Betta Fish Care Guide and FAQ
About Betta Care
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 the 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 can find the answers to many frequently asked questions about betta fish and 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.
Betta Tank Selection
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.
Small volumes of water pollute quickly, creating a bad environment for your fish. You’ll want to choose a tank that’s at least 5-gallons, but many people have great success keeping betta in beautifully planted 10-gallon tanks. Avoid small bowls and very small tanks.
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 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.
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 an adjustable flow. Bettas don’t like a lot of current. In worse-case scenarios strong currents can even be bad for their fins, so try to find a filter with low-flow capabilities.
Ideal Water Parameters
- Temperature: 78 degrees
- Nitrates: < 20
- Nitrites: 0
- Ammonia: 0
- pH: 7.0
Additional Accessories for Your New Tank
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.
It’s important to know whether or not your water source includes chemicals such as chlorine. Many municipal water sources do. I use well water now, so I don’t have to worry about this, but when I lived in the city I always treated my tanks with water conditioner after each water change.
Dealing with algae is something you’ll have to do with good ol’ 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
Betta Fish Care and Behavior FAQ
Have some questions about your betta fish? Is he doing something strange? Are you worried about his health? Odds are you're not the first betta owner to witness this behavior.
If you are new to betta keeping, or if you just want to learn more about this wonderful tropical fish, you can find in-depth answers to many of your questions below. 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.
What Do Betta Fish Eat?
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.
In addition to flake food or betta pellets, your betta can eat freeze-dried foods and (thawed) frozen foods. Experiment and see when he likes. It’s best to find a good flake or pellet food for his regular feedings and provide the more exotic foods as treats.
Don’t go crazy. Overfeeding is one of the top reasons betta fish die before their time. 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. Remember, he is one small fish and doesn't need a lot of food. Uneaten food can spoil the water.
Why Is My Betta Fish Laying on the Bottom?
This is sometimes interpreted as a sign that a fish is about to die, but fear not. 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.
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.
Is My Betta Fish 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!
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 makes 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.
Is My Betta Fish Bored or Lonely?
Worrying about a betta being bored and lonely is often used an excuse to add more fish to the tank. Usually, I think it is the fishkeeper who has become bored with the betta.
There are situations where betta fish can have tankmates, which I will address below. However, concern over his social status is not a good reason to put him in a community setting.
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. They don't like to be alone.
But bettas are not this kind of fish. They 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.
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.
Why Is My Betta Flaring His 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 into 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 Fish Swimming Up and Down the Sides of the Tank?
This is called glass surfing and it’s usually a sign that a fish in 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 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.
Can I Have 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 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.
However, they can be fine community fish as well, under the right circumstances. When kept with tankmates, the danger is often to the betta as much as to the other fish.
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.
Can Betta Fish Have Tankmates That Aren’t Fish?
In many cases, yes, they 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 tankmates 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
Is My Betta Fish Sick?
People often think their fish is sick when really it is just a betta being a betta. However, there are some signs to watch out for that will clue you in to illness. Look for the following symptoms of common betta fish diseases:
- 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 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 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.
Is Tap Water Safe for 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 the pH of your tap water tested. 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
When Should I Change the Water in My Tank?
Some people wait until the water is visibly murky before performing maintenance on the tank. By then it’s too late.
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.
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.
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 betta 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.
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 more dull. Some pet stores sell female bettas, but they are not nearly as common.
Take Good Care of Your Betta!
Betta 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!