So, I keep seeing headlines like “Arthur ruins 4th of July Plans” and I know that I should probably feel frustrated and upset (because I am one of the people whose plans might be ruined), but instead all I can do is laugh hysterically.
It's storming pretty hard here and I'm worried we'll lose power. If it goes out and my filter/heater go out, do you have any tips on how to keep my fish safe and healthy?
Power outages with fish is definitely stressful. I went through this myself last year during Hurricane Arthur. Our betta was fine (although, sadly, some of the shrimp suffocated).
What you have to do depends on what kind of fish you have and your filters, but here are some general tips:
Before the Power Goes Out
Before the power goes out, make sure you have emergency pet supplies handy, such as:
Buckets of dechlorinated water set aside in case you lose water with your power
Blankets/towels (and bubble wrap/Styrofoam – see below for more details)
Mesh bags or pantyhose
A battery-powered aerator and batteries
Plenty of your basic supplies, such as fish food and water conditioner
Power surge protectors (to avoid frying your equipment)
Bottled bacteria (just in case)
Be sure to get the battery-powered aerator as quickly as possible. I tried to get an aerator before Hurricane Arthur hit last year and all of our local stores were already sold out. Just remember that there may be lots of other fishkeepers hurrying to beat you to the supplies!
If the Power Goes Out
1. Check the filters.
As soon as the power goes out, check and maintain the filters. Without a steady flow of oxygen, the beneficial bacteria in your filters will begin to die. As the bacteria dies, deadly toxins are produced and released into the water, which causes ammonia spikes. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, the excess ammonia can potentially be fatal for your fish within a matter of hours.
If you have HOB (hang on back) or canister filters, disconnect and remove the filter media immediately. Before using the filters again once the power returns, you must also clean the devices to get rid of the dead bacteria. However, biowheels can be submerged during power outages, as well as the filter media from HOB, canister, and trickle filters if placed within mesh bags or pantyhose. You’ll still need moving water, though, so continue reading to learn more about aerating during power outages.
If the power outage lasts for days, it is important to check your water parameters and do partial water changes every day to help reduce the ammonia. There are also products available, such as Seachem Stability or Tetra SafeStart, that can be used to introduce beneficial bacteria back into the tank to potentially help control the water parameters (as long as there’s still oxygen flow). However, such products are hit or miss since their introduction can cause ammonia spikes as well.
2. Aerate the water.
Although bettas have labyrinth organs that allow them to directly take oxygen from the surface, keeping the water aerated will help lessen the stress for your fish, as well as any other tank mates.
To aerate the fish tank, there are many inexpensive battery-operated aerators available at pet stores or on Amazon. The aerator will help agitate the surface and move the water around to provide dissolved oxygen. If you do not have an aerator, you can manually oxygenate your tank by scooping water in a cup or pitcher and pouring it back in for five minutes every hour (or as soon as you see your betta or tank mates gasping for air).
If you have your filter media floating in mesh or pantyhose, placing it over/by the outflow of the aerator to have water flow over it can help keep the beneficial bacteria alive. A regular sponge filter can be attached to the aerator and kept running like usual as well.
3. Maintain the temperature.
While betta fish are hardy and can typically live in temperatures ranging from 72° to 82° (although about 80° is often the most preferred), the change in temperature resulting from a power outage can be dangerous.
To help keep the water warm, the safest thing you can do is use Styrofoam or blankets to surround the aquarium and help keep the heat inside. If the water is too warm, you can open the feeding door or remove the lid to help cool the water down.
To apply bubble wrap to your tanks, here are the steps:
Cut bubble wrap sheets to the dimensions of your tank.
Lightly spray water onto the outside glass panes with a spray bottle.
Press the bubble wrap to the glass with the bubble side facing in.
Use double-sided tape to hold the bubble wrap in place if the water isn’t enough.
According to the article linked to above, bubble wrap can be used to reduce heat loss for single-glazed windows by almost half. I haven’t personally tested how it applies to tanks, but it’s yet another method that can be layered to help keep fish warm.
An important thing to remember is that the temperature changes must be gradual. If you suddenly adjust the temperature, even by just a couple of degrees, your fish could go into shock. That is why you should never just add hot or cold water to the aquarium to adjust the temperature while the fish is present. (If you do add hot or cold water, remove the fish fish and properly acclimate it back in after the water change to prevent shock).
Once the power returns, be sure to use your heaters to gradually bring the temperature back up over the course of hours.
4. Avoid feeding the fish.
It is important to reduce or avoid feeding your betta during power outages. By feeding your fish, you will only create more waste in the water that can build to dangerous levels without proper filtration and water changes. Most bettas can typically live up to around five days or so without being fed, and especially as the cooler temperatures lower your betta’s metabolism. You should only resume regular feeding your fish once the power returns and the water parameters, including the temperature, is back to normal.
This is everything I can think of at the moment… If anyone else has any more tips, feel free to share!