Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fish tanks and vacations

What to do with your aquariums when you are away

It’s that time of year again. Everyone is gearing up for summer vacations. Since I am at the beach this week, I figured I would share some tips on how to care for your aquariums while you are away.  

General Tips

Timers for your lights are a great idea especially if you have live plants. I even use them when I am home to make sure I don’t forget to turn off the tank light when it should be turned off. They create a schedule for the fish which is great because fish, like most pets, thrive on routine.

Most people don’t understand how to properly feed fish, so be sure to leave very specific written instructions for those taking care of your tanks. I have heard horror stories of pet-sitters overfeeding tanks and the owner returning to find a tank full of rotting food and sick fish. If your fish aren’t on a strict diet, sometimes it’s best to let them go without food for a week. A healthy fish will easily survive it just fine. You would be surprised at just how much food they can find in an aquarium by themselves.

The weekend feeders that people leave for their fish are another major no-no. Because of the biology of fish, they are always appear hungry and will eat as much food as is presented to them. This causes bloating and constipation. Also anything the fish don’t eat sits in the tank decomposing and causing a deadly ammonia spike. It’s best just to leave these in the store; they are just another gimmick by aquarium supplies companies to make you spend more money.

I find it is also very helpful to put sticky notes on my tanks with care reminders such as feeding regime or anything special about the tank that a caretaker would need to know. I also try to leave the food for that tank atop the aquarium. Make taking care of your tanks as simple and easy as possible for whoever will be doing it. It’s harder to make mistakes with simple instructions.

What you need to do before you leave and the instructions you should leave depend on how long you will be gone and what day (or days) you set aside as water change day. I have broken my recommendations into three categories: weekends, 7 days, and 8 days or longer days.

Weekend (Friday to Sunday or 3-day week trip)

This is the easiest because you literally have nothing to worry about. Healthy fish can easily go a week without eating, and a weekend without food is nothing. For this little bit of time, it’s best to not feed your fish rather than entrust them in the hands of another. If you have a water change that is due during this time, it is best to do it early rather than later.

Week (4 – 7 days)

This is where things get a little more tricky. You should do at least one water change per 7 days. It really helps if you leave and return within 1 day of a water change. For example, if your water change day is Sunday, then leaving on Saturday and returning the following Sunday is perfectly fine. You have nothing to worry about with this type of schedule. Just do a water change before you leave and the same day you come back. I’ve done this many times and never had trouble. If your fish are your only pets and you don’t want to have someone come to your house to feed them, it’s perfectly fine to leave your fish without food for the week. It will also have the added benefit of reducing waste in the aquarium.

Longer than a week (8+ days)

This presents a problem because weekly water changes are a must for a healthy fish tank. You can sometimes stretch it out to 10 days without a water change. I did this a few times and had problems with some tanks but not with others. This is where plants will come in handy as they are great waste absorbers; my tanks that fared best had lots of live plants. If you will be gone for more than 14 days, you will need to have someone you trust do a water change. You should also have someone feed your fish as they will be rather weakened after two weeks without food.

Leaving when you have sick fish

I know this is sometimes unavoidable, but it’s not a good situation. You have been the person monitoring and medicating the fish, and to entrust this task to someone who has never observed your fish before is not wise. If the tank needs to be dosed with medication while you are away this is even worse. If at all possible always try to avoid this situation. If you know you are going to be leaving for a vacation in the next month, don’t buy any new fish, add any new plants, or do a major change to the decor in the tank. New fish often bring in disease, and changes in the tank can cause stress which leads to disease.

I hope I have been able to give you a little peace of mind for when you are on vacation. During your typical week-long summer vacation, your fish will be just fine if the tank is healthy. A weekend getaway is nothing to worry about either, so don’t let your hobby chain you to your house. Vacations and healthy fish tanks can easily be managed. 

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