Holiday Fish Care
As any good scout knows, always be prepared! Rather than leave it till the last minute, you should be thinking about your aquarium weeks before you leave. With the right preparation you will be able to make sure your fish remain healthy while you are away
Before you go
A common mistake many fish keepers make is to carry out maintenance on their aquarium just before leaving. Whilst this may seem a good idea, problems often appear in aquariums as a result of standard maintenance. Filters are more likely to break down after the impeller has been removed, and water changes or filter media cleaning always causes a slight disruption to water quality. If any such problems arise, the effects may not be apparent until after you leave. Instead, carry out your usual water change and aquarium maintenance at least a week before you go, so you can monitor the tank for any changes.
It is also best to avoid adding any new livestock for at least a few weeks before you leave, and avoid any major changes to feeding regimes. If your lights are not yet set on timers, do this a few weeks before you leave so that your fish and plants can get used to a regular day/night cycle. If your aquarium is a stable environment before you go, it will have a better chance of remaining stable whilst you are away.
Whilst you can give your fish a little extra before you go, be careful not to overfeed, and reduce feed levels for the few days before you leave - an increase followed by a drop then no food for a few days is better than an increase and sudden stop. How much feeding your fish need while you are away depends on the size of your fish. Assuming a break of a few weeks, small fish (up to 4cm) need regular, daily feeds whilst medium sized fish (4-10cm) can be fed every other day, and larger fish once every three days. If you are only away for a long weekend, virtually all healthy fish will survive without feeding quite happily. In nature many fish can go for days without a good meal and providing your aquarium has some plant material for your fish to eat if they get really hungry, they will be fine for a few days. For longer breaks you will need to look at automatic feeding or getting someone else to feed your fish.
Automatic feeders and food blocks
Food blocks, which are designed to steadily break down over a number of days, can be bought in weekend, seven, and fourteen-day varieties. The quality of these feed blocks varies a great deal and with many you are stuck between a high-quality food which may pollute the aquarium if too much is added, or a low-quality food which may not pollute the water, but will not give your fish much nutrition. Some greedy fish may also be able to consume a feed block quicker than intended, whilst others may ignore it. If you do use food blocks, you can reduce any risk of excessive waste production by always using a well-known brand.
A better option is to purchase an automatic feeder for your aquarium. Picking the right one for your tank will require a little investigating since there are a number of options for duration of feeding, quantity, and fitting to your aquarium lid or hood. Most automatic feeders are battery powered and have the option of attaching an airline and air pump to keep the food relatively fresh.
Getting someone to feed your fish
Whilst you may know exactly how much to feed your fish, never assume that anyone else will know, even after being shown. Getting your relative, friend, or neighbour to feed your fish while you are away is a great idea - until they start overfeeding and things go horribly wrong. One method to avoid this is to show them a feed about half the size as normal and instruct them that that is all your fish need. If they do manage to overfeed hopefully it will only be back to the normal level, and if they underfeed then your fish are still getting fed. Another method is to measure out feeds before hand, or find a suitable container which holds just the right amount for a feed so that whomever is feeding is able to measure out the right amount. Make sure they are under full instructions not to feed any more, even if the fish 'look' hungry. To get the best of both worlds, you can set an automatic feeder to produce the right quantity for your fish, and simply get someone to 'top-up' the feeder every few days. Doing this means your fish will get the right amounts, and the food remains as fresh as possible.
Whilst your aquarium needs regular water changes and the filter needs regular cleaning, these are both items that can on occasion be left for several weeks without any ill effect in most tanks. In terms of cleaning algae from your tank, remember that this is purely for your benefit and the fish are not at all bothered about dirty glass - allowing plenty of algal growth means that your fish can have a nibble if they get hungry. Just in case anything does go horribly wrong while you are away, it is best to leave anyone in charge either your contact details or the telephone number of your local fish shop.
Getting a professional to look after your tank
For aquariums that have delicate species, or need regular expert care, such as reef tanks, it may be worthwhile forking out for an experienced aquarist to look after your fish whilst you are away. If you have a good local fish shop they may be able to do the job, or recommend someone reliable who can. For longer breaks of a month or more, your local fish shop may even be able to temporarily house your fish until you get back.
The high-tech way
Whilst I have concentrated on methods that anyone can use to make sure your tank survives your holiday, there are also some high-tech (and high-price) pieces of equipment on the market that will do many jobs for you. Most of these systems consist of a control unit into which modules can be plugged which continually monitor your water conditions and can be programmed to perform certain tasks such as dosing, light timing, or switching pumps on and off. Some systems can be plugged into your computer and in the event of any water parameters falling outside of their safe levels, will send you a text alert as well as allowing you to access the data from any computer with an internet connection. With systems like this you could be in an Internet cafe in Brazil looking at the pH, temperature, and just about most parameters of your tank, with full control to switch equipment on or off. Whilst these types of systems are costly and have a limited market, they may be a sign of things to come.