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How to Help Your Sick Betta Fish

I own a betta fish who got sick last year. She is now back to thriving.

One day late last year, I was strolling down the aisles of my local pet store when I saw one of the most beautiful fish I had ever seen in a small plastic cup. I spent several minutes staring at and admiring the majestic male betta fish before I decided that I just could not leave it at the store and would purchase it. I had never owned a fish tank before and didn’t know the first thing about fish keeping, but I figured how hard could it really be?

Once I got home and began to do some research, I realized there was a lot more to caring for a fish appropriately than first meets the eye. Over the next few weeks, I got a tank, an air pump, filters, plants, food, and everything else I needed to create a safe and happy home for my new blue betta.

I named my fish Mr. Finnegan, and for several months everything was great. He always gobbled up his food, did happy little “dances” to greet me when I first came in the room and even created bubble nests in the water to show how content he was.

First Signs My Fish Was Sick

One day, however, I came home, looked in the fish tank, and immediately realized something was wrong with my pet fish. Instead of happily swimming around as normal, he was laying on the gravel at the bottom of the tank and seemed to be having a problem keeping himself upright.

I had grown very attached to this fish, and I was sad he was obviously in distress. I began frantically consulting various fish-keeping websites to search for ways I could help my sick betta.

Water Quality Is Key

My research revealed that the number one reason that fish get sick is poor water quality. Even in tanks with a filter, it is important to regularly perform water changes to remove pollutants and introduce clean water into the aquatic environment.

The fastest way to improve water quality in a fish tank is by performing a partial water change. Simply put, this involves removing 30% or more of the dirty water from an aquarium and replacing it with fresh, treated water.

When adding water to the fish tank, it is important to make sure any chlorine is completely removed by using a water conditioner. Most professionals use a water conditioner called Seachem Prime because it not only removes chlorine, but it helps to detoxify any ammonia and nitrites present in the water.

Make sure the water you are using is room temperature and mixed with the appropriate dose of Seachem Prime before adding it to the tank. If your betta is sick, consider changing more than 30% of the dirty tank water. Bettas are hearty fish and can tolerate water changes of 50-60% when needed.

If it has been quite some time since you have performed a water change, consider doing 50% water changes every day until your betta’s health starts to improve.

Feed Your Fish Less Food

Another very common cause of fish illness is overfeeding. In the wild, fish only have intermittent access to food, and sometimes go long periods without eating. When fish consume processed fish food every single day, it can cause stomach bloating and swim bladder disease, which can affect the betta’s ability to swim and maneuver in the water.

Oftentimes, simply withholding food for 24-48 hours will allow your fish’s system the opportunity to process excess food and return to normal. Now, by no means am I advocating starving your fish, but the truth is that most fish food containers recommend feeding substantially more than your fish actually needs.

If you have been regularly feeding your fish, a 24-48 hour fast will not be harmful to them at all. Oftentimes, this is enough to get your fish feeling better. If you try a 48-hour fast and your fish still seems sick, you can resume feeding them a small amount of food once per day. Remember not to feed your fish more food than it can consume in 1-2 minutes.

Tetra Lifeguard comes conveniently dosed in tablet form.  I found this medicine easy to use when treating my sick betta fish.

Tetra Lifeguard comes conveniently dosed in tablet form. I found this medicine easy to use when treating my sick betta fish.

Try Some Fish Medicine

If you have tried more conservative measures and your betta fish is still ill, there are medicines available at most pet stores that you can add to the aquarium to try to help your fish. It is important to read medicine packages carefully, as there are a wide variety of medicines available for a wide variety of illnesses, and the wrong medicine could be ineffective if it doesn’t target the right source.

Because I am such a beginner aquarist, I like to use Tetra Lifeguard All-in-One Treatment tablets. This medicine has a unique method of action that is effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that could affect aquarium fish. I appreciate this broad treatment spectrum, as it didn’t require me to accurately diagnose my fish before using it.

I just followed the instructions on the box and added the appropriate number of tablets to my fish tank for five days in a row, and then performed a water change on the fifth day.

After using the Lifeguard medicine and improving the water quality in his tank, my beautiful blue betta fish was quickly back to his old self.

After using the Lifeguard medicine and improving the water quality in his tank, my beautiful blue betta fish was quickly back to his old self.

Following These Steps Restored My Betta to Health

I was diligent in following the steps I’ve gone over, performing daily water changes and using medicine as directed for about a week. After just a couple of days, I noticed my fish swimming around a bit more, which gave me hope that my betta was on the road to recovery.

I started to be much more cautious about how much I fed my fish and made partial water changes a bi-weekly routine. I am pleased to report that after about a month, my betta fish made a full recovery, and continues to thrive and bring me happiness to this day.


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.

© 2022 Jacob McGee