The Complete Betta Fish Care Guide for Beginners
How to Care for a Betta Fish
Betta fish are easy to care for, but they have some special requirements due to their behaviors. They are colorful fish, both fierce and fragile. While they are among the most popular aquarium fish in the world, they are also one of the most misunderstood.
If you've just brought your new betta home, or if you are thinking of getting one, you probably have a lot of questions. This betta fish care guide can help you figure it all out, and give you the information you need to provide your new pet with a healthy environment where he will thrive for many years.
Or, perhaps you're having trouble with a betta you've had in the family for a while. It is tremendously disheartening when a pet gets sick or starts acting strangely, but you're not alone. Here you learn facts about betta fish and find the answers to many frequently asked questions about the things they do.
Maybe you'll discover your betta's actions aren't so weird after all!
Even though the tiny cups they come in at the pet store might suggest otherwise, bettas are not disposable pets. They require the same care and respect as any animal. Are you up to the task?
Of course! If you didn't care about your betta fish you wouldn't be here! So let's get down to business.
How to Choose the Right Betta Tank
You want to choose a quality aquarium and have it set up before you bring your betta fish home. You may have heard that bettas do best in small bowls or even plant vases, but that’s simply not true. Just like any other tropical fish, they need space to thrive.
So, why do some people think it is okay to keep these fish in tiny little containers? Betta fish are Anabantids, which means they can breathe the air above the water through their mouths as well as obtain oxygen from the water through their gills.
They can exist in low-oxygen water environments where other fish would perish. In the wild, this means rice paddies or even muddy puddles. However, this is not an excuse for keeping betta fish in poor conditions.
What size tank is best for betta fish?
You’ll want at least a 5-gallon tank, but many people have great success keeping a betta in beautifully planted 10-gallon tanks. Avoid small bowls and very small tanks. Small volumes of water pollute quickly, creating a bad environment for your fish.
Heat and Filtration for Your Betta Tank
As tropical fish, betta may require a heater and filter in their tank. You can find nano heaters for 5-gallon tanks, and if you choose a 10-gallon tank you’ll have many more options. Bettas need a temperature between 75 and 80 degrees.
You’ll want a heater capable of maintaining that temperature, as well as a thermometer that will accurately measure the temp of the tank water. (I prefer to use . It is inexpensive, and super easy to read.) this digital thermometer with a probe
As with heaters, you can find nano filters for 5-gallons tanks, and a wider variety of options for 10-gallon tanks and up. Look for something with adjustable flow. Bettas don’t like a lot of current. In worst-case scenarios, strong currents can even be bad for their fins, so try to find a filter with low-flow capabilities.
Betta Fish Ideal Water Parameters
- Temperature: 78 degrees
- Nitrates: < 20
- Nitrites: 0
- Ammonia: 0
- pH: 7.0
Betta Fish Tank Accessories
You’ll need a few more supplies for your tank. Some things to think about:
- Gravel and Substrate: In my opinion, regular aquarium gravel is best. Some people like to use large pebbles and marbles, and that’s fine if you are willing to go the extra mile every time you clean the tank. However, waste and uneaten food can easily slip between pebbles and become trapped, where they decay and foul the water. If you use regular gravel the tank is much easier to clean.
- Plants: Bettas love plants, and they’ll sometimes even rest on the leaves. There are pros and cons to choosing live plants for your aquarium. But, if live plants seem too daunting, there is nothing wrong with artificial plants.
- Hiding Spots: I always like to have a hiding spot, such as a cave or decoration the fish can swim into. It gives them a little haven where they can get away from light or current, or whatever else might be bothering them. Some fish use hiding spots a lot, where others rarely go into them.
How to Clean Your Betta Tank
If you set up your tank wisely you only need to spend a couple of minutes per week on maintenance. The most important thing is to perform a water change, while simultaneously cleaning the gravel. This is easily accomplished with an inexpensive siphon.
Choose a siphon based on the size of your tank. Obviously, very small tanks only require very small siphons. (I prefer the . There are more elaborate versions out there, but this one is inexpensive and does the job.) Aqueon Mini Siphon
You’ll want to vacuum the gravel until you remove about a third of the water, and then replace it will clean, fresh, water. For small tanks, make sure you allow the new water to come up to room temperature before adding.
How often should you change your betta fish's water?
If your betta lives in an unfiltered setup you’ll need to completely change his water and clean his tank weekly. If he is in a tank with filtration, you need to change about 20-30% of his water weekly.
Some people wait until the water is visibly murky before performing maintenance on the tank. By then it’s too late.
It’s best not to net him if you need to remove him from his home. His fins are fragile and it can greatly stress him. A better idea is to scoop him out into a small cup or bowl while you perform the weekly maintenance.
Be aware that Bettas can jump, so make sure he’s in a safe place.
Is tap water safe for betta fish?
If you are lucky enough to live where you have fresh, clean water without additives floating around in it, this will be fine for your betta. If your water is drinkable, but you know it contains additives such as chlorine, there are dissolving tablets you can purchase that will condition the water and make it safe for your betta. If you are unsure about the safety of your water you can purchase quality bottled spring water.
It’s a good idea to have your tap water tested. It’s important to know whether or not your water source includes chemicals such as chlorine. Many municipal water sources do.You.can bring a sample and ask the staff at the pet store to do this for you, or you can purchase a kit and do it yourself. I prefer the , and I've used it for years. Follow the directions that come with the kit and its super easy. API Freshwater Master Test Kit
How do you get rid of algae in a betta tank?
Dealing with algae is something you’ll have to do with good old’ elbow grease. Algae scrubbers are inexpensive and are made to scrape the side of the tank clean. You may need to remove the decorations and clean them by hand
Food for Betta Fish
Feeding mistakes are among the top reasons betta fish die before their time. Take some time to learn the best practice for when dinner time comes around.
What are the best foods for betta fish?
- Betta pellets
- Flake food
- Blood worms
- Brine shrimp
- Freeze-dried foods
- Frozen foods (thawed)
How much should you feed your betta?
Choose a simple flake or pellet and only feed as much as he will eat in a few minutes. Most food containers advise feeding several times per day, but in my experience once a day is fine. Your betta won’t eat a lot, so pay attention to what he’s letting float to the bottom of the tank and learn to gauge the appropriate amount of food to feed.
Why isn't my betta fish eating?
If your betta isn't eating it could be a sign of illness or constipation, but there are few other things to consider before jumping to that conclusion. First, your betta may pick at the food on the gravel when you aren't paying attention.
It is also possible he doesn't like the foods you are presenting. Experiment with other foods and see when he likes. It’s best to find a good flake or pellet food for his regular feedings and provide more exotic foods as treats.
Remember, he is one small fish and doesn't need a lot of food. It is possible that you are overfeeding him and expecting him to eat too much. It's okay to give him a fasting day now and then. You might find him more receptive to the food you offer.
Betta Fish Tank Mates
Bettas can have tank mates under the right circumstances. When kept in a community tank, the threat is often to the betta as much as to the other fish. It is important to understand the dangers so you can make the best choices.
Can bettas live with other fish?
Maybe. It depends on the temperament of the other fish and your betta. You may be surprised to read this, given the reputation bettas have for fighting. Because they are so aggressive, many people keep them in tanks separate from their other fish, which is smart for beginners.
There are a few keys to keeping a betta fish in a community tank. In a nutshell:
- Try to add your betta to a tank that’s already established.
- Don’t put your betta in a tank with species who are known fin nippers.
- No other semi-aggressive fish in the tank, especially other anabantids.
- No other fish with flowing fins, as he may mistake them for another betta.
- Have a peaceful tank with lots of hiding spots.
- Above all else, always have a backup plan (small tank or bowl) ready in case betta doesn’t get along.
Keeping betta in a community tank takes some planning and patience. If you are considering it, this article can help.
Which fish can live with bettas?
While you can never be sure how a betta will react to any fish in his tank, some good choices for tank mates include:
- Neon Tetras
- Kuhli Loach
- Ember Tetras
Be sure to research any fish you intend to stock!
Can bettas have tank mates that aren't fish?
In many cases, bettas can live with critters. In fact, in smaller tanks, it is preferable to housing them other fish. You want to take some of the same precautions as you could keeping him with tank mates in a community setting, such as keeping a peaceful tank and, most importantly, having a backup plan in case things go wrong.
Some tankmates to consider are:
- Apple/Mystery Snails
- African Dwarf Frogs
- Ghost Shrimp
Can two male bettas live in the same tank?
You should never put two male betta fish in the same tank. In most circumstances, two males bettas in the same tank will severely injure or even kill each other. The only possible way to have two in one tank is to use a divider system to partition the tank. If you try this don’t use a clear partition, as both fish may stress themselves to death trying to get at the other.
Male bettas are aggressive fish and will attack each other and fish similar to them. It’s important to realize this when planning the environment where your betta will live. Novice fish keepers are wise to keep their betta alone in a single-specimen tank.
Can male and female bettas live together?
Male bettas may become aggressive toward females. For this reason, it is not a good idea to keep male and female bettas together in the same tank. The obvious exception is if you are trying to breed them. Breeding bettas should only be attempted by fish keepers who know what they are doing (or are willing to take the time to learn) and have a plan for the fry.
Can betta fish live with goldfish?
The short answer is no. Goldfish and betta fish have very different care requirements. Goldfish are cold-water fish, and bettas are tropical fish, meaning the appropriate water temperature for each would stress the other.
Goldfish pollute water quickly, which would be deadly for a betta. They also have long, flowing fins, which could provoke aggression.
Finally, goldfish grow much too large for most home aquariums. They are appropriate only for very huge tanks and outdoor ponds.
Betta Fish Diseases and Illnesses
Sometimes bettas get sick, but more often their owners mistake odd behaviors for signs of illness. People often think their fish is sick when really it is just betta being betta. However, there are some signs to watch out for that will clue you into illness.
How do I know if my betta fish is sick?
Signs of illness include:
- Swimming Sideways: If you notice buoyancy issues with your fish, it could be because of swim bladder issues. Overfeeding and poor water conditions are the cause of many betta maladies. Do a water change, and switch to an alternate day feed/fast schedule for a week and see if he improves.
- Fins deteriorating: This is called fin rot, and it is often due to poor water conditions. Keep up with water changes, don’t overfeed, keep his water super-clean and he ought to recover.
- Scales look like they are ready to pop off: If your betta seems to be blowing up like a balloon to the point where his scales seem to be ready to burst, this is a condition called dropsy. Unfortunately, it is usually fatal, but can be prevented if you avoid overfeeding, especially live or very rich foods like bloodworms.
- Little white dots on scales: This is a parasitic infection called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, or more commonly referred to as simply ich. It can be treated with over-the-counter meds, thought some fish keepers prefer to treat by raising the water temp and dosing the tank with aquarium salt.
Why is my betta fish turning white?
This is due to stress. If he just went through a water change or some other event where his environment was disturbed he should relax in a few minutes. Likewise, if he just went through an episode of flaring it may be followed by his face turning white.
If it seems like he’s always stressed it could mean there is something wrong in the tank. Some possible reasons include poor water conditions, no hiding spots in the tank, or a tank that is too small or overcrowded.
If he is living in a community tank setting, and his face is white all the time, it is a sure sign that it is time to get him out of there. Something, or some fish, is causing him stress, and it isn’t the right environment for him.
Betta Fish Behaviors
Have some questions about your betta fish? Is he doing something strange? Odds are you're not the first betta owner to witness this behavior.
Why is my betta fish lying on the bottom of the tank?
When a betta fish sits on the bottom it, in itself, does not mean that there is anything wrong. This is normal betta behavior, and as long as he appears otherwise healthy it is no concern. He’s just lazing around, or your betta could be sleeping. This is sometimes interpreted as a sign that a fish is about to die but fear not.
Bettas often sit on the bottom or of the leaves of real or artificial plants. However, if he appears to be tucking himself in a corner or in some other unnatural position it could be a sign that you need to include a hiding spot in his tank.
Also, be on the lookout for any other signs of disease or injury. While healthy betta fish will often lay on the bottom, ill or injured fish may as well.
Why do betta fish make bubble nests?
It’s a mating thing. Male bettas build bubble nests, especially when they are content in their environment. In the wild, this is where the male betta stashes the eggs after they are released by the female.
However, this is also the subject of a little confusion at times. The absence of a bubble nest doesn’t mean your fish isn’t content. Sometimes people change tanks or make some other alteration to the betta’s environment and then become concerned when there is no bubble nest the next day. Let your fish become accustomed to his new environment, and even then don’t worry if he isn’t making nests.
Likewise, the presence of a bubble nest doesn’t always mean everything is fine. Remember, this is an instinctual behavior, and bettas live is some pretty rough environments in the wild. They make nests even when times are hard.
Also, bettas sometimes leave bubbles on the surface of the water when they come up to breathe, and these can be misinterpreted as attempts to build bubble nests.
Why do bettas flare their gills?
A betta flares his gills as a sign of aggression. He is saying: Look how big and bad I am! Back off, buddy! If there is no other fish in the tank it may be because he sees his reflection and thinks it is another betta fish. Bettas are territorial, and the perceived presence of another male will send him in to fight mode. He doesn’t know it is his own reflection he sees.
This may be comical, and to some extent good for the fish, but don’t let it go on for hours on end. Adjust the light near his tank so he doesn’t see himself. If he is always flaring up because he perceives another fish in the tank he will be under constant stress and prone to illness.
Why is my betta swimming up and down the sides of the tank?
This is called glass surfing and it’s usually a sign that a fish is unhappy in its environment. That means he is experiencing stress of some kind. It could be because of poor water conditions, or it could be because the tank is too small.
This is one of the reasons recommend tanks at least five gallons for a single betta fish. Some people put their fish in tanks as small as one gallon and then wonder why the fish spends all day glass surfing. In my opinion, one gallon – or two gallons or three gallons - is far too little space. Bigger is better.
Like any tropical fish, bettas need to swim around and have a little room. And remember: bettas do not like fast currents, so if the filtration in the tank is pushing him around it could be causing him stress.
Why is my betta hiding in the corner of the tank?
Bettas need some kind of decoration or structure they can swim into when they need to feel safe. If that isn’t provided, and he feels he needs it, you may find him tucked into a corner instead. Always provide a place for him to escape to.
This is especially true if the current in the tank is somewhat strong, or if there are other things in the tank that are causing him to feel threatened. Even the outside room can be threatening if people are always tapping on the glass or making a great deal of noise around the tank.
The solution is to have a hiding spot, so betta can retreat when he needs to.
Betta Fish Fighting
Male betta fish are extremely territorial and will viciously fight upon sight of each other, sometimes to the death. You should never house two bettas in the same tank, with the exception of the proper use of a partition. Bettas are ornery critters. This may seem strange, but it is not uncommon in the world of tropical fish.
Why do betta fish fight?
In the wild, bettas fight for territory, food and to protect their eggs, But, remember, in the wild, each betta fish has much more territory to roam. Male bettas do their best to intimidate others out of their area by flaring and making themselves look bigger, and a scrap may occur if the intruder doesn't back down. However, it isn't likely they will fight to the death.
In aquariums, there is no way for bettas to escape from each other. With the added stress of a confined environment, tankmates and possibly sub-par tank conditions betta aggression can be peaked.
Some bettas are even bred for fighting. This is unfortunate and sad. Betta fighting is a behavior that should not ever be encouraged. Please keep them separated and safe, and enjoy these beautiful fish as the peaceful creatures they are.
Betta Fish Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few more things betta owners seem to wonder about If you don’t see your question addressed here, you can also look to see if your question has been asked before in the comments section.
After all of that, if you still can’t find the answers to your betta questions feel free to ask in the comments section below! I do respond ASAP to all legitimate questions, but be patient and give it a day or two, and please be sure to check that your question isn't already asked before posting.
How long do betta fish live?
Betta fish do not live very long. In home aquariums, they have an average lifespan of about three years but can live a little longer with appropriate care. If your betta has made it past the age of five you are doing a great job as a betta keeper! (Or you have a very hardy fish.)
How do you know if a betta fish is happy?
This seems like an odd question, but it is one I get several times per week in various forms on one or more of my betta articles. Usually, someone is concerned because their betta is no longer exhibiting a certain behavior, such as coming to the glass when a person enters the room.
Truthfully, I have no idea if a fish is capable of being “happy” or not, though I am as guilty as anyone for using the term. I think it is more likely that they feel content when their needs are met, such as when they are free from danger and disease, well-fed and unstressed.
Sadness isn't something you can prevent in your betta, but you can prevent those other issues. You keep your betta stress-free by setting up his tank correctly. You know he is well fed because you practice smart feeding practices. You watch for signs of disease and treat if necessary, and you keep his tank clean through proper maintenance procedures.
These are things to strive for when keeping a betta fish. If you do this he will be content, and maybe even happy!
Is my betta fish lonely?
No. Bettas are fine all on their own, and in many cases, they are better off. As long as you follow smart betta care practices you don’t need to worry about the mental state of your fish. Some fish do experience what we might call primitive loneliness. They are schooling fish, and when they are not with others of their kind they experience elevated stress. Bettas are not this kind of fish.
Is my betta fish bored?
Betta fish don't get bored as people do, but animals in captivity do require a certain amount of stimulation. If you are concerned about your fish being bored you can rearrange his tank every time you do a water change. Unfortunately, worrying about a betta being bored and lonely is often used as an excuse to add more fish to the tank. Sometimes I think it is the fishkeeper who has become bored with the betta.
Where do betta fish come from?
In the wild, betta can be found in ponds, slow-moving creeks, and rivers in Southeast Asia. The fish you purchase in the pet stores are all male and bred to bring out their amazing colors and flowing fins. Wild bettas are far duller. Some pet stores sell female bettas, but they are not nearly as common.
Take Good Care of Your Betta!
Betta fish are so popular not just because they are beautiful, but also because they are so easy to take care of. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they are disposable pets. It's easy to keep your fish healthy if you know the ropes.
Finally, please don’t keep your betta in a tiny cube, and if you’re given one in a plant vase please liberate him as soon as possible. If nothing else, I try to be an advocate for responsible fish keeping.
Good luck with your betta!
How is your Betta Care knowledge?
Do you feel confident that you know all the facts to properly care for your Betta fish?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
How many pellets would you recommend to feed a male betta?
Only feed him two or three pellets at a time, and no more than what he will consume in about two minutes. This might not seem like enough, but realize his stomach is only about the size of his eye.
Over-feeding betta fish is one of the biggest causes of illness and premature death. Some fish will over-eat available food to the point of making themselves sick. Chronic over-feeding will pollute the water with uneaten food and excess waste, thus allowing more algae to grow.
So take care to feed the appropriate amount of food whether you choose pellets or flakes. Feeding too much food could mean an early demise for your beloved betta.Helpful 145
Why is my betta fish swimming at the top of the tank?
It is possible there is no reason your betta is swimming at the water's surface, other than that's where he likes to be. In the wild bettas often live in shallow water, so this just may be where he feels most comfortable.
Bettas are anabantids, which means they can take gulps of air at the water's surface in addition to taking oxygen from the water through their gills. They have evolved this ability to survive poor water conditions in the wild.
Doing this occasionally is no big deal, but if you see your betta constantly going to the surface for air, your first concern should be poor water conditions in the tank. Test your water and see where your parameters stand. Even though bettas can survive in polluted, low-oxygen conditions in the short-term, in the long-term it leads to illness and death.
The solution is to keep your betta in a tank that is five gallons or larger, avoid overfeeding, and keep up with water changes and tank cleanings.
If your tank water is in good shape, watch for your betta blowing bubbles at the surface. Male bettas build "bubble nests" when conditions are right, and sometimes just blow random bubbles. It's normal behavior and nothing to worry about.Helpful 57
Why is my male betta only eating one pellet at a time?
He must have a small appetite! Many bettas will gobble up as many pellets as you will give them. If yours only wants to eat one pellet at a time, it is best to only feed one pellet at a time.
The uneaten pellets will decay in the tank and contribute to poor water conditions. That's not good for your betta's long-term health.
I usually like to feed bettas 2-3 pellets once per day, but it is important to only feed as much as he will eat at one time. So, in this case, I think it would be smart to feed multiple times per day, just to make sure he is getting enough to eat.Helpful 37
What does it mean if my betta fish is not eating?
It could be a sign of illness, and if your fish is not eating you’ll want to look for other indications such as a bloated belly, ragged scales or deteriorating fins to diagnose the issue.
However, before jumping to conclusions, there are a few more things to consider. If you are accidentally overfeeding your betta, there is a chance he simply isn’t in the mood for food when you present it. He may pick at old food in the gravel when he gets hungry, which you may not notice. He may be eating plenty, but there is simply way too much food.
Overfeeding is a major cause of illness for bettas, and if you are giving him too much food, there is a good chance he will become sick if he isn’t already. Only feed once per day and only as much as he’ll eat in a couple of minutes.
If you’ve gotten off-track with his feeding schedule, you can try vacuuming the debris and old food from the gravel and then give him a day or two of fasting. He may then be more interested in the food you present, and more likely to eat it when it is fresh.
There is also the chance your betta could be stressed. If there is something lacking in his environment, or the tank is too small, or the water is polluted, or any number of other issues, he could be stressed to the point where he is not eating. Look at his overall situation and check his water parameters. If something seems off, fix it.
Finally, realize that bettas are not necessarily big eaters. A few pellets or a small pinch of flakes once per day is all he needs. Don’t expect him to eat more than that, and if he doesn’t eat for a couple of days, it doesn’t always mean something is wrong.Helpful 35
- Helpful 392