A Confederacy of Fishes

FIDO Blog

FIDO Blog | Mar 11, 2016

Dear Dr. Sip and Melissa:

I am moving across the country to change pace. But: I have a 50-gallon saltwater tank and have no idea how best to move the creatures or the equipment! It can’t be good for the fish to drive sloshing around in the back of a U-Haul, but my dogs and husband will be in the cab of the car with all their accoutrements! Is this a job for FedEx?

-Anne S.
South Beach, CA (soon to be Portsmouth, VA)

Dr. Sip knows a thing or two about shipping animals. Here is FedEx’s method of shipping her beloved turtle, “Shelly.” Note the “Live Animal, Caution” arrows. (Sip Siperstein)

Melissa: I had enough difficulty moving Bo Fish, our Betta, one mile from the pet store to the apartment. This resulted in having to get Bo Fish 2 without my three-year-old finding out about it. I can’t imagine moving 50 gallons of fish! 

Dr. Sip: To be fair, it’s not 50 gallons of fish. It’s 50 gallons of water, but regardless, it’s a pain in the tuchus to move. I decided to call a friend, Dr. Mike Corcoran of VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital in Wakefield, MA. Dr. Corcoran is a certified aquatic veterinarian! 

Melissa: Woah, that’s a thing?

Dr. Sip:  If you can certify it, it’s a thing. Luckily for aquatic species that otherwise would face the 21 Flush Salute, Dr. Corcoran is really good at what he does.

Dr. Sip: Dr. Corcoran wanted to stress that it’s critical for the fish to have as little travel time as possible, and no bubble wrap in your sedan. That’s because you aren’t going to use your sedan. The faster they arrive and can settle the better. 

Melissa: Short of driving 100 mph across the United States (inadvisable), Anne should look into an overnight shipping service. 

Dr. Sip: This also means that you’ll need two tank set ups. 

Melissa: In case FedEx smashes one?

Dr. Sip:  That, too, but mostly so the fish can stay in their existing tank as long as possible before the move in California. As soon as Anne arrives in Virginia, the very first thing she does (after she inaugurates her bathroom) should be to set up the new tank before her fish arrive.

Fish should not make the move in their original tank.

Melissa: So the fish can’t actually move in the original tank, right? I’m not an aquatic enthusiast, but that just seems like a really bad idea.

Dr. Sip: It’s a really bad idea. Here is a list of what Dr. Corcoran suggests: 

  • The fish should be placed individually in plastic bags containing the water from the current aquarium. The bag should be half water and topped with oxygen, then tied in a manner similar to bringing the fish home from a pet store. 
  • For long transit a second bag should be used around the bag with the fish in case of a leak. 
  • The bags should be packed snugly in an insulated box so that they don’t move excessively. Depending on the weather, hot or cold packs should be placed in the box immediately prior to shipping. 
  • Make sure the box is labeled to let the carrier know there are live animals. 
  • Many aquarium stores will offer the packing and shipping as a service. 
  • Keeping the fish in quarantine for 30 days and getting help from a veterinarian for any signs of disease resulting from travel stress can save great difficulty dealing with medical issues in the new aquarium. It’s far easier to treat infections or parasites in an aquarium that has no gravel or plants. 
  • You can find listings of veterinarians who work with fish at fishvets.org (the website for The American Association of Fish Veterinarians) so you can get help if something goes wrong when you arrive.

Melissa: I like how this question turned out not to be about pets traveling in cars at all! 

Dr. Sip: It’s more of a cautionary tale. It’s probably not a good idea to drive across the country with buckets of live guppies. I mean, can you imagine the Center for Pet Safety doing a crash-test study on glass aquariums? 

Melissa: I don’t think any crate, kennel, bubble wrap, or aquarium harness would pass the Center for Pet Safety in this case. So the safest way to drive with your pet fish --- 

Dr. Sip: Is to pay someone else to do it correctly.

If you still insist on driving across the country with your aquarium, keep in mind your fish will make you stop at every rest stop. Don’t feed your fish Roy Rogers, and please don’t drive your fish 2,200 miles.

Thank you to Dr. Mike Corcoran for assisting in this piece as the only source of useful information for Anne, and anyone traveling with aquatic critters.

If you have a question for Dr. Sip and Melissa, write them at Car Talk Plaza. The weirder, the better.

More about Melissa (who wrote ‘Considerations for the City Dog’) and Dr. Sip (who is a practicing veterinarian in Berkeley, CA) can be found here.


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