How To Feed Saltwater Fish While On Vacation

We all look forward to holidays, and leaving our every-day, run-of-the-mill lives behind for a while, flying off to somewhere exotic and forgetting our lives back at home for for a while. But as a reefer, the moment you start thinking about being away from home for an extended period, you begin to wonder how you are going to feed saltwater fish while on vacation too?

feed saltwater fish while on vacation

How many days can saltwater fish go without food?

Many of us are guilty of over-feeding our fish. We get used to watching food disappear once or twice a day within seconds of feeding, and feel the guilt trip every time you walk past your tank and see your fish following you from corner to corner. The truth of the matter is that our fish are generally pretty well fed. The consistent presence of nitrate and phosphate in a system is an indication that our fish do not go starving.

Typically speaking, saltwater fish can go without food for at least 4 days, but can, if required, go for up to two weeks without being fed if you believe what you read in the forums. Of course, this is determined by the type and the size of the fish, as well as their established feeding regime. As an example, Anthias are regularly mentioned as fish that require multiple feeding every day, while tangs are happy to be fed one or twice a day. I keep Anthia, and like most people I go off to work on a daily basis so cannot be there to feed them constantly. They have become accustomed to feeding twice a day, and as the fastest fish my my tank they have also become some of the fattest!

Knowing that my fish are well fed, I am comfortable with arranging for family to drop in every four days to feed. I know that the lack of feeding will not be detrimental. It is worth evaluating the condition and feeding habits of your fish to determine how many days you would be comfortable to leave them before you feed saltwater fish while on vacation.

In extreme circumstances, I believe that larger fish can go for weeks without food. It is with experience that I make this statement. My Hippo Tang got swim bladder disease, and until that point was a healthy, fat example of his kind. While I had it in QT I tried many medications hoping that something would help to correct the disease. Unfortunately, after 4 weeks he became lethargic, due to lack of food. I had no choice but to euthanise him. I had learnt an important lesson, though, that fish are far more robust than we give them credit for. 

Can I go on vacation and not feed my fish?

As discussed above, there is a limit to the amount of time you can without food from your fish. It might be a good exercise to stop feeding them while you are at home, to get a feel for how long you think they can go without feeding. It will take all of your courage to ignore them as they crowd the front of the tank, watching your every move, waiting for you to give in. Or stick with the consensus that typically 4 days without food will do them no harm at all. It is far better to have a way to feed saltwater fish while on vacation if you are going to be away beyond the 4 day mark.

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How do you feed saltwater fish while on vacation?

We are left with three clear options when it comes to how we feed saltwater fish while on holiday, and it will ultimately come down to what you are able to arrange in your absence, and who you know.

Option 1: Family

Unlike cats or hamsters, saltwater fish are not always that easy to feed when left to family. In fact, I have read numerous posts from unhappy reefers wishing they had not had family in to feed their fish. The potential to come back to excessive phosphate and nitrate, algae blooms and the beginnings of green hair algae are all too real.

If you do decide to ask non-fish folk and family to feed your fish, it will be your job to make it as fool proof as possible.

Feeding frozen food: As most of us know, when you throw a frozen cube of mysis or krill into an aquarium, the first thing that happens is that it will move towards the weir. If left there, as it thaws it will disappear into the weir leaving hungry fish in your tank. That is my experience. That is why when I have family feeding frozen cubes for me, I use an EZ Feeder which allows the cubes to thaw and release slowly into the tank. It makes it easier for the feeder to. They know that all they need to do is take a couple of cubes and place them in the feeder.

Eshopps EZ Feeder Aquarium Frozen Fish Food Dispenser with Strong Anti-Slip Magnet and Submersible Slow Release Feeding Chamber
  • Eshopps EZ Feeder Aquarium Frozen Fish Food Dispenser with Strong Anti-Slip Magnet and Submersible Slow Release Feeding Chamber
  • Time Release Thawing – Confines frozen fish food, allowing it to thaw, defrost, separate, and extend feeding time by slowly dispensing fish food by itself.
  • Unique Design – *NEW IMPROVED* Anti-slip rubber padded magnet secures feeder to virtually any glass or acrylic fish tank up to 1/2 in. thick. O-ring sealed lid allows you to completely submerge feeder to any depth, ensuring bottom dwelling fish feed easily.

Feeding dry food: If your fish are more accustomed to eating flakes and pellets, then you really want to limit how much a non-fish person can add to your tank. Your ‘pinch’ might be a whole lot smaller than someone else’s ‘pinch’.

A good idea is to split the food into the exact portions you want fed. This can be easily done using a pill organiser available from Amazon. With this little gadget you know that your helper will feed your fish exactly what you would.

Option 2: A reefer friend

Not always an option, depending on who you know and where you live, but probably by far the easiest and most reliable method of ensuring your fish are looked after correctly. This arrangement will work in both your favours. You can feed their saltwater fish while they are on vacation too!

Option 3: Automatic fish feeders

An automatic fish feeder can be a lifesaver when you have no other options available to you. They do however, restrict you to dry flakes, pellets and freeze dried food. If like me you primarily feed your fish thawed frozen food, it may be a good idea to introduce the fish to pellets or flakes well before you are due to leave on vacation. By far the best automatic feeder on the market is the Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder, which has been around for many years and continues to be the go to for both saltwater and fresh water hobbyists.

EHEIM Everyday Fish Feeder Programmable Automatic Food Dispenser
  • Great for everyday use whether you are home or away
  • Set it and let if feed your fish everyday
  • Convienient worry-free feeding for healthy fish

For instructions on how to use the Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder, have a look at the video below (which has been on YouTube for more than 10 years!). It is also a very good idea for familiarise yourself with the fish feeder for at least a week before your go on holiday to ensure you do not inadvertently set it up wrong and feed too much or too little.

Remember that in your absence, you will need to consider the food requirement for all fish types including herbivorous. In my experience, I have tried cutting up nori finely to feed them, but invariably it did not become saturated fast enough to allow it to sink. Instead the nori floated on the surface and then straight over the weir gate. For this reason I chose algae flakes that my tangs and foxface rabbit fish took to immediately.

Can fish survive without food for 3 days?

You may be taking the family away on a long weekend, or going away for a short romantic break. If you are going to be away for up to 4 days there is no need to worry about your fish during this time. I have been away without feeding my fish for up to 4 days, including Chromis and Anthia. Yes they are happy to see you again, and no they were in no way malnourished. It is worth feeding a little extra for a day or 2 prior to going away to help them through the fast (and ease your guilty conscience).

Hi, my name is Craig.
I am the owner of The Salty Side.
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How To Feed Saltwater Fish While On Vacation