How to Hand Feed your Koi

Posted by Ben Cooke on

Hand Feeding Your Koi

Hand feeding, in my opinion, is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of being a pond owner. My kids and I genuinely look forward to these parts of the day when we get to feed the fish.  Neighbors, friends, and guests alike really get a lot of joy out of the experience too.    While it takes some work to earn their trust, once the Koi understand that you are not going to harm them and that you are the one who provides them food, they will eat right out of your hand.


Koi are none-aggressive fish. Koi do not have teeth, so you will not get bit if you decide to attempt to feed your Koi out of your hand. This even allows you to get smaller children involved. Smaller children will be delighted by the beautiful colors and gentle nature of the Koi.


Koi, like any other wild animal, will naturally be afraid of you in the beginning. Instincts tell them to be afraid of you, which is what keeps them alive in the wild. You must build up trust with your Koi, and this takes time and patience. You will not be able to hand feed overnight. It could take days or weeks for them to initially start but once you earn their trust, you have won them over and they will look forward to your visit each day.  


Koi are omnivorous fish, which means they will eat both meat and plants. This means that their diets are very versatile. Koi will eat pretty much anything that you put in the pond with them, no matter if it is good for them or not. Since Koi do not have a sense of what is bad and good for them, as their owner you must control their snack diet. Another potential problem is over feeding treats. Again, Koi do not have the knowledge to know when to stop eating, and weight issues may come from overfeeding none nutritional foods. The healthiest treats for Koi are what they would find naturally in their ponds, such as earthworms and tadpoles, but it will not hurt to feed Koi treats such as lettuce, bread, fruit, and veggies. You should pay special attention to the certain foods such as corn, beans, and grapes, as they contain an outer casing, which cannot be properly digested if swallowed by Koi.


The trick is to start slow. Never make any sudden movements, as this will scare even the most trusting of fish. It will be best to begin hand training your fish from the very moment you get them, but it is not impossible to train a fish that you have had for a while either. Begin by placing a few pellets or snacks in your hand and submerging your hand under water. Slowly allow the food to fall out of your hand into the water. The Koi may not seem to be paying by attention, but rest assured that they are aware of your hand, and are aware that you hand is providing the food. Do this for a couple of days.


After you have dropped the food into the pond for a couple of days, and have gained the interest of your Koi, begin making the fish remove the food from your hand. I take a handful of pellets and cup them with my hand by making a fist. I then put my fist underwater and will loosen up my grip to let a pellet or two release and float up to the top.  If the Koi refuse to take the food from your hand, do not feed them that day. Don’t worry, you will not starve your fish in this process. They will quickly get the idea that if they want to eat, they must get the food from you. Food is your number one motivator when it comes to wild animals, and no fish will simply starve itself because it is unsure of the situation. Doing this everyday, repeatedly will get them comfortable with you and earn their trust and pretty soon it’ll become habit.


Koi are social creatures and what I’ve found is that once one of your fish gets the hang of it and starts slurping from your hands, It’ll entice the others to follow in a heard-like mentality. Once one fish starts, pretty soon they’ll all join in!