Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
How Long Do Betta Fish Live as Pets?
Betta fish kept as pets live 2-5 years when cared for correctly. Sometimes they can live even longer, with anecdotes of the oldest betta fish living up to 10 years! That is a bit too much to expect for most betta owners, but with some luck and smart decisions, your betta can reach 5 years and perhaps beyond.
In this article, you will read about 12 ways you can help your betta fish live a longer, healthier, happier life. I can’t promise your fish will survive any specific number of years. What I can say is that, if you wish to give your betta the best chance at living as long as possible, these tips can help make that happen.
There are many reasons betta fish die too soon. Some are beyond our control, and it is important to realize that even if you do all the right things, your betta might pass on before you’d hope. However, our actions play a direct role in a fish’s longevity and quality of life.
12 Ways to Increase Betta Fish Lifespan
Here are some things you can do to help your betta live longer:
1. Choose the Right Aquarium
One of the persistent myths about betta fish is that they prefer and thrive in tiny tanks. There is no reason for this to be true. Because of their unique physiology, betta fish can survive in small, polluted bodies of water longer than most fish. However, that doesn’t mean it is the ideal environment for them. Like any other fish, bettas need room to swim and spaces to explore.
Choose a tank 5 gallons or bigger for a single fish. Ten gallons is even better. Bowls and small tanks pollute too quickly and lack some of the other amenities we’ll discuss later in this article. If you want your betta to live as long as possible, give him a proper home.
2. Maintain Proper Water Temperatures
Did you know bettas are tropical fish? That means, when we keep them in bowls and unheated tanks, the water is often too cool for them. We’re looking for a constant water temperature between 75 and 80 degrees, with 78 being ideal.
It may seem a small thing since bettas can survive in cooler temps, but any time we keep fish in parameters outside of their comfort zone, we are causing a small amount of constant stress. Stress leads to illness, and illness, of course, leads to death.
3. Use a Filter
A filter is a big help for keeping the water clean in an aquarium. While I wouldn’t call it a “must-have” in a betta tank—especially if your betta lives alone, you have live plants, and you keep up with water changes—it is the kind of thing that can only help.
A good filter removes waste from a betta tank (mechanical filtration), gives healthy bacteria colonies a place to thrive (biological filtration), and can reduce harmful natural chemicals in the water (chemical filtration).
4. Feed Appropriate Foods
Choose a quality betta pellet as your fish’s main food source and feed according to directions. They can and will eat regular tropical fish flakes, but it is best to go with food made especially for bettas. Bettas are carnivores, and their food contains a higher percentage of protein.
Live and frozen foods (thawed in tank water) can serve as occasional treats. Consider foods such as:
- Tubifex Worms
- Brine Shrimp
- Mysis Shrimp
- Mosquito Larvae
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5. Avoid Overfeeding
If I were to take a guess, I would say that overfeeding is at the top of the list of reasons fish die too soon. A betta’s stomach is only about the size of his eye. Uneaten food drifts to the bottom of the tank and decays, fouling the water. Also, anything that goes into fish must come out. Fish that are stuffed to the gills create more waste in their tanks.
Overfeeding leads to several diseases in bettas, some because of dirtier water, and some because of the physiological issues of overeating. If this worries you, it is okay to program a fasting day for your fish once a week.
6. Keep Up With Tank Maintenance
Overfeeding is a major issue because it leads to dirty water and poor tank conditions. One way to combat this is to set up and stick with a solid aquarium maintenance schedule. This should include:
- Regular water changes
- Cleaning up algae
- Vacuuming gravel
- Occasional deep cleanings
The frequency and exact methods you’ll use will depend on tank size, whether you have live plants, and how many fish you have in your tank. With single betta in a 5-gallon tank with a filter, I’d shoot for a 30% water change and gravel cleaning weekly, and a deeper cleaning once a month.
7. Test Your Water
Even if you keep up with maintenance, how are you supposed to know if your water is safe for your betta? The only proper way is to test it with a freshwater testing kit. There are many options out there. I prefer the API Freshwater Master Test Kit because it is simple to use, lasts a long time, appears to be accurate.
The ideal water parameters we want to aim for are:
- Nitrates: < 20
- Nitrites: 0
- Ammonia: 0
- pH: 7.0
Staying ahead of ammonia spikes and other issues can help ensure your betta’s tank water is safe and healthy.
8. Choose Safe Decorations
Because betta fish have long, flowing fins, we must be careful when choosing décor for their tanks. Torn fins and damaged scales can get infected, and potentially bring about a premature demise.
Live plants are wonderful if you can have them. It is fine if you must have artificial, but find ones without sharp edges that could tear fins.
The same goes for any caves or other decorations. It is important to have a hiding spot for your betta. It is great if you can build a little cave out of smooth stones or some other natural material. If not, just make sure that the entrance to the hiding spot won’t catch your fish’s fins.
9. Handle Your Betta Safely
Ideally, you should never have to remove your betta fish from his tank. However, if you do need to get him out of there for some reason, do so carefully. Do not net him, as his fins can get tangled up and damaged. Instead, scoop him out with an aquarium-safe container.
Place the container in a secure place and, without covering the water surface or sealing the container, put a lid over it. Why do you need a lid? Because bettas can jump!
10. Keep a Lid on Your Tank
Jumping bettas are a good reason to make sure your fish has a solid lid over its tank. Mosh fishkeepers eventually have the heartbreaking experience of finding a beloved fish on the floor next to their tank. Don't let it happen if you can help it!
If you do find your betta on the floor, get him back in the tank ASAP. Bettas are anabantids, meaning they can breathe the air above the water when necessary, so they have a better chance of survival than most fish.
11. Choose Tank Mates Wisely
In most cases, betta fish are best kept in single-specimen setups. That said, I know many people want to keep them with other fish. That is actually possible—sometimes. Your “fighting fish” isn’t necessarily going to attack every other fish in a tank. In fact, betta fish have a significant chance of getting picked on instead of being the aggressor.
The most important thing when adding a betta to a community tank is to monitor things and get him out of there if something goes wrong. Have a backup plan. If you seriously want to give it a go, here is an article about keeping betta fish with tank mates that can help you out.
12. Buy Fish from Trustworthy Sources
I saved this one for last on the list, though maybe I should have put it first. I assume most people reading this already have their betta at home. If not, this part is very important: If you buy a healthy betta fish to begin with, he has a much greater chance of living a long life.
My advice is to avoid shops that keep dozens of bettas stacked up in small cups. Avoid buying fish from places that also sell lawnmowers and laundry detergent. Find a shop that keeps a few bettas on hand, and can tell you how long they have been sitting there. Preferably, a shop that is owned by a person you can talk to about your fish.
In my opinion, this not only gives you a better chance of getting healthy fish but is a more ethical way to purchase a betta.
Betta Fish Lifespan FAQ
Still have some questions about how long betta fish live? Here are a few more answers:
How long do bettas live in the wild?
In the wild, bettas may only live a couple of years. Like most animals, wild bettas live shorter lives than their captive counterparts. With predators and environmental issues to deal with, wild betta fish have tough lives.
How long can a betta fish live in a bowl?
While you aren’t giving your betta the best chance at success by keeping him in a bowl, he can still live for several years before disease and stress catch up to him.
How long can a betta live in a one-gallon tank?
A one-gallon tank is better than a bowl, but still not ideal. In both cases, you never can tell how long a betta will survive. Just like people, some can live in poor environments and live into old age.
How long can your betta fish live without food?
Most fish can survive a week or more without food without dying if they have to, but this obviously isn’t good for them. I would not allow a betta to go without food for over 48 hours.
Do betta fish sleep?
Yes, betta fish sleep. You may see him resting on the gravel or a plant leaf and assume the worst, but he may only be napping.
About Betta Care
Some factors that determine how long a betta fish will live are beyond our control. Some fish have congenital conditions, and the care they received between the breeder and your home weakened some. But the care we give plays a major role in a betta’s lifespan, and it can make a big difference.
It is hard to convince some people of that. The thing is, you can follow the advice in this article to the letter and your betta may still die too soon. Some people might ignore it all and have their fish live for 5 years.
Since we don’t really know what will happen, I always assume it is best to err on the side of giving the best care possible. Then, however long a betta fish lives, we’ll know we did everything we could.
Good luck with your betta!
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.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 18, 2021:
Liz Westwood from UK on August 18, 2021:
This is a very helpful and well-organized care guide. We were once tasked with caring for our neighbours' pets. Unfortunately the gold fish did not survive the experience. We later wondered if we had overfed it.