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Betta Fish in Bowls: Just Say No!

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A small bowl is an insufficient habitat for a betta fish. Learn more about setting up an appropriate, healthy habitat for your betta.

A small bowl is an insufficient habitat for a betta fish. Learn more about setting up an appropriate, healthy habitat for your betta.

Our First Betta Fish

Several years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, she was given a beautiful blue betta fish. It was a wonderful gift. She loved to watch the fish swim around in his bowl, and she was just the right age to help me take care of it a little bit. I kept him in a glass bowl that held maybe a quart or a half gallon of water, and I cleaned it out for him once a week.

I was fairly new to being a stay-at-home mom, and as silly as it sounds that the fish was my companion, I loved having him there in the kitchen with me—especially when my daughter was napping, the house was quiet, and I was doing some mundane chore like washing the dishes.

The fish lived about six months. He stopped eating one day and finally died a week or so later. We waited a while and replaced him with another. This one lived a few months, also. I just figured that was the way things go with betta fish. I thought I was taking great care of him. After all, bettas are found in puddles in the wild, right? I was told that they actually prefer living in a cramped little bowl.

Welcoming "Tsunami" the Fish Into Our Lives

Fast forward a few years, and I now have a son as well as a daughter. His elementary school was having a fundraiser where they were selling all kinds of science-related gadgets and toys, including a few small pets such as tarantulas, fire-belly toads, and betta fish. My son asked for a fish, and—fondly remembering the two kitchen companions of previous years—I was happy to oblige. He picked out a beautiful blue betta, named him Tsunami, and brought him home in a tiny cup.

I thought we were already all set up to take care of little Tsunami. I dug out the old fishbowl, and I even found the little vial of betta food. I was happy that I was able to make a small $5 purchase and my son would get so much happiness and education out of that $5, with no need to invest any more cash, except for some water conditioner to neutralize the chlorine in our water. Well, I was wrong.

Close-up of Tsunami in his 5-gallon aquarium.

Close-up of Tsunami in his 5-gallon aquarium.

No More Little Bowls

Having been born into the information age, my son is a great Googler. As soon as he brought the fish home, he started Googling and researching his new pet. The information that he found was a huge eye-opener for me. I learned that I was doing it all wrong.

Bettas will not thrive if kept in a little bowl. Yes, they will survive for a while, but they will be stressed, bored, and unhappy. Additionally, the waste toxins build up very quickly in such a small amount of water, making the water they are forced to live in hazardous to their health.

If you decide to keep your betta in a little bowl, do your fish a favor and change his water every day. I always thought it was so cute the way our bettas would be so lively and energetic right after I did their weekly water change. Now I know they were thrilled to finally be able to breathe again.

Give Your Betta at Least 2.5 Gallons of Space (5 or 10 Is Better)

My son's betta is in a 5-gallon tank. Tsunami loves it, and by no means does it seem too big for him. There is plenty of room for him to swim around freely, which he does. If your betta sits in his bowl all day, put him in a tank and see how active he is and how much he enjoys swimming from side to side.

The 5-gallon tank also offers plenty of room for a gentle filter, a heater, some soft plants, and his favorite tank accessory, the "floating betta log." The 5-gallon tank sold by Amazon is a complete kit with lots of accessories and supplies, and it costs more than $40. You can get a plain 10-gallon tank on its own at Walmart for about $15.

Important: Heater, Filter, and a Cycled Tank

Just as important as getting your betta out of its little bowl or cup is getting it a heater and filter, and properly cycling the tank. A betta in water less than 78° Fahrenheit will not be happy and will be susceptible to disease, infection, stress, and depression.

Submersible heaters are inexpensive and safe. Just be sure to get one that corresponds with your tank size. The filter helps keep the water clean, as does a cycled tank. Cycling your tank means allowing "good" bacteria to grow on the tank's surfaces, such as the gravel, ornaments, plants, and in the filter. I'm not going to get into the how-tos of cycling here. There is plenty of information on cycling all over the web.

We placed the 5-gallon next to a 10-gallon with a small school of tetras in it, so they can see and entertain each other.

We placed the 5-gallon next to a 10-gallon with a small school of tetras in it, so they can see and entertain each other.

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Accessories to Keep Your Betta Happy and Stimulated

I mentioned the "floating betta log" earlier. An underwater perch toward the top of the tank is important when a betta is kept in a tank, as opposed to a fishbowl. Tsunami likes to rest, and when he rests on the bottom of the tank, he has to swim a good distance to get to the surface to grab a little breath of air. Now that he has a floating betta log, he rests inside the log, close to the surface, and can catch a quick breath any time he likes.

There are also plenty of plants and a cave for Tsunami to explore. This keeps him from getting bored, especially when my son rearranges them after a water change.

Another thing Tsunami likes are his next-door neighbors. We placed his tank next to another tank that contains a small school of tetras. Tsunami is safely contained in his own tank, but he and the tetras can see each other and enjoy checking each other out. If they appear to be attempting to fight or seem stressed and look as though they need some "alone" time, we simply place a sheet of paper between the tanks to block their view of each other.

A Variety of Fresh, New Food

I also ended up tossing the old vial of food. Even though that food was several years old, it looked fine, and Tsunami happily ate it. I didn't stop to think about the food losing its nutrients. My son's Googling research made me realize that bettas need a variety of foods, not just one kind that has been sitting on a shelf for 10 years. We now rotate his food, which includes two types of pellets and frozen blood worms.

Do the Right Thing and Put Your Betta in a Good-Sized Tank

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am no fish expert, nor am I a vet. We have had Tsunami about three months as I write this, and for all I know, he'll keel over tomorrow. But I do know that I am doing much better with this betta than my previous two, and with this article, I'm simply trying to spread the word that bettas need more than a tiny cup of unheated water.

What I thought would be a cheap $5 pet ended up costing us quite a bit to set up properly. We already had the 5-gallon tank, but I had to purchase a heater, filter, plants, cave, gravel vacuum for water changes, a variety of new foods, and water conditioner. It was not cheap, but I'm glad I'm doing all that I can to give the little guy a long, happy life.

This Betta Enjoying His Terrific Home!

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.


Nico!e on January 11, 2020:

I just bought our betta a 5 gallon tank but am unable to run the filter because the first time i turned it on, it pulled him right over! I spoke to the store and they gave me fish floss to pht inside the filter over the slats. I turned it on, he was swimming with effort and whe he stopped, he starting floating back in that direction so i again turned it off. Any suggestions??? Plus the water being returned back in seems to be making part of the strong current. Love the size.of the tank but if cant use thefilter, i dont khow to ensure his environment is safe. Help!!!!! on December 01, 2018:

My friend betta died because he didn't have a heater

Mimikyu fishy on August 25, 2018:

My grandma is keeping a blue Betta fish and she didn’t even feed him until I saved his life and his still alive but I’m trying to help him more with a pretty bigger bowl he lives in a very small bowl I’m realy sad :(

Robert Sacchi on November 06, 2016:

Good information. I remember in the '60s when I was reading about bettas they use to recommend small bowls. They recommended a 2 1/2 gallon tank when trying to breed them. They also sold plastic cages to put in larger tanks. The idea was to have a betta in each cage so they would turn to their fighting colors. Nothing like learning about the bad advice from yesteryear.

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on October 21, 2016:

Thanks, Kamaria. It really does make a world of difference for the poor fish! Most people don't realize it, though. Spread the word!

Kamaria on October 11, 2016:

Finally, someone who takes care of their fish. I used to keep my beta fish in a bowl. But now I keep my female in a 2.5 gallon tank and she's so happy. Such a difference! My old betas lived no more than a month but she's healthy and full life.

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on October 26, 2013:

Thank you for commenting bettaexpertperson, I agree with everything you've said, except for skipping the heater. Our betta does much, much better in warmer (75-80 degree) water. He is miserable in room temperature water, which is too cold for him, especially in the winter. Thanks for reading and commenting!

bettaexpertperson on October 26, 2013:

its cruel to place a beta in a bowl. just because it looks fancy it actually is bad for the beta and you often have to clean the tank. the betas like a running filter and a heater. you don't really need a heater because beta are actually tropical and are one of the few that can go in cold water. I'm not saying they enjoy a cold tank.

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on September 20, 2013:

Thanks peeples! I'm sorry to hear about your Betta, but it's great you provided him with a nice big tank. He lived a long and happy life! Those Bettas in cups usually live only a couple of months.

Peeples from South Carolina on August 09, 2013:

So very true! Our betta actually died last week and we went out looking for a replacement. All I found were more in cups! I was so sad. Our fish lived almost 2 years with us, in a 10 gallon tank. I too was attached to our fish from being home all day. Great article!

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on March 23, 2012:

Thanks, Marie. Walmart really is Betta hell. I see dead ones there frequently. So sad. It is true that Bettas will become more colorful and also live longer when kept in several gallons of water vs. a little bowl. I think people who keep bettas in bowls just don't know any better. I'm hoping to help educate at least a few! Thanks for stopping by!

mariekbloch on March 22, 2012:

Thank you. It makes me so sad when I see people buying one of those little bowels with their betta fish, and their excuse is "It's a betta, they like small spaces." I rescued a betta from walmart (talk about hell what they live in) and he's been happy living in his 20 gallon tank ever since. Days after getting him out of that tupperware and into wide space, someone living with me commented how his colors have become much more vibrant than before. Even a 5 gallon would be okay, but little cups and bowels? Bums me out thinking about it :(

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on February 06, 2012:

I don't know if you're in the USA, but you can get a plain-Jane 10-gallon tank at most Walmarts for pretty cheap. Also, if there is a freecycle yahoo user group in your area, you can put up a post that you're looking for an aquarium and supplies, and someone who doesn't need theirs anymore might give it to you. I'm Kazama would love it! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Rae on February 06, 2012:

Thanks for the advice...I was putting off getting such a tank for Kazama (my betta) But I may invest now...he is in a tiny tank because I live in such a small space...but I may bump him up to a gallon or two with a filter. I feel bad at how small his tank is now. I think he would do better with some more room to roam.

sweeaun from Malaysia on December 29, 2011:

No probs. I have stopped keeping fish for a while since my 67 gallon broke. Will probably get back to the hobby after my 2nd baby is out. :)

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on December 29, 2011:

SO sorry to hear about your betta, sweeaun. I guess it's hard to know exactly what happened. Let me know if you decide to try another in your tank and how it goes. Thanks for your comment.

sweeaun from Malaysia on December 28, 2011:

It's hard to say. I have a beautiful betta in 67 gallon fully cycled tank, but she died in a couple months. Maybe too big a tank made her depressed also since her natural habitat is in small pools of muddy water.

SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on December 28, 2011:

Thanks Cat, my son would love it if we had a 55 gallon! That would be a dream come true for him, but for now we'll stick with the 5 and the 10, since it is mostly me who's in charge of the fish. Maybe for his birthday in an ear or two.

Butterfly, I'm so glad your betta did well in the bowl, and that you changed the water frequently. Still, I hope others will see the light and go for larger habitats for their bettas.

Thank you both for your comments!

Cat R from North Carolina, U.S. on December 28, 2011:

So agree with you! And besides, it is a ton of fun for children to set up a large tank.

A certain 'Superstore' has the entire set up for a 55 gallon tank for a bit over a hundred dollars. Add another matching filter and maybe even a undergravel filter and you have a tank you rarely have to clean!

Cholee Clay from Wisconsin on December 28, 2011:

Betta's are known to be a really hardy fish, and extremely hard to kill. I had a few Betta fish from a science project my senior year, all which lived a very long time.

My last Betta I took to college freshman year and I had him for over two years and he lived in a fish bowl with a small plant. Only thing he could live in since I had no choice but to take him to college with me, my mom didn't want him. I constantly changed the water and switched his food. He loved it and swam around all the time.

I wouldn't recommend keeping them in something so small, but it is possible for them to live a long and happy life in something smaller. My Betta actually died of natural causes not because he gave up on life. But like any animal or human bigger is always better:)

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