Vacation Care for Fish

fish tank water quality

If you’re planning on leaving your fish at home, it is critical to plan their vacation care. It’s a lot harder to take your fish with you on vacation compared to your dog or even cat. That means you’ll have to plan for them to receive care while you’re away. If you don’t have a neighbor or friend to look after your fish, you may need to hire someone.

I can already hear, “My fish will be fine for a week without me!”

I guarantee, no matter what type of setup or system you have, your fish will need their regular diet and maintenance regardless of your vacation plans. If your fish-sitter isn’t able to help with maintenance, you will need to hire a professional. Check out our criteria to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

How to Keep Your Fish Fed

Those stupid “vacation feeders” for your fish are the human equivalent of stale Chinese food stuck in a giant bread ball. They lack basic nutrition and will just gunk up your aquarium. There are many “auto feeders” on the market that will dump in food to your tank every # hours, but they are almost ALWAYS overfeeding your fish, sending up your ammonia and potentially crashing your tank. The only one we recommend allows you to separate out your fish’s food in specific meals. We have a betta with separation anxiety who loves it, and no, I’m not kidding. His amazing mom found this auto feeder and now we share it with everyone.

If you are having someone feed your fish while you are gone, pre-measure out the food in baggies or tupperware and HIDE THE CONTAINERS. I can’t count the number of times bad things happen while owner’s are away because the fish-sitter cannot abide by the owner’s explicit instructions. They think, ‘a little bit more won’t hurt them,’ dump in too much food and walk away. And again, your ammonia shoots up and kills your fish. So, pre-measure, label with date/time and hide the extra. This will limit any “accidents.”

How to Keep Your Tank Clean

If you are not hiring a professional fish maintenance company, the best way to train someone else is to have them help you once. After you do it together, have them walk you through it. Teaching is the very best way to learn something. If they need extra help, take pictures of all the equipment, you using the equipment and/or links to helpful videos. Here’s our award-winning Tank Cleaning Video.

Resist the urge to do a big cleaning right before you leave and assume everything will be okay until you get back. You never EVER want to do more than a 50% water change. If you will only be gone for a few days in between your usual cleanings, you don’t have to schedule extra maintenance (unless your feeder goes off script).

Vacation Care Extras

Want to spy on your fish? Set up a nanny cam! Watch your fish on your smartphone or tablet when ever you miss them.

Don’t leave the TV/radio on for your fish. The vibrations from the sound can stress out their lateral line and cause increased disease.

If your fish are undergoing treatment for a specific disease, do NOT modify the treatment around your vacation plans! Veterinarians create these plans specifically for the pathogen in mind. Let your vet know if you can’t complete the plan as discussed. Make sure any fish-sitters know if there are currently treatments going on, any precautions they should take and any repeat doses they may need to add.

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6 thoughts on “Vacation Care for Fish”

  1. I realize that this posting applies primarily to aquariums. I recently wrote a short article for our koi club on how to care for your pond when your away. Below is the text of the article if, you find any of it useful please feel free to use it.


    Pondside Conservation 2 – Handling a Pond When Your Away

    Ever worry what to do with your pond when your away. Unless you never leave home for more than a few days, you will have to confront this scenario. Having taken more than 10 trips greater than 30 days, I would like to share how I prepare for these trips.

    The first step prepare your pond prior to departure by completing the following.

    • Completely clean your pond and filtration system. This is necessary as your pond will only receive minimum maintenance while your away and it is best to not leave any potential problems lurking. (Think Murphy’s Law)
    • Bring all water parameter as close to ideal as possible. This allows for a greater degree of water parameter variation than if you left with marginal water quality.
    • Raise KH level in the pond to 180 ppm. This will eliminate the possibility of most pH crashes. The 180-ppm KH level is the highest recommend level for closed pressurized filters. Otherwise you could go up to 200 ppm. (1)
    • Install a metered automatic water shutoff valve on your fresh water inlet. This will prevent a well-meaning pond service from leaving your water running for 24 hours and killing all your koi. (True story)
    • Ensure proper koi nutrition by installing an automatic koi feeder. Be sure adjust the amount of feed if your incredibly kind neighbor insists on feeding your koi while your away. For shorter trips this may not be necessary as koi can survive just fine for thirty-days without feeding even during peak feeding temperatures. (2)

    The next step is to establish a cache of equipment, supplies and services. It will be very helpful, and sometimes critical, if you have everything to handle a problem on hand rather than hunting these things down from thousands of miles away. Do not count on your pond service to have everything you need on hand. I recommend the following.

    • A pond information sheet which contains

    o Pond capacity in gallons and liters
    o List of all pond equipment including manufacturer names and model numbers
    o Precalculated dosages for all additives and medications. Do you really trust your pond service or neighbor’s math capabilities.

    • Adequate supplies of food, dechlorinator, baking soda, salt and pond treatments. Exactually which supplies and treatments is controversial and a subject for another discussion.
    • Essential back up pond equipment such as pumps, aerators and UV lights. This equipment can be used and does not have to be an exact match. Just something that will work until a permanent fixed and be accomplished.
    • Preestablished relationships with pond equipment supplier, pond maintenance service, pond construction company and a handyman.

    Finally, provide pond monitoring during your absence. It is critical to regularly monitor of your pond so that issues can be address in a timely manner. Believe me issues will arise because as soon as you leave the gremlins move in. I have yet to take a long trip and not have an issue of some sort that needed addressing. I accomplish this in three ways.

    • Have someone regularly visualize your pond and koi. My neighbor comes by and check on my pond daily. She loves to come over and feed the koi. This allows her to notice when something isn’t right and notify my pond service. I have also discovered that my koi like her better than me.
    • Have your pond serviced bimonthly to ensure water quality and filtration systems are functioning properly. Normally I perform pond maintenance weekly but have discover that water quality is kept with safe levels if performed only twice a month.
    • A good option is to have video system with live surveillance and recording capabilities. This doesn’t do much to prevent or respond to incidents but, it does allow you to determine what happened. Such as when my neighbor called telling me the koi feeder was empty every day. Reviewing surveillance video, I was able to determine a raccoon was getting into feeder. This was an easy fix; the pond service just raised the feeder six inches.

    I hope this article provided you with some guidelines on how to reduce stress and keep your pond safe and thriving when your away. If you would like more information on how to provide a greater degree of pond survivability I recommend reading in Spike Cover’s S.A.F.E. Pond Limits available at


    (1) Meck – Pond Water Quality
    (2) Strange – How and Why of Koi Nutrition

  2. Hi, I will be out of station for a week, I can’t able to hire a nanny. I can feed the fish through a vacation feeder or can buy auto feeder, but is it necessary to clean the fish tank. Thanks in advance for the kind response.

    1. a woman in a lab coat smiling for the camera.
      Dr. Jessie Sanders

      If you will only be away for a week, and your tank isn’t too overstocked, your fish should be okay. Try to do your maintenance right before you leave.

  3. If you will only be away for a week, and your tank isn’t too overstocked, your fish should be okay. Try to do your maintenance right before you leave.

    1. a woman in a lab coat smiling for the camera.
      Dr. Jessie Sanders

      Fish in warmer water, such as tropical fish, have a higher metabolism and will likely require more frequent feeding. However, this does not mean to drop your tank temperature! We certainly agree with doing your regular maintenance right before you leave.

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