Freshwater PUFFER FISH care (Everything you need to know)

Care for freshwater puffer fish can be a challenge for pet lovers. They are quite rewarding for experienced aquarists. Numerous species of pufferfish possess peculiar hunting techniques, which makes them fun to watch. In the wild, they are among the deadliest animal in the world because of the dangerous venom called tetrodotoxin that they secrete. In captivity, they are relatively harmless because they cannot produce the toxins themselves.

Many pet lovers misunderstand the freshwater puffers, and they are under-represented fish in the aquarium trade. You are going to find a few guides online that gives detail about how to care for them. You should not fret if you are planning to get one, but you do not know how to care for them.

I have done extensive research on the care for freshwater pufferfish, and what I found are written in detail below. If you can follow these tips, you will surely not regret choosing these stunning species as a pet.

Cute Reptiles as Pets
Cute Reptiles as Pets

Choosing Your Freshwater pufferfish

Types of Freshwater pufferfish

In the world, you are going to find over 150 species of pufferfish, but it is only about 30 species of them that are considered to be genuinely freshwater. Freshwater pufferfish comes in different size, shape, and color. And baby pufferfish also come with the diff. You can identify them by their chubby looking appearance and the four large teeth that are fused on their jaw. They do not have scales, and some species have visible spikes covering their skin. They are slow-moving, but they release toxic substances and inflate their body when threatened.

Choosing a freshwater puffer can be quite tricky because of their wide range and their size. You will need to know the type of enclosures that you have and the maximum length for the growth of your puffer. Some of the most common freshwater puffers that you can choose from are dwarf puffer, crested puffer, golden puffer, Congo puffer, Fahaka puffer, imitator puffer, Mbu puffer, and so on.

Mbu puffer

Some aquarists usually consider the spotted green puffer as a freshwater species, but this is wrong. Spotted green puffers live in a freshwater environment when they are juveniles but migrate to brackish waters when they grow up.

green puffer
green puffer

Natural Habitat

Freshwater pufferfish can be found all over the world, but they prefer staying in very warm water. The live-in a habitat with excessive foliage and mollusks.

Typical behaviors

Freshwater pufferfish will easily fool you with their cute look, but you will be surprised to find out that they are aggressive and territorial, especially during the breeding season. They are also ferocious predators with a wide range of hunting techniques. Some of the methods they used for hunting are listed below.

Open Waters Hunters

Some freshwater puffers like South American puffer and Golden Puffer hunt for prey by swimming over a sandy and rocky substrate. They will look for small crustaceans, clams, or snails to eat by swimming over oyster beds or plants.

South American puffers

Stealth Predators

Some of the freshwater puffers in this category are dwarf puffer, crested pufferfish, and red-tailed dwarf puffer. You will find them in overgrown riverbanks and places where there are numerous hiding spots as they like to attack from the shadows.

dwarf puffers
dwarf puffers

Ambush Predators

Ambush predator is another class of hunters popularly called the ambush predators. A great example of an ambush predator is the Congo puffer. They lay an ambush for fish by digging themselves into the sand before lunging upward to kill the fish.

Congo puffers
Congo puffers

The peculiar behavior of freshwater pufferfish is their ability to blow water or spit over the substrate for hidden prey. It also spits water at their owners to ask for more food. Another notable behavior of freshwater puffers is that they are fin nippers. They will nip the fins of other larger fish that are in their enclosure.

Keeping pufferfish with other fish

Freshwater puffers territorial, and they don’t do well in a community setting. They are known to eat other fish, nip at their fins, or starve because they are slow and cannot compete for food. All of the fish in the tank will not be getting their fair share of food unless you overfeed your tank, which will lead to an ammonia spike and then the death of the fish.

You can keep some species like the dwarf puffer in a species tank containing only the same species. Keeping the same species is not advisable for all species of puffers because of the different temperaments of different species.

Making Their Home

Tank Setup

You will need the best environment possible if you want to keep freshwater puffers because they are susceptible to diseases. They prefer water with pH range between 7-7.6 and temperature between 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit. Other water parameters like water currents, hardness, and so on will be based on the species you want to keep and their natural habitat.

Pufferfish are very sensitive to deteriorating water conditions, and it is affected by the levels of nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia in the water. They also produce a lot of waste, and it is mandatory to have a good filter, and you should try to change 50% of their water weekly. It is advisable to get a double filtration system with a unique lighting system and heaters.

Freshwater pufferfish also requires a well-planted aquarium filled with numerous hiding places and crevices. If you are keeping ambush predators, you should provide a soft substrate where your fish can dig and hide. For Stealth predators, you should give a densely planted tank filled with plants, tree roots, and crevices. For open water hunters, they need open spaces to swim and explore the rocks, bogwood, and rocks.

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Dwarf puffer, imitator puffer, and red-tailed dwarf puffer need 10 gallons of water. Congo puffer, crested puffer, and South American puffer need 40-55 gallons of water. Golden puffer needs 125 gallons of water while Mbu puffer needs 500 gallons of water. These recommendations are suitable for fish only. It is best to get a larger tank because of the amount of waste that they excrete.

Tank Mates

Freshwater pufferfishes are aggressive and territorial. Some are good community fish during their juvenile stage, but they become very aggressive as soon as they reach adulthood. They are not suitable for community aquariums because they can kill each other or nip fins. You should also avoid keeping non-fish companions like shrimps and snails because they will feed on them.

Keeping Freshwater Puffer Fish Together

The best way to breed freshwater puffer is by keeping them alone. There are some species that you can keep as pair or small groups like the South American puffer, Figure 8 puffer, and Ceylon puffer.

Freshwater Puffer Fish Care Guide

Pufferfish do not have scales, which makes them very susceptible to ectoparasites. The most common parasites that affect them are Oodinium sp., Chilodonella sp., Ichthyobodo sp., and Trichodina sp. It is best to prevent disease before they even occur. You should keep in mind that new additions to the aquarium are potential carriers of viruses and bacteria.

You should be cautious when introducing new things to your aquarium and ensure that you quarantine them. Freshwater puffer fish care require to maintain the best water conditions. Because they do not have the first line of defense, which is the scale.


Signs of a Healthy Puffer

  • It swims actively
  • It eats vigorously
  • Regular respiration
  • Clear eyes.

Signs of a sick puffer fish

  • Listlessness
  • Your fish starts to lose color or appetite
  • You notice fungus or spots on their mouth or body
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Labored respiration

Common Health Issues of freshwater pufferfish

Fin rot

Some of the signs to look out for are frayed or disintegrating fins, the base of the fins reddens. You can treat fin rot by improving the water quality. You can also consult your aquatic veterinarian for necessary treatment.

Marine ich

You will notice excess skin mucus or pale skin, cysts on their gills, fins, and skin, and labored respiration. But keepers can combat this by treating the entire aquarium with the commercial parasite and also improvement of the water quality. You can also dip them in freshwater to dislodge the pests.

Freshwater Puffer Fish Food

The freshwater puffers are different from most aquarium fish because they cannot constantly graze throughout the day. Some of them can take only 2-3 meals per week based on their ages and species. Some species of puffers also need to be feed frequently like the dwarf puffer. The freshwater puffers are known to be omnivorous, which shows they feed on a meat-based diet.

They are going to eat almost anything that you give them while you raise them in captivity. They prefer eating crustaceans, snails, shellfish. Some of the things to feed them are live, dried, and frozen meat. You can feed bigger sized puffers with small frozen fish like whitebait fish or lancetfish. You can also incorporate plant-based food and vegetable once or twice a week for the fish.

One of the essential aspects of pufferfish is that their teeth continue growing during their lifetime. This means you will need to feed them with hard substrate animals like snails, shellfish, or crustaceans. This will help them to control the rate of their teeth growth. You should always avoid having their teeth growing too long because they will struggle to eat, and you will have to clip them to prevent their death.

Feeding habits

Puffers need different feeding habits based on the size of the fish. You will need to feed small species daily. You can feed the mid-sized species every other day while you can feed the large species twice or three times a week.

Note: Avoid overfeeding them; they are also good by doing things that will impress you to earn more food.

How to Feed Your Fish Live Food

A crucial thing to keep in mind about feeding freshwater puffers with live foods that are quarantined. It is best if you segregate the life feeder items because they can cause the sickness of the puffer and also the prey animals like snails.


It is quite challenging to breed freshwater puffers in captivity. There is a wide range of freshwater puffers, and they require different water parameters and conditions. It is quite tasking to find a matching pair for them because they are aggressive to each other.

If you are fortunate to find a matching pair, another tasking part is the raising of the fry. Pufferfish are very protective of their eggs, but once they are hatched, the parents may eat the fries. Some of the other difficulties to face are providing enough food for the fry and keeping their water quality at the best level all the time. You can feed the fry with brine shrimp and infusoria.


Pufferfish can be found across different tropical water bodies, which range from freshwater to marine environments. You are going to see about 30 species of freshwater pufferfish around the world, and they come in different colors and sizes. You can quickly identify them with their ability to inflate their bodies as a defense mechanism when under threat. Because of the special feeding needs and the sensitivity of water conditions, they are suitable for experienced aquarists. You will love to have one as a pet because of their unique personalities that will leave your mind blown away.

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