Short of a dog, transporting any pet can be stressful. Transporting fish is no different and possibly even more stressful due to the added dimension of the fish needing to be transported in water. 

To safely transport fish in your car, place them in a fish-safe water-tight container with plenty of airspace to allow the exchange of oxygen. Accelerate and brake very gently to avoid jostling and try to keep the fish at a consistent temperature. On long drives, water changes or aeration may be required, but feeding will not be.

Concerns for the Move:

#1- Time to Destination

If given enough room in their container, a fish should be ok for a couple of days while in transit. This is very true if the fish are transported in a large bucket with a sealed lid. It will be important to stop every few hours to open the bucket and change twenty percent of the water to keep the oxygen level up. If you can run an aerator while on the move, you can drill a small hole in the top of the bucket and run an airline to a stone in the bottom. 

If your fish are traveling in bags, you will need to have them into their new home within several hours.

#2 – Preparation

Make sure that the water in your tank is clean before unloading the fish from it. By performing daily water changes for a week ahead of time, you should have sparkling clean water to add to your fish transport container. Also, do not feed your fish for several days ahead of the move. The fasting will clean out their digestive tract, thereby reducing waste in the transport container, and will prevent health complications from having a full stomach under stress.

The fish should be the last thing packed. When you have the fish in their container(s), scoop a bucket (or several) of water from the tank to provide a head start when reassembling the system at the destination. Be sure not to get water off the bottom of the tank as it will have higher ammonia and waste concentrations.

Usable Containers

The plastic bag is the traditional container for moving fish. Almost everyone has gotten a bagged goldfish from a carnival to bring home. If you chose to bag your fish for a short (couple hours or less) trip, then place the bags in an ice chest (without the ice) and arrange the bags and any padding so that the bags will not roll or fall over. The cooler will also control temperature levels and keep the fish in the dark, triggering a dormancy response to help mitigate stress levels. 

Whatever you do, do not just throw the bagged fish on the seat. A friend’s parents did this years ago at a carnival and went back to the festivities. An hour later the family went to leave, climbed in the car in a hurry, and sat on the fish. The result was a couple of upset kids, one of whom now had a wet butt.

The best container to transport fish is a new, clean, five-gallon bucket with a sealing lid. It will hold several gallons of the fish’s native water, which cannot splash out and can hold an aquarium’s worth of fish. The bucket is the way to go if you need to move your fish more than a couple of hours away due to the volume of water and air it will hold. Water changes are also easy to perform if needed. 

In Transit

The journey itself will be the most stressful part for your aquatic friends. Drive carefully. Be gentle on the acceleration and braking to avoid jostling your fish. Keep the radio volume low or off, as the vibrations can mess with your fish’s lateral line. The idea is to make the ride as smooth as possible.

Upon arrival

When you get to your destination, set up the tank before you unpack anything else. Add the water you saved from the tank before packing and refill the rest. If your fish are bagged, place the bag in the aquarium for a couple of hours to normalize the fish to the water temperature. If the fish were transported in a bucket, just pour them into the tank with the water.


Transporting fish in the car is a more involved process than transporting a cat or hamster, but with proper preparation and some driving like a grandma, your fish can make the move with you to a new home. 

Brandon Tanis