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When the holiday season stretches before us and thoughts turn to beaches and suntans, many people wonder how best to care for the aquatic members of their family while they’re away enjoying a well-deserved break.

Thankfully, fish are relatively easier to care for over the holidays than many other types of pets. You don’t have to hunt around for a decent cattery or kennel and you don’t have to worry about arranging an expensive live-in “pet-sitter”, but with only a little preparation, you can ensure the health and welfare of your fish over the holidays.

Feeding

For many people, their number-one worry is about whether their fish are getting enough food during their absence. But the biggest threat to a holiday aquarium is actually overfeeding - especially if your aquarium is left to a well-meaning friend or relative who’s otherwise unfamiliar with what’s best for your fish. Your two options then, are either to arrange for a human caretaker to drop by, or to use some form of automatic fish feeder or holiday food.

If you’re arranging for a human caretaker, it’s usually best to get them to drop by in advance so that you can familiarise them with the proper amount of food and get them acquainted with the normal state of the filters and other equipment ahead of time. As well as physically showing them just how much food to use, you could make things even easier and measure out the appropriate dose into a simple weekly pill-dispenser that’s readily available from your local pharmacy.

You could hide the main containers of food so that they aren’t tempted to use more than they should, or use tablet foods to simplify the quantities offered, or in the case of frozen foods, use an ice cube tray with portions frozen into blocks of water from your aquarium.

If you’re opting for an automatic feeder, the good news is that they’re inexpensive and easy to use, but it’s worth using them several days in advance of your departure so that you can fine-tune the settings and the amounts of food it dispenses. You can easily fill them with whatever types of flakes, pellets, sticks or tablets you need and it should be several weeks before you need to refill the food container. Most are fully adjustable, run reliably on batteries and will easily attach to the top of the tank. And again, if in doubt, under-feeding is far more healthy than overfeeding.

Alternatively, if the thought of tinkering with timers and adjusting quantities doesn’t appeal to you, there are excellent “holiday-block” type foods that you simply place in your aquarium and which slowly release all the nutrients your fish need over the course of anywhere from a weekend to a week. The excellent AquaCare Holiday Block - 2 x 7 Day Fish Feeder for example, has a specially formulated diet to keep your fish healthy whilst you are away from home, giving you peace of mind.

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Aquarium and Equipment

While you might be tempted to do a partial water change or carry out routine filter maintenance just before you go, it’s better to do it about a week before you leave for your vacation. This is because problems sometimes appear in aquariums just after standard maintenance. Filters might become temperamental after the impeller has been removed and water changes or filter media cleaning can sometimes cause wobbles in water quality.

It’s better then, to carry out your water change and aquarium maintenance in plenty of good time so that you can monitor the tank for any changes before you leave. Not only will your fish will then get some fresh, clean water which should lower their stress levels and help keep them healthy, but your water level will also be properly topped off so that you needn’t worry about issues due to evaporation.

Your aquarium’s lighting can easily be turned on and off automatically using an aquarium light timer. If your lights are not yet set on timers, do this a few weeks before you leave so that your fish and plants can get used to a regular day/night cycle.

Needless to say, now isn’t the best time to add new livestock or to start any new treatments if your fish are poorly. The point is to try and ensure that your fish are healthy and that your aquarium is a stable environment before you go, so that it will have a better chance of remaining stable while you’re away.

The future

As ever in the wonderful world of fishkeeping, there’s always a bit of innovative aquatic technology around the corner to take care of various jobs for you and help make your life a bit easier. For the ultimate "techie" aquarist, for example, a fully accessible monitoring system such as the Apex from Neptune Systems might be just the ticket. Functioning as a fully internet-connected “command centre” for your aquarium, it gives you total control of everything from lighting to feeding and dosing, no matter where you are in the world. Likewise, a soon-to-be-launched underwater camera from TMC will allow you to watch your fish from the other side of the globe should you get withdrawal symptoms whilst you're away from home!

So while there are a few things to keep in mind, it’s clear that with only a bit of forethought and preparation, you can rest easy knowing that your fish will be healthy and happy while you enjoy that perfect sip of summertime sangria.