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How Long Can Tetras Go Without Food?

How Long Can Tetras Go Without Food?

Tetras have long been a fan favorite fish. Due to their size, ease of care, and vibrant colors, it’s no surprise that they’ve quickly become one of the most sought-after ornamental fishes in the industry. 

As much as these fish are easy to keep, however, they still do require a certain level of maintenance and care for them to remain healthy and alive.

The real problem arises when owners go on holiday or need to be away from home. Having someone come over every day seems impractical but the only probable way of keeping your fishes alive. 

How long then can your school of tetras survive without food? The real answer is probably around 7 to 8 days or roughly around 1 week. Once the fishes have used up their fat reserves, which tetras do not have a lot of because they are constantly moving, they will probably die. 

In the article today, we’ll go through how long your tetras will survive without food, what alternatives you have when you go on a holiday, and lastly, some vacation tips.

Also Read: Does Fish Food Expire? (How to Keep it Fresh?)

How Long Can Tetras Survive Without Food?

Honestly, tetras are relatively hardy fish and can survive for quite a number of days without food. While the number we listed above is about 7 to 8 days, this number can vary quite significantly due to a number of factors. 

Tetras come from the Amazon where life is fast and the rivers flowing. What this translates into, means that the fishes are often fast-moving and thus a lot of energy is spent maintaining this level of activity throughout the day. 

If you’ve kept tetras, you’ll surely notice that they rarely ever stay still in a spot, this enormous amount of energy used means that they need to consume a lot of food to upkeep this activity.

Sure, in captivity, they are probably not as active as wild tetras since they do not need to escape predators or swim against any current, but genetically, they have the same disposition. 

Realistically, however, most fishes do fine with 3-4 days without food and is a common practice to starve fishes, especially finicky eaters to get them to start eating.

It is usually past the 5-6 day mark when problems such as lethargy and fin nipping start to occur due to the lack of food and survival instincts kick in. 

So how long can tetras survive without food? The realistic answer is somewhere from 7-12 days.

How Often Should You Feed Tetras?

Tetras are fast-moving fish and expend their energy quickly. While they are masters of scavenging for scraps, they also use a lot of energy doing so. 

More energy means more food needs to be consumed to fuel this enormous output. But due to their small size, most keepers think they require little food, which is partially true. 

Tetras are usually very voracious eaters and will eat when given the chance to. Often to the point of overeating, you’ll sometimes see this when they start to have trouble swimming after a big meal. You know you’ve overfed your fish when this happens. 

There’s a rule of thumb within the community that states to feed your fish once a day for about 5 minutes each time. However, we’ve found this to be rather excessive. 

Usually, we feed our schools on alternate days for as much as they will eat within 3 minutes. The reason for this is to reduce the amount of waste generated by excess food and fish poop. 

However, if you feel that you’d like to feed your tetras more often, go for it. Just don’t overfeed them. 2-3 minutes daily with a 25% water change a week should suffice and keep them thriving.

Also Read: Neon Tetras Care, Food, Breeding & Tank Mates Guide

Vacation Feeding

Like what we mentioned earlier, the problem usually arises when the owners need to be away for extended periods of time. Either for work or holiday, it doesn’t really matter.

What matters though, is that there are measures put in place for your fish. These measures are usually put in place when fish owners are away for longer than 7 days. What are the common strategies that fish owners use? 

1. The neighbor

You might think it’s funny but it’s true! One of the most common things fish keepers do is to ask someone who lives nearby for help! And it makes sense too!

Considering your neighbor or family member would only need to pop by once every 4-5 days for a good feeding, its not too much of a hassle for them to come by and spend 10 minutes to give you an update. 

This is a method that we’ve used many times ourselves. And have had the most success with as well. Remember to give them a little something in return for the favor when you get back.

2. Automatic feeders

This is something that we’ve had limited success with. But is still a viable option when it comes to feeding fishes on a timed basis. Automatic feeders are generally used when there is no one around to help feed the fish. Maybe your closest neighbor is 2 hours away or for whatever reason.

When automatic feeders first came out, they were expensive pieces of equipment that were clunky and unreliable. Thankfully, automatic feeders these days are better in quality and much cheaper than they were before. 

While they are easy to use and generally fuss-free, we don’t recommend them. Mechanical failure is still a common occurrence unless there’s someone there to monitor it in the event something happens. 

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced with automatic feeders is the quantity of food released each time. While there have been improvements in this in recent years, sadly if you have a small school of fish, automatic feeders just don’t cut it. They often release too much food at one time, quickly fouling the water. 

However, automatic feeders are still a viable option if you have a larger collection. Try to get someone to come in to check on the fishes once in a while just in case something goes wrong. 

3. Slow-release food

Possibly the worst invention to hit the ornamental fish industry, slow-release food. This option is here solely because it exists and not because we recommend it. Please do not use this method. 

Slow-release foods have been around for quite some time but have usually caused more trouble than they were designed to prevent. This is because there is 0 control over the amount of food that was designed to be released at one time. 

Slow-release food tends to release food based on its surface area. And hungry fishes tend to break up these solid pieces of food, causing a storm of uneaten food that was meant for a 7-day meal plan. Use this only if you have to, never because you choose to.


Tetras are very easy fishes to keep and require very little maintenance.

Even if you are on holiday, there are multiple methods that you can employ to keep them alive. Always have a plan ahead and a backup plan just in case plan ‘A’ falls through. That way, you’re always prepared for what’s to come. 

What we prefer is to have someone come feed our fishes once every few days but also have an automatic feeder on the side set to feed once every 2-4 days, depending on how heavily stocked the tank is.

If you are going to be away for an extended period i.e 6 months – 1 year, we suggest passing your fish on to someone else until you return.

We hope you had as much fun reading today’s article as we did writing it. Thanks for reading!