Holiday and Vacation Fish Care and Feeding

Feeding pet fish

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Are you traveling for the holidays or planning to go on a vacation soon? What will you do with your fish while you're away? Fortunately, there are several easy options to feed your fish during holiday and vacation periods: you can find a fish sitter; use commercial vacation feeders available through your fish store; or you can purchase an automatic fish feeder, which can be used on a daily basis anyway. A final option is to simply let your fish go unfed while you are gone. (Before you faint at that option, read on!)

Vacation Feeders

The simplest option for feeding is to use vacation feeders. They are available in 2-day (weekend), 7-day, and 14-day sizes. There are two basic types: one where the food is embedded in a calcium block, and the other style has the food in a gel. In each case, the block gradually dissolves in the water, releasing food particles for the fish to eat. Feeder blocks have several benefits, including:

  • Supplies food to your fish while you are away for up to 14 days
  • Dissolves slowly and releases food periodically as the block gradually dissolves (although the calcium block will dissolve faster in soft, acid water than it will in hard, basic water)
  • Includes natural ingredients to meet nutritional requirements of all aquarium fish
  • Do not use in a fish bowl or a non-filtered or non-aerated aquarium, as water circulation is required to dissolve the block
  • The gel blocks may work better in some water conditions as the gel block is plaster-free and does not cloud water

Make sure that the number of blocks used in the aquarium is sufficient for all of the fish in the aquarium. But it is better to underfeed the fish than overfeed them for the time you are away. If using the larger calcium blocks, especially in soft water conditions, they can impact the aquarium water chemistry. The gel feeders are less likely to cause water quality changes, but some say their fish won't eat them.

Automatic Feeders

Automatic feeders come in electric plug-in models and battery-operated models. They have timers that can be set to dispense the proper amount of food one or more times per day. The opening in the food-holding dispenser can be adjusted to deliver a certain amount of food at each feeding. These are great to use anytime, and if you have it before you go on vacation, you can adjust the timing and dispensed food quantity to feed the fish correctly every day. As long as the food dispenser is full before you leave, and holds enough food to dispense for the duration you will be gone, these work well for feeding your fish while you are away.

Fish Sitter

If you are going on an extended vacation or holiday (more than a week), you should have someone tend your fish. The most important thing to impress upon your helper is that they should not overfeed your fish. Excess food will foul the aquarium and can prove lethal. Many fish will "beg" for more food even when they are well fed (Angelfish are notorious for begging), but should not be indulged. In order to prevent your house sitter from giving too much food, you should pre-measure each meal in a small container or plastic bag.

One good option is to use an inexpensive plastic pill dispenser that has a compartment for each day of the week. As you feed your fish the week before you leave, place the same amount of food in one of the pill compartments. By the end of the week, you will have the next week's feedings all prepared for your helper. All they have to do is open the dispenser each day and put the food in that day's compartment into the aquarium. Feeding the fish once a day while you are gone, even if you normally feed the fish twice daily, will usually be sufficient. It is better to underfeed than overfeed!

Don't Feed Your Fish

Living in a watery environment has its advantages—fish don't have to wait for you to give them a drink. As for food, freshwater fish are quite capable of going for several days without a meal. Healthy adult fish can go for a week or two without feeding. However, young fish don't have the fat stores of adult fish and they cannot go without eating very long.

That doesn't mean you should routinely skip feedings, but your fish can safely be left without food over a long holiday weekend. However, keep in mind that food is not the only concern when going on holiday. You must be sure your filter, water heater, and lighting is also properly maintained if you are not home.

Get a Timer

Aquarium lights normally should be turned off at night and turned back on in the morning. Lighting is easy to handle by purchasing a timer. There's no need to get a fancy or expensive one, as long as it will turn the aquarium lights on and off once each day. Put the light on a timer and leave it that way all the time. Then, your fish will have a consistent day/night cycle, and you have one less thing to do each day.

Water Temperature

Aquarium water temperature should remain fairly constant. Fish are accustomed to gradual seasonal changes in temperature in the wild, but if the change is dramatic, the stress will make them susceptible to disease. If the holiday is during the cold time of year, be sure your aquarium heater is working, and don't turn your house temperature down too low. Tropical fish prefer water temperatures from about 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit and do not do well below a water temperature of 65 degrees.

During summer vacations, set your air conditioning to kick in if the room temperature rises above 80 degrees, and your fish will be quite comfortable while you are away. If you do not have air conditioning, it is wise to arrange for someone to come in and check the fish in the event of a heat wave.

Fish Physical Condition

Another important factor is the physical condition of your fish. Just before leaving on your holiday or vacation, examine them to ensure that none of them appear to be sick. If you notice any abnormalities, consult a fish shop or an aquatic veterinarian before leaving. Otherwise, you risk coming home to an aquarium of sick or dying fish.

Be sure to provide your fish sitter with your contact phone number, as well as the number of your pet shop. Regardless of whether you have a fish sitter or not, if you prepare ahead of time you can safely go on trips. Here is a handy checklist of things to do before you leave:

  • Clean the aquarium a week before you leave
  • Completely top off the aquarium with water the day before you leave
  • Check the water temperature to verify it's in the proper range
  • Check the filter and make sure it's running at full capacity
  • Carefully examine all the fish to ensure they are healthy
  • If you have a fish sitter, measure food into a dispenser for him or her
  • Give your fish sitter your number and the number of the local pet shop

Now go enjoy the holidays!