All pet owners face the issue from time to time of what to do when they want to, or have to, travel. With most pets it’s pretty simple. Cats, dogs, and the like are easy to move and even non pet people know enough to meet their basic needs. But fish are different. Unless the tank is tiny then it’s not going anywhere and while most people know fish need food the knowledge stops there. And even just properly feeding a tank can be a challenge for someone unfamiliar with fish. Even more so an aquarium setup relies heavily on lots of equipment to keep it running often requiring regular attention all which basically translates to more potential for problems to occur while you’re away.
Of course your tank isn’t going to explode the moment you walk out the door either. It does just fine on its own during the day while you’re away or through the night while you’re asleep. However, it’s safe to assume that there is some finite limit to how long your aquarium can be left unattended. But how long? Every tank is different making it a complex problem without a definitive answer. Still, some basic guidelines can be followed to plan the best course of action for ensuring your tank’s safety while you’re away.
Feeding Your Fish
Probably the biggest question that comes to mind when planning to leave your tank for an extended period is whether or not your fish will need to be fed. The answer obviously depends on how long you are planning to be away. It also, however, depends on the fish. Some species can go longer than others without a meal. Furthermore, young fish (that are still growing) need food more often than adult fish in general.
So how long can the average fish go without a meal? The rule of thumb is about a week. As mentioned earlier it depends somewhat on the fish you keep and so learning the specifics of each species is important. Still, with the exception of newborn fry most any healthy fish can last at least a few days without a feeding. Should you plan on being gone longer, arrangements of some sort will need to be made to keep your fish fed. The two best options are either buying an automatic feeder or having someone stop by to do it for you. Avoid feeder blocks, however. They tend to do little more than pollute the water.
Besides feeding, how you handle the other aspects of your absence is largely dependent on how long you plan to be away. If you’re only going to be gone for a day or two your tank will be fine on its own with minimal preventative effort. However, for a vacation lasting a few weeks if not longer a solid plan is needed beforehand. Of course, regardless of the length of time you’ll be away having someone who can watch over your tank is always preferred.
No matter how long you plan to be gone getting your aquarium setup is tip top shape prior to your departure is key. Do a moderately sized water change a day or two before you leaving and make sure all the equipment is functioning properly. If you have any pumps or filters that you know can give you trouble from time to time this is a good time to clean them as well. Try to get all your maintenance out of the way well before you plan on leaving so you have time to catch any issues it may create. Also, just prior to leaving, make sure the tank is completely topped off. Finally, getting a timer for the lights if you don’t already have one is a great way to keep the tank on a regular schedule even while you’re away.
Having Someone Watch Your Tank
For the most part the job of any caretaker for your aquarium is going to be taking care of the normal day to day needs of the tank- namely feedings and anything else that needs to be added on a daily basis. In both cases you best bet is to ration out everything into separate containers, preferably with labels indicating exactly when to add the contents. A pill tray works nicely for this. Just take all the guess work out of it for your stand-in. An automatic feeder could fill in just as easily for this of course, but the added benefit of having someone checking in on your tank is their ability to catch the unexpected. As such, in addition to having them feed your fish you should have them have a look around and make sure everything is still in order- things like counting all the fish and making sure the filter is still running.
Of course sometimes things go wrong. If a filter breaks or a fish dies your caretaker is going to need to know what to do. Appointing someone who’s familiar with aquarium care is a good start, but even so they’re unlikely to know every last little thing about how you setup works. If you can, have them come over prior to your departure so you can walk them through your setup and your daily routine. An ideal time is actually when you do your final maintenance before leaving. That way you can show them things such as how the filter is assembled. Putting together a list of possible problems and what to do isn’t a bad idea either. Finally, and obviously, leaving a way for them to contact you in the event things go very VERY bad is a must.
When you arrive back home after your journey checking on your aquarium setup, beyond making sure it hasn’t imploded, probably isn’t the first thing on your mind. Still, taking some time to look things over and make sure everything is in good shape should be a priority, particularly if you were away for several days or more. Make sure everything is still running and that all your fish are present and healthy at the least. Testing the water and doing your normal maintenance now is a good idea too, especially if the tank’s been being fed by someone other than you.
Your tank’s needs aren’t hard to meet, and finding a way to fulfill them during your absence isn’t either. With a little planning and some preventative maintenance your tank can do just fine without you. So that just leaves the question, can you do fine without your tank?