When you own an aquarium and keep fish, it is up to you to take care of them so that they stay alive. Just because you want to go on a vacation does not mean that your fish do not need to be taken care of. If it is just feeding, then that can be reasonably easy to accomplish with automatic fish feeders.
If you are going on an extended vacation, you will need to figure out how to get your fish tank water changes. Personally, I keep a fish tank without a lid, an open-air top, and the evaporation alone would be a concern over two weeks of absence. This would need to be refilled at the least, but like always a partial water change is the best.
Doing regular feeding of your fish is important. I feel that your feeding pattern should be a bit more sporadic instead of constant. What I mean by this is that you do not want to feed your fish every day like clockwork. If you skip a day a week or even once in a while, then it will help keep your fish condition. This conditioning allows for a smoother time for the fish while you are away.
Some people may decide that keeping fish interferes with their plans to travel. For instance, my parents in their retirement age wanted to travel the world. My dad always kept fish the whole time I was growing up, so that was very common in our house. He is a Pisces so fish come naturally to him. The thing is they wanted to travel and it became a hassle trying to arrange for someone to watch the tank. I offered to watch them but since I live an hour away, this wasn’t feasible for a daily task.
If you have rare or hard-to-keep fish, then it will definitely be a concern when you leave them home alone. I wouldn’t want to risk this if the fish is really finicky. I also wouldn’t allow a just any fish sitter to take care of a special fish without them being a fish person themselves.
When you go on vacation you shouldn’t only think about your aquarium fish but also if you have a pond. They need food just like any other fish. I would often go feed and refill the water for my parents’ pond while they were out on holiday. The exposed surface of the pond and being outside will cause excess evaporation. If left over several months the water level will become dangerously low.
NOTE: You shouldn’t let your fish go without food for too long. The maximum I think that they would be happy is around three days. I would never replicate this three-day rule, stay within one day, and rarely a second day.
I completely understand that when you are ready to go on vacation it is easy to overlook things. You are focused on relaxation and adventure, not on the everyday work that needs to be done at home. I cannot stress how important it is to not forget about your fish in your planning.
How long can fish live without food? This really depends on the type of fish and your normal feeding habits. In doing my researching online, I see a large variety of time frames offered for this. Some state that in the end, the fish can go up to several weeks without food. I don’t see how this is possible, they do not have the body mass, nor the reserves to survive that long.
For the most part, if it is just a quick, couple-day trip then you may not need to feed them. They will be ok waiting until you return. This may not be the case for all fish. I try to keep my fish conditioned to sporadic shortages of food. I feed my fish for 6 days in a row and then skip a day. This makes it so that my fish are not as spoiled and they can take a shortage of food more easily. You have to realize that they do not have a constant food source in the wild, sometimes they would have to go without.
Nevertheless, you want to plan accordingly for the length of your trip. Long trips require that you take more care in the preparations. The fish depend on you and will go hungry otherwise. Make sure you are taking into account the different food types for the different fish you have. The bottom feeders, algae eaters, flake food eaters, and meat eaters. They all need something different.
If you have fish that require a live food then this might not be so easy to prepare. Without a fish sitter, I think the only option would be to give them the frozen variety. This can be thawed, but still needs someone to give it to them. This only saves the hassle of keeping like food for someone who may not have a lot of experience with it, to begin with. What I am trying to get at with saying that, is to keep everything as simple as possible for them and you will get the best success.
While the live food is focused on carnivores, the omnivores and herbivores do not require as much attention. They could often be fed the same thing for a limited time. I say this because it is always good to put proteins in the omnivores diets.
NOTE: The more you prepare for your trip the better. If you do a water change prior to leaving then that will help keep the aquarium clean longer.
TYPES OF VACATION FEEDERS
Mechanical Feeders – These are a battery powered option that is often hang-on-back too. You fill the compartment with the dry fish food, then adjust the settings. You can define how much food is dispensed each day. I recommend that you do a mix of dry foods, which is something you should be doing anyway. This variety helps with the fish getting bored with the same food, and also each type adds something new to their diet.
The mechanical feeders are the go-to-option to feed your fish while away. Your tank could probably go a couple weeks depending on how many fish you have and what you adjust the feeder to. I recommend the Eheim Everyday Auto Feeder it works great for vacations and like the name suggest, every day. You just program it to your normal feeding time and it’s ready to go. I like the feature that I can push to manually feed my fish if I want to give them a little extra.
This setup is pretty easy to operate, it isn’t like the dog food feeding machine from the Back to the Future movies. That doesn’t mean it can be used without instruction, so if you are having someone refill your automatic feeder, make sure to show them how it works beforehand.
Feeder Disk/Block – The idea here is that you drop an all in one solution into the tank and leave it. The block will break down slowly over time and give the fish something to eat off of. The feeder disk is made so that it provides all of the nutrients your fish will need.
I am not fully convinced with this idea. If the disk is left for too long, then it can affect the water chemistry. This polluting of the water column is going to stay there until you remove it. You will come home to a mess in the tank.
Gel Feeders – I like this one more than the disk or block feeder. These are in a fish-friendly gel. They are smaller and easier to handle. They will not pollute the water as much because you will not be overfeeding them. While they cannot be left out dry (or maybe they can?), you will have to keep them in the refrigerator. not all fish will eat them.
You can also make your own gel fish food. You can buy a powder online, such as the Repashy Soilent Green. You mix it up and put it in a mold to make small pieces. These are then fed to your fish. I haven’t tried this myself, but I would say that it could be useful. I would mix some more nutrients into it. I read that some fish were not interested in this food at all, so make sure you are testing beforehand.
Live Food – I would caution this and suggest that you only give live foods to fish that must have them, like piranha. There is also no automatic way to feed your fish either. You will need a fish sitter to be able to do this. The only thing I can think of that could be an alternative is frozen food, like Tubifex worms. That still needs to be fed through, no auto feeder for that, it would have to be pretty elaborate.
One idea is if you are not going to be long for too long you could a variety of different sized live foods in the tank. The smaller prey will be eaten first most likely and that leaves the adults to be eaten later.
Live food is not easy to handle. If your fish sitter is ill-prepared they will not have a good time. You need only the most trusted person for this. They could contaminate the tank easily if they are not careful.
Do It Yourself– So are there any do-it-yourself methods to vacation feeding? One option I found online talked about making calcium block feeders for invertebrate tanks. I also found a few automatic dispenser feeders as well. Neither of these seemed worth the hassle when you could get the Eheim feeder above and just be done with it. You should always test these methods, you don’t want the feeder not working on a long trip.
A good option for feeding your fish while away is a fish sitter. This can also be a house sitter if they are willing to do it for you. You will want to make a plan with your fish sitter. You want to prepare as much as you can, and reassure them off all steps needed. I would recommend that you provide extra food just in case they run out. Once again make sure they are willing and have the time, if something comes up, your fish will not be the priority. Of course, you would want to pick someone that you trust, and most likely it would be a friend or family member.
What about a fish keeping company/service? You may not have someone reliable to look after your fish when you are away. This is probably going to be a riskier method, but maybe not since it will have a company backing it. To find one I would check with your local pet store.
Sometimes senior centers will have elders who just want something to do. This can give them a fun and unique experience. I think I will try this one out next time, it should be fun. 🤭
It is best to go through a plan of action with your new fish sitter so that they are aware of what needs to be done. I cannot emphasize that enough. If they are not experienced with fish, then they should at least know the minimum things that should be done.
NOTE: If you are going with a fish sitter or service, make sure you are exchanging phone numbers. You need to keep a phone number so you can reach them, and to let them know how they can reach you. Depending on where you are going on holiday, you may have cellular reception, but not always.
WHAT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT
The risks of a fish sitter not having enough experience or care for your fish. This may not be a big deal for short trips, but long ones it is required. If they are not cautious then they can kill your fish easily. If it is a short trip, then it may be best to go without a sitter and let your fish fast.
The length of travel time would be the most important factor in determining how much care you need to give to your fish. If you are just going for the weekend and will be back in a few days then you will be fine to have your fish go without food. Their water parameters will not be an issue in this short of a timeframe either.
I would recommend testing the water parameters before and after your trip. This way you have a baseline as to how things went. If you come back and things are really out of whack then that means you must act quickly. You will need to do a water change, but make sure it is only a partial, you don’t want to cause other issues by changing the water too fast. I would look out for the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates to be in good levels.
Most fish kept in the aquarium hobby are tropical. They like their water to stay at a warm temperature. The optimal temperature for tropical fish would be from 75-80 degrees F, and I would say closer to the middle (77.5℉). The heater can then be argued as being the most important part of the fish tank. The fish can live without light, and for a time without water flow, but if the temperature drops below their normal acclimation, then they can freeze and die. Make sure you have checked your heater and it is functioning properly.
A timer for your lights is almost a requirement nowadays. I know it would make things very inconvenient for me if I didn’t have my lights on a timer. This is a normal everyday benefit that will only help with keeping your fish happy while away on holiday. The light isn’t critical to their survival but it helps with their day and night cycles. If you have plants, they need the light to make oxygen for your fish, so that kind of makes light more crucial I guess.
Normally I keep my fish tank uncovered, freely open to the air. When I go on vacation I pull out my aquarium covers. When stressed many fish will attempt to jump out of the water. If you do not have a cover they can end up on the floor and die.
This last one isn’t a concern but maybe a cool addition. With how cheap little cameras are becoming it may be a good idea to set one up facing your fish tank. This way you can check in on them while on vacation. If you see something wrong then you can call someone to take a look. These cameras that stream over the internet are so cheap now, you can even make your own with a cheap Raspberry Pi and the camera module. This option would be for the tinkerer, the cost and time is not going to beat out the other cheap solutions available now.
NOTE: I like to keep an extra heater and a hang on back filter handy. These two things can fail at any minute. If you don’t have one, you will need your fish sitter to go get one. If you don’t have a fish sitter you will not know until you get back. The heater is the more crucial of the two, your fish could die.
Check out this video from Everday Aquarist on YouTube, there are some good tips in this one. He talks about the slow release feeder blocks.
A vacation can be a good way to relax for anybody. If you are a fish keeper then you also need to think about them. They will be unable to relax while you are away unless you take proper precautions beforehand.
Planning for your fishes care is key to their happiness. If you are going to have a fish sitter then you want to be sure that you are making them aware of everything that needs to be done. Go through the routine with them, if you are using a feeder, show them how that works. Let them set it up so that you can see how they do it, and offer pointers if needed.
With all of the different types of feeding methods, you are sure to find something that works for you and your fish. I completely recommend the mechanical fish food feeder, the one from Eheim. This is a given even if you have a pet sitter. That means they don’t have to go over as often.
I know I only mentioned it once, but I still think the idea of a cheap streaming camera would work great. You would be able to check in on your aquascape and fishies to see what is going on. This will then allow you to alert your sitter to see if they can go take a closer look. It is a win-win in my book. Oh yeah something about watching your house too, whatever, it’s all about the fish!
To be able to alert your fish sitter you will need their contact information. I am sure you have already transferred this information since you are working together. If not, then you really need to get on that. They need to be able to get ahold of you and you need to reach them whenever something comes up. It may not be on their end, what if your plan is delayed and you can’t get back in the time you planned?
So with all this new information, you should be well prepared. This means you can just relax and have fun while away, knowing that everything is taken care of. Your fish will be happier and less stressed and you won’t have to stress about them any longer. Go enjoy yourself, but remember when you get back that your fish tank will most likely need attention.