Cold Weather and Hungry Fish?
I hear all the time from my clients that they are feeding their fish during the winter. I cringe at this statement since fish in the winter rarely need to eat. They may come up to the surface and “tell” you they want to be fed, but in actuality they are just doing what they do out of habit. In the winter months their metabolism slows down to the point where they are unable to digest food. Their bodies are using their fat reserves to stay warm. You may notice that they don’t move much during the extremely cold temperatures. This is because they are trying to conserve energy and heat. By the fish not moving they are actually warming the water around them… although just a bit, it’s only warmer within an inch away from them.
The bottom of the pond is usually a degree or two warmer than the rest of the pond. In extreme cold it is suggested to turn off the bottom drain and allow the water to circulate via the skimmer only. This prevents the entire body of water from being circulated and exposed to the cold air. Feeding your fish during winter is not advised.
If you must feed your fish in the warmer days of winter, feed them a wheat germ food. This will help clean out their digestive track, and prevent high protein food from rotting in their stomachs. That’s right, I said rotting! High protein food can actually rot in the bellies of fish if they are continuously fed during cold temperatures.
If the pond temperature is below 50F fish shouldn’t be fed AT ALL, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT until spring brings warmer temperatures. The fish’s metabolism is so slow that there is not enough activity to digest the food. The rotting food can actually end up killing your beloved fish, which I’ve seen happen. Fish usually show signs of stomach rot in the early part of spring and will appear pregnant, only to die a few weeks later. Keep in mind that as the weather cools, the pond’s water temperature will drop causing the growth of beneficial bacteria to slow down and either become dormant or will die off. It will not be able to digest the fish waste. This could cause the nitrate and ammonia levels to rise and lead to fish sickness.
If there are a few days of warm weather and you decided to feed your fish their regular fish food (high protein) you could be doing the most harm at this time. A few days of warm weather is not enough time for the fish’s metabolism to become active and digest the food. As the weather warms up and the fish return to being active, so does their digestive system. Please wait until spring to feed your fish. Feeding fish during cool water months can cause serious illness and possibly death.