An aquarium can be a soothing and friendly sight after a stressful day. There’s nothing nicer than coming home to a bunch of cute fish swimming around peacefully. But how long can fish actually live if an air pump or filter fails?
On average, fish can live in an aquarium for at least a day or two without an air pump or filter. The time they have to survive depends on the number of fish you have, the kind of fish they are, the temperature in your home, and the size of your aquarium.
If that seems like a lot to worry about, don’t worry. We’ll explore this scenario in detail so you can develop a contingency plan for your aquarium.
How Long Can Fish Live Without Air Pump?
Aquarium fish can survive for about two days without an air pump. Small ones living in a large tank have a longer survival rate than more crowded tanks or ones with large fish. That’s because the fewer fish are moving around in a tank, the less oxygen they require.
However, if you have an active fish or two that love to dart around, they will run out of oxygen quicker. You’ll know they’re starting to suffocate when they keep going to the surface to get some air.
If your air pump fails, you can reintroduce oxygen back into the water by aerating it. The best way to do this is to scoop some water off the top of the tank and then replace it with a clean one. When pouring new water, do it higher than usual so air gets pushed into the tank.
You can also lower the water level to help the fish generate oxygen. Keep the water just enough to submerge them; their movement will move the water surface enough to aerate it. Take care
Can Fish Survive Overnight Without a Filter?
If you’re experiencing a lengthy power outage, your fish should be able to survive overnight without a filter. No guarantees, however, because their survival depends on a few things.
First, you must consider how many fish live in the same tank. If only one or two small fish live in a large, 15-gallon tank, they can live without a filter for a day or two at most. The waste they produce will take a while to crowd the water’s surface.
On the other hand, if you have a crowded, 5-gallon tank, your fish is not likely to last overnight without a filter. Excess food particles and fish waste will block the water surface and increase the amount of toxic nitrates within the water.
The species of fish in your tank also determines their hardiness. For example, Goldfish generate a lot of waste, so not having a filter can quickly harm them. On the other hand, Platies are more forgiving of unusual instances such as a failed air pump or filter.
How Long Can Goldfish Live Without a Filter?
Most fishkeepers think Goldfish can live just fine in an unfiltered fishbowl, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Goldfish produce a lot of waste, so they’re likely to die from toxic ammonia and nitrates within their aquarium by 24 hours at most.
That 24-hour figure decreases even further if you have a lot of fish within a small tank. For example, having five Goldfish in a 5-gallon unfiltered aquarium is simply asking for a disaster. Not only will the fish suffer, but they could also die from toxic gases underwater.
If your Goldfish tank suffers from a failed filter, you’ll need to change the water constantly to keep it clean for the fish. Gently scoop the water’s top surface out and replace it with clean water. Pour it from a height to introduce some oxygen back into the tank.
How Long Can Fish Live Without a Heater?
If you have a fish that prefers warmer waters, chances are high that you have a heater in your aquarium. However, if that heater fails due to mechanical problems or power outages, you might worry about its survivability.
Tropical fish won’t live longer than 24 hours without a heater, especially if you live in areas with cooler climates. Temperature changes shock a fish, and some species, such as Neon Tetra, don’t respond well to these changes. They’ll become lethargic as their body functions slow.
Eventually, the fish will die from organ failure and stress if their water isn’t heated back to normal. Fish can’t regulate their body temperature, so they depend on the water temperature to live. If your heater fails, it’s up to you to keep them warm.
Thankfully, you have several ways to warm an aquarium. A simple solution would be to place the tank near an air vent or register. The warm air from the heating will also slowly change the temperature inside the tank.
If moving the tank is implausible, consider covering or wrapping it to trap heat and insulate the tank. You can also submerge a heated water bottle to transfer heat to the aquarium water. Just make sure you never pour boiling water directly into the tank.
How Long Can Tropical Fish Live Without a Filter?
Because tropical fish rely on warm waters to survive, their water needs constant aerating and filtering to be habitable. Warm waters have less oxygen, producing more toxic gas buildup without a filter.
Your tropical fish has about 24 hours before the lack of a filter affects it adversely. It could survive for a bit longer if its tank is large and isn’t crowded, but it’s still only a matter of time before it starts suffocating.
If your filter fails or there’s an extended power outage, you’ll have to nurse your fish manually until the problem is resolved. You can do this by warming the water through external sources and regularly replacing about half of the tank’s water with a clean one.
What Fish Can Live Without a Filter or Heater?
Though keeping fish in a bowl or tank without a filter or heater is not advisable, some species are more adaptable to their environment than others. Paradise Fish, for example, can live in water as cool as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate the lack of filter for a short time, too.
White Cloud Minnows are your best bet if you want a hardy fish that isn’t as aggressive as the Paradise Fish. They can withstand waters as cool as 64 degrees Fahrenheit and not have a filter for a short while. Keeping them in a larger tank will increase their survivability as well.
Every once in a while, your aquarium might suffer from a failed air pump, filter, or heater. Your fish can live without them for about a day or two, but try not to prolong that experience. Stressed fish are more susceptible to illnesses or death.
That’s why you should always have a backup in case of emergencies. Rechargeable air pumps are always handy, and you have alternative heating methods if you need to keep a tank heated. Of course, diligent tank maintenance during such instances will always go a long way.