How to Keep Your Fish Alive on a Long Trip

Low light levels minimize stress to fish.
Low light levels minimize stress to fish. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

A long trip isn't a problem for fish, providing they have clean, oxygenated water within the temperature range they need to survive. Changes in environment and water chemistry stress fish, so be prepared to take your tank water and decorations with you when moving house. Transporting fish in insulated, waterproof containers is only one requirement to keep them alive. Preparing them for the trip and settling them into a new tank also are essential to their survival.

Planning Ahead

Begin preparing your fish and their tank water two days before a trip. While traveling, your fish won't have the benefit of filters, so they will face the risk of ammonia poisoning from waste products. To reduce the amount of waste in their traveling container, stop feeding your fish about 48 hours before you leave. Tank decorations make it difficult to catch your fish, but removing them makes the water cloudy, so take them out a day early to allow time for the water to settle, and change 25 percent of the tank water to minimize levels of ammonia and waste products.

On the Day

On the day of your long trip, avoid stressing your fish as you remove them from their tank. Soak the net in tank water for 10 minutes until it softens, to prevent damage to your fish. Lower the water level so you can catch them quickly -- siphon the water out into waiting containers until 6 inches remain. After scooping out your fish, take the old aquarium gravel and at least 20 percent of the water with you to seed the new tank with beneficial bacteria, and provide your fish with a familiar environment. Consult a professional before using fish sedatives.

Fish in a Box

Thick-walled, watertight containers with lids are the best fish transporters for long trips. Styrofoam boxes used by fish suppliers, or ice chests from grocery stores, protect fish and help maintain an even water temperature. Line your container with a clean, rinsed, plastic bag to prevent leaks, and fill it about about two-thirds deep with tank water. Once your fish are inside, seal the bag at the top with a rubber band, enclosing as much air as possible, and cover it with a lid to keep out light, reducing stress to your fish.

A Home Fit for Fish

Aquariums take time to prepare, so when you arrive at your destination, make preparing your fish tank a priority. Add the gravel and fishless water to the new tank with a dose of dechlorinator, set filters going and add some decorations. When the new tank is at the same temperature as the water in the container and it has begun to clear, add a few fish from the container and watch them for signs of problems, such as swimming at the surface or lying on their sides at the bottom. Remove fish that appear to be in distress and wait another two hours before trying again. Feed fish a reduced diet for the first two or three weeks and change 25 percent of the new tank water weekly.

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