Top 6 Reasons Betta Fish Die

Updated on February 15, 2018
EricDockett profile image

Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.

Bettas are among the most beautiful of freshwater aquarium fish, but unfortunately their lives are often cut short by poor tank management practices.
Bettas are among the most beautiful of freshwater aquarium fish, but unfortunately their lives are often cut short by poor tank management practices. | Source

When Betta Fish Die Young

Betta fish are among the most popular freshwater tropical fish out there, and it’s easy to see why. They’re beautiful, with their flowing fins and brilliant colors. They’re mysterious, originating from far-off lands in the East. And, of course, they are very dangerous, having been trained in super-secret fishy fighting styles.

But no aquatic ninja skills can save bettas from the ultimate end that awaits us all. Ashes to ashes; fish flakes to fish flakes. One minute you’re swimming merrily along, the next you’re belly-up and stuck to the filter intake.

There is no escaping the Angelfish of Death. Unfortunately, for many betta fish it all ends far too soon. If you are the keeper of such a fish it can be pretty disheartening when it dies before its time. You begin to wonder what you did wrong, what you may have done differently and if you deserve to keep a fish at all.

I’ve been there, with bettas and other species of fish. All you can do it take an analytical view of your fish-keeping habits and try to puzzle out whether or not you made a key error somewhere along the line. In some cases you’ve done nothing wrong. Just like other pets, and even people, fish can suffer from congenital issues that shorten their lives.

However, any time you unexpectedly lose a fish it is worth your time to take a look at things and see if you might need to change some of your practices. This article can help with that process. Here I’ve outlined some of the typical reasons betta fish die, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Poor Water Conditions

Dirty water is one of the quickest ways to doom any fish tank. And it doesn’t even have to be visibly dirty. Chemicals from decomposing fish waste and uneaten food can contaminate your tank, rendering the water toxic.

Betta have a reputation for surviving in harsh environments where most fish would perish. This is because they are anabantids. They have evolved the ability to take gulps of air from above the water when the water itself is polluted and low in oxygen.

Sadly, this is also what makes people think it is okay to keep bettas in bowls and tiny tanks. Sure, he’ll survive for a while. But small volumes of water pollute very quickly, and it won’t be long before he is feeling the negative effects of poor water conditions. Fin rot and other diseases may be the result, as well as a marked increase in stress that will shorten his life.

Here are three things you can do to avoid this situation:

  • Choose at least a 5-gallon tank for your betta. This not only means a better living space for your fish, but the tank will be easier to maintain.
  • Use a filter. Yes, betta fish need filters in their tanks. Some 5-gallon tanks come with filters. Otherwise, there are nano filters out there choose from. If you go with a 10-gallon you will have many more options.
  • Vacuum the gravel and perform regular water changes. If you suck up the debris and perform a partial water change every-other week your betta’s home will stay much cleaner.

2. Low Temperatures

Some people seem to think bettas are like goldfish, and they’ll do fine in an unheated bowl or tank. This is incorrect. Goldfish require cooler water, but bettas are tropical fish. As such, they require water temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees.

Cool water again means stress, illness and premature death for your betta. Even if it’s warm where you live, if the temperature drops at night it will cause the tank water to rapidly cool.

So, what can you do?

  • Choose at least a 5-gallon tank. (Yup, it's worth mentioning twice.) Tiny volumes of water cool off very quickly. Five-gallon tanks maintain their temperature a little better, and 10-gallon tanks better still.
  • Use a heater. Like filters, there are nano versions available for 5-gallon tanks, but more options for 10-gallon tanks.
  • Monitor the water temperature. Don’t rely on the heater settings. A simple aquarium thermometer will tell you how warm your water is at all times.

Betta are tropical fish that require warm water.
Betta are tropical fish that require warm water. | Source

3. Overfeeding

All fish need to eat a healthy diet. This means a good-quality flake or pellet and occasional treats. But some well-meaning betta owners go overboard, adding way too much food for one fish to consume.

Just like with people, when fish overeat it can lead to illness. Uneaten food can also foul the water, making it toxic for your fish. And, what goes into a fish must come out, so if you are stuffing your betta to the gills there is bound to be more waste in the tank.

So, what to do?

  • Feed your fish once per day and only as much as he will eat in a few minutes. Try to make sure as little food is wasted as possible.
  • Consider a fasting day. Skip feeding one day per week.
  • Clean the gravel and perform water changes. Set a regular schedule to maintain a healthy tank. This doesn't have to be a major chore, and there are easy ways to do water changes.

4. Harassment by Tankmates

Betta fish can have tankmates in certain situations. However, you need to be very careful how you go about it. Certain types of fish may provoke aggression in bettas, particularly other anabantids or fish with flowing fins they may mistake for another male betta.

But there is another side to the story, one you don’t often think about until it’s too late. While bettas have a reputation for aggression and fighting, they are actually fairly small, slow-moving fish. They can be attacked and bullied by larger fish, and smaller fish may nip at their fins.

This means perpetual (you guessed it) stress which inevitably leads to a premature (say it with me) death.

So how do we avoid this?

  • Have backup plan. Whenever you have your Betta in a community tank setting you need to have another setup ready to go in case of disaster. This could be something as simple as a temporary one-gallon bowl. (With the intent to upgrade him to a 5-gallon tank ASAP.) The point is to have a way to get Betta out of there if things go wrong.
  • Never try to keep your betta fish with tankmates in a tank under 10 gallons. There simply isn’t enough room for everyone to get along.
  • Be very selective about which tankmates you choose, and how you introduce your Betta. This article can help.

Colorful fish with flowing fins can provoke aggression in bettas, but small fish may nip at betta fins as well.
Colorful fish with flowing fins can provoke aggression in bettas, but small fish may nip at betta fins as well. | Source

5. Stress

As we have seen, betta can die from poor water conditions, overfeeding, cool water temperatures and a dangerous living situation. Aside from the physical damage these issues can cause, when your fish is under constant stress he is more likely to get sick, and more likely to die.

But there are other potential stressors in you tank, ones you may never have thought of. The current from the filter or bubbler may push betta around. He may see his reflection in the tank glass and think it’s another fish, and constantly be looking to fight with himself. If he has no hiding spot such as a small cave or decoration he may feel vulnerable. If some knucklehead in your household is constantly tapping on the glass it may startle him.

There are a few simple things you can do here, aside from tackling the person who keeps tapping on the glass.

  • Choose a low-flow filter that doesn’t blow him around the tank. Avoid bubblers in small tanks.
  • Make sure he has somewhere to hide and escape from the world if he feels the need. Something as simple as a decoration or rock cave is fine.
  • Adjust the light in the room so he doesn’t see himself. A little flaring is no big deal, but if he thinks he has to continuously defend himself it will wear him out.

6. Issues Beyond Your Control

Betta fish are bred in huge numbers. They live in teeny cups for part of their lives, until you bring them home. If I’m saying a tank smaller than 5-gallons pollutes quickly, you can imagine how bad those little cups must be. It seems the deck is stacked against these poor fish from birth.

You have no way of knowing if your fish is sick when you bring him home. You have no way of knowing if he has some congenital issue that he’s going to die from no matter what you do. You can take a new puppy to the vet to get him checked out for such issues, but with a tiny fish there is simply no way to know.

If you feel like you’ve done everything right and your fish dies anyway, you have to go easy on yourself. Yes, it always helps to take a look at your fish-keeping practices and analyze if you could have done something differently. But, remember, it may not be your fault at all.

Likewise, if you’ve done all the wrong things and your betta lived for years and years, don’t assume doing the right thing doesn’t matter. Like people, some fish can live unhealthy lives and survive into old age. And, some can live in healthy, heated, safe, happy water and die young anyway.

All we can do is what we can do. The rest is luck.

Saving Betta

Caring for a fish properly can go a long way toward making sure he lives a long and happy life. As their stewards we owe it to them to try our best and keep their interests in mind. We have a responsibility when we take a living thing into our home and care for it. If we aren’t going to take it seriously, why even have a fish at all?

Aside from practicing smart aquarium care habits, one other thing you can do is be wise where you purchase your fish. Conscientious pet stores only stock as many fish as they know they can sell in a reasonable amount of time. If you see a massive pile of betta cups filled with dazed and half-dead fish, don’t bother looking for the one healthy fish in the pile. Go somewhere else.

If you’ve lost a betta it can be frustrating and heartbreaking. You may have made some errors, things you can do differently next time. Being a good betta owner doesn’t mean you are always perfect, but it does mean you do your best, and learn from your mistakes.

Good luck!


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    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 11 days ago from USA

      Thanks Wendy, and I'm sorry you lost your Betta.

    • profile image

      Wendy 12 days ago

      My orange male betta Mr. Fishy just passed overnight from swim bladder. I am a grown women who cried a few times already this morning. I had him two years and I don't know how old he was when I purchased him. I tried hospital tank, aquarium salt, and pea last night which he didn't even attempt to eat. I hope my efforts are not what killed him. Anywho, this article made me laugh, and was informative like someone else said, and I just want to thank you. I also didn't know about how flushing could be harmful, so I will just bury him. Thanks.

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 12 days ago from USA

      @kelly - Overfeeding is certainly a common cause of death for betta fish. Please see #3 in this article. Sorry for the loss of your fish.

    • profile image

      kelly mccauley 12 days ago

      My betta fish just died, i fed it everyday, several times a day, could he have ate himself to death?

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 4 weeks ago from USA

      @ Cindy. Please do not do that.You can certainly share a link if you like, but please do not copy and re-post this article or any you find on PetHelpful. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Cindy 4 weeks ago

      can i translate to my language (pt/br) and post in aquarism websites? with credits of course

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 7 weeks ago from USA

      Hi Misela - This white spots could be ich. It's a parasitic infection that spreads between fish. Since your bettas are in the same tank it has likely infected both of them. You have several options for treatment, including over-the-counter medicines. Many aquarium owners treat by raising the temperature in the tank slightly and then dosing the tank with aquarium salt.

      Please read up on ich so you are aware of your various options and choose the one you think is best.

      Your fish would eventually die because of ich, but if you treat them in the early stages they have a strong chance of survival.

      Good luck!

    • Misela Silva profile image

      Misela 7 weeks ago from Phoenix Arizona

      Hi i just put in a divider for both bettas that i have but noticed that they just lay on bottom of tank eat a little and they have white spots on them i am worried what could this be ....please tell me what to do

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 7 weeks ago from USA

      @Abear7 - Are you buying the bettas from the same place every time? If you are convinced it isn't the water or the tank, it could be the stock you are getting. Bettas acting lazy isn't unusual, but of course they shouldn't die so quickly. I wonder if it could be the store you're getting them from. Some stores leave too many fish on the shelves in those cups for far too long.

    • profile image

      Abear7 7 weeks ago

      I have a 75 gallon tank, fish for years..I just got bettas. I had one years ago that lived 4+ years. I bought a fluval spec 5 gal. set up, bought a beta, it died in a few weeks. Bought another betta whom looked super healthy, it died in a few weeks. Brought that fluval back, thought filter too strong, bought a fluval edge 6 gallon. Bought another betta and it is laying on a leaf all the time. It pepped up when I put it in a temp. floater, isolated box that sits in my 75 gal community tank...just thought he was about to die..he seemed happy in there, ate...put him back in his tank, back on the leaf, nose at the top of the water...super depressing. Water test fine each time I go to the store. silk plants, heater on 75 degrees. I am not sure what I will go home to today, my guess is a betta laying on the leaf barely moving...ugh

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 2 months ago from USA

      @Macy - Sorry to hear about your fish. It's possible he could have died from old age. I agree that we need to be smart about where we choose to purchase our fish.

    • profile image

      Macy 2 months ago

      My male betta fish, Ricky, he died just now after I had him for 3 years and I didn’t know what went wrong but I feel that he died of an old age but I know that isn’t one of the reasons why. I feel that buying a fish at Walmart can or could be a bad idea because I heard that sometimes they don’t clean out the tanks properly and leave dead fish/etc in there rather than taking them out.

    • profile image

      Cheesewoman 2 months ago

      My beautiful dragon scale betta (Barry) died last night, I found him this morning lying on the driftwood. I only got him about a week ago and for the first 5 days he was swimming around super happy in his 10g tank, all the lovely plants and hiding spots, premium pellets and brine shrimp (I did watch I didn't overfeed feed him).

      He also had some cory's for tank mates which he seemed to get along with fine... last night he just refused to eat after a big water change (the tank still hasn't cycled so I'm keeping a close eye on the params and changing water when needed), and he looked really lethargic, slumping at the bottom of the tank or sticking to the side of the filter...

      I'd already done a water change and added Stress Coat + etc. so I didn't know what to do... he always looked a little dozy anyway so I thought he might just be a bit constipated or something, and decided to leave him overnight and see if he improved.. sadly not :(

      Thanks for the post though, I'm not sure if it was my fault or not, but I am trying (I got it right in my other 10g as my dwarf gourami are now breeding and I've got eggs everywhere!!!)

      Thinking about getting another betta, but I feel a bit emotional at the moment, Barry cannot be replaced...

    • profile image

      TeciPulido 3 months ago

      This article is funny yet very practical and responsible. :) Thanks Eric :)

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 3 months ago from USA

      Sorry to hear that, PamalaK. I hope the pet store has some good advice for you.

    • profile image

      PamalaK 3 months ago

      I appreciate your article, my daughters betta "Sushi" was on the bottom of the tank this morning. I dont understand. He was zipping around yesterday and the tank was cleaned 3 days ago. 5 gal, heater, filter, fake foliage for cover. We have had him for just over a year. I didnt tell her, I am going to take the water to get tested when the Fish store opens, along with him to see if they can see anything.

    • profile image

      pleco 3 months ago

      I am currently making a project on why pet stores should bring up the price in bettas.

    • profile image

      beta friend 4 months ago


    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 4 months ago from USA

      @beta friend - Advise your friend to do some research and find out what disease or infection his betta may have. It sounds like you are describing several different things, which require very different treatments.

    • profile image

      beta friend 4 months ago

      my friends beta has white purple and black spots on its head and its eyes are pitch black what should they do

    • profile image

      pet lover 4 months ago

      my fish just died and i feel terrible about it but this article helped me cope! so thank you

    • profile image

      Stephanie Rymas 4 months ago

      Jackielmiki, My betta Drako lodged himself under rock in the tank as well. I was gone for thirty minutes and when I got home he wasn't in his tank and I saw a part of his fin floating. I blamed the cat and went to clean his tank. When I started lifting items from the tank I dislodged him and he swam to the top. He damaged part of his fin but survived. Drako likes to root, so I am now very careful to use small rocks at the bottom and not leave open areas at the bottom of the tank where he can get trapped. Hope this helps for any future betta you may get.

    • profile image

      Jackielmiki 4 months ago

      my baby betta died when we were about to get a proper tank for her :,// I found her one morning under all the rocks in this vase and I have no idea how she even got there but she got crushed

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 6 months ago from USA

      @ Carolyn- That's pretty good. I've had them live for a little over 5 years and I've heard of them living longer, but 5 years is typically about the upper limit, and sadly many don't make it that long. Congratulations on keeping your betta healthy for a long time!

    • profile image

      Carolyn 6 months ago

      How long does a beta live? I have had mine about 4 and a half years

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 6 months ago from USA

      Hi Beans. Sorry about the loss of your fish. I know it feels terrible, and it is easy to think you are responsible, but I'm glad you see that it may not have been your fault at all. All we can do is our best for these little creatures. Many things are out of our hands. Good luck in the future.

    • profile image

      Beans 6 months ago

      I just lost my betta fish, blue, today and i definitely needed this article. I keep thinking I did something wrong. He stopped eating about a week and a half ago and just got more and more lethargic. He spit his food out so I know he definitely wasn't eating. I tried everything water changes, heater, filter and nothing seemed to work. I only had him for 3 months and up until the end he was living a good life. Thank you for this article because I have to believe I did all I can for him. I think it was out of my control

    • profile image

      Talisha 6 months ago

      Thanks dude

    • profile image

      judi 6 months ago

      Thank you for the info...Helped alot :)


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