How to Travel with Your Fish

traveling with a fish
Courtesy of Kyaw Tun –

Many animal lovers who can’t bother with energetic dogs or unpredictable cats opt for fish as pets. They require very little in terms of maintenance; you don’t need to walk them, and they won’t run around your home, potentially destroying your favorite vase, TV, or that unique gift your grandma gave you when you were younger. That said, we all like or need to travel at some point of time and we want to bring our pets with us. So, how do you travel with your fish?

Although you may think that transporting fish is just as easy as other pets; but, it’s actually much more difficult than cradling a kitten or bringing a puppy in a pet carrier.

Given that even a single fish requires daily feeding and regular monitoring in terms of water temperature, quality and pollution, if you can’t provide for that level of care while you are gone, you’ll probably want to bring your pet fish along when you’re traveling and certainly when you’re moving. Here is what you need to know to do it properly and safely.

What to do before your travel with your fish

Keep the tank’s water as clean as possible prior to transporting your fish

Any drastic change in the ambient quality of water can have devastating effects on your pet fish. Some fish can live in tanks that are pristinely clear while others actually welcome a bacterium or two. While you will be able to adjust, clean, and re-water the tank while it is stationary, you won’t get that opportunity as often while you’re traveling.

how to travel with fish

Your pet fish will need to get accustomed to the change in water’s temperature and cleanliness, and the smaller this change is, the better its odds of survival will be.

The best way to ensure that your fish will be in a healthy environment while you’re on the move is to keep your fish tank as clean as possible before filling the plastic bag with its water.

Do not feed your fish for a few days before you travel

Most fish types can survive approximately seven days without any food, so you should also time its last meal before the trip. 

All fish types have different digestive systems, but most of them can digest food within a day. After that, your pet will contaminate its water. This is usually not a problem at all as most aquariums feature filtering systems, and even those that do not can be re-watered in a matter of minutes.

However, the bigger problem in this situation is the fact that most people don’t transport their fish in aquariums; plastic bags are far more practical. Plastic bags, however, contain a smaller quantity of water, which means that the effects of pollution through feces are far more impactful and dangerous.

Bringing an actual aquarium can be a viable solution if it’s decently small. Medium-sized and larger containers are not only impractical, but they’ll create bigger waves with each hard turn, which will stress your fish significantly.

Don’t place anything in your fish’s container

Generally speaking, the only thing that needs to be in the fish’s container (whether it’s an aquarium or a plastic bag) is your pet fish. Their bodies are fragile, and any item regardless of its weight can and will move with every turn, which can harm your pet.

Also, any outside object may end up polluting the water or even change its temperature. Any kind of temperature fluctuation can make your fish sick.

What to do when driving with your fish

Timing is crucial

The first thing you’ll need to think about is how long you’ll be on the move. Most fish will be able to survive approximately 48 hours outside of their fish tank. Traveling beyond this time limit will invariably increase the many factors that impact your pet’s survivability.

Making stops and resting between locations on longer trips will certainly benefit the driver and the passengers, and it’s absolutely necessary for fish. Even though they demand much less than most other types of pets, the restrictions in terms of feeding and water changing can be stressful for them, not to mention the shaking with each bump in the road.

Bring extra water

Fill clean and new plastic bags with water from your fish’s tank before traveling with your fish. Should your fish contaminate their water, you should have ample spare clean water they are accustomed to available to them.

Watch closely for signs of unease

You’ll need to monitor your pet frequently and check for signs of distress, and make a stop if you notice anything strange in its behavior. Here are some things to look for.

Gasping near water’s surface

The most typical sign that your fish is not feeling well during the trip is gasping near the water’s surface. It could be that the water had become polluted, or the environment is unsuitable (the temperature is either too high or low), or the beneficial chemicals in the water have evaporated.

Given that fish can only absorb a small amount of oxygen through the air, they may die fairly quickly if you don’t react.

Poor appetite

The second most common sign is poor appetite, but that’s not something you’ll be able to notice since you shouldn’t feed your pet during the trip. If a fish is fed while on the move, it will inevitably soil the water and therefore contaminate it. Even so, if your pet refuses to eat once you’ve stopped, you may want to call a vet just to be sure.

Odd swimming patterns

Every fish has a different kind of swimming pattern. Some may be more energetic, some may be lethargic, and it’s important to note before traveling with your fish what is the default swimming pattern for your pet specifically. Obvious deviations from this pattern are usually a sign of distress.


Finally, try to inspect your pet fish’s color to the best of your ability. Healthy fish are always of the same color while those who are struggling with any kind of stress or disease tend to be bleaker. The color of any fish is dictated by its endocrine system, which will secrete corticosterone whenever it’s enduring huge amounts of stress.

What to do when flying with a fish

If you are moving a long distance or overseas, you may need to fly your fish in order to reduce its travel time. Due to security regulations, commercial airlines will not allow fish to fly in the cabin with their owners. Airline pet policies dictate that fish must fly in the cargo hold in secure containers that will ensure their safety. All containers must be able to withstand handling and flight conditions.

travel with fish in bags
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Smaller fish such as goldfish or tropical fish can travel in leakproof plastic bags filled with a minimum of one quarter water and three quarters oxygen. Your fish should be able to swim freely in the bag.

After filling with oxygen, the bag should be twisted, looped and secured. To protect against temperature fluctuations, the bag can be wrapped in a polyethylene sheet or two.

The bag should be placed in a rigid outer container made from material that will protect your fish during handling and loading. The container can be made from strong fiberboard or wood according to the regulations of your airline. No nails, screws of any hardware that could puncture the bag are allowed. Larger species or aggressive fish (betas, etc.) will require dividers.

The container must clearly labelled with Live Animal Stickers. Before sealing the container, the attendant at the cargo facility will need to inspect your fish’s container. Contact your airline’s cargo department to make reservations, discuss check in procedures, and any questions you may have regarding your fish’s safe transport.

What to do when you reach your destination

Put your fish back into its aquarium/tank

When you reach your destination, you should put your fish back into its aquarium as soon as possible. If you didn’t bring the exact aquarium your pet is living in with you, do everything you can to recreate the living conditions it has to offer.

Use the cleanest water you can provide; if tap water is out of the question, bottled water without any additives might be your best solution. Once your fish is in the bigger container, you can feed it again.

Monitor your fish for several weeks for any signs of illness

Any infections or results of stress can surface days after you return your pet to its tank. A new source of water may also cause an imbalance that could affect sensitive fish. Additional attention is good for both you and your fish once placed in a new environment.

It is also a good idea to research a veterinarian in your destination in case complications arise once you arrive.

We hope that this rundown was useful to you and that you have learned something new today on how to travel with your fish. A few simple steps can result in a safer and happier trip for both of you.

Kimberly Fowles:

A poet, a writer, and a full-time nurse. When she’s at home, she spends her time with her fishy and four-legged friends. She grew up in Alberta with her parents and then moved to Ontario to take care of her only aunt. Kimberly dreams of moving to Australia and wants to spend at least a few years there.

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