Fish feeding and care while on vacation

For pet owners, planning for a long vacation invariably involves planning for the upkeep of their beloved pets while they are away.

For aquarists and fish hobbyists, fish feeding and care during the vacation is a million dollar question. After all, you are unlikely to carry your fish bowl or aquarium with you or leave it unattended without any preparations.

So how can you ensure proper fish care while you are on a weekend or longer vacation? Is coming back to a fish cemetery or getting a fish sitter the only options?

In this article, we look at answering these specific questions and share some specific products that help you in keeping the fish fed even in your absence. We will also share some easy to follow tips and tricks for fish care and feeding during holidays and vacation. Read On!

How long can the fish survive without feeding?

The first question that comes to mind while worrying about the arrangements to keep the fish fed during vacation is how long can the fish go without eating?

For pets as diverse as fish, there is no silver-bullet answer to this question and the actual response depends on a bunch of factors. Some of the major factors to consider while evaluating how long your fish can survive without feeding are:

  • Fish breed and feeding habits: The breed of the fish and their feeding habits are an important factor. Aquatic animals such as fish can be herbivores, carnivores or omnivores. Herbivorous fish such as tetras, rainbow fish, tangs and suckermouth catfish feed on plants, algae and need to feed more frequently (generally once a day) than carnivorous fish such as cichlids, which can easily go without food for seven to ten days. Adult omnivorous fish can also withstand fasting and can survive up to one week without being fed. Similarly, tropical freshwater fish are generally more adept at fasting than most other aquarium fish and can go without food for a longer time.
  • Size and age of the fish: The size and age of fish is another important factor that governs the duration for which the fish can survive without eating. Large fish with a size of 10 cm or more have adequate body mass and fat deposits in their body and hence can go without food for a longer time than smaller fish. Similarly, adult fish tend to withstand fasting better than fry and baby fish which may need to eat at least once or twice a day.
  • Ecological conditions in the aquarium: The ecological conditions within the fish tank such as water temperature, aeration, the quality of water and lighting are also some factors that affect the feeding needs of fish in the aquarium. Shorter daylight times, lower water temperature etc. help in reducing the fish metabolism, thereby allowing it to go without food for a longer time.
  • Additional factors: Additional factors such as the age of aquarium setup, the size of the fish tank, and the number of fish in the tank can also impact the feeding requirements of the fish. A long-established aquarium setup generally provides a more familiar ecosystem to the fish and they can go without food for a longer time, than in a newly started fish tank.
Factors Remarks
Fish breed and feeding habits Carnivores and Omnivores can survive longer without food – from five days to two weeks. Herbivores can survive for a shorter duration – two to three days. Tropical fish can generally survive longer than other aquarium fish.
Fish size and age Adult aquarium fish with a size of 10 cm or more can go for a longer time without food. Fry and Baby fish need to be fed at least once daily.
Ecological conditions in the aquarium Shorter daylight time and lower water temperature reduced fish metabolism, require less frequent feeding.
Additional Factors Fish in long-established, under-populated aquarium can survive longer without eating.

Based on the discussion above, you can safely assume that in most situations, adult aquarium fish can go without being fed for two to three days. Omnivore and carnivore fish can withstand fasting longer and can survive without eating for anywhere between five to seven days. For anything beyond that, you would need to make some special arrangements as we would discuss in the next sections.

Preparing your aquarium for vacation

Depending upon the duration for which you would be away from your aquarium, you would need to make some preparations to ensure that your fish continue to thrive in the fish tank even when you are not around.

Some common preparatory steps that you can undertake are listed below. Do not wait until the last moment to prepare your aquarium for your absence. It is better to start early (at least one week before you plan to leave).

  • Test the water quality in your fish tank – measure the pH, hardness, ammonia nitrate and nitrate content etc. You can use any at-home testing kit such as the API Aquarium Water Test Kit. This is especially important for saltwater and reef tanks.
  • Based on the water quality evaluation, replace some water in the tank. Never replace all the water in the tank as it can stress out the fish in the tank. If you are going for over a week, you can choose to add some additional water in the tank a day before your trip.
  • Check the water temperature to ensure that it is within the specified range. If you are going for longer than a couple of days, you might want to account for the temperature regulation in the house in your absence – air conditioning or furnace. Adjust the aquarium heater accordingly.
  • Check the filtration device in your tank. If it is clogged or close to expiration, replace it with a fresh carbon foam filter. After all, you do not want the water quality in your aquarium to deteriorate in your absence.
  • If you use lighting for your fish, set it up to a shorter daytime setup if required. As discussed in the previous section, shorter daytime reduces the metabolism of fish and helps them in surviving without food for a longer time.
  • For all the devices that use a battery or power supply, make sure you have them properly connected and the batteries replaced.
  • Carefully examine all the fish in your tank to ensure that they are healthy. You might have to get rid of an unhealthy fish from the aquarium before you leave.
  • If you are going to rely on not making any vacation feeding arrangements, pre-feed the fish with high-protein and high-fat diet for over a week. Do not overfeed them as it can do more harm than good.
  • If you opt for any of the fish feeding options – automatic feeders or fish feeding blocks, make sure you check them in front of you before leaving your fish with them. This is especially important for fish feeding blocks which can affect the chemistry of the water if the aquarium does not have proper filtration and aeration.
  • If you have herbivorous or omnivorous fish such as rainbow fish, tetras, even bettas etc. that can feed on algae, do not cleanup your tank as such fish can feed on the algae in the tank. But if you have carnivorous fish, cleanup your tank at least one week before leaving. Remove any algae, wipe the interiors and clean the gravel of any food waste.
  • If you have the luxury of a fish sitter, keep things as simple for him/her. Use an inexpensive plastic prescription planner for feeding portion size and hide the regular fish feed. Also, write down any special instructions and number of the local pet store for easy reference.
  • Lastly, enjoy your vacation and hope for the best!

You can use the below checklist to track your preparations:

Item Status
Water quality tested
Water replacement done
Water temperature adjusted
Aquarium lighting checked and adjusted
Filters and other devices checked
Batteries replaced
Fish checked
Tank cleaned(for omnivorous fish)/checked
Fish Sitter Identified and details shared
Vacation feeding arrangements done (optional)
Additional Arrangements I (optional)
Additional Arrangements II (optional)

Options for vacation feeding

Once you have made the necessary preparations for general fish care, the only other decision you need to make is to decide on the best approach to keep your fish fed in your absence. This is largely governed by the duration of your trip.

As discussed above, if you are not going to be around for only a couple of days and have healthy adult fish (tropical or otherwise), then you may not need to make any special preparations. The longer the vacation, the more serious feeding arrangements you need to make.

Before we look at the various options for vacation feeding, let us state the underlying recommendation that we have – when you are not around, it is better to have underfed fish that stay healthy than to overfeed the fish.

No Feeding arrangements

As discussed earlier, large adult fish (10 cm or longer) can easily go without food for three to four days. And if you have omnivorous or carnivorous fish such as betta or cichlids, they can fast for over a week.

So if your vacation is just a weekend or so, you do not really need to make any arrangements and just rely on the good health of your fish to survive the duration. For algae eaters, any algae build-up in the tank would provide some nourishment in absence of other food.

And if you have tropical omnivorous fish in the tank, then you can pre-feed them properly and leave them to use body fat and proteins to survive up to a week or so.

So what is this pre-feeding? Pre-feeding diet is high-protein, high-fat diet that you start feeding your fish about a week. Pre-feeding does not mean you overfeed the fish, it just means that you provide fish with a rich and healthy diet that can help fat built-up in the body.

Miscellaneous self-sustaining arrangements

If you are going on a 3-5 day vacation and are confident that your fish can survive without regular food supply, there are still some things you can leave them with to help them sustain longer without feeding.

One such arrangement, suitable for herbivorous and omnivorous fish is to have some live plants, dried seaweed or vegetables planted in the aquarium. Ecology of the Planted Aquarium is the perfect book to consult on the matter.

Repashy SuperGreen is another excellent algae gel premix for herbivorous fish. Simply prepare a gel block and leave it in your tank. This high protein feeding block can provide enough nutrition for a couple of days and the preparation is easy.

Repashy SuperGreen

For carnivorous fish, you can raise some shrimps in the tank. When the predatory fish are regularly fed, they do not harm these shrimps. However, in case of lack of food, these predators can feed on the shrimps.

Aquatic Arts 10 Live Amano Shrimp are one type of shrimps that can co-exist with aquarium fish and also provide emergency food.

5 Live Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata, aka Yamato shrimp)

Another option to leave the fish with some Daphnia – Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Daphnia is a popular option. Daphnia is excellent food for marine and fresh water fish such as tetras and betta. Even fry and baby fish would find them nutritious.

If you are a frequent traveler, then setting up a self-cleaning fish tank would be a perfect option for you. Such tanks require minimal maintenance and can go without cleaning for weeks.

Check out our article on the best self-cleaning fish tanks for some excellent aquaponics fish tanks available in the market.

Fish Sitter

If you are one of those persons who have the luxury of a friendly neighbor, a willing relative or someone else who can check on the aquarium periodically and feed the fish regularly, then opting for a fish sitter is probably one of the best solutions, even if you have employed mechanisms such as automatic fish feeders or fish feeding blocks.

Nothing beats a person who shares your love for fish to check on your fish tank at least once a day. You can even check out the local pet stores if they have a commercial fish sitter or aquarium care facility available for a price.

Even if you have opted for a fish sitter, try to keep things as simple as possible for the sitter. Write down simple one-line instructions on feeding times and any other care your tank may require. Also, share the phone number of the nearby pet store in case any supplies are required urgently.

To manage the portion size of daily feed, you can use an inexpensive plastic pill planner tray. Such a tray has separate compartments which can be used for daily feeding. Store the feed such as bloodworms and other live bait in the fridge or freezer if required.

Automatic Fish Feeder

Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder Programmable Automatic Food Dispenser

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Automatic fish feeders are the most reliable and popular option to ensure vacation fish feeding during long vacations.

Automatic fish feeders are battery or electricity-powered devices that can dispense pre-configured portions of fish food at a preset time interval. An automatic fish feeder can be securely attached to the fish tank and can feed the fish for anywhere from one to six weeks.

Most automatic fish feeders are designed to dispense fish feed 1-3 times per day and can support all common types of fish food – crisps, flakes and pellets. The schedule for dispensing the feed can be set using a simple electronic setup with buttons and LED display.

If you are looking for a reliable automatic fish feeder for your aquarium, look no further than the Eheim Everyday Auto Fish Feeder. This German-engineered automatic fish feeder is the most reliable automatic fish feeder available in the market.

For more information and options for automatic fish feeders, check out our article on the best automatic fish feeders.

And if you have the luxury of having an indoor pond or a large 1000 gallon aquarium, check out our article on the best automatic pond fish feeders.

Weekend and Vacation Fish Feeding Blocks

API VACATION PYRAMID FISH FEEDER 14-Day 1.2-Ounce Automatic Fish Feeder

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Weekend or vacation fish feeding blocks are time-released feeder blocks, which when added to the aquarium, dissolve slowly and release edible ingredients for fish to feed on. Weekend feeding blocks can last for 2-3 days, while the vacation feeding blocks can last from 7 to 14 days.

Slow release fish feeding blocks are suitable for all standard types of aquarium fish – freshwater and saltwater. They are designed with omnivorous contents – algae, plankton, freeze-dried worms and more. Some specialized options for specific breeds of fish such as bettas, pleco, and catfish are also available in the market.

Fish feeding blocks are a cheap, yet IMPERFECT solution and should never be used in tanks without proper filtration and aeration setup to circulate the water as they almost always affect the chemistry of the water.

If you are looking for a popular option, check out the API Pyramid Fish Feeding Block or the TetraWeekend Tropical Slow Release Feeder. These two fish feeding blocks are quite popular.

For more options and other specialized fish feeding blocks for betta and pond fish, check out our article on the best fish feeding blocks.

When you are back

So hopefully you had an enjoyable vacation. Considering your love for your beloved pet fish, your aquarium would probably be one of the first things that you would examine in the home. Hopefully, because of all the preparations you made, all your fish are hale and healthy!

Now it is time to re-examine the aquarium and bring your fish back to the regular regimen as soon as possible. Still, here are the first few things you should do:

  • Re-test the water quality in your fish tank and act accordingly. If you find any imbalance in the water chemistry, replace the water and take appropriate actions promptly.
  • Reset the water temperature and lighting back to normal levels. Also, check the water filter to ensure it is working properly.
  • Cleanup your tank, even if it does not require a full-cleanup. Your absence may have caused some algae buildup and cleaning them up would help in preventing their proliferation.
  • Carefully examine all the fish in your tank to ensure that they are healthy. Remove any dead fish or quarantine any sick fish and take appropriate remedial actions.
  • If possible, talk to the fish sitter about his/her experiences if you had one. If you opted for a commercial fish care setup, get the feedback and implement any suggestions that you might have got.
  • If you used any vacation feeding options, especially weekend or vacation feeding blocks, remove them from the tank once you are back and re-establish the water chemistry and feeding mechanism.

It is worthwhile to mention that despite all your preparations, it is possible that there might be some mishaps. If something untoward has happened, analyze the problem and try to adjust your aquarium ecosystem accordingly for future. Actions can range from having fewer fish in the aquarium, setting up a self-cleaning aquaponics system or opting for a commercial fish sitter for the next trip.

Final thoughts

Whether you are an experienced aquarist or just an amateur fish lover, “What about my fish?” is the obvious question you have to think about when planning for a vacation. In this article, we looked at addressing this very question and offered some useful advice that you can consider for fish care and feeding while on vacation.

We shared the preparations you can make before leaving for vacation, different products, and options for vacation feeding and things to take care of when you are back from your holiday. You can find more details on these products and some additional tips and tricks in the specific articles on the products.

We hope that you found this article useful and it helped in preparing your aquarium or fish tank for your vacation. Do let us know your feedback by commenting below. Also feel free to share your queries or questions that you might have and we would be happy to address them. Until next time, happy fish-keeping!