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How to Care for an Old Betta Fish: Symptoms of Old Age

Marie's betta fish, Fredrick, reached an old age. She learned how to keep him comfortable and wants to share tips with other betta owners.

Review some of the signs of old age in betta fish, and get advice on keeping your elderly fish comfortable.

Review some of the signs of old age in betta fish, and get advice on keeping your elderly fish comfortable.

The Signs and Symptoms of Old Age in Betta Fish

In the following list, all these symptoms must happen gradually over the span of 3–8 months, not mere days. If any of these symptoms surface within a few weeks, then it is most likely the result of an illness, often brought on by poor water conditions (but not always). Also, an old betta may only show a few of these symptoms.

1. Has Fading Colors

Our hair color fades with old age, and so do scales. Once-vibrant blue scales may slowly turn into a shade of brown or gray over time, with only a hint of their former color.

2. Stops Making Bubble Nests (If He Ever Did)

Some healthy, in-their-prime bettas make bubble nests every few weeks in the hopes that a female will come by and mate with them, and some bettas only make a few nests within a year. Some may never make bubble nests and are still healthy, viral boys.

Bettas are individuals and won’t all behave in the same way, but their sex drive will lower once they’re past middle age. If bubble nests become less frequent over time, this would suggest an aging betta that isn’t interested in procreation anymore (or at least isn’t preparing for it).

3. Takes Frequent Naps

Yep, they sleep a lot. How often they sleep depends on their age, but the older they get, the more frequent the naps.

4. Has Ragged/Curling Fins

Did your betta have beautiful, perfect fins in the beginning, and now they look ragged and curled at their ends? Like hair losing its lushness in old age, old betta fins may become frayed or twisted over time. If it’s not illness or old age, it may be the pH, as harder water tends to make the ends on fins curl.

5. Has an Appearing and Disappearing White Dot

I cannot find an article that states what this is exactly, but I have read at least one article saying this is a symptom of old age, and I can confirm it with one of my oldest bettas. You might think it’s ich, but ich will look like the fish has been sprinkled all over with salt.

This mysterious lone white dot will appear on your betta’s face, and a week later it will disappear on its own. As the betta gets older, this white dot will keep popping up and vanishing more frequently on the different parts of his head. It appears harmless, but I would check water parameters to make sure that’s all it is.

6. Misses Food

In time, bettas can lose their vision due to old age. This will result in bettas lunging for their food and missing their target.

7. Slims Down

Despite eating like he always has, a betta will slim down once he’s over the hill. His appetite may also decrease, but this isn’t always the case. Either way, they get slim.

Remember: Symptoms Appear Gradually

Again, these symptoms should happen gradually, worsening as months go on. Long fins are an indicator that he is at least a one-year-old, but bettas in their prime should not have any of these symptoms unless they are ill or stressed.

Ensure Your Betta's Tank Provides a Healthy Environment

Always check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in your tank water to be sure your fish are living in a healthy environment. These fish should have at least 2.5 gallons of water, but 5 gallons is ideal. They also can’t live in water cooler than 78 degrees, and filtration is a must in 5-gallon tanks.

My betta, Fredrick, a year ago.

My betta, Fredrick, a year ago.

Fredrick a year later. His gradual change in appearance and activity happened over a span of 12 months, more so in the last 3 months.

Fredrick a year later. His gradual change in appearance and activity happened over a span of 12 months, more so in the last 3 months.

Caring for an Old Betta

Based on my experience with my elderly betta, Frederick, here is some advice on taking care of your older fish and keeping them comfortable.

1. Lower the Water

The water level should be low enough so the fish doesn’t exert himself to breathe but still high enough for adequate filtration. The water level depends on how advanced the betta is; if half the time you catch him napping or resting on a leaf, it would be best to keep the water no higher than 8 inches. If he seems to be resting almost all the time, I would keep it at 5 inches maximum.

2. Turn Up the Heat

They aren’t swimming around burning energy like they used to. For older bettas, keep the temperature in the higher range, such as 81–82. This will ensure they are kept warm when they’re napping, and it reduces the chance of illness.

3. Provide Lots of Foliage

Old bettas take naps throughout the day, so provide them with plenty of comfy sleeping spots. Plentiful silk or live plants will do, especially taller ones—as they will allow the betta to sleep near the surface, in case he needs to breathe quickly.

4. Wiggle Food or Use Frozen/Wet Food

If they’re blind or practically blind, be sure they know food is around. If wiggling the food doesn’t get their attention, then you may have to change their diet to wet food, as these will provide a strong odor. Thawed bloodworms, beef heart, and brine shrimp are ideal choices. I’ve even used tiny pieces of wet cat food with no ill side effects. If you can smell it, your betta will find it.

5. Perform More Water Changes

It doesn’t take much to kill an old fish. The tiniest amount of ammonia, nitrites, or even nitrates passing 20ppm can lead to fin rot and internal bacteria in an old fish, dooming him. So keep the water as clean as possible. With an old betta, I wouldn’t let nitrates get past 10ppm, and I would try to keep it around 5ppm if his health is declining.

6. Use Freshwater Aquarium Salt (Carefully)

Freshwater salt can help prevent diseases and infection in fish with low immune systems, so I’d recommend a teaspoon for every 5 gallons for an old betta. If your betta does exhibit fungal or bacterial infections, change it to a tablespoon per 5 gallons until he is cured. This amount is safe for invertebrates. Always dissolve the salt in a separate container of water before adding it to the tank, as dissolving salt can burn gills.

Note: Apparently salt is a controversial item, with some saying it doesn’t do anything for fish. I’ve never had ill effects from using salt for my bettas, and I usually don’t use salt unless I suspect they are ill. Salt can hurt scaleless fish, though.

7. Consider Medication

Once an old betta gets sick, it’s likely he won’t survive. If you don’t want to use salt—or, in addition to salt—you may try medication as a last resort. Because fish meds can do more harm than good, I wouldn’t use meds unless he stops eating, and I’d have to be sure which illness he has. Maracyn I and 2 combination is a safe and broad treatment, but it most likely will kill your beneficial bacteria, so keep an eye on ammonia levels—this goes for all medication.

How Long a Betta Lives Depends on Where It Comes From

If you buy a chain store betta, he won’t live as long as he should, because they are treated so poorly in their first 6–12 months of life. It’s a gamble how long he will live if he came from Walmart or a poorly run pet store. So don’t beat yourself up if his aging process seems premature. As long as he has a heater, filtration, is fed once or (in very small amounts) twice a day, and you perform a partial water change every week, then you’re doing everything right.

If you want a betta that will live 3–4 years under your care, I’d suggest buying from a breeder. They’re all over the place online, but AquaBid is a good place to start. They’re expensive, but for good reason: They take care of their fish, and they will live much longer than the poor neglected bettas in cups.

Either way, you should pat yourself on the back if your betta starts showing signs of old age; so many live short, insufferable lives due to the widespread ignorance of how to care for bettas, which is perpetuated by companies who sell divided 1/2-gallon tanks for bettas.

Keep Your Old Betta Comfortable

If the betta seems to be inching closer to death's door, all you can do is try to make him as comfortable as possible, helping him with food, keeping the water clean and warm, and making sure he can get to the surface on his own.

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.


AddieIsMe on August 16, 2020:

My Betta is almost 3.5 years. He's a Walmart Betta. But he's turning pale, not eating, and starting to struggle to get to the top.

Himel on June 29, 2020:

My betta is turning white, I use 4 gallon tank and ground water. I know he is old and about 2+ years. I use marina betta water conditioner. Food I use Tetra tropical, terra and blood worms. I observed he did not like high illumination.

mariekbloch (author) on May 18, 2020:

Its possible you got a very old betta, but unlikely. They dont last long in those cups. Turning white? Make sure there isnt chlorine in the water when you perform water changes. Prime is a wonderful conditioner that gets rid of chlorine, adds healthy slime coat, and temporarily makes toxins in the tank non-toxic. Check your chemical balance. Is there ammonia? Nitrites? Adding prime will help if you dont know. Look up the nitrogen cycle in tanks. Is the temp 75-80 range?

Seda on May 18, 2020:

My betta is not eating and barely swimming around I got him from my local petco about a month or so ago and he is just getting worse

He has a big tank and is turning white and hugging the bottom and sides of the tank

I think he is getting old and maybe dying what should I do!?

s on March 25, 2020:


KBW on March 09, 2020:

My little old betta man was looking exhausted every time he swam to the surface for food or air. The needs of the rest of my fish family meant i couldn't lower the water level. I added a hammock etc but he completely ignored them. He likes the company of his tankmates so i didn't want to move him. I made him a cave at the very top of the tank using a solo cup (classy!). I'm not savvy enough to post a picture but he hangs out there. He ventures out and about sometimes but this is definitely his new go to spot.

mariekbloch (author) on December 16, 2019:

I'd say let nature takes its course. Since he stopped eating, it may just be his time. Try wiggling wet food in front of him. Sorry to hear he may pass.

Dee on December 12, 2019:

I have a betta who is almost 7 years old. He sleeps A LOT. I always keep his water level just low enough he can get up to breathe when he needs. I feed him 5-6 betta pellets every 2-3 days. I believe he is also just now starting to lose his vision a bit because hes been lunging and missing his food sometimes. So when I feed him i stay by his small bowl to make sure he eats, before leaving him be again. his name is Caeruleus and hes the oldest betta ive ever had the privilege to own. Ill be a bit sad when he decides to go, but for now hes happy despite being an old man haha

L on December 10, 2019:

I have a beta who is over 4 years old and was gifted to me by my 6th grade teacher who moved away this year and didn’t have enough space for her fish. I saw him when he was younger. I don’t know if the Illnesses he had before I got him. He has recently got fin rot and a fungal infection on his side. This past week he stopped eating completely. He just floats around using one of his fins to keep himself afloat. I believe he is starving himself to death. I tell my friend about him all the time and his state. She recommended recently to freeze him but my mom refused to kill him on purpose. I don’t know what to do and the medicine I use always fogs his tank. Should I keep using it? What’s going on?

C on September 03, 2018:

My betta Arizona Red is dying from old age it's kind of sad but I knew this was coming. Although I've been a proactive caregiver for him I guess 3 yrs is all the time he is going to let me have with him.

I'm keeping him in a warm tank and I hand feed him tiny flies (he loves them) twice a day. The steps you provided I have already taken, like the warmer water and adding salt to his tank. Thank you for this article it was comforting to know that I have been doing everything I can to make my betta comfortable.

In the 3 years I was blessed with Red he never once was sick and that was with 3 relocations and countless scape changes. What a joy bettas can be and I will get another one and yes his name will be Arizona Red :)

mariekbloch (author) on August 25, 2018:

You're welcome.

Kee on August 22, 2018:

My betta, Pluto, has got to be around 2. I've had him going on two years (will be two years dec. 16), he's a Walmart fish. He has always been very social..rather active. He's had a ceramic tunnel I made him that he's always like to sleep/chill out in. Anytime you talked to him he would look in your direction, he would swim up to the top of his tank when you walked in the room. Bubble nests werent common for him anyway. In the last few weeks I've noticed the color on his body (he's blue/purple and silver-ish) changing to be more silver than blue where it used to be vibrant. He doesn't swim around as much, doesn't really respond to anyone talking to him, my boyfriend who currently has him at his house (I have cats where I live now and he's close) says he hasn't been eating as much.

I love my little guy. He's a spoiled fish...he has a 3 gallon tank which he loves. I'm afraid his time is coming soon, I just kinda feel it. Thanks for the warning signs. We will be keeping a close eye on the little guy.

Susan on July 06, 2018:

Thank you for this article. My Male Beta "Clifton" is going on 6 years old in a couple months. He is a very friendly and personable fish. I have him at work and my co-workers are very fond of him also. He is doing well but does sleep a lot now, has lost color and has the white dot that seems to reappear. He loves getting a brine shrimp treat once a week. The key with him is to change his water and I gave him a small plant that he can rest on at different levels in the tank. He has heat and aeration too. He's a happy beta. We all will miss him when his time comes.

Steff on June 28, 2018:

You can tell him how you feel by talking in your mind in your mind while putting one hand on the hand on the tank and he will be happy trust me I used to talk to my betta fish and it used to awnser by getting excited or shaking its head.You can try asking it a few questions.Your also lucky because my betta fish only lived 2 and 1/2 years.It's not weird to watch your fish because everyone watches their fish and it makes them happy to see their fish happy.As you said your fish is at the top of the tank a lot because it's getting air you should put something in the tank that that reaches close to the top so your fish can rest on it and breathe or get a living large leaf rooted plant that makes air so your fish can breathe at the bottom of the tank while sleeping.You can also change the water more often to give it more oxegen because if it's at the top that means oxegen is too low.On a website I searched up it says your betta needs 24 litres of water a filter and temperature around 26 degrees to keep your betta healthy but your betta lived 6+ years so you should be happy and give yourself a pat on the back. It is good that your fish can at least stay at the top of the tank because mine ate to much so It couldn't swim up to the top.So good job taking care of your fish.

Robin on June 27, 2018:

I have a beta that’s probably 6+ Year’s old. I have nursed him back from infections many times. I think probably his Time is running out. His face is turning gray and he floats at the top all the time now. I’m a hospice nurse and would like to make his death as comfortable as possible. I know this sounds weird, but I have had endless time of enjoyment watching him for years. I don’t want him to suffer, how can I make his death as peaceful as possible, like I’ve been doing for people.

Steff on June 24, 2018:

My betta fish died this morning, I was really sad. When I bought it its colours where already fading/it wasn't that bright and it still lived about 3 years I fed it everyday and changed its water every three weeks it was also happy and excited all the time. Did it live long cause it was happy because it

Had all the symptoms of oldness since the last 4 months and it usually got sick but cured itself.It had fin rot and it might have eaten to much so how come it lived so long?

mariekbloch (author) on June 20, 2018:

I doubt you sleeping next to him bothers him.

SlugLady28 on June 16, 2018:

Hey my betta is old and spends most time sleeping. he is next to my bed. when i wiggle my finger, he flares at me (he always had. its his thing) but then goes back to his bed or moves to hide/sleep elsewhere. I worry that i bother him. I wonder if it would be better to move him farther away from me so he has more peace and quiet?

mariekbloch (author) on June 06, 2018:

You're welcome

Joann on June 01, 2018:

Thanks so much my beta is 4 and he is literally my first fish and iloce taking care of him and ive started to notice lots of naps

Gabby on February 04, 2018:

Thanks this helped me very much i have a 5 year old Betta that i take care of.Thanks for making this article

Don on January 19, 2018:

Thanks for the great article. I've got a 2 1/2+ year old that shows all the signs/symptoms mentioned. Unfortunately, we've been battling what appears to be a slow fin rot, even-though I've always done full water changes on his 2.5Gallon tank 3 times a week (basically every-other-day). I suspected this was because a lower/weaker immune system due to his age. It appears I've done everything correctly. Just the inevitable.

steve on January 18, 2018:

It is a shame they have such short lives ,,,My 2 and a half year old guy is napping a lot more than he did when I first got him. But other than that , he seems quite happy ...

Marie on December 27, 2017:

Thank you as well my betta we inherited from my father in law as it was my mother in laws and she past away a year ago. We had him for a year and I found out mother in law had him 2 + years making it 3+ years old and who knows how old when she got him. Anyway all symptoms you explained almost identical to the betta passing away yesterday but I feel a lot better and wish I had read this a cple months ago.

Maurizia on December 12, 2017:

This was a nerve saver for me! My male betta has been cared for impeccably since I got him over 3 years ago. About 3 months ago I noticed his colors start to fade and he got cataracts and started missing food... I was sure I had done something wrong at some point, but then he started napping throughout the day a lot. Thank God I found this article it saved my nerves as I was beating myself up... I saved him from the horrible care of Walmart and have never had such a connection to a fish as my boy Virgil (blue/gray crowntail male) I’m glad he is one that got to live his whole life and leave as a little old man fish :) thanks for the info. Very informative and my heart is not as heavy as it was.:)

Kiley Garrett on October 26, 2017:

This article is very informative. I knew about some of these symptoms and I knew my betta was getting up there in years, but some of these things I was concerned about, like the fin curling and him missing his food.

AlexisChamberlain on September 28, 2017:

Thanks! I thought my betta was sick but I've had him for over 2 years and he has all of the symptoms described. Thank you again and I will definitely take your advice!

Connie on August 28, 2017:

Thank you. Good information. Thank you especially for explaining about the white spot on the face. Noticed that on our betta today. And he is starting to take longer naps. All in all, he is still quite active for an old betta and likes making bubble nests. Your post was very helpful. Thanks again.

Jolene on August 22, 2017:

My male beta has been acting normal, but he has a lump on his side and it almost looks clear, the scales are not really protruding and he swims and act pretty normal eats well. .i have been treating his 5 gal tank w/o carbon filter with neoplex medication for 3 weeks because of fear of dropsy, but im convinced that its not whats wrong with him... fish store says it could be just old scared he's gonna pop.

Any thoughts on this?

wolfman jenkins on May 21, 2017:

My bettafish will still be the same when he gets old even at 5 years old or 6 years old he will still be aggressive and beat up any bettafish out there like I said in another post my bettafish will be the greatest bettafish since MUHAMMAD ALI.

mawa on March 21, 2017:

our betta is old, we have had him for about 4 years. All signs are present that he is aging. He has changed colors, not coming up for air as often...I am getting ready to lower his water level after reading this. And I think his vision may be getting weak. He is not in a large tank but a gallon size with filtration since we have had him. Makes me sad...I know nothing lives forever, but I have taken such good care of him that it is hard to see him as what appears to be suffering from the ravages of old age. This article was so useful. Thanks.

hamzah patel on March 05, 2017:

I have a 2.5 gallon tank with a divider with a male betta on one side and a female on the other . For the past week the male has been sitting at the bottom of the tank and refusing to eat.i thought I was doing somethin wrong with the heat or something but the female seems just fine.yesterday I realized he burned himsef on the heater and the top part of his tail fell off.i quickly put him in a half gallon tank temporarily and put some fin medicine drops in his water. He cant swim properly and doesnt want to eat he is about 2 yrs old. Please help me! I dont want him to die! Any suggestions?

Fruit Loops on November 14, 2016:

Can you please share more information on the food you recommend? My poor fish is not eating--lunges and misses followed by a nap--and I'm afraid he's beginning to starve!

MargeC. on July 14, 2016:

Thanks for the info! A betta I bought from Walmart a few months ago arrived with fringed fins. Not knowing any better I thought this was the way he was supposed to look. Now after reading your article I will be watching him closely. His appetite and colors seem OK but he does seem rather sluggish and hangs out at the top of the water a lot. he still flares when I put a mirror up to the tank though (which is fun to watch), A week ago I moved him from and 1/2 gal tank to a 1.5 gal tank thinking he would be happier. I've never purchased a betta from a breeder before but will the next time. I feel badly that he won't live as long as I had hoped. Usually a betta lasts for about a year even from Walmart. Thanks again, I have enjoyed reading your articles here.

Elle on September 20, 2015:

My betta is at least 5 1/2 but I don' t think he can see very well now. Thanks so much for the care tips. I will change his food.

firestar2124 on September 06, 2015:

I was given my beta by a manager at work. He was probably close to one when I got him, and I've had him two years. About 8 weeks ago he started to float sideways. I though it was a swim bladder problem, but the fasting/steamed-pea treatment didn't help. Now he is darker, has the white spot, and rests sideways in the water all the time. I have to drop food carefully in front of him so that he doesn't have to maneuver to get it. But he is still eating well and excited about the food. Still, it seems that three(ish) is young to be having all these old age symptoms. I've brought him home so that I can watch him daily. I have a new Betta boy at work, and my oldy-but-goody is in Betta-hospice on the dining room table.

micki on June 14, 2015:

We got ours from Walmart close to 4 yrs ago. I thought he was dying 1 1/2 yrs ago he's blind in one eye (if not in both) and hasn't been able to eat the floating pellets for the past 1 1/2 yrs. He must eat them off the bottom later since he's been like this so long and still alive. He's become less and less active and pretty much lays on his side on the bottom all day, only moving if I drop in food or tap the glass. He's a fighter for sure and refuses to die!

mariekbloch (author) on May 30, 2015:

Yes, if your fish has suffered fin rot and his fins never have grown back (yet he acts perfectly healthy), that's another indication that he is an old boy. Thanks for posting your comment.

Caroline on May 25, 2015:

Finally someone who knows about the white dot! Ive been searching the internet, trying to figure out why my older better was getting it, so thank you for your answer. Unfortunetly one of my boys is going through the aging process. He is from a chain store, and I purchased him 3 years ago. Unfortunetly earlier this year we had a run in with fin rot, and they don't seem to be growing back fully. I saw good growth in the first few months, but then one day it just stopped. Do you believe this is a factor of his age? He has been showing fading colors and inactivity for several months now. He lives in a divided 10 gallon with heater and filter and weekly partial water changes. Thanks!

mariekbloch (author) on December 18, 2014:

You should be proud of yourself that your betta has lived for so long. They're usually sold at 6-12 month old, so your fish is probably 5, the typical lifespan of a healthy betta. It's sad, but you should be happy knowing that he lived such a full life.

Chantal on December 15, 2014:

:( I think my betta is getting old. I am so going to cry when he dies :'( hes been such a good fish and dances all the time and flared only at me whenever I was around, he never flared at anyone else. I have had him for about 4 years. I so don't want to see him leave me :( arg.

mariekbloch (author) on March 02, 2014:

Thank you.

dearabbysmom from Indiana on March 01, 2014:

Good to see info about keeping these gorgeous fish happy and healthy for a longer life. My kids had a few over the years and we were never able to keep them alive very long. Useful information!