Most aquarists strive for consistency in their tanks when it comes to water quality, lighting, and feeding frequency, but providing food at the same time every day can be challenging, depending on your schedule. Consistency often goes out the window if you ever take a vacation or have to work late, creating some very hungry fish in your aquarium. Using an automatic fish feeder can make your life easier!
If you just want to skip to our favorite, we recommend the EHEIM automatic fish feeder. We recommend this EHEIM feeder because it is affordable, durable, and reliable.
Automatic fish feeders can make the fish feed process effortless and exact, day in and day out. We put together these reviews and a buyer’s guide to help you choose the best automatic fish feeder for your tank.
Recommended Automatic Fish Feeders:
What is an Automatic Fish Feeder?
An automatic fish feeder is a device that sits on top of your tank and delivers fish food to your tank on a set schedule. They typically get mounted to your tank’s lid or rim, and they have a fully enclosed compartment to hold food and keep it dry.
They work on a timer, releasing food at each interval you set.
Different Types of Automatic Feeders
There are two primary types of automatic feeders: those with rotating barrels and those with individual compartments for portion control.
Rotating Barrel Fish Feeder
A rotating barrel fish feeder holds a single compartment that you fill with food. When the timing interval you set is reached, the device spins the barrel, and the food inside falls out of a hole in the top.
Rotating barrel feeders are extremely simple to set up, and you don’t have to weigh out or measure the food you place in them. You can simply fill them and forget them.
However, these feeders don’t measure the food delivered to your fish. You can calibrate it a bit, but you’ll never get super precise feedings with this type of feeder.
Portion Control Fish Feeder
Portion control feeders contain multiple compartments, typically arranged in a horizontal wheel. You fill each compartment with a single feeding, which you can measure or weigh meticulously for an exact feeding.
At the scheduled feeding time, the wheel rotates and drops the food from a single compartment into your tank.
These feeders are super precise, but it can be a bit of a pain to have to fill each compartment individually.
How Does an Automatic Fish Feeder Work?
Automatic fish feeders use an internal clock to keep track of the time. You can program them to deliver food at any point during a 24-hour period.
When the designated feeding time arrives, the timer triggers the barrel to rotate a given number of degrees or a portion control wheel to turn and empty the next food compartment.
Many automatic fish feeders can be programmed to feed multiple times a day if needed. Some rotating barrel feeders even allow you to set how much the barrel rotates during a feeding, giving you some control over the amount of food that gets delivered.
Why Do You Need an Automatic Fish Feeder?
If you’re guaranteed to be home every single day at the exact time your fish need to be fed, then you don’t need an automatic fish feeder – but that isn’t a realistic scenario for the large majority of aquarists. Automatic fish feeders keep your fish fed no matter what happens in your schedule.
Fish do best with a routine, and work, family life, vacation, and unexpected emergencies can all get in the way of that.
Although most people can find others who will lend a helping hand and feed their fish for them while they’re away or unexpectedly busy, we all know that no one will care for our fish the way we do. Additionally, we’re all guilty of forgetting to feed our fish from time to time.
An automatic fish feeder keeps your fish happily fed, avoids over-feeding and the related nitrite and nitrate spikes, and gives you peace of mind no matter what else is going on in your life. If you combine them with self-cleaning fish tanks, you have an almost automatic aquarium.
How to Choose an Automatic Fish Feeder for Your Aquarium
There are a few key factors you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re deciding which automatic feeder is best for your setup.
1. How Long Will You Be Gone?
First, consider how long you plan to be away from your fish. Most people rely on their automatic feeders to deliver food while they’re at work, busy with errands, or on a short vacation. For aquarists who will rarely be away for more than a week vacation, most automatic feeders will suffice.
However, if you plan on being on vacation for longer, or you’d rather go more time without having to refill the feeder, you will want to make sure that you choose one that can hold a large quantity of food and deliver it in small amounts.
Rotating barrel feeders are typically better for more extended periods, but you’ll want one that can feed consistent portions even when the barrel is full. As you’ll see in our reviews below, this is a lot to ask for!
Most portion control feeders can hold a maximum of 14 days, so they’re only suitable for those who will be away for two weeks or less.
2. Type of Food
The type of food you feed your fish can dramatically affect how accurate your feeder is and how often your fish get the proper amount of food. Some auto fish feeders are better suited to flake or pellet style foods.
For example, Betta food contains tiny pellets that easily tumble out of a rotating barrel feeder in huge quantities. Using a barrel feeder for Bettas can leave an immense amount of uneaten food in your Betta tank, which will cause dangerous and potentially deadly spikes of nitrites and nitrates. A portion control feeder is likely best for small food like Betta pellets.
Similarly, large flakes can get caught up in a barrel feeder’s small opening if it isn’t set correctly. Smaller flakes are typically fine for both types of feeders, but given that the food tends to clump together, you’re best off with a portion control option.
Larger food, like wafers or big pellets, can be challenging and even impossible to calibrate for successfully with a rotating barrel feeder. Most aquarists find that big pieces of food are best served with a portion control feeder.
Additionally, the number and type of fish in your tank can help you decide which feeder – or feeders – to purchase. Tanks with multiple species often require some combination of wafers, pellets, and flakes.
If you have a multi-species tank that you feed different types of food each day, a portion control feeder with large compartments is likely best for you. Rotating barrel feeders won’t deliver equal amounts of each food no matter how well you calibrate them, so you’re better off filling individual compartments with all of the food you need to deliver.
If you have multiple fish species that eat at different times of the day, you’ll be better off with several portion control feeders or a single one that allows for customized scheduling.
As with any piece of equipment for your fish tanks, the cost is going to be important. You’ll always want to consider your budget carefully when choosing a feeder, especially since they aren’t absolutely necessary and more important equipment may take precedence.
If you’re looking for a convenient option for making sure your fish don’t starve while you’re away or busy, we recommend balancing your budget with reliability first. A feeder that delivers food consistency will give you peace of mind and keep your fish safe and happy.
If you’re the type of aquarist who enjoys total control over your tanks and meticulously maintains water quality, then opting for a more expensive portion control feeder that you can tune with precision will likely suit you best.
Lastly, consider the online reviews of any product you’re considering. It’s best to hear how reliable and consistent a feeder is from other aquarists who have used them before committing to the purchase yourself.
How to Set Up an Automatic Fish Feeder
Setting up an automatic fish feeder consists of three main steps.
Mounting the Feeder
Before your feeder can drop food into your tank, you’ll need to mount it above the water level. Feeders come in two mounting options: rim mount and lid mount.
Rim mount feeders use a squeeze clamp or a screwing clamp mechanism to clip to the rim of your aquarium. They’re usually super simple to set up, and they can be repositioned easily to other parts of the tank if you ever change your setup.
To attach a rim mount feeder, simply clamp it to the rim of your tank, making sure that the opening under the barrel or portion control wheel is positioned over the water.
Lid mount feeders attach to or sit on top of your aquarium hood. Some use clips or clamps to grip onto the lid, while others simply rest on top. Those that clip to openings in the hood are more secure for obvious reasons.
If your lid mount feeder comes with a clamp, secure it to an opening in your aquarium cover. Make sure that the opening for food to come out is positioned over the water. If your lid mount doesn’t include a clamp, simply place it on the hood or a nearby ledge with the hole set over the water.
Filling the Feeder
Once your feeder is mounted, fill it with food. For rotating barrel feeders, you can simply dump the food into the container. If you have a portion control feeder, fill each compartment with a single serving of food.
Make sure to close the feeder once it’s filled to prevent water from getting into it and potentially ruining the food.
Calibrating the Feeder
Calibrating your automatic fish feeder will ensure that your fish get the proper amount of food during each feeding. It will help avoid your tank not getting enough food, as well as overfeeding and the associated spikes in nitrites and nitrates in your fish tank.
For portion control feeders, the calibration will be simple. Just use the buttons and prompts on your feeder to schedule feeding times. Most include a single feeding option for each 24-hour period, while others allow for multiple feedings each day. Make sure you set your feeder based on your fish species and their eating habits.
For rotating barrel feeders, calibration will be the most challenging part of the setup and will likely take some time and practice. We recommend starting with your feeder mounted to a chair, desk, or another platform away from your tank while you test.
Begin by filling the barrel with food and adjusting the opening based on the size of the food. For small pellets, leave a very slight gap and leave a larger one for flakes or more substantial pellets.
Use the “feed now” option available on most automatic feeders to dispense food onto a paper plate. Do this several more times and gauge how consistent and appropriate the serving is. If the serving is too large, close the food opening a bit more and test again. If the serving is too small, make the food opening a bit wider and continue testing.
Keep testing and measuring until you have the opening set properly to where the appropriate amount of food comes out each time. You’ll never get the amount exact, but this single testing process should get you close in a relatively short amount of time.
Note that rotating barrel feeders tend to deliver more food when they’re full than when they’re half full or near to empty. Consider this variance in your testing.
Best Automatic Fish Feeder Options
After our own extensive testing, we’ve decided on what we believe are the best automatic fish feeders. We’ll offer a brief list and then get into some in-depth reviews below. If you have a large pond or small lake, check out our automatic feeders for ponds guide.
- EHEIM Everyday Fish Feeder
- FishMate Aquarium Fish Feeder
- IntelliFeed Fish Feeder
- Hydor Automatic Fish Feeder
- Penn-Plax Battery Operated Fish Feeder
- Fish Mate Pond Fish Feeder
This is a rotating barrel feeder that delivers food reliably every single day.
It’s very straightforward to set, and after calibration, it offers a somewhat consistent portion. However, the amount of food isn’t precise, and it can vary depending on how full the barrel is.
It includes a small fan that circulates air within the food compartment to keep it dry. This works well if the feeder is placed correctly.
This feeder is very affordable, and it seems durable. We’re confident it will last for several years, so it’s an excellent value for the money.
- It includes a drying fan to keep food from spoiling
- The three control buttons and LCD screen make it a breeze to set up
- It reliably feeds fish
- It holds a lot of food to decrease the time between refilling
- It’s durable and affordable
- It isn’t very precise with food quantity
- The feeding varies depending on how full the barrel is
This is a portion control feeder that can hold food for up to 14 days if a single daily feeding is needed.
You can ensure exact portions for each feeding with this product. However, you will have to take the time to refill it each time it empties.
It’s effortless to program, and you’ll have the option of one to four feedings every day, making it great for tanks with multiple species.
It doesn’t include a fan to keep food dry, but we didn’t have any issues with wet food.
It’s affordable and feels very durable.
- It includes a programmable timer for up to four feedings daily
- The compartments are large enough for most food types
- It delivers precise portions reliably
- It’s straightforward to set up
- It’s affordable and high-quality
- It doesn’t include a drying fan
- You’ll have to take the time to measure out each feeding
This is a rotating drum feeder that is highly programmable and customizable. You can set up to twelve feedings daily with four scheduled times and three allotments of food each time for better precision. However, it isn’t as accurate as a portion control feeder.
This feeder doesn’t include a fan, but it keeps food dry by moving it to an enclosed space that isn’t situated over your tank water.
It’s very expensive, but it’s made with high-quality components. Additionally, the customization options make this worth the money, especially for larger, more costly tanks with multiple species.
- It removes food from over the water to help keep it dry
- It includes a highly programmable computer controller
- It’s ideal for large tanks with multiple species
- It’s durable
- It’s very expensive
- It isn’t quite as precise as a portion control feeder
This is a rotating drum feeder that offers a good deal of customization. You can choose up to three feedings each day, and you have three options for the estimated quantity for each feeding. This makes the product suitable for larger tanks with multiple fish species
It has a hose port to connect the feeder to an air pump to help keep food dry.
It can only hold enough food for about a week, so you’ll have to refill it regularly to ensure your fish continuously get fed.
It’s relatively inexpensive, and it seems to be durable.
- It includes a hook-up to an air pump to keep food dry
- It offers customization for larger tanks
- It’s suitable for tanks with multiple species
- It’s affordable and well-made
- It feeds reliably
- It isn’t as precise as a portion control feeder
- It only holds enough food for about seven days
This is a rotating drum fish feeder, so it’s not as accurate with serving size as a portion control feeder. It’s also less precise than some other drum feeders, and it varies quite a bit depending on how full the container is.
It’s not programmable, so you can only set it to feed your fish every 12 hours.
It does, however, feed reliably. It’s battery-operated, so you won’t have to worry about routing another cord around your tank.
It’s a breeze to set up, it’s super affordable, and it’s made of quality components.
- It’s battery-operated, so you won’t have to deal with cord management
- The rotating dial makes feeding very reliable
- It holds between three and four weeks worth of food
- It’s effortless to set up
- It’s very affordable
- It isn’t programmable
- It doesn’t include a fan to keep food dry
- It’s not as precise as most other options
This is a drum feeder designed for use with large ponds. It can hold an immense amount of food, so it’s an excellent option for big tanks or ponds that you plan to leave alone for several weeks at a time.
You can program this product to feed three times a day with different portions each time.
It doesn’t include a fan to keep food dry, so you may have some issues with wet pellets or flakes.
It’s not the most precise feeder, but it’s great for feeding numerous fish when precision doesn’t matter too much.
- The large capacity container holds weeks’ worth of food
- The computer is programmable for varying feeding times and portions
- It’s reliable
- It can be left alone for weeks at a time
- It’s ideal for large tanks or ponds
- It’s rather expensive
- It isn’t very precise
- It doesn’t include a fan to keep food dry
Automatic Fish Feeder FAQs
How Can I Feed My Fish While On Vacation?
If you plan on going away for several days or weeks, you could ask a friend or relative to feed your fish for you. However, all aquarists know that no one will care for their tanks like they do. We recommend purchasing an automatic fish feeder for peace of mind and the most reliable feeding while you’re away.
How Can I Feed My Fish When I Am Not Home?
Busy schedules, errands, work, school, and emergencies can all leave you out of the house when your fish need feeding. The best way to feed your fish reliably even when you’re not home is to buy and install an automatic fish feeder. We recommend the very affordable EHEIM Automatic Feeding Unit. Your vacation fish feeder will make your time away from home more relaxing, knowing that your fish are happy and fed.
How Long Can You Go Without Feeding Fish?
The actual time frame depends on the species and size of the fish. Most healthy fish can go about three days without food. However, consistency in your tank is the best way to keep your tank inhabitants happy and healthy. If you think you’ll miss or forget a feeding, we recommend using an automatic feeder to keep feeding times on a regular schedule.
What is the Best Automatic Fish Feeder for Bettas?
Betta pellets are tiny, so many automatic feeders overfeed Betta tanks. This can result in dangerous nitrite and nitrate spikes and many other issues if they’re not appropriately calibrated, which can harm and even kill your fish. A portion control feeder is best suited to deliver carefully measured allotments of food to your Betta on a set schedule.
We recommend the FishMate Aquarium Fish Feeder for precise, reliable feeding for your Betta tank.
What is the Best Automatic Fish Feeder for Goldfish?
Goldfish typically eat flakes. It’s fairly easy to get a relatively precise measurement for flakes whether you use a rotating drum or a portion control feeder.
Regardless of the style you choose, you should opt for a feeder that includes a fan or an air hose hook-up to help keep the food dry. Flakes are very prone to moisture build-up and clumping, so a feeder should be able to reduce humidity in the food chamber for the best results.
We recommend the EHEIM Automatic Feeding Unit for Goldfish tanks. It’s reliable, reasonably accurate, and the included fan will keep your flakes dry and safe from tank water and humidity.
Is It Better to Feed Fish in the Morning or at Night?
Most fish naturally feed in the morning, so early feedings are typically best. However, some species, like Catfish and other herbivores, graze throughout the day. Nocturnal species, like some eels, feed only at night.
The timing of your feedings should coincide with the schedule your specific species would follow in the wild for the best results.
Will Fish Stop Eating When They Are Full?
Fish generally will not stop eating when they’re full. The recommended amount of food is typically as much as your fish will eat in about three or four minutes. Beyond that, overfeeding can occur, which creates multiple complications that can include death.
Should You Feed Fish Every Day?
You should feed most fish species once or twice daily. There are some exceptions, like fry or adolescent fish needing three to four feedings. Generally, at least one daily feeding is required for most species to remain healthy and happy.
Maintaining a consistent feeding schedule for your fish is important because it helps keep them healthy and disease-free. However, busy schedules, long work days, and vacations easily get in the way of consistent feeding times. Luckily, you can use an automatic fish feeder to deliver food to your aquarium reliably and accurately without much input from you at all.
Our all-around favorite automatic feeder is the EHEIM Automatic Feeding Unit. It’s very reliable, it’s made with high-quality and durable materials, it includes a fan to keep food dry, and it can feed your tank for long periods while you’re away.