Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Going on Vacation

Talbot's Demoiselle, Chrysiptera talboti
Talbot's Demoiselle, Chrysiptera talboti

Are you planning to go on vacation or out of town for work? Do you find yourself wondering what to do with your aquariums and how your fish will fair while you are gone?

Before you leave:

Before you leave there are a few simple things that you can do to make it easier for the fish and anyone who comes in to check up on things:

  • Do not add anything new to the tank for at least a couple weeks before leaving on vacation to avoid introducing a disease that you wont be around to notice or overloading the biological filtration or finding out too late that the new addition is extremely aggressive and starts harming established tank mates.
  • Do a large water change 3 or 4 days before you leave, don’t do one the day before or morning of departure. If anything goes wrong with the water change, like having some trace of ammonia or some toxins in the water that the fish could react badly to, then you wont have time to correct the problem.
  • Put your lights on timers. It's best to keep up a day/night schedule, if you don't have a timer keep the lights off (for short trips only, longer trips need a timer). The fish will be less active, thus requiring less food and there will be less risk of having algae blooms from the extended light hours.
  • Turn off the power on your tank for a couple minutes to see if your equipment will leak and to see if it'll all come back on. It's also a good idea to have a back up power source with at least a power head on it, and if at all possible your filters, to keep some water movement in the tank, thus keeping the water oxygenated.
  • Make sure that the fish are healthy and that you aren't leaving them in the middle of a treatment. If it's absolutely necessary to keep treating the tank, you may wish to think about hiring someone who knows a lot of about fish to come in and continue the treatment. (See below in the section "Extended Leave of Absence" on hiring help.)
  • Make sure the fish are well fed before leaving.
  • Just before you leave, top up water in the tank. Place a glass top over the tank to minimize evaporation, or set up an automatic top off system if evaporation is going to be a problem.

Weekend getaways:

If you are only going away for a weekend, then your tank and fish will be able to survive without you. If you tank is running smoothly before you leave and your fish are healthy, then they can easily go for a few days without food or special care. The first couple times you leave them alone will be nerve racking but in all probability everything will be the same when you return.

If it’ll give you piece of mind, ask a friend to stop in and make sure that the power is on in the tanks and that there aren't any dead fish. Don't let them feed the fish, they will be alright for a few days without food and it's too much of a risk of polluting the tank if someone isn't careful.

Going away a week or two:

It is possible to leave an aquarium alone for 10 to 14 day periods of time without having any problems in the tank; provided that the fish are healthy and well fed before you leave then most fish will be able to survive fine without food. The exception to this is if you have young fry or very delicate fish that require a steady diet. However a lot of people don't feel comfortable about this and prefer to have someone come in and check on the aquarium while they are away.

Getting someone to come in to check on your tanks:

If you are getting someone to come in and check on your fish, you should create a checklist. Preferably the person coming in while you are gone will be an experienced fish keeper and will be able to take action in an emergency situation.

Things that should be on a check list:

If you have more then one tank, it is best that you leave a separate list beside each tank and clear instructions for every tank.

  • Number of fish in tank. - Note if some of them are prone to hiding and may not be seen during a quick count. Don’t list the species unless the person coming in is extremely knowledgeable about fish keeping, as this will be more confusing then helpful.
  • Equipment to check – this includes ensuring that water is flowing through the filters, lights are on, temperature is stable (give them a range of one or two degrees that it can be off)
  • Feeding regime – if someone is going to feed your fish while you are away, it’s best that you divide the food up into feeding portions and that you hide the rest of the food. When left on their own people will tend to over feed if fish. While your away this could have disastrous consequences.
  • How far to top off the water if necessary – the water level should be clearly marked on the tank. If you don’t want to put a mark on the tank itself, a small piece of masking tape could be used with a dark line all the way across the piece of tape to indicate how high the water level should be.

What NOT to have on the list:

  • Expect someone to do a water change on your tank, especially if you mix water or use chemicals to alter the water chemistry in any way. This could lead to major problems, especially if the person doesn’t know anything about caring for a tank.
  • Do not ask them to test the water parameters in the tank. They may not be familiar with the test kits, do a “bad” measurement and attempt to correct things for you. In fact, hide your test kits just in case they want to experiment.

Extended Leave of Absence:

If you are going away for an extended period of time you may wish to consider hiring someone to service your tank instead of relying on a friend or family member to check in on everything.

In larger metropolitan areas there should be some aquarium maintenance services available. These businesses are generally run by people who started off as a hobbyist who decided to earn a bit of money setting up and maintaining tanks for other people. When looking for someone to service your tank, it’s best that you interview them to see how knowledgeable they are, what services they are willing to perform, how much they cost per visit, if there are any public tanks that they have serviced so you can check out their work or ask if they have a portfolio of other tanks. Find out if they will sign a service contract and what kind of insurance they have in case something goes wrong.

When interviewing someone to come in and take care of your animals, there are a few things that you should watch for. A good service professional should take notes during the interview; never hire one who claims to be able to work off memory. This shows that they are going to maintain your tank they way they want to not the way you want.

Establish some rules during the interview regarding procedures to take should something go wrong while you are away, such as

  • Call you, a family member or a friend to come and see what’s wrong,
  • What to do if they find a dead fish,
  • Where to get water for emergency water change should the tank need it.
  • What to do should a piece of equipment malfunction.
  • Whether or not to treat / quarantine ill fish.

Products that can be used while away:

Automatic feeders

These are good for fish that accept flake or freeze dried food. Depending on how much you are willing to spend on a feeder will determine what These feeders should be established long before you leave the tank alone in order for you to set the feeding schedule properly. The last thing you want to do is introduce something new to the tank just before leaving it alone for any length of time.


I highly recommend that you have all your lights on timers before you leave. If fish are in continuous darkness or daylight they will become stressed out fairly easily.

Feeding Blocks

There are feeding blocks available but most fish wont know what to do with them, especially if they are used to eating at the surface. If the fish don’t eat the food as it dissolves out of the block, then it’ll be left in the tank to foul the water. They will also alter your water chemistry to some degree. This is last thing you want to have happen in your tank while you aren’t around the keep an eye on things. If you do wish to use these, it's advisable that you feed them to the fish while you are still there so you can observe if the fish will actually eat the food from the blocks.