dogface pufferfish care guide article

Dogface Puffer Fish Care Guide

The most polarizing saltwater fish in the aquarium hobby has to be the dogface puffer fish. You either think they’re awesome to look at or awful. There is no in-between. The one thing we can all agree with is that it certainly has an unfortunate name, which may be why they also go by the name of black-spotted pufferfish.

Their eyes and snout clearly remind me of a dog’s, which is amazing to see in the reef tank. And they certainly have a lot of personality. I just can’t make up my mind whether I think they look really cool, or really weird (and therefore cool by proxy).

A Few Interesting Notes

What it lacks in raw (traditional) beauty, the dogface puffer fish makes up for with cool and interesting factoids.

Did you know

  • They have no scales
  • No pelvic fins
  • No lateral line
  • No motorcars…not a single luxury
  • An outer and inner layer of skin (that’s how it inflates/deflates) that allows them to double in size when scared or provoked
  • And a face only a mother could love

brown colored dogface puffer fish

In addition to the short snout and pouty eyes, this rough-skinned fish also has a set of teeth that would make your orthodontist jealous. These teeth are shell-crushing vices because their natural food is shellfish.

Natural Range

The dogface puffer fish is a saltwater species predominantly found in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Dogface Pufferfish Aquarium Care

Dogface puffer fish are best cared for by “intermediate” aquarists with at least some experience in catering for unique species–mostly because of their picky feeding habits. You’re not likely going to get this hungry meat-eater to learn to take flakes.

And even if you did, you’d have a major dentistry bill on your hands, since this saltwater fish’s teeth are made for cracking shells and will grow too large if a dog faced puffer doesn’t encounter enough hard stuff to wear them down.

How big do dogface puffer fish get?

Dogface pufferfish can grow to be about 12-13 inches as adults but are typically sold at a much smaller size.

Water Parameters

The dogface puffer fish doesn’t require anything special, in terms of water quality. The standard reef aquarium water parameters are sufficient. Temperature, pH, Nitrates, and Salinity are the most important parameters for these fishes.

  • pH – 8.1-8.4
  • Temp – around 780F
  • Nitrates – as close to zero as possible
  • Salinity – 35 g/L

What do dogface puffer fish eat?

Dogface puffer fish are usually nocturnal hunters out in the ocean. When introduced to captivity, they might initially appear shy, refusing the food you provide. As it acclimates into this new state, they become bolder, sometimes pleading for food in that charming, puppy-like manner.

They feed mostly on invertebrates with such species as mollusks, algae, crustaceans, sponges, corals, and sea squirts an important part of its diet. Their strong, hard teeth will have little problems tearing into the shells of these species, even benefitting from constantly chewing on corals that wear down its constantly growing teeth.

In your home aquarium, their diet should consist of meaty foods, such as raw shrimp, squid, krill, mussels, and clams. Invertebrate foods with hard shells and are needed to help keep their teeth from overgrowing.

Minimum Tank Size

The dogface puffer fish can grow to be over a foot in length (that’s around 30+ centimeters for those of you using the metric system–but then again, those of you using the metric system know how to convert that…it’s the rest of us that don’t know how…).

So…that means you are best to keep them in a tank that’s about 75-90 gallons (I trust you’ll do your own conversion there if needed, that last one was exhausting 🙂 )

blackspotted dog faced puffer fish in a reef tank

Compatibility with the dog faced puffer fish

The dogface puffer fish is considered to be non-aggressive or semi-aggressive saltwater aquarium fish, as long as you’re not a tasty invertebrate–because they have giant teeth for breaking into and eating clams, crabs, and shrimps. They should otherwise leave your fishes and corals alone.

Due to their large size and meat-eating disposition, they are often kept in tanks with larger aggressive or predator fishes.

Ideal tankmates would be other non-aggressive (or moderately aggressive) puffer species, triggers, lionfishes, snowflake eels, possibly large select tang species, and large wrasses or angelfish will make for good companions. Fish with long fins might find the pufferfish nipping on their fins.

Important Considerations when caring for the dogface pufferfish

Feeding your dogface puffer fish with hard-shelled invertebrates will help check the growth of its teeth. If you’re not careful, the teeth could grow so large that they prevent the dog faced puffer fish from even being able to eat anything. That is why I recommend only intermediate or advanced aquarists try their hand at caring for man’s best (aquatic) friend.

Also, if your motivation for keeping these amazing creatures…is that you love the idea of watching a puffer inflate itself…you should probably think again.

Okay, I’m on your side, it sounds like it would be awesome to see and show off. But it’s not good for the fish. Dogface puffer fishes obviously only inflate themselves when they are stressed, and things can go wrong when they do.

If they may get too much air during this process, they could have trouble shrinking back to normal size and die. Which would be a big bummer for both of you, but mostly for your dog faced puffer.

Here is a short video that shows what this looks like, in case you’re interested:

Please also note that the dogface pufferfish sometimes proves difficult to feed, especially when stressed, insecure, or shy. This is especially the case when they are first introduced into the tank. Make sure they feed properly before purchase.

Slow feeding is sometimes the result of internal parasites, which a proper dose of fenbendazole will help eradicate.

How much is a dogface pufferfish?

A dogface puffer fish can cost anywhere from about $40 to hundreds of dollars, based on the size and beauty. The common range is probably $50-90

For more information

Finally, if you want to dive deeper and learn more about caring for the dog faced puffer in a saltwater aquarium check out this video:


What to read next

If you are looking for other aggressive saltwater aquarium fish compatible with the dog faced puffer, you may want to check out:

The Fantastic foxface rabbitfish

Or, if the aggressive nature or invertebrate-eating aspects of the dog faced puffer have you reconsidering, you may want to check out:

The Magnificent marine betta


The dogface puffer fish is certainly an interesting saltwater fish worthy of consideration as you plan out the livestock additions for your own tank. They are big, (sometimes) beautiful and are certainly eyecatching in the tank, as they swim around seeming to crave your attention.

They require some specialized care in terms of what and how often you feed them so that your dog faced puffer doesn’t develop dental problems as they grow older.

The black-spotted puffer is a shell-cracking, invertebrate eating machine, which means it isn’t totally reef safe. But if you have a large tank where you want to keep aggressive or semi-aggressive fish, the dogface puffer fish could be a cool choice.

dogface puffer fish care guide article

What do you think?

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think? Awfully beautiful? Beautifully awful? Quirky, cool, and personable? What’s your reaction to the dogface pufferfish?

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