Caring for Your Fish When You're Away on Vacation

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 1, 2012


Do You Need a Fish Sitter?

Finally, your holiday from work is almost here. You have your travel tickets, the luggage has been pulled out from the back of the closet, a new swimsuit or ski parka to break in. There’s only one thing left to arrange: the caring of the fish.

Is there a way to arrange things so that the fish can be alone while you’re gone — or do you need a minder to come around daily to check and feed the fish? A little bit of both, we say.

It can depend on how long you’re going to be away. If you are going on a weekend trip, you can probably feel secure in knowing that they will be alright with an auto feeder for two or three days. Any longer, say, a week or more, and you will need to arrange for someone to drop in and make sure everyone is well. An occasional minder, along with an auto feeder and some other preparations should set your mind at ease so that you can get to the serious business of being free of worry for a few days.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Besides food, one of the most important things to consider is the temperature the house will be while you are gone. First off, do not forget to take care of the electric bill before you leave. The very last thing you want is for the temperature and filter controls to go out on your fish. It might seem obvious, but in the heat of planning, it is not uncommon for people to forget a few things … like bill due dates.

Set the air conditioner or heater to turn on when the room reaches a certain temperature, and make sure to arrange for a backup temperature device that your minder can set up on the off-chance that electricity goes out for any other reason (think, outages due to storms). A battery-run heater or cooling fan should be just right for the area round your fishes’ home.

Your Fishes’ Routine

Just as we are accustomed to our inner bio-clocks, so do fish live by the rotation of the day. They become used to a certain routine — when the lights come on, when they go off, when the food arrives. For example, many people turn their lights off and draw the curtains when they leave their homes — for obvious reasons. However, like us, fish are accustomed to regular day and night hours as well. You can make do by installing a simple timer for the indoor lamp(s) near your fish tank — a timed nearby lamp is better than a tank light that would be left on all the time.

Finding a Fish Sitter

Of course, all of the above is based on healthy fish. If your fish is not feeling well, or has special needs, you will definitely need a daily minder. If you do not have a relative, co-worker, or neighbor to help out, there are plenty of pet sitters available to step in. And don’t worry if all of the listings say "dog sitter." Many dog sitters will also sit for cats, fish, birds; all you have to do is ask. Choose one you feel good about, who has verifiable references — and make sure to personally check those references before handing over the key — and who knows at least the basics of fish care.

It’s also a good idea to arrange for an emergency back-up sitter, so you might want to consider interviewing a couple of pet sitters so that if anything comes up with the first choice (pet sitters have emergencies too, after all), you can call on the second choice. Just make sure that the second choice knows and agrees with the plan — that you will be calling if there is an emergency with the first pet sitter. A good way to stay in contact all around is by arranging a text-schedule in advance. This way your minder can let you know that all is well, and you won’t be jarred out of your reveries by a ringing phone.

If there is medicine involved (for the fish), have the sitter over to personally practice placing the medicine in the fish tank. You may want to go through everything else with them beforehand, too. If accidental overfeeding worries you, why not measure the food out ahead of time? Days-of-the-week pill containers are great for this.

Vacation Food for Your Fish

There are a few choices for feeding your fish while you’re away. One of the more popular ones is the food block, which works fine for small communities of smallish fish. For larger fish, or larger fish communities, a timed feeder is a better choice; the concern being that the larger, pushier fish may hoard the food block, or a greedy fish may eat all of the food block within the day. A timed feeder costs more than a block, but keep in mind that you will be using it every time you go away, so the initial cost decreases with each use.

Whichever method you choose, start it a few days before your vacation so that you can make adjustments as needed.

One More Thing…

The day before you leave for vacation is not the time to clean and change the water in your tank. If anything, it is better that you leave your fish in their water, even if it is due for a change, rather than change the water at a time when you will not be able to observe your fish after the water change (always observe your fish after water changes!). And make sure that your fish minder knows not to change the water or add anything other than what you have instructed. It is not uncommon for minders to add things or change things with the intention of improving the tank. To avoid tragedy, be very clear about why that cannot be done while you are gone.

Now that you have covered most, if not all of your bases, get going — and have fun!

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