Betta Fish in Bowls: Just Say No!
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 6 months. He stopped eating one day and finally died a week or so later. We waited awhile 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 they 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 fish bowl, and 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.
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 about 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 awhile, 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 (If Not 5 or 10)
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 is a complete kit with lots of accessories and supplies, and costs more than $40. You can get a plain 10-gallon tank on its own at Walmart for about $15. 5-gallon tank sold by Amazon
This is what I used to get the "good" bacteria started in my son's tank.
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 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.
Accessories to Keep Your Betta Happy and Stimulated
I mentioned the earlier. An underwater perch toward the top of the tank is important when a betta is kept in a tank, as opposed to a fish bowl. 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. "floating betta log"
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 ten 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 3 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.