How to Care for an Old Betta

Signs of an Old Betta

In the following list, all these symptoms must happen gradually over the span 3-8 months, not were 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.

Colors Fading

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 the hint of its former color.

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 they won’t behave in the same way, but their sex drive will lower once they’ve past middle age, so 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).

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.

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.

The 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.

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.

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.

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. Always check ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in your tank water to be sure they 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 watercooler than 78 degrees, and filtration is a must in 5 gallons.

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

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 advance 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.

Turn Up the Heat

They aren’t swimming around burning energy like the used to. For older bettas, keep the temperature on 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.

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.

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.

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 for 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 would try to keep it around 5ppm if his health is declining.

Freshwater Aquarium Salt

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 to the tank, as dissolving salt can burn gills.

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.

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.

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 ½ gallon tanks for bettas.

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.

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Comments 10 comments

dearabbysmom profile image

dearabbysmom 2 years ago from Indiana

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!

mariekbloch profile image

mariekbloch 2 years ago Author

Thank you.

Chantal 22 months ago

:( 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 profile image

mariekbloch 22 months ago Author

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.

Caroline 17 months ago

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 profile image

mariekbloch 17 months ago Author

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.

micki 16 months ago

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!

firestar2124 13 months ago

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.

Elle 13 months ago

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.

MargeC. 3 months ago

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.

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