Mr. Saltwater Tank

Write-Up Wednesday: The Pros and Cons of An Automatic Fish Feeder

Feeding your fish is something that you have to do. Your finned friends simply cannot survive without being fed something. While you likely enjoy feeding your fish manually, there are merits and drawbacks to using an automatic fish feeder.

The biggest benefit to an automatic fish feeder is that you don’t have to be present to feed your fish. The automatic fish feeder dispenses food and your fish should get fed (more on the should part in a bit). This automated feeding is beneficial for when you are away from your tank for several days or if you like to feed your fish several times a day and can’t or don’t want to feed by hand.

The drawbacks to an automatic fish feeder are three fold:

First, automatic fish feeders can fail. When they fail, they either don’t dispense food, or they dispense way too much food. If you’re gone for an extended period time and are relying on an automatic fish feeder that fails, then your fish either go hungry or you’ll come home to a nutrient issue and/or algae outbreak.

Second, at this time there is not a commercially available (i.e., not D.I.Y.) automatic fish feeder that feeds frozen food. The automatic fish feeders that are on the market only dispense flaked or pelleted food, which brings up drawback #3

Third, not every fish will eat flaked or pelleted food. My Banggai cardinal fish (Pterapogon kauderni) and White Tail Bristletooth Tang (Ctenochaetus flavicauda) flat out refuse flaked and pelleted food. I’ve also kept several types of anthias that refuse flaked and pelleted food. If these fish won’t eat what comes out of the automatic feeder, then these fish aren’t getting fed, rendering the automatic feeder partly useless. These fish will need to be fed another type of food (probably frozen food) which has to be done by hand.

I won’t deny that if some of your fish are getting fed, then that is better than no fish getting any food. An automatic fish feeder can be used to bridge the days when your tank sitter doesn’t feed. For example, if you know some of your fish will eat flaked/pelleted food, then your sitter could come every two days versus every day. You’ll still need to rely on a tank sitter which isn’t a bad thing as they can look over the system while they are there feeding. Just make sure you give your sitter the “Don’t kill the fish” worksheet found in my Pre-Travel Planning and Preparation Guide so they are familiar with your system!

If you’re lucky to have a tank full of fish that will all eat flaked and pelleted food, then the automatic fish feeder can be a saving grace for you. Due to my picky eaters, I, or my tank sitter, have to feed my fish frozen food by hand. Also, I have no problem not feeding my fish every day while I’m out town. For those reasons, I don’t use an automatic fish feeder.

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Comments for this article (4)

  • Will says:

    Good tip. I use an apex feeder in combination with a tank sitter. The tank sitter just shows up, pets the cats, and makes sure that theres nothing wrong: No standing water, no funny noises or smells, the feeder is still in the correct position, and has food in it.

    If something goes awry and I’m unable to get home in quick order, there are LFSs nearby that can handle emergencies if the tank sitter is overwhelmed.

  • David says:

    We just got home from a 3 week vacation. Both tanks are fine. Before leaving, I froze a daily serving of flake, frozen, and other food into standard ice cube trays. My neighbor stopped by each day and dropped an ice cube into each tank. As the ice cube melts, it releases the food.

  • John says:

    I am on simular lines as Will’s comment.
    But we are getting a house sitter, that will stay in the house for the month we go away.
    We are going to have a day before we go, and actually show the house sitters what to do for a water change to the tank etc.
    We have got a list of feeding and checks to do each day, and will be printing them out and even laminating them so they can get them wet.
    Also, we have an auto feeder for the dried food 4 times during the day, so the house sitter will only have to feed frozen once per day.
    We also have an emergency number they can call, to get a reefer friend around if there are any problems.

  • Adam W says:

    I leave small pellet food and shot glasses with the amount of frozen food I want to dispense in the fridge and my pet sitter dispenses. I also skip days of feeding when away. Unfortunately my Hippo Tang was killed off while I was gone. He was skinny and i think he was being targeted by the clowns in my tank.

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