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How Long Can Tropical Fish Live Without Food?

how long can tropical fish live without food

One of the main considerations of having any pet, whether a dog or fish, is how often to feed them. Since fish pet hotels are not running rampant, tropical fish owners may wonder what happens when they go on vacation or forget to feed their fish. How long can tropical fish live without food?

Tropical fish can live without food for up to a week. Some fish can live without food for longer or up to two weeks. The exact period a tropical fish can live without food depends on the species of fish. Though they should be fed daily, a tropical fish without food can survive longer than expected.

Throughout this article, you will also learn the following information about the eating habits and needs of tropical fish:

  • The three types of tropical fish and their food needs
  • Why your tropical fish may survive without food longer than you think

Three Types of Tropical Fish and Their Food Needs

If you have ever owned or admired an aquarium full of colorful fish, chances are, you are looking at tropical fish. Tropical fish are everywhere and are not comprised of a single species of fish. They are often brightly colored, making them excellent to gaze at and admire.

Like most living creatures, tropical fish need to eat. How much and how often is the question. And what happens if you forget to feed your fish or if you need to take a vacation?

For example, my family was recently evacuated for a few days due to an unexpected wildfire. I knew the fish would be okay, but I also knew I could not put the aquarium in my car. I had to find out more about how long my fish would survive without food.

We do not often think of fish in terms of whether or not they eat meat, but fish come in three varieties.

  • Herbivore fish eat only plants
  • Carnivore fish eat only meat
  • Omnivore fish eat both plants and meat

Here is a list that tells you which of your favorite tropical fish are herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, with a corresponding list of recommended foods for each fish.

Why does it matter? It matters because grouping fish that eat similarly can help you make sure you are putting compatible fish in your tank and make sure that you have a better idea of how long they can be left without food.

If you decide to use automatic or vacation feeders to feed your fish while away, knowing which feeder to buy might depend on what your fish eat! Consistency can be beneficial here.

Is Tropical Fish Freshwater or Saltwater Fish?

Tropical fish can be either freshwater fish or saltwater fish. In fact, just about any fish found in a tropical environment is considered a tropical fish. This also includes fish found in or near coral reefs. The question is, do fish from different environments have different feeding limitations and needs?


Freshwater fish make up most of the tropical fish you buy at the fish store. Often bred in fish farms in Florida or the far East, they are a popular choice because they are easy to breed in captivity and require little water maintenance.

A few feeding tips for freshwater fish:

  • Adults can go longer (often 1-2 weeks) without food
  • Younger fish do not have the same fat reserves and need to be fed more often
  • Automatic feeders and vacation feeders are excellent options if you will be away from home for long and want to ensure your fish eat frequently enough

If you are looking for a reliable automatic feeder for your tropical fish, this EHEIM Everyday Automatic Fish Feeder for Aquariums is a terrific choice.

If you prefer a simpler option that lasts up to 14 days, the Tetravacation 14-Day Feeder for Tropical Fish is an excellent option that does not require batteries like the automatic fish feeder.


Saltwater tropical fish are only slightly less popular than freshwater tropical fish. Their bright colors make them especially attractive to buyers. Less attractive is their slightly higher price to purchase because they usually require sourcing from the wild. Maintaining their saltwater environment takes a bit more effort than their freshwater counterparts.

Like freshwater fish, saltwater fish can go several days, and sometimes even weeks, without food. Regular feeding recommendations range from a few times per day, as if they were in the wild, to once a day feedings when you are home.

Coral Reef

Fishkeepers often prefer marine tropical fish that live in or near coral reefs. But in the case of a tropical fish tank, the coral itself is often part of the tank, and coral needs to eat, too.

As with saltwater and freshwater fish, the frequency with which coral needs to eat varies. As a general rule, feeding coral a couple of times per week is recommended, but a longer time in between feedings should not hurt your coral.

All of the fish mentioned above can potentially become the tropical fish that swim in your fish tank. It is fairly safe to assume that your fish, whether freshwater, saltwater or coral, will be fine if you go on vacation for a few days and even up to a week or slightly more. There is one caveat, however. This applies to healthy fish. An unhealthy fish may need much more regular care in order to survive without food.

Why Your Tropical Fish Can Live Without Food Longer Than You Thought

Here is how and why tropical fish can live without food for at least a few days and sometimes up to two weeks:

The Law of the Ocean

Fish eat to survive. It is not likely that fish look for a midday snack just to pass the time. Fish do not eat every single day in the wild. They eat when they find food and eat to survive. This helps put into perspective how it might be possible for fish to be able to survive without food for slightly extended periods. It is how they are wired.

As mentioned earlier, adult fish may be able to survive longer without food than younger fish as their fat reserves are built. Be sure to assess the age and health of your fish before leaving them for extended periods of time without food.

Important reminder: It is better to underfeed fish than to overfeed them. One reason for this is that overfed fish expel a lot of waste, contaminating the water easily and quickly. If you do not overfeed fish and give them a feeding break when needed might actually keep them healthier and alive longer.


Leaving a tropical fish unfed is not something you want to do regularly. Fish, like all pets, need food to survive. However, it can be comforting to know that tropical fish can survive without food much longer than expected.

Most fish can survive several days and up to a week, and some species can even survive longer than that. Though it is always best and recommended to feed your fish daily, a break in regular feedings should not harm your tropical fish.

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