When first buying a pet, it is easy to study the overall care but miss a few important aspects. For example, when buying a betta fish, many people forget about upcoming vacations or work trips and struggle to care for their betta while honoring previous obligations. Much like a cat or a dog, betta fish should be fed multiple meals daily. However, unlike a dog or cat, you can’t often board a betta, so what should you do to prepare for a vacation?
Bettas are resilient and sturdy fish that are able to be left alone for extended periods of time. Of course, this is not an indefinite period of time, as they still need to eat rather frequently. Fish sitters are normally very hard to come by, but if you are able to find one, they are normally not well versed in all aspects of fish care. They normally overfeed fish, which could lead to dangerous ammonia and nitrite spikes. It is possible to leave bettas alone while you go on vacation, as long as it is for two weeks or less, and you take proper measures to prepare your betta.
In this article, we will discuss leaving bettas for a weekend, how long they can go without food, how to prep bettas for longer vacations, automatic feeders, and pet sitters.
Can I Leave My Betta Fish for a Weekend?
In short, yes, it is perfectly fine to leave your betta fish for one weekend. In fact, some owners fast their fish on a weekly basis, for one or two days a week. While this is not common practice, it can be done without adverse health effects.
Bettas are normally fed twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, as this seems to be best for their metabolism. However, they are adaptable, and as long as they are not being severely overfed, or binge fed, they will be fine.
Binge feeding isn’t a common feeding method, but I have seen it crop up once or twice. This is essentially fasting the betta for 2-3 days, then feeding an excessive amount of food the next day and repeating the cycle. This is terrible for bettas, as it ruins the metabolism and typically leads to bloat, constipation, and more serious conditions.
A bettas stomach is roughly the size of its eye, and by feeding enough food for 3 days in a single sitting, it can cause some serious damage. All 70+ betta species are prone to bloat and obesity, and binge feeding is incredibly dangerous to them.
If you do have to leave your betta for one weekend, simply feed a normal amount when you return. Do not try and feed your betta excess to make up for lost time; they can go several days without eating in the wild and feeding extra is much more harmful than a 2-3 day fast.
How Many Days Can Bettas Go Without Food?
Bettas, and most other fish, can go for two weeks without being fed, though one week is safer. With that being said, I have had to leave my fish for two weeks multiple times over the past few years, and I’ve never lost one during those time periods.
All bettas who have been properly fed will be just fine going for two weeks without any food. They will not be fine if it becomes a common occurrence, such as coming back for two weeks, leaving for two weeks, etc. It is best to give at least a month in between trips in order to ensure that your betta is at a healthy weight.
Starvation isn’t the only issue that can occur if you are leaving for one to two weeks; you won’t be there to monitor the temperature, water parameters, filter malfunctions, or interactions between fish if you have community tanks.
Of course, there is no way to cover for every possible eventuality, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for leaving your betta alone for an extended period of time.
How to Prep a Betta for Vacations
While food is a major concern when leaving your fish to go on vacation, water parameters are also incredibly important. You must do your best to ensure that your betta’s filter is fully functional, and the water is as clean as possible before you go on vacation.
Do extra water changes starting a week before you go on vacation to try and get rid of as many nitrates as possible. You won’t be there to do normal weekly water changes, and chances are you’ll need a day or two of rest once getting back. Therefore, expect nitrates to build up 2-3x what they normally are, which can become very dangerous very quickly.
Feed your betta a little more than normal starting 2-3 days before you leave. You can also feed some extra treat food (normally frozen foods such as mysis shrimp, blackworms, and similar) as they have a higher fat content than normal betta food.
Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the heater before you leave to ensure that it still works properly. Clean the filter media in old tank water to clear out excess nitrate-causing gunk. If you have lights, you can leave them either on or off, but both have consequences.
Programmable lights can be cheap depending on where you live, ranging from $10-20 for the cheaper models. If you don’t have plants, you can just leave the light off or use a programmable one set for 6-8 hours of light per day. If you do have plants, you could leave the light on, but be prepared for an algae outbreak to greet you when you return. Programmable lights may work for your plants, but the cheaper ones generally do not have the right light to support proper plant growth.
While automatic feeders are incredibly helpful and easy to use, there are a few issues associated with them. Automatic feeders rarely fail, but it is a good idea to set them up one to three days before you leave, just to make sure it is working properly and dispensing the right amount of food.
Most can be programmed to dispense a certain amount of food several times a day. Or, they can be programmed to only dispense food on certain days of the week, or every few days, every few hours, etc. However, the issue lies in waste buildup.
Even if you can feed your fish a perfect amount of food while you’re away, you can’t clean their tank or do weekly water changes as you normally would. Waste can build up very quickly, and if no one is there to monitor ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, your tank can easily crash.
If you plan to be away for only 2 weeks or less, it is best to leave your fish with either an automatic feeder that only feeds every few days, or simply leave them alone. They will be perfectly fine.
Pet sitters can be incredibly helpful and reassuring; if they know what they are doing. If you get someone who normally watches dogs, cats, and other non-exotic pets, they will likely make a few mistakes with your fish. Unfortunately, if they do not know anything about water chemistry, these mistakes could be fatal.
If you must use a pet sitter, try your best to get someone who fully understands the aquarium nitrogen cycle, not just someone who has kept fish before. If you cannot, simply tell them how much to feed your fish and how often.
It is easiest for both you and the sitter if you get weekly pill organizers and fill it with the amount of food you want the sitter to feed each day (or every few days). This way, the sitter can’t feed more than they should, and they will be able to give you peace of mind every time they visit your fish.
In conclusion, it is fine to leave your betta fish for a single weekend without feeding them, as long as it isn’t every single week. Bettas can also be left for up to two weeks by themselves, and they will be perfectly fine. However, if you are uncomfortable with this, it is fine to use an automatic feeder or a pet sitter to provide food while you are gone, as long as you take proper precautions to limit the waste buildup in the tank.