Taking care of fish while you’re on holiday
By Dave Hulse, Technical Consultant at Tetra
For many across the country, the summer break is a time to switch off from work and put your feet up, but for fishkeepers looking to get away it can be a cause for concern. However, with an understanding of the possible changes our absence might have on an aquarium we can ensure there is a minimal impact to fish and plants while you are away.
One of the main questions fishkeepers have when going on holiday is how fish will be fed. Before you panic, let’s look at fish eating habits in the wild.
Food fasting in the wild
Food abstinence can occur naturally for seasonal or behavioural reasons; wild temperate fishes for example may not eat over the winter. However, this fasting is associated with environmental changes that are vital cues to the fish to adapt its physiology to a period of fasting. Depriving fishes of food is routinely performed by fish farmers and ornamental fish exporters as fasted fishes excrete much less ammonia and have a reduced oxygen demand than those with full bellies. This shows us that fish are able to tolerate periods without food, but for only around a week at a time.
Feeding your fish while you’re away
With a summer holiday, a lack of food is likely to be harmful to our fish, so how can we ensure they are fed while we are away? Two principal solutions present themselves; holiday foods and automatic feeders.
Holiday foods are blocks of low nutrient value food bound to a soluble matrix. It is vital that the food is not rich in proteins and lipids as normal fish foods, as this would seriously pollute the tank. For example, the protein concentration of TetraMin Holiday food is only 3%. Traditional holiday food blocks bound the food to plaster-of-Paris, which then slowly dissolved in the water releasing the food. However, we have since found that this soluble matrix can markedly raise the hardness of the water, possibly to the detriment of some fishes. That’s why, Tetra Holiday foods use a soft gel which the fish can forage on without altering the water quality. For fishkeepers heading away for a shorter break, feeding fish Tetra Weekend food is a great way to make sure they’re getting all of the nutrients they need for up to 6 days.
The most notable point about holiday foods is to allow your fish to get used to the food before you leave. Many animals exhibit neophobia, (fear of ‘new’ things). This is a wise precaution in the wild as a novel object might be food or might be concealing a predator! Put simply, for a majority of aquarium fishes, if a large block of something that smells a bit like food but looks nothing like it suddenly appears in the tank, many fish will shy away – in case it conceals a predator. To overcome this, add a small amount of the holiday food at the same time as you usually feed. Fish will soon habituate to the holiday food and it will no longer be new to them. Fish are a lot cleverer than we give them credit for.
For fish that are likely to gobble up the holiday food in one go we can use an automatic feeder, such as Tetra’s MyFeeder, that will dispense pre-set quantities of food at programmed intervals throughout the day. As with the holiday food, do a trial run before you leave, ensure the food is all eaten within 2 -3 minutes then adjust the amount accordingly.
Ensure that your aquarium is maintained too
When leaving your aquarium for your summer break, there is also the concern that there may be an equipment failure that will not be rectified until our return. A lighting failure is disastrous for plants but should not be the end of the world for the fish, however a clogged impellor leading to filter failure can be more of a problem.
An IP camera can be connected to your home network allowing you to monitor the tank over the internet in your absence. Cloud-connected water quality monitors are widely available also, this is the kind of tech that gets fishkeeping experts like me excited! Just have an action plan in place should a disaster be detected – who is going to go and rescue your fish in your absence?
Asking a friend or neighbour to check in on your fish will give you the peace of mind that everything is OK while you’re away. Just make sure that, if they’re feeding your fish for you, that they know how much and how often to feed – again practice is essential. Dispensing precise amounts of feed into press-seal bags is one way to ensure the correct amount is added by your friend at each feeding.
One thing to remember is that, under the Animal Welfare Act (2006), we as fishkeepers have duty of care over our fishes. Neglecting to feed them or our absence from their habitat leading to us failing to take action if their environment rapidly deteriorates, would be seen as a failure in our duty of care. We would not leave a dog or cat alone for two weeks and the same is the case with fishes, especially in the eyes of the Animal Welfare Act.