By Steven Pro
With summer upon us and vacation
season in full swing, I felt it was a good time to review some of the automatic
fish feeders and discuss some other options and tips I have for ensuring the
proper care of the aquatic pets while one is away. Let's get right to it!
This unit by Eheim is not rated, but
is an example of a feeder with digital programming. Photo Adam
Before going away on vacation and
entrusting the fish to the fate of these types of devices, I would strongly
encourage the hobbyist to test the performance of the feeder beforehand. This
will permit plenty of time to tweak the automatic feeder so that it gives the
fish just the right amount of food - not too much or too little.
About two weeks prior to leaving, try
running the automatic feeder into a cup or some similar device so it is easy to
monitor exactly how much food is being delivered at each feeding. This will also
allow for time to make adjustments to the feeding dosage. After about a week of
this kind of use, move the feeder over to the display and see how it functions
there. There are several things to watch out for. Now that the feeder is
actually feeding fish, does it appear that they are receiving enough food? Have
they become accustomed to the feeder’s schedule and where the food is coming
from? After months to years of being trained to come to the front of the tank
when a person approaches the aquarium and lifts the hood, they now have to
realize that food will be dispensed when no one is nearby at a set time. Also,
check to make sure that the currents and filtration are not removing the food
before the fish have a chance to eat.
The Human Fish
If, instead of a mechanical feeder
you have arranged for someone else to stop into the house to check on things and
also feed the fish, I have a few words of warning and suggestions to keep the
fish safe while the owners are out of town. First off, pre-measure all the food.
Don’t give a novice fish keeper a big can of food and expect to come home to
anything but a tank full of dead fish and a mass of rotting excess food at the
bottom of the aquarium! I prefer to use the little containers that one can buy
at the local drug store which are designed to hold daily doses of medication. .
They have seven small, separate compartments and are marked for each day of the
week. These are perfect for holding small amounts of dry fish food. If the fish
also receive frozen food, purchase the frozen food that comes in little cubes
(like small ice cube trays) and tell the house sitter exactly how many cubes of
food per day. Alternatively, one could purchase a second pill container and
placed portions of large slab frozen foods in each compartment.
Last, hide the rest of the fish food!
Don’t leave cans sitting around the tank. Inevitably, the part-time novice fish
feeder will feel that the fish are not getting enough to eat and will feel some
sort of compulsion to give them more. Help them resist this urge by removing and
hiding the food reserves and force them to stick with the rationed portions.
This unit has the nicest programming
features of any automatic feeder that I have ever used. It also has individual
compartments for each feeding so the aquarist can load each section with exactly
the amount of food they want to have dumped. You can even alternate the foods so
that the fish are fed a variety of dry foods instead of one standard offering.
It also has another feature that I prefer. It is not battery operated. It plugs
into a standard outlet.
For all those pluses though, it has
some drawbacks. The little compartments that this system utilizes are a pain to
clean. Each one has to be individually removed, cleaned, and dried thoroughly
every so often before being returned to the base unit to keep moisture and mold
problems to a minimum. Also, all those great positive features that I prefer
cost money. This is the most expensive unit discussed in this article at about
Nutrafin (Hagen) 2X:
This is one of the least expensive
units I have ever used (about $15-20) and it is a good example of the old adage
that you get what you pay for. It is battery operated, which allows the unit to
be conveniently located just about anywhere. However, it is also prone to run
out of juice and go unnoticed when used continuously. It also does not have the
most sensitive adjustment when it comes to the amount of food it dispenses. If
the intention is to only use it for a relatively short vacation once in awhile
then it is an ok choice because of how inexpensive it is. You can easily just
drop in a fresh set of batteries for each trip to ensure the power is there for
the entire time, while hopefully dialing it in close enough that the fish
neither starve nor are overwhelmed with excessive amounts of food. But, if you
are looking for something to take over the daily task of dry food feeding of a
staple diet there are better choices.
The ProFeed is an improvement over
its 2X sibling. It has a nice programming feature plus an override button to
test how much food the unit is dispensing. This added feature makes it a real
plus in my mind. The downside is that added feature about doubles the price of
this unit to around $35-40 over the 2X but in my opinion it is well worth it.
Penn Plax Daily Double II:
|The Penn Plax Daily Double is very much the same in basic design and
function as the Nutrafin 2X unit with the same drawbacks. Both are
battery-operated. Both have rather crude adjustments for how much food
they dump. However, both are inexpensive at $15-20. Either is ok for use
for a vacation, but I would not use either for regular daily duty.
Photo Adam Cesnales
Photo Adam Cesnales
The Rainbow/Lifegard unit is another
one of the better options for an automatic feeder. It is powered by standard
household current instead of a battery. It has individual compartments to hold
predetermined portions of food. And, in contrast to the Grasslin Rondomatic 400
it is easy to clean and service. However, it’s programming features are not as
convenient to the Grasslin unit.
The Downsides of Using
There are several major drawbacks
with using any of the automatic feeders. For one, fish tend to learn rather
quickly where and when the timer is going to trigger and food is going to fall
from the sky. Once they have learned this, a feeding frenzy usually ensues when
the feeder drops it food. In many instances this causes a lot of splashing which
can get the remaining food wet. This can lead to mold growing and the left over
food going bad or clogging the feeder dump mechanism. Even the humidity in the
immediate vicinity of an aquarium can cause this to happen, particularly when
the aquarium uses a canopy which can trap in even more moisture when it is not
properly vented or fan exhausted.
Possibly worse than not feeding your
fish at all, "feeding blocks" have terrible potential for water
pollution. Photo Adam Cesnales
Also, fish food manufacturers go to
great lengths to seal up their jars and cans to keep the food fresh. I always
make it a point of making sure the lids are screwed back on tightly after each
use. I even know of friends that keep their dry foods in the refrigerator to
help keep the food fresh. This is a great idea if your significant other will
tolerate it. I am not so lucky! Nevertheless, placing food in an automatic
feeder where it is open and exposed to atmospheric air is not a great way of
providing your aquatic pets with a highly nutritious diet.
And finally, even with fine-tuning,
an automatic feeder is non-responsive. It can not adjust to the particular needs
of your fish over time, or even on that particular day. That leads to either
chronically under-or-over-feeding, neither or which is good for the fish or
their environment. So, if you cannot find someone competent whom you can trust
to feed your fish while you are away, use an automatic feeder while you are
gone. But, I would not rely on one to take care of all your fishes dietary
requirements day in and day out.
So, that's it for my impressions of
automatic feeders! Have a great vacation!
Eheim auto feeder for pellets 3/15/07
Just curious if you somehow modified your Eheim feeder for use with those little
<Nah... just fool with the ding dang slider on top... those pellets don't seem
to be all that uniform... and as the hopper gets less full... less fall through
whatever incremental setting I have it pushed/pulled to... A hint here... Do
get/add a bit of that sticky Velcro tape to the bottom of the unit and the
plastic tray it mounts in... to keep all horizontal>
I received my feeder and in testing it out the smallest number of pellets I
can get to dispense is in the ballpark of 400-500 pellets, or about 10x the
usual "pinch" I feed the fish 2-3 times a day. This is when the little "door" is
open about 1/8" or less...the next smaller adjustment basically closes it
off. Maybe mine's missing something in the adjustment of the bin?
<Mmm, yes... there is a greyish sliding bit that is fluted for finger
It is a nice quality feeder if I can get it to work for me. If anybody is
looking for these, fishsupply.com has them on sale for $35....
<A bargain! I have two... and these have given good service for many years... I
usually use rechargeable AA's... but not in these... BobF>
Eheim auto feeder for pellets
I was going to order an Eheim 3581 auto feeder online, and understand Bob has
experience with them.
<Yes... in fact I just pressed the "manual" override/feeding actuators less than
fifteen minutes ago... while re-warming coffee!>
Everything I can find on this feeder only mentions that is handles flakes, but
do you know if it works well with pellet food, like Spectrum?
<Yes, does... Is what I have in mine! There is an adjustable/sliding selector on
top of the refillable food-hopper... for different size foods, amounts per
feeding. The only bugaboo I have with these units is the bit of time, re-doing
it takes to program them... and has to be re-done every time the ding dang AA
batteries run down... But good units otherwise. BobF>