What do Plecos Eat? (Diet & 1 Commonly Forgotten Thing You NEED to Provide)

Plecos are some of the most popular fish in the hobby.  They’re known for eating algae, but many fish owners don’t consider what a proper diet calls for. 

A lot of plecos are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat a combination of algae, plants, dead fish and shrimp, and anything else they can get their mouths on. Some plecos also eat wood pulp. In the aquarium, a pleco’s diet should consist of both algae and sinking wafers.

Throughout this article, we’re going to discuss the following aspects of a proper pleco diet:

  • The raw vegetables plecos need to eat
  • How you can feed your pleco algae 
  • How often you should feed your plecos
  • Signs that indicate whether your pleco is healthy
  • One unusual “food” that some plecos absolutely require.
Zebra Pleco | ID 111125309 © Mirkorosenau | Dreamstime.com

The Diet of a Pleco

A pleco’s diet should consist of:

  • Natural algae that is growing in your aquarium.
  • Sinking algae or herbivore wafers.
  • Blanched vegetables, such as zuccini and cucumber, once per week.
  • Driftwood to rasp on. (Important for several species.)

If your tank isn’t producing enough algae, you can try out some algae wafers.

Most pet stores or fish stores will sell algae wafers (also available on Amazon). Simply placing them in the water will soak up and disperse the algae for your plecos.

It’s an easy and affordable way to ensure that your fish are healthy and happy.

Plecos also like to chow down on small pieces of cucumbers, zucchini, and squash.

When you feed your pleco these foods, make sure to wash off the veggies, chop them into tiny pieces, and drop a few of them into the tank. 

You should also watch to see which vegetables your plecos eat to know what you should buy more often. Keep in mind that larger foods – like a full slice of cucumber – might take a while for them to eat.

Protein is important in a pleco’s diet, but they don’t need it every day from a meat source.  (And in fact, feeding meat too often can be harmful to plecos’ health.) 

However, you can feed bloodworms and small shrimp to them once or twice a week to promote healthy growth and development.

While it’s almost always a good idea to feed live critters to your plecos, you can give them freeze-dried or frozen bloodworms. Another option is to try out shrimp pellets to see if your pleco enjoys them. 

Golden Bristlenose Pleco | ID 55468712 © Mirkorosenau | Dreamstime.com

Which species need wood to rasp on?

Some species of pleco require driftwood to rasp on. 

There is some debate on why they need driftwood to rasp:

One theory is that they do this because the wood often has algae on the surface, and this algae supplements their diet.

Another is that they need the fiber, and it helps their digestive system.

It may depend on the individual species, or the truth may be a combination of the two.

If you have any of the following species of pleco, make sure that your enclosure contains driftwood:

  • Peckoltia plecos
  • Otocinclus plecos
  • Bristlenose plecos 
  • Royal plecos
  • Clown Plecos
  • Zebra Plecos

Some say common plecos need it and some say they don’t.

Since it can’t hurt to have driftwood in your aquarium, you may want to include it regardless if you have plecos.

Pleco Rasping Wood

How Often Should You Feed Plecos?

FoodHow Often to Feed
Algae wafers1-2 algae wafers per day depending on pleco size
Vegatables (Cucumber, Zucchini, Squash, Broccoli) (1 small slice/small piece)1-2 times per week.
Shrimp (2-3 shrimp, cut up)1-2 times per week.
Shrimp pellets (2-3 pellets)1-2 times per week.
Earthworm/Bloodworm (1 worm, cut up)1-2 times per week.

Plecos need to eat very often. Regardless of their size, age, or type, you should get used to feeding them once every day in most cases. Most pet stores sell food specifically meant for plecos. 

Whether it’s an algae wafer or pebbles that intentionally sink to the bottom, this should be part of your daily routine.

Some plecos prefer to eat every other day, but it can vary. Watch to see how often your plecos eat.

If you place an algae wafer down in the morning and it’s gone by lunchtime, you know that they’re going to need a bit more. 

Sometimes, plecos will eat food droppings from other fish. If they do this, you can get away with feeding them once every other day.

You should also feed the vegetables mentioned above (cucumber, zucchini, squash) to your plecos once to twice a week.

Again, this depends on what else they’re eating.

However, it should be noted that these vegetables are an important part of their diet. Plecos can’t thrive on food droppings alone in most instances.

Plecos are omnivores, which means that they need some meaty food in their diet. As mentioned previously, large plecos can eat shrimp, but they might be a bit too big for small plecos. 

Earthworms are a great dietary addition for plecos of all sizes. They’re packed with protein and easy for plecos to digest.

Do this once a week unless your plecos eat it quickly, in which case you can increase the frequency to twice a week.

As a word of caution, don’t feed iceberg lettuce to your pleco. 

They can eat quite a few different types of vegetables, but iceberg lettuce is a no-go. It doesn’t have enough nutrition to make it worth the time it takes for them to eat it.

On top of that, iceberg lettuce can be too filling, taking the space of otherwise nutritionally-packed food.

Golden Nugget Pleco | ID 49682161 © Mirkorosenau | Dreamstime.com

Do Plecos Eat Plants?

Due to the huge number of different pleco species, I can’t say that none of them ever eat plants. Most common species, however, don’t eat plants. (Including bristlenose, clown pleco, and common pleco.)

Rubber Lip Plecos may damage plant leaves while rasping on them for algae, but they don’t eat the plants themselves.

Health Indicators

Plecos spend almost all of their time hanging around the bottom of the tank. Not only do they enjoy eating down there, but they also have their homes there as well. 

If you notice that your plecos are swimming high up in the tank or they’re rarely going to the bottom, this can be a sign of bad health.

It might also mean that they don’t have enough food and are looking for more.

Signs of Good Health

Common good signs of health include constant eating during feeding hours, wall-hanging, and clear eyes. 

Plecos eat very often, which means you should pretty much always see them looking for food throughout the evening.

If they’re slumped in a corner and never eat, this is a sign of malnutrition or another unwanted health concern.

It’s also imperative that the pleco is constantly attaching to the side of the aquarium or the tank decor.

This attachment is one of its most natural habits, so something is likely wrong if it isn’t doing it. 

Don’t worry if you see your plecos hanging around on the wall. They suction themselves there very frequently.

When plecos do this, it’s a good time to get a look at their eyes to see how they look. You can also take time to look for torn fins, fungus, and so on.

L400 Pleco | ID 118660049 © Logan | Dreamstime.com

Signs of bad health

Signs of bad health include the following:

  • Loss of color or pigment in their skin
  • Clouded eyes
  • Fungus growing on the mouth or body
  • Torn fins. 
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Sitting around the top of the tank (they’re likely searching for more food).

Almost all of these problems can be solved or dealt with by switching out the water filter.

You might also need to completely change all of the water in the tank as well. (No more than 50% at a time.)

If the water filter doesn’t fix the issue, make sure the tank isn’t overcrowded. An aquarium with too many fish in it can make the environment unhealthy for its inhabitants – including plecos.

It should also be noted that plecos don’t eat other fish, but they might ‘accidentally’ harm goldfish.

Goldfish have a certain substance that builds up on their skin over time that plecos love to eat.

If you’re feeding your pleco enough every day, this won’t be an issue.

If you notice any serious health problems or issues that aren’t changing regardless of what you do, you should consult a local pet store. 

They’re going to have all of the treatments and suggestions that you need. However, in most cases, new water is the remedy to plenty of fish health problems.

So, what do plecos eat?

A pleco’s diet should consist of algae and sinking algae wafers primarily. You can also supplement with blanched vegetables once per week. Depending on the species of pleco, you also need to provide driftwood for them to rasp on to help digest their food.

Now that you’ve read through this post, you should know that:

  • Plecos are omnivores, meaning they need meat as well as vegetables. 
  • They eat algae, algae wafers, zucchini, squash, cucumber, earthworms, shrimp, and more
  • They’ll eat almost any fish food that drops to the bottom, but this can’t be their entire diet
  • Plecos are fantastic cleaners for the bottom of your fish tank
  • They should eat algae once a day and veggies or meat once to twice a week
  • Replacing the water or the filter in the tank can fix many of their health problems
  • Plecos should almost always be seen around the bottom of a fish tank.