Summer is here and with it comes vacations spent with family and friends away from home. This time of year we get a lot of emails asking, “how long a betta fish can survive without food?” Many betta keepers are going out of town and don’t know what to do with their betta while away. Some fear leaving their fish without care for even a day or two, while others write in hoping they’ll find their betta alive and well after a week long vacation. I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in on your betta’s feeding schedule requirements as well as some tips to keeping your betta safe while on summer vacation.
- Fish are cold blooded. Their metabolism (and nutritional needs) are based in part on their environment. As a general rule, fish kept in warmer water need feeding more often than fish kept in cooler water. Take Koi for example. Koi kept in a warm pond in the summer are fed regularly, while in the winter, when the water is near freezing, their metabolism slows to the point they can go for long periods without food. Bettas are tropical fish and could never survive in very cool water. They require regular feeding and can never go for very long periods without food. They can go longer than mammals though. Skipping a day or two of feeding is not a problem for a betta fish.
- A healthy betta of a good size living in a large, fully cycled aquarium may survive longer than one who has suffered health problems, is underweight or who lives in an unfiltered fish bowl. In a perfect case scinario (large 10 gallon tank, fully cycled, etc) I might personally go as long as 3 full days without food assuming I’d be home to feed him by the 4th day and every day after that.
- Automatic fish feeders are notoriously unreliable. They often over feed your fish or don’t work at all. The web is filled with stories of automatic fish feeders gone bad. If you are sure that your only option is an automatic fish feeder, I suggest setting it up a week before you leave and monitoring it daily to see how it works. Remember, if it dumps it’s entire load of fish food into the aquarium (like some have reported) the decaying food can turn to ammonia quickly, making your tank water toxic to your fish.
- Surviving is not thriving. It’s funny, but whenever I get an email from a reader it always asks, “How long with my betta SURVIVE without food?” I always cringe a little when I read that because surviving simply means that the fish isn’t completely dead when you get home. Starvation is a horrible way to die and no animal, no matter how small, should be left to starve. After a short time (maybe 4 or 5 days, I’m estimating) the betta’s body will begin to go into survival mode using up it’s reserves to stay alive. During prolonged periods of fsting, stress from starvation can be tremendous and eventually will cause the kidneys to shut down and can lead to organ failure. Even if the betta appears alive and healthy, his immune system can become quickly weakened leaving him susceptible to common illnesses that can lead to serious complications or death. Betta fish in the wild live in a very lush environment with lots of insects and larvae to eat. It is not likely that bettas in their natural environment would have to go long without food.
- Keep in mind there are other dangers to leaving your fish unobserved for several days. Take care to make sure the tank or bowl is covered so he can’t jump out. Bettas are great jumpers and will do it. Also, be sure your equipment is in good working order. Check that the filter basket on the intake is firmly attached so your betta doesn’t get sucked up while you are gone. If you are using a heater, be sure it isn’t set too high and is in good working order. Often tank heaters get stuck in the “ON” position and the tank can quickly get over heated in the summer months. Be sure your tank isn’t left in direct sunlight or in a place that is too cold either.
So for a quick recap, by taking a few cautionary steps most betta fish will be fine without food for a weekend. For trips longer than a few days you should consider asking a friend or family member to watch over your fish. A betta fish should never be left without food or supervision for a week or more.