Can You Keep a Catfish as a Pet?

Red tail catfish

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When it comes to keeping a pet catfish, selecting the right species is critical. Although some species may be illegally imported and should never enter your tank, most of the concerns about pet catfish come down to size. All fish start small, but some catfish species can outgrow most home aquariums and are much better suited for a large public aquarium. Be sure to do your research on which species you want to keep to ensure your catfish will have a long and happy life.

Is it Ethical to Keep Catfish as Pets?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: It depends on which species and the size of your aquarium. The main concern about pet catfish is their growth potential. All fish start out small, but many of them do not stay that size for long. No matter what they tell you at the pet store, it is critical that you do your own research and choose your desired species carefully. Find out how big it gets as an adult and how big of an aquarium it will need.

Most of the time, selecting a catfish species for your aquarium comes down to how much room is available in your tank. Making sure you are selecting the correct species for your space may take more research than usual. If you are not sure if the fish you are looking at is the correct species, don't buy it.

Red tail catfish
A Red Tail Catfish is a great example of what not to buy. These fish can grow over 2 feet long and eat EVERYTHING! Even other fish...

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What Do Catfish Require for Their Environment?

Catfish are primarily bottom-dwelling fish. Although many will spend time swimming in the mid-water column, catfishes use their barbels to search out for food buried in the substrate. Their barbels are actually full of taste buds, constantly on the lookout for tasty morsels. Keeping this in mind, your catfish will require bottom access. Most aquarium setups are well suited to catfish except heavily planted tanks. Catfish can easily get lost and tangled in lots of low-lying plant life.

Substrate type for catfish should be on the lighter size. Standard aquarium gravel to medium sand is a good choice for most catfish. Larger rocks can be problematic for smaller catfish, and larger catfish have been known to swallow rocks. Some species, such as plecos, like to have softer wood to nibble on. When adding wood to a tank, be sure it is safe for aquariums. Some species of wood can leach dangerous chemicals into your aquarium water.

Despite common lore, catfish are omnivores, with some leaning more towards the herbivorous side, and others the carnivorous side. Remember, there are about 3000 species within the catfish family. Do not expect most catfish to clean up your algae. You will need to control your algae through limiting its nutrient source in most freshwater systems.

How to Take Care of Catfish

Catfish, like all other fish species, require good water quality and an appropriate diet for best health. Remember, not all catfish like to snack on algae, so be sure to feed them regularly. Most tropical fish diets will be just fine for catfish living in mixed species tanks. If you have a catfish only tank, you can better select a diet in the herbivore or carnivore spectrum. Catfish will often forage throughout the day, so expect them to get pieces of everything you feed to your tank. Even with catfish doing clean up, you will need to continue with your regular maintenance routine. Some catfish species are nocturnal feeders, however, so you may need to put food in the aquarium for them at night when the lights are going out.

When choosing a catfish for your tank, choose your species carefully. Here is a helpful guide to the most appropriate catfish species for home aquariums. When it comes to catfish, adult size is critical to keeping your fish happy throughout its life. When all fish start out the same size, it can be difficult to envision how big they could be and not all pet stores will provide you with this information. Even choosing a docile plecostomus can be challenging, with some species topping out at 8 inches, while others can grow a few feet long. And, some catfish, such as Corydoras species, are docile bottom scavengers that can be mixed with other small fish, others like the Redtail Catfish are predators that will eat any other fish that can fit into its mouth! It is critical that you do your research in advance to make sure the catfish you are bringing home will fit into your aquarium based on its size and other species you already have. If you cannot guarantee the species you are looking at is correct, don't buy it.

Panda Cory Cat
Most Corydora Catfish are a GOOD choice for an aquarium since they stay small and are very happy community players.

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