Feeding plecos vegetables: it’s great for bringing them a varied diet, along with extra fibers and vitamins. Feeding plecos a varied diet, including different vegetables helps them become healthier and more lively. 

If you’ve been looking to feed your pleco a new diet, or just some extra healthy foods, this article is for you. I’ve tried to write the best resource on how, why, and what vegetables to feed your pleco catfish.

What plecos need vegetables

Before getting into what vegetables you can feed, it’s important to know that not all pleco species will eat vegetables. Most will do, but some will not or not get the benefits from a diet consisting out of plant-based foods.

Within the family of plecos (Loricariidae, there are three main groups, in terms of diet: herbivore (plant-eating) species, omnivore (plant and meat-eating) species, and carnivorous (meat-eating) species.

In fact, there are almost no pleco species that will not eat some form of meaty foods. In this case, herbivore only means that they can perfectly live on solely plant-based foods, if they are fed enough variation.

The most common species like Bristlenose plecos, Clown Plecos, and Common plecos will eat vegetables and are omnivorous, with a preference towards plant-based foods.

Other common species like Leopard Frog Plecos, and some Hypancistrus species, will prefer a meat-based diet. They can however show some interest in vegetables, but it shouldn’t be the main part of their diet.

Lastly, we have the carnivorous species. These are less common in the aquarium hobby but certainly exist. These will fall under the species Pseudacanthicus, Leporacanthicus, Scobinancistrus

To help you out finding the right diet and whether your pleco needs vegetables, I’ve created a table with the most common species and their diet.

Species / genus Natural diet Vegetables?
Bristlenose pleco(Ancistrus sp.) Vegetarian, grazing on biofilm Yes
Common pleco (Hypostomus sp.) Omnivore, mostly algae and some meat Yes
Clown pleco (Panaqolus sp.) Grazing on wood, other plant-based foods Yes
Flash pleco (Panaqolus sp.) Grazing on wood, other plant-based foods Yes
Zebra pleco (Hypancsitrus sp.) Entirely carnivorous, shrimps, snails, ... Rarely
Queen Arabesque Pleco (Hypancistrus sp.) Entirely carnivorous, shrimps, snails, ... Rarely
Snowball pleco (Hypancsitrus sp.) Omnivores, mostly meat Rarely
Leopard frog pleco (Peckoltia sp.) Omnivores, mostly meat Some, in addition to meaty foods
Candy Striped Pleco(Peckoltia sp.) Omnivores, will eat some algae Some, in addition to meaty foods
Peppermint pleco (Paracistrus sp.) Mainly algae Yes
Golden Nugget Pleco( Baryancistrus sp.) Mostly high-protein plant-based foods Yes
Sailfin Pleco (Pterygoplichthys sp. Brown algae, plant-based material Yes
Royal Pleco (Panaque sp.) Mostly plant-based, ocasionally wood Yes
Blue phantom pleco (Hemiancistrus sp.) Omnivorous, a good algae eater Yes
Sunshine Pleco (Scobinancistrus sp.) Omnivorous, mostly meat No

Why do plecos need vegetables?

In the wild, plecos feed on a variety of different foods. As stated above, most species are omnivores, eating what is available. Whether it’s algae, snails, shrimps, or plant material. 

This means that in order for them to be healthy, a varied diet should be fed. Many kinds of fresh vegetables contain useful fibers and vitamins. This form of nutrition will have benefits on the digestive system of your pleco.

So even if you feed a wide variety of processed foods/pellets, it’s still recommended to occasionally feed some vegetables. 

What vegetables can plecos eat?

There are so many options to feed your plecos. In fact, most vegetables suitable for humans can also be fed to your plecos. Of course, not all vegetables have the same benefits. This list consists out of the most popular vegetables fed to plecos. 

Keep in mind that your pleco probably has a personal preference. Some might prefer certain vegetables over others, which is nothing to worry about.

Broccoli

Broccoli seems to be a vegetable almost all plecos like. Especially the common pleco like eating the florets of this vegetable.

You can either choose to boil your broccoli or feed it raw. Keep in mind that this vegetable can create quite a mess. The plecos will grasp on the florets, resulting in pieces of the broccoli flying through the tank.

The best way to feed broccoli is by cutting it into pieces, including a part of the stem. After one day it’s recommended to get the piece out of the tank to prevent more mess than necessary.

Brussel sprouts

In order to let the Brussel sprouts sink, boiling them is recommended. After being boiled for a few minutes, the vegetable will sink to the bottom. If you cut the Brussel sprouts into pieces, there’s a chance that the sprouts fall apart and create a mess.

Make sure to let the Brussel sprouts cool down after boiling since they get really hot which can be dangerous for your fish.

Cucumber

Cucumber is one of the most popular vegetables to feed to plecos catfish. It’s an easy-to-find and relatively cheap vegetable which makes it an attractive choice. On top of that, plecos love it!

Cucumber is an easy-to-feed vegetable for pleco catfish. You can let it sink using a fork or spoon and it will be eaten by most plecos. Cucumber is best fed raw, in order to keep it firm. It’s recommended to remove the seeds, to prevent the half-eaten cucumber from making a big mess.

Even though it’s a very popular vegetable to feed to plecos, there are many alternatives better than cucumber. I’ll explain why:

  • Cucumber has 96% water – Other vegetables are usually around 90% in water content. This means that on average, there is less nutritional value per 100g than most other vegetables. 
  • It makes a big mess – While being eaten by the fish, the cucumber starts to break down and become very slimy. The partially eaten cucumber pieces will start spreading through the tank, possibly even getting into your filter causing it to lose capacity. Especially in warmer water this will make a big mess.
  • You have to remove the seeds – Before feeding cucumber, it’s recommended to remove the seeds. Otherwise, it might cause the uneaten seeds to mess up the tank.

If you do have courgette laying around in your house, it’s certainly not a bad choice to feed it. Yet, there are many great alternatives to buy instead of cucumber, if you have this option available.

Common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) Feeding on cucumber. Photo by Jean-Francois Brousseau

Zucchini / Courgette

Zucchini is one of the great alternatives to cucumber. Its similar form makes it easy to feed and it’s more nutritional than cucumber. Boiling or peeling isn’t necessary, since both will lower the nutritional value and plecos don’t seem to have a preference.

Courgette is similar to cucumber and thus making it a better alternative. Zucchini is nutritious, easy to feed, and doesn’t create a big mess.

Ancistrus aguaboensis. Photo by @simple_fins on Instagram

Carrot

Carrot is often overseen as possible food for pleco catfish. However, it’s rich in fibers, which makes it ideal for many wood-eating plecos. Carrots can be boiled or fed raw. For young plecos, it might be beneficial to boil first, since softening it makes it easier for young plecos to eat. If the carrot is boiled fully, it will sink to the bottom of the tank, so no extra work is needed.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a great food for many wood-eating pleco species since they contain a lot of fibers. It’s recommended to remove the peel of the potato, before feeding. Boiling is optional but might be beneficial for young specimens.

A big advantage of sweet potatoes is that they can be left in the tank for up to two days, without falling apart. Especially if they aren’t boiled, you don’t have to worry about them messing up your tank.

Pumpkin/Squash

This sweet vegetable also has a lot of success with plecos. Before feeding pumpkin, it’s recommended to remove the peel of the pieces. Optionally, the pieces can be boiled/blanched, to soften them for the fish.

Boiling is sort of controversial because it slightly lowers the nutritional value of the vegetable without being necessary. Plecos are made for grasping on wood, so they’re perfectly able to grasp on raw vegetables. In the end, this is personal preference, and some fish may like boiled vegetables more than raw.

All kinds of pumpkin can be fed: (Acorn) Squash, Butternut, Hubbard, … Similar to sweet potato, pumpkin also doesn’t create a big mess. Especially when being fed raw, it is really firm.

Canned Green beans

Canned green beans are a very easy and cheap option to feed to plecos. Since they are already prepared, they will instantly sink making them easy to eat for pleco catfish. 

Canned green beans do fall apart quite easily and form a mess, so not feeding too much is the best option. 

Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are easy to feed to plecos. The only thing that’s needed is to remove the seeds and wash them thoroughly to prevent any pesticides from reaching the fish. All sweet peppers can be fed: green, red, orange and yellow. Boiling isn’t needed.

Lettuce

Romain or loose-leaf green lettuce is often fed to plecos. They can be fed raw by being clipped or weighed down. Iceberg or any other colored variety aren’t a good choice and are low in nutritional value as well as possibly containing harmful chemicals.

Keep in mind that lettuce falls apart very fast. This can cause the tank to become messy and you will need to pick it out after a few hours.

Peas

Peas are a great bite-size food to feed to plecos. They can be both frozen or canned. They will sink to the bottom, making it ideal for the plecos to eat.

Some people prefer to take the peel off. However, many species will eat the nutritious peel first before eating the flesh. Thus, peas can also be fed whole.

Extra tip: buy organic vegetables

When feeding pleco catfish, it’s very important to clean the vegetables and wash them, so that no pesticides or harmful chemicals can be consumed by the fish. 

Even though organic vegetables aren’t necessarily more nutritional, you can be sure that no pesticides or harmful chemicals have been used that can harm small animals. 

How to feed different vegetables

So, you’ve bought fresh vegetables from the grocery store, but what now? Most fresh vegetables won’t sink which means some extra work is needed to make them sink, ready to eat for plecos.

There are a few options available. Both paying and free. Here are three of the ways I have found work best and are most effective.

The pleco feeder

A popular option is buying a so-called pleco feeder. This is a device created especially for feeding vegetables to plecos. It’s a long stainless steel tool on which you can secure the pieces. A great option for anyone looking for an easy way to feed vegetables.

It is quite expensive though. So if you’re looking to go for a cheaper option read further. If you want convenience, this is for you. The Pleco Feeder on Amazon

Veggieclips

One of the best ways to secure the vegetables to the bottom is by using specialized clips. These clips can be either attached to the glass by a suction cup or weighed down by some sort of weight, like a stone.

Vegetable clips on Amazon

Using a fork or spoon

When I started feeding my plecos vegetables, I always used a fork. It’s a very straightforward process: just put the vegetable in the tank and when it’s (partially) eaten, get it back out of the tank.

To make this process easier, you can attach some sort of wire, like a fishing line to the fork to get it out easily. This isn’t recommended if you have big fish in your tank though, since they might be damaged by the invisible line.

How often should I feed plecos vegetables?

When feeding other commercial foods like pellets or algae wafers, it’s recommended to feed vegetables between 1 and 3 times a week. You can feed vegetables every day, but only if a variation of other foods is offered too.

What to do if a pleco doesn't eat vegetables

Sometimes, a pleco will not touch any vegetables. The most common cause for this is that the pleco doesn’t know or recognize it as a food source yet. Another reason can be that your pleco is a meat-eating species, and naturally doesn’t eat vegetables.

Some people say that infusing the vegetables with garlic scent attracts plecos. You can try crushing a garlic clove and adding it to the water while boiling/blanching the vegetable. The vegetable will suck up some of the scents, which should attract the pleco.

The hardest part is getting the pleco to let the fish realize that it’s a source of food. Once the pleco has started eating fresh veggies, it will most likely recognize it as food, and garlic isn’t needed anymore.

Another tip is to keep trying and feeding different types of veggies. It might just be that your pleco doesn’t like a certain vegetable, so variating between different types can certainly work.

Lastly, it can just be that you’re pleco isn’t made for eating plant-based foods. Scroll up the part what plecos need vegetables to learn more about this.

Conclusion

Vegetables are a great addition to most plecos’ needs. Most plecos are omnivores, which means they will eat vegetables. This includes bristlenose plecos, clown plecos, and common plecos. Some plecos like zebra plecos are mostly carnivorous and won’t benefit from a vegetable-enriched diet.

Commonly fed vegetables are cucumbers and zucchini, but there are a lot of other options too. Think of sweet pepper, green beans, or pumpkin. It’s best to feed vegetables between 1 and 3 times a week.

It can be a challenge to get vegetables to sink. This can be done by using forks/spoons or specialized tools such as the pleco feeder or veggie clips. 

If your pleco doesn’t seem to eat vegetables, it has most likely not realized it’s a food source. Try infusing the vegetable with garlic and keep trying by feeding different sorts of vegetables.