How to Care for Aquarium Fish While on Vacation
It can be stressful to organize care for your pet when you’re out of town. Thankfully, aquarium fish are generally on the easier side of care requirements because you don’t need to walk them, let them out to use the restroom, or even feed them every day. Here are four methods we recommend for ensuring your fish stay happy and healthy while you’re away.
Before You Leave…
Give your fish tank a good cleaning a couple of days before your departure. Do a partial water change, vacuum the substrate with an aquarium siphon, and clean the filter if needed. The tank maintenance is completed 48 hours in advance so that you have time afterwards to observe the fish and make sure everything’s working well before you leave. For example, some fish keepers have rushed their water changes at the last minute and then forgotten a tiny detail – like turning on the filter again – thus leaving their fish in a precarious situation while on vacation.
Clean your aquarium a day or two before leaving so you have time to make sure your fish, water parameters, and equipment are all doing well.
Method 1: Don’t Feed Your Fish
If you’re only leaving for a week or less, the easiest method is to not feed your fish. This may sound harsh, but remember that in the wild, fish must find their own food and are not guaranteed a meal every day. Your fish will be able to survive for up to seven days without food if they are healthy.
Our fish store has a decade-long history of treating thousands of fish using preventative medication and no feedings for seven consecutive days. The corner cases where this method should not be used are if a) you are raising baby fish that require daily meals, b) your fish are not completely healthy and need regular feedings to help with the recovery process, or c) you will be gone for more than a week.
Method 2: Create an Auto Feeder
An automatic fish food dispenser will be your best friend if your situation is one of these rare cases. Load the feeder with flakes or pellets, program what times you want it to feed each day, and mount it on the rim of the aquarium. Make sure to test the feeder several days before your departure to confirm that it’s working properly and the amount of food it’s dropping is appropriate. We recommend feeding your fish only enough food to last you the trip. Fish waste builds up faster when there aren’t many people around.
The Aquarium Company-Op Auto Feeder lets you feed your fish up to four times per day. The battery can also be recharged up to three months.
Method 3: Find a Pet Sitter
Asking friends, family members, or a hired pet sitter to watch your fish has both pros and cons. There are advantages. Your pet sitter can notify you if the fish is sick and send you photos and video to help you troubleshoot. They might also be able, if needed, to maintain the tank and top off water. Pet sitters may not be as familiar with aquariums and can cause more harm than good.
A common problem is overfeeding because the pet sitter feels like “the fish looked hungry,” which results in poor water quality and potentially loss of life. One solution is to use a pill box filled with the right measurements of food for each day. The pet sitter should remind them that they cannot make up lost days by giving excess food from previous days. Fish are not able to finish extra meals so excess flakes end up polluting their water. Instead, you can skip past containers and only give the food for the remaining days.
Frozen foods are an alternative to fish flakes or pellets. They often come in cubes which make it easy to measure for each tank.
It is a good idea to ask your pet sitter for frozen food instead of dry foods. The fish will eat it less often and won’t get sick as often. You can also label your fish tanks to make it easier for your pet sitter to know how many frozen foods each aquarium needs.
Method 4: Picky Eaters can use live foods
If you are going to be away for longer than a week, it is impossible to find a pet sitter. Your fish will not eat pellet food from an auto feeder. Your options are fairly limited, but we still have some suggestions that might work. If your fish can only eat frozen or live food, you might seed the tank with live freshwater foods, such as snails, blackworms, daphnia and scuds. You can make live foods last longer by placing them in a floating container. The hole should be small enough to prevent fish from getting inside but large enough so that food can crawl out or swim out.
Daphnia, tiny swimming crustaceans, are used often as live foods to feed fish and fry.
You may notice that we did not recommend using vacation feeder blocks or other time release banquet blocks. While they may be appropriate for adding more calcium to the diet of your fish and invertebrates, they have the tendency to cause ammonia spikes and algae blooms when used during vacations because they often dissolve into a mess of tiny particles that larger fish can’t eat.
Hopefully, you found one of these four methods helpful as you get ready for your next holiday or business trip. Happy fish keeping and safe travels!