. Feeding your fish three to five percent of their body weight each day will provide them with plenty of nutrition. 
 
Discus (and all other fish) are heterothermic (cold-blooded) animals, so they do not need to burn calories to stay warm. As a result, they don't require as many calories as homeothermic (warm-blooded) animals. Also, their water environment helps to buoy them up and physically support them. When planning your discus' nutrition, consider factors such as growth, disease, reproduction, and increased environmental temperatures. These factors increase energy requirements.
 

Marlboro Red and Red Panda Cross Discus Spawning, Which is a Process Requiring a Large Intake of Calories

Protein

Why is protein important for my discus?

Proteins are organic compounds comprised of small chains of nitrogen-containing molecules. These nitrogen-containing molecules are called amino acids. There are twenty common amino acids, and ten of these, called the essential amino acids, are necessary for life. The others are non-essential amino acids. In discus, the non-essential amino acids may be used for energy or broken down into essential amino acids. 
 
In discus, proteins are used first and foremost for tissue reproduction. If some proteins aren't used for tissue reproduction, they will be used for energy. As these proteins are metabolized into sugar, ammonia is produced. It must be eliminated from the fish and into the water by the gills (85%) and kidneys (15%). Filters are used to detoxify the water from the ammonia. Thus, when discus have a high protein diet, it causes the filtration system to need to work harder, and it can deteriorate water quality. For these reasons, it is crucial that you have a strong biological filter and change your tank's water regularly. The biological filter will remove ammonia, and changing the tank's water will eliminate the by-products of the ammonia conversion process.

How much protein should I feed my discus?

Adult discus need a diet that is about 40 to 45 percent protein, and baby discus need a diet that is at least 50 percent protein. Many people recommend feeding their discus more protein than what we mentioned. The baby discus' large protein requirement gradually decreases as they grow and develop. 

What protein sources should I feed my discus?

To make sure that your discus receive amino acids, be sure to feed them fish and meats. Fish and meat tissues provide nearly all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantity. Whole egg protein also contains the essential amino acids, and you can use it as the sole protein source for your discus. Also, you can raise discus fry on egg yolk powder, which will provide all their necessary nutrients.

Fats

Why are fats important for my discus?

Fats are an important energy source, and when you feed your discus a high-fat diet, your fish can use the fats for energy and thus won't need to metabolize the protein as a fat source; instead, the protein can be used for growth, which is more effective than if it had been consumed for energy. This result is known as the protein sparing effect.

Feeding your discus a high-fat diet will result in even a cleaner tank. Your fish will metabolize the fats for energy instead of protein. While the metabolization of protein causes ammonia production, the metabolization of fats does not. Therefore, your tank will be cleaner than if your fish had used protein for energy. 
 
Fats are also crucial for other biological processes. Fats contain fatty acids, which are necessary for the production of cell membranes, the production of hormones, and the absorption and usage of vitamins.
 
Discus store lipids (oils) that contain omega 3 fatty acids. If a fish is deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, it may suffer decelerated growth, fin deterioration, reduced disease resistance, and diminished fertility. 

How much fat should I feed my discus?

Up to 20% fat is sufficient for the discus diet. Ensure that 1-2% of that is essential fatty acids.

What fat sources should I feed my discus?

You'll want to be careful when trying to find fat sources for your discus. Fats oxidize and become rancid when exposed to heat, air, and light. Freeze drief foods often experience oxidation. Most dry discus foods have low fat content, so they are supplemented with antioxidants in an attempt to ameliorate this porblem. 
 
However, frozen foods generally contain well-preserved oils and can be an excellent source of fat for your discus. Dry foods, especially flake food, should be refrigerated to avoid spoiling and preserve their fat content.
 
The best sources of the essential fatty acids are fish and crustacean oils.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates include simple compounds, such as sugars, and also more complex compounds called starches. Carbohydrates are not as important as proteins and fats to the discus diet. Feeding your discus a small amount of vegetables or grains will nourish them with all the carbohydrates they need.

Vitamins

Why are vitamins important for my discus?

Vitamins are organic compounds that don't provide energy, but are needed for the body to produce enzymes and growth factors. Here is a table describing the functions of different vitamins and how you can detect a deficiency. 
 
Vitamin Function Deficiency Symptoms
A Improves eyesight and healthy growth. Skin protector and fertility vitamin. Eye defects and bleeding sores.
B1 Retrieves energy from carbohydrates and provides the brain and nerves with sugar. Movement troubles and cramps.
B2 Aids with digestion of proteins for muscle buildup and protection for the mucous membrane. Bleeding sores. Disturbances of the nervous system.
B5 Builup of various enzymes.  Gill problems.
B6 Important for the nervous system. Movement troubles.
B12 Aids the digestive organs and the buildup of red blood cells, which are necessary for oxygen transport. Anemia, apathy, and growth disturbances.
C Helps with skeletal buildup and improves resistance to disease. Gill deformity and susceptibility to disease.
D3 Regulates the intake of calcium and phosphorus. It is important for bone and skeletal growth. Bone deformity (rachitis).
E Stimulates the production of fertility hormones and stabilizes other vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids.  Infertility and liver fattening.
H (biotin) Growth factor.  Growth disturbances, cramps, and lack of appetite.
K Improves blood coagulation after injuries. Bleeding, skin problems, and liver damage. 
Choline Digestion of fat. Fattening of the liver.

What quantity of vitamins should I feed my discus?

You'll want to make sure that your discus receives a vast variety and sufficient dosage of vitamins. You can add a fresh multiple vitamin supplement to your discus' meals and help ensure that your discus is supplied with vitamins. If you're going to be freezing the food, add the supplement as the last step.

Be careful not to feed your discus an excess of vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are fat-soluble, while B-complex vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in body fat and cannot be rapidly released, so there is risk of excess, which can become toxic to your discus. In fact, heavy doses of pure fish oils can produce hypervitaminosis of vitamins A and D in discus. On the other hand, water-soluble vitamins can be rapidly released from the body, so there is no risk if they are given in excess.

What vitamin sources should I feed my discus?

Vitamins are in many foods, and some of the best sources include liver, eggs, wheat germ, peas, and leafy green vegetables. Carotene and xanthophylls are especially important vitamins. These are vitamin A precursors and red dyes that will not only nourish, but also color and brighten your discus, such as the orange-tinted yellow leopard discus below. Carotene and xanthophylls are in vegetables, algae, and many crustaceans.
 

Orange-Tinted Yellow Leopard Discus
 
As you decide what vitamins to feed your discus, be cognizant of their sources. Heat and oxygen can deactivate water-soluble vitamins. In fact, about 50% of B vitamins and up to 97% of vitamin C can be destroyed by cooking. Additionally, oxidation during storage of vitamins can cause up to a 50% loss of the vitamins within the first three months. Freezing, however, effectively preserves vitamins, and frozen foods can be a healthy main component of the discus diet. Because of the labile nature of vitamins, it is healthy for your discus if you add fresh multiple vitamin supplements to your discus' foods. If you're freezing the food, add the multivitamin as a last step before freezing it. 

Minerals

Minerals help with bone and cartilage formation. Your fish will absorb many minerals from the water they are in, and a varied diet can supply other minerals. Since calcium and phosphorus are the two minerals needed in largest quantities, they are also the most likely to be deficient. Your discus' absorption of calcium requires adequate phosphorus to be available. To avoid a deficiency, always make sure you include enough calcium and phosphorus in your fish's diet. You should supplement calcium and phosphorus in a 1:35 ratio in your discus' diet. Whole fish, crustaceans, and organic supplements (such as bone meal) contain this correct ratio. These minerals are necessary since discus are softwater fish, meaning that the water won't supply them all the nutrients they need.

Questions

  • Why should protein be a major part of your discus' diet?
  • Why does protein metabolization pollute aquariums while fat metabolization does not?
  • What will you feed your discus to make sure they receive ample nutrients?
  • What other articles under the Feeding section of the Learning Center do you want to read to learn more about what to feed your discus?