red bellied piranha staring to the front

Do You Have To Give Piranhas Live Food?

One of the attractions of owning Piranhas is that they are a fascinating fish. As an omnivore they eat vegetables and meats. They will attack small live mammals in the wild for food.

So, do you have to give Piranhas live food? In short, no, you do not have to give your Piranha live animals. The Red-Bellied Piranha is an omnivore, and in the wild has many meat based food sources such as worms, fish, insects, rodents, lizards, reptiles and carrion. While you should replicate the variety of the diet, this can be achieved with frozen fish based products and freeze dried meats. There is no nutritional basis for feeding Piranha live animals, although worms and maggots are a simple way to do this.

What Is There Natural Meat Based Diet

When talking about the Red-Bellied Piranha, the most common of the species and easily the most commonly owned for aquarium purposes, it’s important to know what they eat in the wild.

Ideally, you want to replicate the kind of diet they will naturally come across in the wild. The Amazon basin is a lush rainforest that provides food and sustenance for thousands of species.

As an omnivore, the Piranha has a diet that varies a great deal. On the herbivore side it will want to eat fruits, seeds, nuts and plant matter.

For it’s more meat based diet, it will also try to feed on;


  • Insects
  • Crustaceans
  • Mollusks
  • Worms
  • Fish (or fish fins)


However, especially when the dry season is upon the region and the water levels fall, there is little food and the Piranha take greater risks in obtaining food. Typically, this is when humans who tread near Piranha nests get bitten.

The sort of animals, other than fish that a Piranha might attack for food are;


  • Frogs
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Rodents
  • Lizards
  • Birds


So it’s reasonably clear that Piranha will happily consume a meat based diet of live animals. Bigger animals are usually carrion, like dead cows and small mammals or rodents might be attacked as a school.

4 Red Bellied Piranha aquarium

So Should You Feed Your Piranha Live Animals?

As it has a varied diet in the wild it easy to surmise that any Piranha owner who cares for their fish really ought to provide a similar diet, to the best of their ability. Primarily this will help with the health of your fish and give them the nutrients that they require.

With respect to live foods, there is some debate on the issue, and ultimately you will have to decide what is right for you. While there is an argument that live food carries health risks to your fish, the thing that should concern you the most will be where you get the feed from.

A live animal is not vital to their diet. You do not need to feed your Piranha mice and live fish to keep them alive. Mostly it is done to keep add variety to their feed consumption, and to replicate the kind of hunting instincts a wild Piranha might experience.

If you do want to give your Piranha live food, and it is not absolutely necessary, make sure it is from a reputable source. Don’t drop in mice your cat drags in. Keep them healthy and not prone to natural parasites.

Also, there are two levels of live food. Simple live foods like


  • Maggots
  • Worms
  • Insects


Slightly more sentient animals, might include


  • Fish
  • Mice
  • Mammals / Rodents
  • Frogs


Ultimately, it is up to you, but as stressed above, make sure the feeder source is reputable.

several red bellied piranha

The Dangers of Feeding Piranha Live Animals

While dropping maggots and worms from a reputable seller contains very little risk to your Piranha, bigger animals and fish do contain some risks.

Commonly what people do is drop mice or other fish, like a goldfish in the tank in order to feed their Piranha.

Apart from making the tank more messy, there is an argument against the practice of forcing another animal to be food with little chance of escape on an ethical basis, but that is each individual’s conscience.

Mice, although not really a danger do possess teeth and goldfish may contain parasites. This is why if you want to feed your Piranha a fish based meal, it’s recommended to freeze a fish first, then thaw it out so it kills off bacteria and parasites.

It’s a much safer option, but might not satisfy your Piranhas hunting instinct.

aquarium piranha

Where Does It Get It’s Meat Based Diet From Then?

If the thought of dropping mice or goldfish in your tank is a bit much, then you are not alone. Plenty of Piranha keepers choose not to offer their Piranha live meals. They choose good substitutes instead.

Maggots and worms are a good source of nutrition, and very natural for a Piranha.

Frozen of freeze dried meats provide a safe and healthy alternative.

Oddly, you can even buy frozen rodents to feed your Piranha, although thaw them out first. This might be a good compromise to satisfy your Piranha.

Another option is shrimp. You can buy them frozen or raise your own. Buy live shrimp if you live near a good supply.


So, while not absolutely necessary to feed your Piranha live meals, many owners do it, as it is very natural for Piranha to eat living food.

However, it does carry minimal risk, such as the risk of infecting your Piranha if your feed animal is contaminated.

The alternative, that of supplying the Piranha their nutritional requirements through frozen (although thawed out at the point of putting in the tank) seems a much more sensible option. There is no risk of the food going off, you don’t have to spend time keeping another tank for feed stock, and thus it is much more timely, as well as healthier.

Ultimately it is up to you, as long as you make sure the feed is clean and healthy, as part of a varied diet then that is all you can do,

Should you want to though, here;s a video of what it might look like;