Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
What Do Betta Fish Eat?
Betta fish are carnivores and require foods rich in protein. In the wild, this means they eat small crustaceans, insect larvae, insects, worms, and even tiny fish. In the home aquarium, betta fish can eat a wide variety of foods such as:
- Betta Pellets
- Betta Flakes
- Brine Shrimp
- Mysis Shrimp
- Tubifex Worms
- Mosquito Larvae
New betta owners should stick with a quality pellet formulated especially for betta fish and save special foods as treats and supplements. Experienced fishkeepers may wish to incorporate richer foods into their betta’s diet more often. Many specialty fish foods are available in freeze-dried, frozen, and live forms.
Betta fish are opportunistic feeders that can eat a bunch of things you may never expect. That’s good, as it means these fish are generally easy to feed and care for. However, it also leads to some strange ideas about what is appropriate to feed a betta.
The rest of this article will address many of the questions about what betta fish eat and how to feed them in the home aquarium.
How to Feed Betta Fish
Betta fish will take food from the water surface and as it falls through the water column, so feeding them is very easy. They will also hunt for uneaten food in the gravel and decorations. This is important to know for a couple of reasons.
- Your betta may be scrounging up the uneaten food when you aren’t paying attention. He then may appear uninterested in food when the next feeding time comes around.
- Uneaten food decays and fouls the tank water. Overfeeding can lead to disease and premature death for your betta.
You can limit or eliminate both of those issues by removing uneaten food after feeding.
Types of Betta Food
New betta keepers should base their fish's diet around a quality pellet. You may want to rotate different brands and varieties on different days of the week. This not only means you’ll have your bases covered as far as nutrition, but it makes food a little more interesting for your betta.
There are pros and cons to using commercially prepared foods. On the downside, there is the potential for digestive issues, especially if you overfeed. This is why you want to make sure pellets are made especially for bettas, and the freeze-dried foods you choose are of good quality.
Some pellets absorb water and expand. When you start on a new brand of pellet, experiment by letting it soak in water before giving it to your fish. In some cases, you may want to pre-soak pellets every time you feed.
Live and frozen foods offer more nutritional value, which is why they are favored by experienced fishkeepers. However, newbies may do more harm than good by overfeeding rich foods.
I get occasional questions from new betta owners who dropped a bunch of frozen bloodworms in their betta's tank and don't understand why he looks worse for wear. These foods are great, but they are very rich. I suggest getting some experience under your belt before feeding them if you are a newbie.
Note: Always thaw frozen foods in tank water before feeding. Never drop them straight into a fish tank!
How Much Should I Feed My Betta Fish?
A betta fish's stomach is about the size of his eye, so consider this when dropping food in his tank. That should mean around three pellets or an amount of food he can eat in about two minutes.
It may take a little while until you can estimate this correctly with different types of food. Eventually, you will learn to gauge how much your betta eats so you aren’t given him too much.
Consider the type of food you are feeding as well. If you are offering foods that take him longer to consume, or if your betta is a slow eater, give him a little more time.
How Often Should I Feed Them?
Many betta keepers like to feed their fish twice per day. That’s fine, as long as you can keep the portions under control and avoid overfeeding. I prefer to feed bettas once per day, as I feel the potential harm caused by overfeeding is greater than the concerns about underfeeding.
Why Isn't My Betta Eating?
It could be because of the issues mentioned above, where overfeeding is causing a lack of interest in food.
It could be because they aren’t interested in the specific food you are offering. You might try a different type or brand of food.
In a worst-case scenario, your betta may be sick. Look for signs of illness, especially a bloated belly that might indicate constipation. Unfortunately, this happens to overfed bettas a lot.
Why Do They Spit Up Food?
This is a very common behavior, though it can be alarming for new betta owners. Betta fish might do this to soften and break up their food. You can try breaking the food into smaller pieces or feeding different foods to see if you get a different result.
On its own, this behavior is usually no cause for concern. But, as always, watch for overall signs of illness in your betta.
How Long Can They Go Without Food?
Bettas can go a long time without eating—up to two weeks! You should never let a fish go this long without food. That means you still need to find a way to feed your betta fish while you are on vacation!
However, it is acceptable to program a fasting day into his feeding schedule every week or two. This helps the tank stay clean, and it helps him stay healthy.
Overfeeding Betta Fish
Overfeeding is one of the biggest threats to a betta fish’s health. Learning to avoid this issue is among the most important things a new betta keeper can do. Sometimes, well-meaning owners don’t even realize it is happening until it is too late.
Uneaten fish food decays and fouls the water. And, to put it bluntly, what goes into a fish must come out. If you are overfeeding, you’ll have a lot of fish waste in your tank. Water quality suffers, potentially leading to health issues for your fish.
Some things you can try in order to head off potential problems include:
- Only offering as much as your fish will eat in two minutes.
- Feeding only once per day.
- Programming a fasting day once every week or two.
- Regularly vacuuming the gravel to remove uneaten food and waste.
Can Betta Fish Eat Human Food?
Betta fish love shrimp. I’m a human, and I love shrimp too! Obviously, betta fish can and will eat many foods that humans eat. Whether they should is another matter.
Here is a breakdown of some human foods people often consider feeding to their betta fish:
This one is a big no-no. Your betta may eat bread products if you offer them, but it is not good for him. Remember: Betta fish are carnivores!
So, if they are carnivores, they can eat beef and chicken, right? Yes, betta fish might eat small quantities of cooked, lean meat, but I would avoid feeding it to them. There is no reason for it when there are so many other options for betta fish. The potential for harm outweighs the benefits.
Fruit is another no-no, especially citrus fruit. It is harmful to your fish and can mess with your water parameters. There is no reason to feed your betta fruit.
A blanched, skinned piece of a pea is often helpful for a bloated betta with constipation issues. You might also try veggies like lettuce or cucumbers. Your betta may or may not eat them. These veggies are best left for this specific purpose and not as a regular diet item.
Tuna and Other Fish
Bettas will eat small amounts of fish, but again, I would avoid it. The risks outweigh the benefits. It’s better to stick with food made for bettas.
Do They Eat Plants or Plant Roots?
No! Betta fish do not eat plants or their roots! This may be hard for new betta keepers to understand due to the popularity of vases sold with betta fish in them. Allegedly, you never need to feed the betta or change the water.
It's a horrible way to keep a betta. Betta fish love plants in their tank, but not to eat. They require meaty foods like those mentioned in this article. A betta may nibble on a plant root out of desperation, but plants are not a good food source for them.
Can Betta Fish Eat Ants, Flies, and Other Insects?
Many betta owners feed small, live insects to their fish. Betta fish eat insects in the wild, so they might appreciate an occasional treat. If an unfortunate ant or fly ends up in your betta tank and he eats it, there is probably nothing to worry about.
One reason I would caution not to intentionally feed wild-caught insects to your fish is the same reason I advise people to be careful about adding objects they find in the wild to their tanks: You never know what kinds of pesticides or other chemicals that insect may have encountered.
Can They Eat Regular Fish Food?
Bettas can and will eat regular tropical fish food. It won’t hurt them in the short term, but it isn’t ideal for them.
Most fish food contains less protein than a betta requires. You can look at the ingredients and make your own judgment on a case-by-case basis.
Or, you can stick with food made especially for bettas so you don’t have to worry.
Will They Eat Ghost Shrimp?
The answer is a resounding maybe. It depends on the betta. As with any other betta fish tank mates, there is no way to know until you get them together. Bettas are predators, and small shrimp are on the menu. If your betta sees your ghost shrimp as prey he will harass and possibly try to eat them.
Will My Betta Fish Eat Snails?
Again, maybe. Bettas can’t eat snail shells like some other fish such as the green spotted puffer. However, they may try to get at the meaty parts of the snail if they can.
If you have pest snails, this might be a good thing. If you have a pet snail such as an apple snail in your tank, you’ll want to keep a close eye on things to make sure the betta isn’t harassing it.
My Best Advice on Betta Feeding
As with all of my articles, this one is based on my own experiences, research, and knowledge. I think it should get you off to a good start, but I also encourage you to seek other sources and learn as much as you can about betta care.
Here is a summary of my advice for feeding your betta:
- Choose a quality pellet food made especially for betta fish as the staple of his diet.
- Feed only as much as he will eat in two minutes.
- Consider programming a fasting day into his feeding schedule.
- Offer treats such as freeze-dried bloodworms and shrimp occasionally.
- Avoid overfeeding!
- Perform regular water changes and vacuum out uneaten food.
- Don’t experiment with strange foods unless you’re absolutely sure of what you are giving him.
- Once you become more experienced, move on to feeding more nutritionally dense frozen and live foods.
If you can follow these basic suggestions, I think your betta has a shot at a long, healthy, happy life. Good luck!
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 19, 2020:
Exhaustive and detailed. Informative.