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Catfish Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

cat fish care sheet

This care sheet covers a variety of catfish species, including:  

  • Julii cory
  • Panda cory
  • Emerald green cory
  • Sterba’s cory
  • Agassizi cory
  • Upside-down catfish
  • Pictus catfish
  • Striped Raphael catfish
  • Featherfin squeaker
  • Redtail catfish
  • Tiger shovelnose catfish



Scientific names: Corydoras julii, Corydoras panda, Brochis splendens, Corydoras sterbai, Corydoras agassizii, Synodontis nigriventris, Pimelodus pictus, Platyodras armatulus, Synodontis eupterus, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus, Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum

Catfish can be identified by and obtained their name from their whisker-like barbels. A catfish’s barbels contain cells that act like taste buds, which they use to locate food in dark waters. Catfish vary from small, peaceful species to larger, more predatory species. These negatively buoyant, scaleless bottom feeders scavenge the aquarium vigorously, consuming a wide variety of foods such as algae, small fish, prepared foods and detritus.


Typical appearance and behavior

  • Some catfish prefer to live in schools but can be happy alone (such as corys)
  • Most catfish like to swim at the bottom of the aquarium and need plenty of hiding places
  • Catfish scavenge for food and will eat almost anything
  • Catfish have pectoral and dorsal spines used for defense
  • Some catfish spines contain venom glands
  • Catfish are a scaleless species



Care Difficulty Ranges from beginner to intermediate, depending on species
Average Life Span Up to 15 years when properly cared for, depending on species
Average Adult Size 1–72 inches long, depending on species
Diet Omnivorous
Minimum Habitat Size 10+ gallons, depending on species
Water temperature 72–82°F



Habitat size

Keep in an appropriately sized aquarium based on the adult size of the species selected, which can range from a 10-gallon aquarium for smaller species to 300+ gallons for a species like the redtail catfish.


Building your habitat

Water health

  • Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health; moderate water circulation should be provided to mimic the water currents and high oxygen levels found in the catfish’s natural habitat
  • Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life; if you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing
  • An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature and ensure it does not fluctuate more than 2 degrees in either direction in a 24-hour period
  • Many catfish will benefit from the addition of freshwater salt to the aquarium; the specific gravity should be kept at 1.004. Always research your species-specific needs before adding freshwater aquarium salt, and do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than 0.001 in either direction in a 24-hour period

Décor: Many catfish species are nocturnal and should be provided rock caves, hollow logs or other safe hiding spaces

Substrate: Catfish have barbels (or whiskers), and a less abrasive substrate is recommended to prevent damaging these sensitive appendages


What Do Catfish Eat

A well-balanced catfish diet consists of:

  • Sinking pellets or flake foods.; freeze-dried tubifex worms
  • Brine shrimp, mysis shrimp and bloodworms (live, freeze-dried or frozen)
  • Preferences vary by species


Things to remember when feeding your catfish:

  • Feed small amounts two to three times daily, no more than your fish will eat in 1–2 minutes
  • Your fish will scavenge food but also need to be specifically fed; be sure food reaches the bottom level of the aquarium
  • Feed prepared foods according to the directions on the packaging
  • Thaw frozen food before feeding


Catfish care

Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your catfish healthy

  • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
  • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week
  • Weekly to monthly: Change 10–25% of the total volume of water every 2–4 weeks, or as needed; change filter media monthly

Avoid overcrowded conditions, which are a major cause of stress and disease


Where to buy

Various catfish are available for purchase at Petco online and in store; availability varies by location. If visiting your local location, please call ahead to check availability. 


Catfish supplies


Tank mates

Most catfish are peaceful and can be kept with community fish of similar size and temperament, including other catfish; however, larger catfish may eat smaller fish that they are able to fit into their mouths.



Signs of a healthy fish

  • Clear eyes
  • Eats vigorously
  • Active swimming at the bottom or sides of the aquarium
  • Good coloration
  • Free of parasites or disease


Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or veterinarian)

  • Loss of color or appetite
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth
  • Cloudy eyes or pop-eye
  • Listlessness
  • Labored breathing
  • Erratic swimming
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Frayed or discolored fins


Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueFin rot Symptoms or CausesFrayed or disintegrating fins; the base of the fins usually reddens Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueBacterial infections Symptoms or CausesCloudy eyes, open sores and/or reddening of the skin Suggested ActionImprove water quality; add freshwater aquarium salt; use a commercial antibacterial remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment
Health IssueIch Symptoms or CausesWhite spots appear on fins and body; fish rubs against hard objects or swims erratically, rapid respirations Suggested ActionQuarantine fish immediately; add freshwater aquarium salt and use a scaleless fish safe commercial ich remedy as directed; Consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment
Health IssueCottonmouth or columnaris Symptoms or CausesCottony white growths along the body and/or gills, frayed fins and gills turn brown and necrotic in late stages; caused by bacterial infection Suggested ActionQuarantine fish; improve water quality; lower aquarium temperature to 72°F to deter bacteria from growing; medicate as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment



  • How long do catfish live? Catfish can live up to 15 years when properly cared for.
  • What do catfish eat? Catfish should be provided with a variety of flakes, sinking pellets, freeze-dried, frozen or live foods.
  • What fish can live with catfish? Most catfish are peaceful and can live with other appropriately sized fish and other catfish. Larger catfish may eat smaller fish that they can fit into their mouths.
  • What kind of catfish are there? There is roughly 3000+ species of catfish. Some of the most popular species for home aquariums are Corydoras and Synodontis species.


Additional care sheets


Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as atypical mycobacteria and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.

Go to for more information about aquatic life and disease.


The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.