Vacation Tips for Aquarium Owners

Summer is the time when many people take a break from their day to day lives and get away from it all - but what about your pet fish? You can't exactly put them in a boarding facility or take them with you, as you might do with a dog or cat.

If you're fortunate enough to have a friend or relative nearby who's also knowledgeable in aquarium keeping and can check in on things every day or two you're in luck, but this isn't always possible or even practical. Before you leave on vacation, it's important to have a care plan for your tank in place. Here are some helpful tips to make sure you and your fish have a safe and stress-free vacation.

When thinking of a care plan for your aquarium you should consider:

  • How long you'll be gone
  • The size of your tank
  • How long your fish tank has been set up
  • How heavily stocked it is
  • What types of fish and other critters you keep

Larger aquariums and those that are well-established are, by nature, more stable and can withstand longer absences of their owners. Small, newly set up, or heavily stocked aquariums are less stable and are more susceptible to problems while you're away.

How to Feed Your Fish While You're Away on Vacation

The biggest concern for vacationing aquarium owners is who will feed the fish? Large fish – especially carnivores – and those that are older do not need to eat as frequently. Herbivores, small active fish, and baby fish, on the other hand, need to eat every day or two. If you're going away for the weekend, don't worry. Virtually all fish – short of newly hatched fry – can go that long without being fed. If you'll be away longer, here are some options:

Vacation Feeders – These are solid blocks that, when placed in the aquarium, release small amounts of food over time. They work well for most small to medium-sized fish and are made for specific lengths of time and aquarium sizes. Read package instructions to choose the right block for your situation. Since the food is usually not what your fish are used to eating, it's a good idea to try one out a week before you leave to make sure they like it. Discontinue all other feeding during this time.

Automatic Feeders – Although they require a larger investment initially, these battery-operated devices can be programmed to release flake or granular foods into the aquarium at set times. Economy units dispense food every 12 hours, while upscale versions allow you to program specific feeding times. Most models allow you to adjust the amount of food released per feeding and some can even be programmed for multiple releases at each set time to accommodate shyer or slower feeding fish. When using vacation or automatic feeders, it's still a good idea to have someone stop in every few days to make sure they're functioning properly.

Fish Sitters – This can be a neighbor, a friend, a relative or even a professional aquarium maintenance company that offers tank sitting services. A potential problem with enlisting the help of someone who is not familiar with aquariums is overfeeding, which in small or newly set up tanks can be disastrous. If you choose this option, write out specific instructions and have the sitter come over for a visit beforehand so they can feed the fish under your guidance. Another option is to measure out individual packets of food for each feeding to avoid confusion or over/under feeding.

Preparing Your Aquarium Before Vacation

If you're going away for 2 to 3-days, no special advance preparation is needed. For longer absences, it's a good idea to do a 25% water change and clean your filter about a week before you leave. Avoid doing a major cleaning or disturbing the substrate when doing your water change, and do not disturb the biological media when cleaning your filter. Do not add new fish or make any major changes to your aquarium within a month of any extended absence.

Check to make sure your heater is working and maintaining proper temperature. If the aquarium light does not have a built-in timer, purchase a timer from your local hardware or home improvement store and set it for the normal day/night cycle of the tank.

Teaching Your Pet Sitter to Care for Your Aquarium

If using a sitter, write down a few instructions explaining what you want them to do, keeping them as simple as possible. Instructions that are easy to follow are more likely to be carried out correctly. Stick to the basics like feeding, checking for water on the floor and possibly emptying a protein skimmer cup (saltwater), and have them stop in every 2 to 3 days.

If your sitter is an aquarium novice, keep your tasks realistic. Don't expect them to scrape algae, change out CO2 cylinders or tend your baby brine shrimp hatchery. If topping off for evaporation will be needed, leave buckets of treated water next to each tank and mark aquariums, sumps and reservoirs with the correct fill levels.

Finally, leave the sitter a phone number where you can be reached, along with the number of an experienced aquarist, your local aquarium store or a reliable aquarium maintenance company, for use in the event of an emergency.

How to Care for Your Fish Tank When You Return From Vacation

With proper preparation your fish should be alive and well, and happy to see you when you return home, but it's a good idea to check them for signs of injury or disease. Make sure your heater is functioning properly. If you've been away for a week or more, perform a water change within a few days of returning. Check filters for proper flow and rinse fiber pads and service as needed. Remove block and automatic feeders and resume your normal feeding regimen.

Live plants may need trimming and there will undoubtedly be some algae that needs scraping, but these are positives, as plant and algae growth are nature's way of purifying water and balancing chemistry. Make note of anything that did not turn out as expected so you can make your next vacation even more enjoyable and stress free for yourself and your fish!

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