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Gone Fishin' - Keeping Your Fish Happy While You're Away
By Frank Greco, Senior Aquarist, New York Aquarium
Preparing your fish for vacation is very different than for other pets. While you may be able to take your dog or cat with you, you really cannot take your tank with you! Now what? Do you wish them luck, hope for the best and just take off? With a little forethought and preparation, your fish can make it though your vacation with no worry on your part (o.k. maybe a little worry. We all worry about our stay-at-home pets while we're away).
If you have your tank routinely serviced by an aquarium maintenance company, they will usually watch your tank for you, perhaps for an additional fee. Other companies, though, will not do this and so you'll need to make other arrangements.
If you are only going to be gone a few days, there's really no need to worry about feeding the fish. Two or three days of fasting will not harm them. For longer vacations, though, your fish will need to be fed and the tank looked after.
There are automatic fish feeders that can be purchased from your local aquarium store. These devices hang on the back of the tank, and dispense a set amount of food into the tank once or twice a day. If you go this route, you should set up the device at least one week before leaving. This way, you can make sure it is operating properly, and not dumping a lot of food into the tank at one time. Most models are battery operated, so make sure you use fresh batteries each time you use the auto feeder.
Another route to take is to have a friend or an experienced aquarist come in and fish sit for you. A friend of mine recruits older Boy Scouts to take care of his tanks while he's away (as he puts it, "They usually know all the basics, are trustworthy--one of the points of the scout law--and responsible."). Whomever you choose, you will want to work with them for at least two weeks before you leave. Have them walk though your routine with you several times so they are fairly comfortable with it. Remember, you just want them to maintain the tank, not do any serious changes. They should know how much to feed (overfeeding by well-meaning tank minders is not uncommon), and what to do if the filter stops or you lose power. It is a good idea to prepackage the food (one pack per day) and hide the rest of it. This way, the temptation is not there to overfeed.
Once you have decided how you are going to care for your fish, you should get your tank ready for your trip. This will involve doing a water change, using a gravel cleaning siphon, at least a week before your trip. Two to three days before you leave, you will want to clean your filter so that it's running at peak efficiency. Change all chemical filters (carbon, etc.) and filter pads. If you have not done so already, put your light on a timer. This will give your fish a regular day/night cycle. You should also leave the number of your local aquarium store or another aquarium keepers, in case your caretaker runs into a situation above what they can handle. Also leave a number where they can reach you in case of emergency.
Now that we've gone over what to do to prepare your fish for your vacation, let's discuss things you SHOULD NOT do. First, do not add any new equipment to the tank. Such equipment can break down when you least expect it. Make sure your current filter, heater, etc. are working properly. Second, do not add any new animals to the tank for a least a month before you are planning to leave. New animals can be vectors for disease, and you do not want an infection to start while you are away. Third, I strongly advise against using those vacation feeder blocks. It's been my experience that they do more harm than good, potentially fouling the water and causing unhealthy environmental conditions. In case a water change is needed, you might want to leave jugs of makeup water near the tank. You should leave enough to do a 25% change, and instructions on how to make more if needed.
Lastly, the day before you leave, you and the caretaker should do a walk-through. Check all the equipment, and go over the feeding regime. By preparing ahead of time, your fish will be fine upon your return.
Something fishy going on in your tank? Just ask Frank! Log on to news://news.annexcafe.com/annexcafe.animalforum.fish or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his live fish chat every Sunday from 9pm to 10pm at mic://chat.annexcafe.com/#Fish
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