Koi Fish Happiness 101: Developing a Hand-Feeding Friendship

Have you ever wondered if you’re in a one-sided relationship with your beautiful Koi fish?

If your koi fish are acting strange and appear to be sad, there is a cause associated with their change in mood. Developing the right tactics to care for your pond and koi fish is incredibly important to ensure that everyone (including you!) stays happy.

Training koi to eat of your hand will only happen if they feel safe and comfortable…

For best results, take the time getting to know your fish, just like you would with any new friend. Develop rapport with your Koi so your consistent, responsive, and predictable interactions will build their trust. As they feel safe and begin to know you better, they become receptive and responsive.

 

Table of Contents – Koi Happiness & Hand Feeding Tips

 

With time, attention, and the following tips in this blog, you CAN create a lasting friendship with your fish.

Start by paying attention, begin to observe how they express themselves. Look for cues. Does your fish seem sad or a little off? There is most likely a cause associated with their change in mood. Through observation of your koi you will recognize the connection between the cues your fish provides that help you identify and fix the problem.

Consistent interaction is important in this unique friendship. Training a koi to eat out of your hand is a fun way to build a connection with your fish. Success is directly related to their happiness, and the level of trust they have with you.

Makes sense right?  Happiness is the key.

Koi are a great judge of water quality and overall conditions. When you learn to recognize your Koi’s behavioral cues you access valuable information, such as being alerted to changes in the environment. This allows you to be responsive to their needs, which in turn increases their happiness while developing a beautiful pet-owner relationship.

Utilizing the right tactics to care for your pond and Koi helps ensure healthy water, happy fish and… a happy you!

 

Your koi will be eating out of your hands – literally!

How Intelligent are Koi fish?

Koi are actually very intelligent – they have trained you to feed them on demand!

All joking aside, Koi fish are known for their great memory, loyalty to their owners, and for their striking personalities. What makes Koi fish so special is their individuality- some may hide, jump, or play naturally, while others are standoffish – just like people!

 

Mystical Creatures with Dog Like Emotions

Koi fish are revered for their strength, longevity, and unique mystical characters.

Chinese and Japanese mythology likens Koi to a samurai on a journey to climb a waterfall in order become a heavenly dragon. Most Koi owners will swear by their dog-like loyalty, emotions, and long-term memory.

Strikingly like us, koi are equipped with a long-term memory and they also have the same senses that humans do. Not only are Koi great at remembering faces but they can even recognize their own names – try it at home!

Read on to learn our best tips for keeping these swimming intellectuals happy…

 

Is your Koi a Champion? Get a FREE Bottle of Nualgi Ponds!

If you have won a Major Award* at a Koi show in the past 3 years, than we want to send you a FREE bottle of Nualgi Ponds to try in your system. Your feedback on water quality and the happiness of your Koi Fish will help us inform the community as well as learn from your experiences.

Submit Your Koi Champion

What Makes My Koi Fish Happy?

Simply put – a clean and safe environment supported by nutritious food.

The happiest Koi live in a pond with an excellent filtration system that provides clean and oxygenated water. Healthy water matters. Koi fish are social creatures, but mostly they just want to be in clean water and eat good food.

A happy Koi fish has adequate room (not overcrowded with other fish), well oxygenated water, a diverse environment with places to hide (bubbles, waterfall, plants, etc.), clean water (correct filter), and is fed with quality food.

The more you get to know your Kois’ distinct personalities the easier it will be to read into the nuances of their actions. Your gift of time and attention will pay off – your fish will be happy and will become your friend.

Koi joy is especially evident when the fish get to see you consistently, similar to a dog wagging it’s tail when their owner comes home.

My Koi Fish Looks Sad or Depressed 🙁

Fish look sad?

If you notice a decline in their mood, pay attention, this is a tell tale sign that your koi has a basic need that is not being met.

Your koi can definitely get sad, it’s often related to a change in their environment, for example transplanting them to a different pond. Our experts have shared some general examples of behavioral changes and their meaning to help you understand potential causes for your fish appearing sad, afraid, or depressed.

 

Behavioral cues and causes in Koi fish:

  • Stressed Koi: If your Koi isn’t excited about food, skips the feeding, is hanging near the bottom of the pond, is rubbing on the sides of the pond, or has ragged or bloodshot koi fin edges, check your pond water parameters.
  • Sad/Depressed Koi: If your Koi is acting sluggish or swimming abnormally slow they may be depressed. Transplantation is sometimes a cause of depression in Koi.
  • Sick Koi: If your Koi is experiencing loss of coordination in swimming, speeding around or acting sluggish, you may be smart to quarantine your Koi for further observation.
  • Afraid Koi: If you Koi suddenly become skittish when they are normally friendly, you may have a predator that comes and visits when you are not around.
  • Gasping or Jumping Koi: If your koi are jumping out of the water or gasping for air at the surface of the pond, your water may be lacking in oxygen.

 

If you familiarize yourself with your own Koi fish’s personality, you can be aware of anything out of the ordinary in water quality or predators.

 

But what if you’re doing everything you can and they are still unhappy?

Koi respond best to gentle transitions, they can experience shock when experiencing quick changes – whether that be in environment, temperature, food, or anything, really! Make sure to introduce new changes to your Koi fish gradually to avoid shock. This is a key contributor to mood changes and strongly influences whether your fish is happy or unhappy.

How to Feed Koi from your Hands like an Expert

We have gathered these helpful tips from Koi pond owners in our networks, we hope they help you create a fun relationship with your fish, one that brings happiness to both your and your swimmers.

It’s important to note that every koi is different,  some may never want to eat out of your hand. Either way, your consistent attention to their comfort will increase their health and happiness.

The key to training Koi to feed from your hand is consistency in time and location of the feeding.

This serves a dual purpose, first you will earn their trust. By nature, they are suspicious of predators who approach from a different location at a different time. When you’re consistent with feeding time and location the fish will begin to identify that it’s safe because it’s you.

First things first though, you will need to train them to swim up and then train them to feed from your hand next.


But how do I get my Koi fish to swim up to me AND eat from my hands?

You will need patience, consistency, and some great food!

If you want to pet and feed your Koi, but they always hide from you, than you will need to train your Koi to see you as a caretaker instead of a predator. This will allow you to get up close and personal with your pet friends.

To train Koi to swim to you upon sight, cut off feeding for 5 days!

Pick a spot at the pond you are comfortable with and on day 6, throw small amounts of food in one spot nearest to you. You can stand or sit. Wait until the Koi venture to the food. If they don’t come to take the food after 10 minutes of coming out, you are done for the day. They saw you, believe me.

Repeat the process at the same spot daily with only small amounts of food. And not enough food to feed all the Koi. In just a few days, you will have your Koi trained to see your face and go to that particular feeding spot.

To train Koi to eat from your hands, cut off feeding again and in next visit hold the food in hand under the water.

The Koi will be attracted to the smell in your hand and come near.

After a few days, they will begin to fight your hand to knock out the food, at that point, pinch food in your fingers or palm for the Koi to take.

Do this a few times in a row to develop consistency and soon the koi will feel comfortable eating out of your hand.

You should also feed from a deep area as this allows your Koi to approach vertically since they don’t like shallow water.

There is usually a leader – if you train him, the rest will follow. Koi have routines, that when you are consistent, will feel more comfortable approaching you.

What’s the Best Food for Hand Feeding Koi?

Delicious and nutritious food will keep your koi fish happy. A secondary purpose of having delicious food is to entice your Koi with the smell of food. Using koi treats will allow you to better reward them during the training.

So what makes food good and delicious? This is a good question, since “what type of food to buy” is a common question for many koi pond owners. We assure you that the higher end koi food is generally worth every penny since your koi are what they eat.

We recommend floating food for hand feeding.

Use Koi treats to help with your training. They will love it!

One of our community’s favorites, is Manda Fu by Kodama Koi. It is made up of Manda Nishiki, a popular Japanese health supplement that promotes health and lustrous color.

It looks like a big pellet that can be broken into smaller pieces for different sized koi and is very absorbent, once it touches water; it becomes soft like a sponge. The koi LOVE IT, some pond owners even call it “koi crack”!

Read Kodama’s indepth guide on selecting the best koi food for color and growth

With the right conditions in your pond, quality food, and a well trained Koi, we know that you will build a lasting friendship with your living jewels.

Common Questions about Feeding Koi

Keep these helpful tips in mind when you are feeding your Koi.

Their happiness depends on how you feed them along with the quality of your water. 

 

What are the safety precautions before interacting with my koi?

This is very important – before putting your hands in the pond, be sure to scrub off like a surgeon. You definitely don’t want any suntan lotion, bug spray, cologne, lotion, or anything other than your natural skin oils to interact with the Koi or pond water as it could make your fish sick.

 

Can I hurt my Koi by touching their scales?

You may have heard that touching fish removes the important slime coat which is your fish’s defense against bacteria. While it’s important not to remove the slime coat from your fish, which is equivalent to our getting a scrape, you won’t remove the slime coat simply from feeding them from your hand. You should still be careful and learn techniques to pick up your koi before you try it out.

 

Do Koi have teeth? Can they bite me?

Koi do have teeth, but they are too far back in their mouths to be felt by your hand. If their mouths close over your hand, it will feel like a strong grasp, but don’t worry about losing a finger. They are harmless!

 

Your Koi are what they eat

Fish are friends, so it’s important to take the time ensure the quality of their food as well as their habitat.

In many ways, Koi are just like people, so you know that they truly will become what they eat. Similar to kids or animals, Koi fish will happily eat junk food even though it’s not good for them. To encourage the happiness of your fish, choose foods that will nourish a healthy lifestyle so they can be happier for longer.

Your Koi are the water they swim in

Maintaining a strong and natural biological filter is the healthiest way to keep your koi oxygenated and happy.

Nualgi will add extra oxygen to the water and help maintain the healthy water you demand for your Koi Fish – without using chemicals that will make your Koi unhappy. It has even shown to increase the vibrance of a koi’s scales as well as increase it’s energy levels.

At the end of the day it’s simple. Healthy water = Happy fish and a happy you!

Balance Your Pond with a Natural SolutionPromotes fish health and controls nuisance algae

Safe for Fish, Plants, Amphibians, Birds & Pets!

Nualgi Ponds significantly improves water quality as well as the health of fish and plants. For many eutrophic ponds, results may be visible by afternoon.

By restoring missing nutrients, bring balance to the natural marine food chain from the bottom up by promoting the growth of diatoms and zooplankton.

Try Nualgi in Your Pond!


“Nualgi is excellent on many levels in my professional opinion. It replaces many chemical products that pond/koi owners can easily and unwittingly overdose resulting in gill damage and even death of their prized koi fish in the war against green water. It creates a natural micro food chain that is beneficial to both Koi fish and aquatic plants and even contributes to reducing detritus levels in the pond.” – Christian Shostle of CaliKoi

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