Can You Buy a Piranha as a Pet? {Are They Safe And Legal To Keep?}

Would you like a pet piranha? Are you worried about legal or safety issues? In this article, we’ll find out if you can have a pet piranha.

Can You Buy a Piranha as a Pet? You can take care of a piranha in your tank if there is enough room, but you must check if it’s legal to do so in your country or state. A piranha is not a pet. You will be an aquarist who manages and cares for the life a piranha or school of piranhas in captivity.

The experience can be quite interesting, entertaining and rewarding. Let’s find out the details required to get you a piranha or preferably 4-6 of them.

Are Piranhas Safe?

Yes. Piranhas are depicted as blood thirsty predatorial killers in movies or pop culture. The truth is that they are more often opportunistic scavengers and enjoy eating fallen fruits, seeds or insects in their natural habitat.

We can discuss the types of piranhas in detail if you read further. Please don’t stick your hand in the tank and use tongs to deliver their meals.

Make sure you have a tank that is at least 20-30 gallons for one piranha, but keep in mind like they feel safer and thrive in groups of 4-6 or more. This means you would need at least a 100 gallon tank for this hobby of keeping and caring for piranhas.

Which Type Of Piranha Should I Get?

There are many types of piranhas that fall into these 5 main genus categories. They are as follows:

  1. Genus Pygocentrus
  2. Genus Serrasalmus
  3. Genus Pristobrycon
  4. Genus Catoprion
  5. Genus Pygopristis

1. Pygocentrus

There are 3 main species of this genus. They are:

  • Cariba
  • Red Bellied Piranha
  • Piraya

The red-bellied piranha is the most common species that is kept in captivity. These piranhas are native to the Amazon rivers of South America.

2. Serrasalmus

There are over 22 species of Serrasalmus piranhas. While most piranhas enjoy being in schools, these particular types do not. Here are a few of them below:

  • Ruby-red piranha.
  • Brandtii
  • Rhombeus
  • Ruby-throated diamond

If you only want one piranha all alone in a 20-30 gallon tank, you can consider a ruby-red piranha.

3. Pristobrycon

There are about 5 species under this genus.

  • Careospinus
  • Maculipinnis
  • Striolatus
  • Calmoni 
  • Aureus

They are not as common in the piranha keeping hobby. Chances are that you may not find these for sale.

4. Catoprion

The wimple piranha may not be an actual piranha. The science behind it is debatable, but we still include them in this category all to themselves.

5. Pygopristis

The big-toothed piranha belongs to this group. They are also known as the Denticulata. Their teeth are crenulated.

You will more often than not find red-bellied piranhas over other species. Please check if your country or state has made piranhas legal to own.

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Is it Legal to Keep a Pet Piranha?

The legal issue of keeping a piranha in captivity is the most important one. You will be facing fines or possible jail time in some countries. Please check for the most up to date information for your location.

The following countries have deemed it ILLEGAL to keep piranhas:

  • Philippines
  • Malaysia
  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Australia

The states in the list below are also FORBIDDEN in the USA to have piranhas in captivity as part of the aquarist hobby:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Check with your local governments and authorities to make sure you can keep a piranha if your state or country is not included in the above prohibited lists.

What Do I Need To Do For A Piranha?

You will need a tank that is at least 20 gallon in size for one piranha. This is on the small side. Go for 30 gallons or larger if you can. Add 4-6 piranhas to mimic their natural habitat and increase the tank to 100 gallons or more.

Keep the tank out of direct sunlight to prevent unhealthy bacteria growth or algae blooms. Piranhas can get expensive when you continuously buy live feeder fish for their meals.

It’s best to adjust your piranha to flakes or pellets, but this may take weeks of patience before they take to it. Remember that a piranha can live up to 10-20 years with you so please keep this commitment in mind when considering purchasing them.

What Supplies Do I Need For A Piranha?

You should start with a spacious tank. Piranhas are messy eaters and need strong filtration to remove leftover debris Consider the following items:

  • powerhead
  • air stones
  • two filters or a powerful canister filter
  • live, frozen, freeze dried and prepared foods
  • heater
  • gravel vacuum
  • plants
  • decorations
  • thermometer
  • lights
  • water testing kit

Filtration is crucial and so is the beneficial bacteria in the filter’s media. Many piranha keepers like to run two filters on opposite ends to handle their messy eating. The tank is going to be over 100 gallons if you keep 4-6 piranhas and one small filter won’t cut it.

What Are The Water Parameters For A Piranha?

Ideal water parameters for piranhas are as follows:

  • pH: 6.5-7.8
  • alkalinity: 50 ppm to 140 ppm
  • nitrates: less than 5-10 ppm
  • ammonia and nitrites: 0 ppm
  • temperature: 75° and 80° F

Water testing strips are not as reliable for exact readings. Consider investing in an API Master Testing Kit. The readings are more accurate and dependable. Piranhas are messy eaters and demand clean water.

What Should I Feed Piranhas?

Piranhas are omnivores that will eat just about anything you offer them. Some believe that live feeder fish work best, but they may arrive with internal diseases that could transfer over to your piranha in some cases.

Beef hearts and bloodworms are commonly given, but should be offered sparingly. Here is a list of great options to feed your piranha once a day:

  • frozen or fresh fish
  • crabs
  • shrimps
  • prawns
  • krill
  • spinach
  • rainworms
  • potato
  • dead insects
  • seeds
  • shrimp pellets
  • cichlid pellets

Use tongs when offering pieces of food. Mimic the swimming pattern of live food to entice your piranha to capture and bite it.  Always remove leftovers to limit ammonia spikes caused by the debris left behind.

What Are Some Piranha Substitutes?

If you think piranhas are not for you at this time, consider the following fish that many piranha enthusiasts also enjoy:

  • Koi fish
  • Electric Eel
  • Silver Dollar Fish
  • Clown Loach
  • Peacock Bass

Thanks for visiting for another article on Piranhas that we greatly enjoy taking care of in our aquariums. Check out more of our articles on the variety of aquatic life we research and keep. Bye for now!

Brian Arial

Brian Arial has kept fish for leisure and worked with fish stores for most of his life. He enjoys writing and caring for aquariums and ponds.

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