Don’t Flounder: How to Move a Fish Tank or Aquarium

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Having fish as pets can seem like a low maintenance option compared to dogs and cats that shed, want constant attention, or have expensive vet bills. Don’t get us wrong: we love our furry friends, but there is something so relaxing about hearing the gentle trickle of water day and night, watching your gilled friends glide through a forest of neon plastic plants, and having the gentle glow of a heat lamp illuminate the room. (Okay, non-fish owners may think we’re crazy, but fellow fish fanatics understand where we’re coming from.) One of the few difficulties about having fish is figuring out how to move a fish tank if you are moving into a new home or apartment. Here are some important tips to know as you think about how to move an aquarium.

Supplies for Moving a Fish Tank

Photo source: one of our own Dolly fish families

It may seem like moving fish tanks just requires dumping out most of the water and then loading up the aquarium on a moving truck for the journey. However, this isn’t good for the fish and you may find them swimming the backstroke before you even get to your new home. Here are some basic supplies to pick up at your local hardware and pet store the week before you move a fish tank. (Note that these tips are only for moves that are between 1-6 hours away. Farther distances may require air-shipping your fish or even finding a new home for them to ensure they stay healthy and safe.)

  • Buckets & Lids: Purchase new 5-gallon buckets with lids and thoroughly clean them. The number of buckets that you buy will depend on the size of your fish tank. You’ll put most of your tank water in here because it takes a lot of time to filter a full aquarium of water. This will reduce that time so that your fish can acclimate quickly to their new location. This also means that you don’t want to use any buckets that previously held laundry soap or other chemicals that would harm your fish.
  • Bags for the fish: Bag your fish with the aquarium water in the same way that the pet store does. You may even want to go to your pet store and ask for these bags so that you know they are durable and don’t have any residue that may make the fish sick while you move the tank.
  • Excess supplies for your aquarium gear: Gather extra packing supplies for your pump, heater, nets, extra gravel, and other accessories that need to be transported cleanly and carefully and that will be easily accessible once you reach your new home.

How to Move Fish

Moving as a family is stressful, but it’s stressful for the fish, too. They need to get prepared for this big change. Here are some ways to help them make this transition.

  • Five days before moving, change 20% of the water each day to make sure the water is clean.
  • Stop feeding them two days before the move because you want the water to stay clean and, as the saying goes, “what goes in must come out”. But don’t worry; most well-fed fish can go without eating for about a week.
  • Grab those bags from the pet store and fill them one-third full with the aquarium water. Put one fish in each bag to make sure they’re safe and wrap a rubberband around the top. If you’re traveling more than an hour away, stop at your pet store and ask them to fill the bag with pure oxygen. Put the prepared bags into an empty cooler to maintain the temperature and put the lid on it since the dark will help to reduce stress.
  • Plan accordingly so that your fish are the last thing you pack and the first thing you attend to when you arrive at your destination.

How to Move an Aquarium

Photo source: one of our own Dolly fish families

Once the fish are happily waiting in the cooler, it’s time to address moving the fish tank. As we mentioned earlier, save the water so it won’t need to be re-filtered and carefully pack up your pumps, aquarium lid and other supplies. Next, put the gravel in a clean bucket because the weight of the rocks will put stress on the seams, causing them to weaken. Keep your filter and sponges immersed in some of your aquarium water to minimize the disruption of the bacteria colonies within them and reduce cycling time. Make sure to keep any live plants submerged so they won’t dry out while moving an aquarium.

After you arrive and bring your aquarium to its new home, fill the tank with the water you saved from the buckets, top off the aquarium with new treated water, hook up your heater, filter, and other equipment, and add a bacterial additive to accelerate water treatment. Add your plants and other decor and then re-acclimate your fish by letting the bags float in the water for a few hours to let the temperatures balance.

If you are moving a fish tank, get some moving help by booking a Dolly. While you’re bagging your fish and packing your tank, we’ll start loading your furniture and boxes into our trucks. Once we arrive at your new home, you can again tend to your fish and we’ll happily unload your items while you prepare your aquarium. Dolly is all about teamwork, and together we can help to make the transition easier for you and your gilled friends.

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