Caring For Your Fish While You’re On Vacation

Even the most dedicated aquarist needs to be away from their fish from time to time. You might have to go travelling for work, or an unexpected illness or injury could keep you away from home for a while. You might be taking a vacation for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Whether it’s a vacation of just a few days or you’re away for a longer period, there are steps you need to take to ensure your fish are well cared for while you’re absent.

Although fish have a reputation for being low-maintenance, you can’t just up and go.
You need to make sure you have all the right things in place before you head off.

There are so many questions to consider:

  • How long can fish live without food in an aquarium?
  • How long can you leave your aquarium without a water change?
  • What kind of automatic feeding options are available?
  • What about filtration?
  • Should you leave your aquarium lights on or off when you’re on vacation?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about setting up your aquarium so that you can go away on vacation and know that your fish will still be happy, healthy and pleased to see you when you get home.

Feeding your fish while you’re on vacation

Food is the first thing you need to consider if you’re going away on a holiday. Like all animals, fish need food to live!
Feed them too much, or too little, and you’re already setting yourself up for problems that can include disease or even death. Some greedy fish can’t help eating everything in sight, while others can be picky eaters who need to have their food presented in just the right way at a regular time each day.
Either way, food is the most important thing to get right when you’re getting ready to go on a vacation.
The preparations you make will depend on the kind of fish you’re keeping in your aquarium. Being without food for 2-4 days is something that most fish can bear without any problems.
So if you can’t find someone to “sit” your fish and feed them while you’re gone, you can probably still go away for a long weekend without too much need for concern.
But of course, all fish are different, and this 2-4 day guideline is just that – a guideline. The exact period will depend heavily on your exact fish – their age, weight, character and health will all have an impact on how long they can go without food.

How long can fish go without food?

Some hardier species of fish can survive as long as two or three weeks without food.
This is a long time for a fish to be starving though, and it can be dangerous to your pets’ health as they will need to tap into their reserves to keep going while they’re not eating. Starvation can obviously lead to stress, as well as potentially to organ failure and eventually, to death.

Here are some guidelines for how long some common species of fish can go without food.
Take this with a grain of salt and although some fish can stay long time without food, we do not recommend to stretch them to the limit.

  • Cichlids

    many reports they can go without food for up to 2 weeks, especially if they’re large. We do not advise to stretch the period without food that long.

  • Glofish

    can go without food for over two weeks, but they’d rather not

Hopefully though, you don’t have to put your fish through this kind of starvation and stress.
There are a number of ways you can ensure your fish have access to sufficient food while you’re away.
In the next section we’ll look at vacation feeders for fish, slow release fish feeders, automatic fish feeders and fish blocks that your fish can nibble while you’re on vacation.

Fish blocks

What are fish blocks? Do fish feeder blocks work?

Fish blocks are the generic name given to a range of slow-release feed products that you can add to your aquarium.
They’re hard, densely packed little blocks that disperse food over a period of time.

However, they’re only designed to be used with a small amount of fish, and there’s no way to monitor how often your pets will nibble at the block, so they can be eaten up relatively quickly and also lead to bloating issues if you have greedy eaters in your tank.
Some aquarists don’t like to use fish blocks because they feel that fish feeder blocks lack adequate nutrition.
Fish blocks are also known for creating large amounts of pollution in the tank.
After all, you are dropping a large block of feed directly into the water, where it will begin to dissolve and degrade immediately.
And you’re not home to tidy up the waste and change the water!
Some products on the market include water-clarifying ingredients to try to counteract this problem.
There are also special products on the market that are made from ingredients that won’t cloud your aquarium water like a dry feed block.
Tetra gel feeder blocks can be a good alternative, as they don’t disintegrate on their own. Check it out on Amazon if you want to know more.
Fish feeder blocks do have the advantage of being inexpensive, easy to buy and simple to use, so it makes them a popular option. Vacation fish blocks can help get you out of a tight spot if you need to go away suddenly, or when you can’t find a friend or neighbour to help feed your fish.

Here are a few options you might consider if you think that holiday feeder blocks could work for you. You can check them out on Amazon if you want to learn more:

This is a video that shows how blocks can work with goldfish

Automatic fish feeders

An automatic fish feeder is another option for ensuring your fish get the nutrition they need while you’re away.

An Automatic Fish Feeder It does exactly what you’d expect:
dispenses food into the tank automatically, at a certain time of day and in the right pre-programmed quantity.

Automatic fish feeders are simple to install and easy to use.
It’s advisable to invest in one that is high-quality and reliable, because an automatic fish feeder can only feed your fish if it’s working!
If an automatic fish feeder suddenly stops working it could lead to disaster, and you might come home to dead fish.
And if it isn’t reliable and dispenses more food into the aquarium than it should, your fish can also suffer, either because they overeat and bloat up, or from the higher levels of ammonia that will quickly build up in their tank.

You can fill automatic fish feeders with tropical fish flakes, or other flake or pellet foods.
With most models it should be at least several weeks before you need to refill the food container, which means you can be away for quite a long time without needing to worry about your pets.
Most are fully adjustable, so you can program it to release as much or as little food as you need it to.
Some are even able to let you choose how often you want your fish to be fed, such as twice a day with a six-hour interval.
Most automatic fish feeders also work by using batteries, so that they’re able to continue feeding your fish even if there are electrical surges or breaks while you’re away.

If you decide to use an automatic feeder, it’s a good idea to try it out in advance of your holiday.
Set it up and give it a go the week before you leave.
That way, you can test it to make sure you understand the settings, that you’ve programmed it properly, and that it’s working the way it should.

Can you make an automatic fish feeder yourself? Yes you can.
DIY automatic fish feeders are easy to put together – but they’re only going to be as good as your skills are.
Are you a regular home DIY-er? If so, then this could be a good option.
Check out this video on how to build one yourself.

If not, then it’s probably best to buy a tried-and-tested product so that you can be confident about your fish.
As stated earlier, it’s critical to invest in a high-quality product if you’re thinking about using an automatic fish feeder.
Check out this post where we have reviewed some of the best feeders available on the market.

Use a “fish-sitter” to look after your fish

Even if you have the best automatic fish feeder in the world, sometimes you might need a little extra help with your finned friends.
Maybe one of your fish is sick, or needs special care? Or maybe you are just nervous about leaving them on their own and you’d prefer to have someone check in on them or look after them full-time.
Whatever the reason, sometimes the best option can be to get a fish-sitter. This might be a relative, a colleague or a neighbour that you know well enough and trust to care for them properly.

Don’t have someone in your life who can do this for you?
These days there are plenty of pet sitting services that you can use to find someone.
Check the noticeboard at your local veterinarian clinic or pet store, and staff there can usually recommend one or two names as well.

You might also consider using a service like www.trustedhousesitters.com.
Sites like these connect people who need petsitters, with people who can help.
Often it will be people who are travelling and use petsitting as a way of seeing new cities and countries.

The great thing is that everyone using these kinds of sites knows that pet care is involved and so you will usually get animal lovers who are more than happy to stay at your house for free in exchange for caring for your home and pets while you’re away.

They understand the responsibility of caring for your pets properly.
You will usually create a profile and a listing setting out your needs, what kind of animals you have and their care schedules, along with a little information about your home.
You’ll receive responses from sitters and can choose who you think would be best.

The best thing is that most sites operate on a verified feedback process, so you can select 5-star sitters that other people have had great experiences with.
This can help you to be confident knowing that your animals will be well looked after – because you will also be asked to leave a review after the pet-sitting has finished, and the sitters will want a good review!

Many sites offer additional services like police checks for sitters and online 24-hour veterinary advice care lines. This can be invaluable if a sitter needs advice while you’re away and they’re not able to get in touch with you directly.

The site may charge an annual registration fee to access the listings, but they can be an excellent way of accessing a network of reliable, verified sitters whenever you need them.

This is an especially good idea if your fish need medication or other special care. You can use a days-of-the-week pill container to measure out medication, or even food if you are particularly anxious.

When you leave your fish in the care of a sitter, you can ask them to keep you updated with messages and even pictures of your fish.
Many visiting sitters expect to do this as part of the deal, and it can really help you to relax knowing that your fish are well taken care of.

Keep your aquarium water clean

Should we even mention fish are sensitive to their tank water?

However this tip may be seem counterintuitive: the last thing you want to do right before going on vacation is to do a full water change in your aquarium.
A partial water change can however be done.
Introducing clean water will help to remove toxins and lower the stress levels of your fish, which can help keep them healthy while you’re gone.
It also means the tank water level will be at full strength at the start of your vacation, which will help manage evaporation.

Things may be different if you have a small tank and you’re going on vacation for longer than a few days. In this case a partial water change might not be enough. You might need to do a 50-100% water change, especially if you keep sensitive fish like Bettas. It all depends on the size of your tank and your livestock.

If your tank is less than 2 gallons you should consider doing at least an 80% water change on the day that you leave, and doing a full change on the day you get back.
If you’ve got a small 1 gallon tank then you really should have a pet sitter do a daily water change to keep your fish healthy. Toxins can build up super fast in a small tank and coming home to dead fish is not the kind of homecoming you want.

Managing the water levels in the tank

If you’re worried about the water level getting too low while you’re away, you can put in an automatic water top-up device to help manage the situation.
They come in several different styles and functions.

Some work by using gravity, so that as the water level drops in your aquarium, the extra water slowly feeds into the tank to keep it at the optimum level.

Other products use a sensor and a pump to do the same thing.
These ones need electricity so be sure you have a back-up power solution in case of an outage while you’re gone.

Either way, it’s a good idea to set this up well before you go away on any vacation, so that you can test it and be sure it’s operating properly.

Here are two options to consider if you’re thinking of adding an automatic top-up device you can check out on Amazon:

Filters: checking, cleaning, changing

Checking your filter is an important task before you go away on vacation.
Your filter is an essential piece of equipment that removes poisons and impurities from your aquarium’s water, so it’s crucial that it’s in top shape while you’re gone.
It also moves your tank water around so that there’s adequate oxygen in the water.

It’s a good idea to rinse or clean your aquarium filter media before you leave. This will help ensure your filter can cope while you’re away.
You could also replace half of the media, just to ensure that everything is working the way it should be.

This isn’t necessary for power filters though, because they have an alternative path for water to return to the aquarium if the filter becomes clogged.

Lights

If you’re going away for vacation, it can be hard to know what to do with your aquarium lights.
Leave them on? Turn them off?
Set them to a timer so that they turn on and off by themselves?

Like all creatures, fish get used to their daily routine.
They know when to expect their lights to come on, when their meals are due to arrive, and when the lights usually go off.
It’s like the routine you have when you get up, shower, and have breakfast – or when you come home and shut the curtains and settle down for the evening.

All animals adapt to a particular kind of circadian rhythm that governs their activities during the day and their sleep at night (or vice versa, for the nocturnal ones). Disrupting this rhythm can be stressful to your fish.

A good way of ensuring that your fish can continue to go about their daily routine is by using a timer on your aquarium lights. If you have live freshwater plants in your tank, or saltwater corals, you’re probably already doing this in order to provide the light spectrum they need for healthy growth.

Many lights have this timing capability built into their functions, so it might be a simple matter of just learning how to use the feature.
If your lights don’t have an automatic timer, you can purchase one cheaply and install it directly if you don’t fancy replacing your light completely.

Using a timer means your fish can continue with their regular day and night cycles, keeping them happier and healthier while you’re away.
Check out our posts here and here if you are interested to know more about aquarium lighting.

Water temperature

It’s important to ensure your aquarium stays at its optimum temperature while you’re on vacation.
Fish can be deeply affected by changes in both water temperature and ambient room temperature – that is, by the temperature of the air around their tank.

If you’re going away during summer, set your air-con to kick in if the room temperature rises about 80F, and this will help to keep your fish comfortable. If there’s a heat wave predicted and you don’t have an air-conditioner, you really should think about having someone come in to check on the fish and adjust the temperature by putting on a fan or something similar.

If you’re on a winter vacation, make sure that your home heating system is working properly, and make sure you don’t turn the furnace down too low.

If you have a pet-sitter living in your home, ensure they understand what the best room temperature is for your aquarium. You don’t want them to abruptly change the thermostat and suddenly set it too high or too low – this can have a real impact on the health of your fish. Water that is too cold or too hot can cause stress or even worse.

If you’re already running an aquarium heater for your tank, then you’ve probably got the issue under control, as long as it automatically shuts off once the aquarium reaches its optimum temperature.

If your heater doesn’t have this automatic shut-off function, you might need to test out keeping the air-conditioning running in the room your aquarium is in, in order to set the air temperature while you’re gone.

But did you know that cooling the water by a few degrees can actually help your cause if you are going away and you don’t have a petsitter or another way of feeding your fish during your absence?
Fish respond to a lower water temperature by becoming less active.
Their metabolism slows down and they don’t burn food or their stored reserves as quickly as they would do in water that is the regular temperature.

So, by adjusting your heater or air temperature a few degrees or using an aquarium chiller , If you already have one, you can reduce their consumption of calories.

Of course, you shouldn’t rely on this as a regular strategy, or a long-term one – it’s something that should only be used short-term and if you’re in a real fix about the feeding.

“Boarding” your fish while you’re on vacation

Some aquariums or pet shops in your area might offer “boarding” facilities that you can take advantage of when you have to travel.
This can be an expensive option, but it can also be a lifesaver if you’re in a bind.

And if you’re in a situation where you’ll be going away for a long time – weeks or months – and you don’t want to have a petsitter stay in your home to look after your fish, this can be the next best option.

Aquarium stores will know exactly how to care for the kind of fish you have, and they can provide the best environment.
Just make sure you do your research properly and choose a provider that you feel comfortable with.

If there’s no one in your area, your local pet shop or aquarium store might still be able to recommend another option nearby.

Conclusion

By taking some simple steps in advance, you can put everything in place to ensure that your fish are happy and healthy while you’re away on vacation.

Prepare an automatic feeder, set an automatic timer on your lights, check your thermostat, clean the filter, and talk a friend or family member through what they should do in case of an emergency.

Then you can head off on your holidays knowing you’ve done the best for your finned friends.
Bon voyage!

Fish care while on vacation. Here are the tips to travel leaving your aquarium taken care of and your fish safe to make sure you enjoy them when back.

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