We all love our pets – big or small, furry or with scales – and want the best for them at all times. Depending on your pet, they can be a small commitment or a large one and, although we love automation, there’s much you can’t automate when it comes to caring for your pet. This becomes particularly obvious when you can’t be at home for a period of time. Holidays, work trips, school or an unexpected hospital visit can throw our orderly life (and our pet’s) out the window. Special arrangements must be made for caring, playing with and feeding our pets, if we can’t take them with us.

Why use an automatic fish feeder?

Fish are no exception to this and although they would be OK for a day or so without feeding, they can’t be left unfed for longer periods. If you can’t have someone pop in and feed them daily, an automatic fish feeder is a great idea and it doesn’t cost much.

What types of automatic fish feeders are there?

There are multiple types of fish feeders, small or large, automatic or manual, free standing or rim-mounted.

What to look for in an automatic fish feeder?

Depending on your fish (how many you have and their type of food), the size and shape of your fish tank as well as the length of time you need to be away, there are certain features you need to be looking for. Here are a few of the more important things to look for:

The feeding rhythm

This defines how many feed times can be configured in a 24-hour cycle and can range from 2 to 4, 6 or even more. You need to make sure you set up this rhythm properly or you might under- (or over-) feed your fish. Another thing to check on an automatic fish feeder is how easy it is to configure – the controls, dials, the display (if it has one) and so on. The feeder itself might be good and the other features might be appealing but if it’s not straightforward enough to configure it might be a pain and could be prone to error.

The feeding amount

This is not always a possibility and you must be sure that such a feature exists on the feeder of your choice. Depending on your food type and your fish, you might need to dispense a larger (or smaller) amount. And if you don’t have enough configurable feed times, you can’t tweak the feed volume by setting it to feed more often, for example. That’s when it’s important to be able to vary the amount of food being released at each feed time. The amount is also important if the food you have is prone to clogging it – ie. if the pellets are too large and dry. You might need to get smaller pellets or break them up before adding them into the food container.

Dampness protection

Not all automatic fish feeders are good at this. Even the ones where the producer claims they are “moisture-proof” are not entirely so. Due to the dampness characteristic around fish tanks, the food container must be very well insulated to keep as much of the moisture out of your food. But too strong insulation could cause the feeder to get stuck. Moisture in your food can cause it to get clogged, so the best automatic fish feeders should strike a very fine balance that many producers have a hard time with. Needless to say, the moisture problem is right up there with ease of use in the top complaints fish owners have. If the moisture protection is somewhat good, then you can quickly remedy by adding a bit of dry pellets into the storage container, if you notice the existing ones get a bit damp. Flakes tend to be worse and more predisposed to absorb moisture than pellets.

Types of food supported

Most automatic fish feeders will dispense the most common loose food types – flakes, pellets, granules. But you must check this before getting your feeder. This could be tricky with the more ‘specialised’ and ‘innovative’ ones, since depending on the feeding mechanism, they may not support all food types.

Power source

Most automatic fish feeders will be powered by batteries – 2/4 batteries, to power the internal clock and the food dispenser. Normally, with feeders that plug into the mains you don’t need to worry, unless the power goes out, but with batteries, you need to make sure that they last for the entire duration of your time away. If you’re planning to leave home for a few weeks, make sure the batteries don’t run out and shut it down before you return. You also need to check that the settings are kept and the feeding cycles are not erased when you change the batteries (which is usually what happens). So if your feeder is a bit trickier to set up, make sure you change the batteries with new ones BEFORE you set it up, to avoid having to do it again just before you leave.

Food container size

If you’re looking to go away for a longer period of time, you should probably opt for a feeder with a larger food container or arrange for someone to pop in after a while and top it up. It doesn’t help that the batteries last for a long time if there’s not enough food!

Attaching mechanism

Depending on the shape and size of your tank, not all automatic fish feeders will be easy to attach. Make sure the attaching mechanism fits your tank and that any accessories are included (or purchase them separately). A big obstacle is your tank’s lid itself – if you can’t leave it off then you’re limited in options. Also, some fish feeders are quite large – some would say larger than necessary and quite bulky – but, typically, an automatic fish feeder is not for permanent use so can be taken off when not needed.

Some of the best automatic fish feeders:

Eheim Automatic Everyday Fish Feeder 3581

Eheim Automatic Everyday Fish Feeder 3581
  • Power type: 2 AA batteries (included). Low battery level indicator.
  • Feeding times: Up to 4 per day
  • Configurable feed amount: Yes
  • Food type: Flakes but works with small pellets.
  • Capacity: 100 ml (approx. 6 x 6 x 8 cm)
  • Supports extra snacks: Yes
  • Splash resistant: Yes
  • Mounting type: Fits through the hood and also with bracket for open-top aquarium. Even for nano aquariums.

Pros: Includes a small fan that blows air through the container while it’s tipping to dispense food. This prevents moisture formation. Fairly easy to configure (might need to have a look at the manual).

Cons: Might require a read of the manual to check the instructions for configuration. Flakes might need breaking into smaller pieces, to help prevent them from clumping.

BW Automatic Fish Feeder with LCD Display (Anti-Jam Design)

Aquarium Fish Auto-feeder with LCD timer
  • Power type: 2 AAA batteries (included). Alarm for low battery.
  • Feeding times: Up to 4 per day
  • Configurable feed amount: Yes (1 or 2 turns)
  • Food type: Flakes, granules or pellets.
  • Capacity: Generous moisture-proof food drum.
  • Mounting type: Flat or side mounting

Pros: The producer claims it’s moisture-proof and anti-jam, but testing might be required with your type of food. Flakes are more prone to clumping.

Cons: Quite a large unit (11 x 7 x 7 cm) so if you have a smallish tank, check it’s appropriate. No internal memory. requires re-programming after changing batteries.

Justmysport Fish Feeder with Timer

Justmysport Automatic Fish Feeder
  • Power type: 1 AA battery (not included).
  • Feeding times: Up to 6 per day
  • Configurable feed amount: Yes
  • Food type: Flakes, granules or pellets.
  • Allows manual feeding: Yes
  • Capacity: Generous container, best for small pelleted or granular food. You might need to grind the flakes a little.
  • Mounting type: Includes a mounting bracket but the tank cover might need to be left raised.

Pros: Simple to configure with six dials, resembling some types of dials encountered on boilers.

Cons: Unit is on the large size (14 x 11 x 15 cm)

Fish Mate F14 Aquarium Fish Feeder

Fish Mate F14 Aquarium Fish Feeder
  • Power type: 1 AA battery (not included).
  • Feeding times: Up to 4 per day. Limited to 14 individual meals.
  • Configurable feed amount: Yes
  • Food type: Any type, but granular or pelleted is recommended.
  • Allows manual feeding: No
  • Capacity: 14 separate containers.
  • Mounting type: On the hood, over the food hatch or the glass edge (includes mounting brackets)

Pros: Different types of food can be served, you decide what to add in the 14 containers.

Cons: Limited number of feeds (14). There is a larger model (Fish Mate P21) for more.

Douself Aquarium Tank Electronic Automatic Fish Food Feeder

Douself Tank Electronic Automatic Fish Feeder
  • Power type: 2 AA batteries (not included)
  • Feeding times: Up to 2 per day, fixed intervals of 12 or 24 hours
  • Configurable feed amount: Yes
  • Food type: Flakes or pellets
  • Allows manual feeding: Yes
  • Capacity: With the default dispense amount, should be enough for 1 to  2 weeks
  • Mounting type: Free-standing or rim-mounted.

Pros: Very low power consumption, battery can last up to 1 year (good quality ones). Simple to install and set up.

Cons: The smallest amount setting dispenses a considerable amount of food so you might want to test it and start with the lowest.