Jessica is an experienced pet mom with dogs, cats, rats, fish, axolotls, a gecko, chickens, and ducks.
A lot of people see betta fish as a starter pet. They go to a pet store, and someone sells them a betta telling them it only needs a small amount of water in a bowl or vase. They also fail to mention that these are tropical fish, so they will need a heater. They also need a filter and hiding places, and most fish bowls are not large enough to fit all of these things. It is recommended that bettas have a tank that is at least 2.5 gallons, and bigger is always better!
If you have found yourself in this situation, don't worry! Small tanks are often very inexpensive. Several 5 to 10-gallon setups come with a filter for less than 30 dollars. Petco and Petsmart have sales online frequently. If you are unable to get a new tank right away, your betta will be fine for a little while as long as you are doing frequent partial water changes and keeping the tank at the right temperature.
Bowls and Vases Are Not Large Enough for Heaters and Filters
Although bettas can survive for a while in a bowl, they will thrive in clean water that never falls below 74 degrees. There are lots of inexpensive small heaters that will keep your fishes water at the perfect temperature. Digital heaters are awesome because you will get to see the exact temperature of the water. Filters are also important for keeping the water clean. It is possible to keep ammonia from building up in a bowl, but you would have to do daily water changes. Having a filter in your tank makes bettas a lot more low maintenance than keeping them in a bowl!
The Nitrogen Cycle Explained
An Ammonia Spike Could Seriously Hurt Your Betta
In aquariums, there is a process called the nitrogen cycle. It's kind of a lot to wrap your head around in the beginning, but the result of the nitrogen cycle is that good bacteria will come and take care of the ammonia and nitrite. It is a lot harder for everything to even out in a bowl. There is much less water, so any piece of rotting food that your fish missed can cause an ammonia spike. Not to mention, the ammonia from your bettas waste will be building up much more quickly than it would in a larger tank.
It is possible to keep the water at safe ammonia levels, but that would require very frequent partial water changes. Frequent water changes can stress out your fish and that could lead them to get sick. Bettas do not like a lot of water disruption, so whether you take them out of the bowl or siphon some water out they will still be stressed. In the long run, it does end up being easier to keep your betta in a tank instead.
I like this video because she explains everything in very simple terms, and she also explains the benefits of using live plants. Once you understand the nitrogen cycle, it is a good idea to get a water testing kit. I recommend the API Freshwater Master Test Kit because it is easy to use and is more reliable than paper test kits.
The steps for using this kit are:
- Fill the test tube that is provided in the kit with a specific amount of water.
- Add a certain amount of drops of the solution they give you, according to the directions.
- Different tests have different instructions, but some will require you to shake them or let them sit for five minutes.
- Once the test is done, you compare the color of the liquid in the test tube to the sheet that comes in the kit. The color will show you how many parts per million your aquarium water reads for nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. It can also tell you what the pH of the aquarium water is.
I use this kit all the time. It is a good thing to have on hand in case your fish starts acting strange, and it is good to check your water parameters in general.
Myth: Bettas Like to Be in Tiny Amounts of Water
Many people point out that bettas come from shallow rice paddies. While this is true, these paddies span on for acres. During the time that they do have to live in puddles, many die. In the wild, these fish can swim all day long. They like being able to swim around, and the exercise is really good for them. Exercise can keep them from getting fatty liver disease. As long as they have plenty of hiding spaces a betta is not going to be stressed in a big tank.
Betta Fish Are Not for "Decoration"
Bettas are definitely beautiful to look at. They have long flowing fins in striking colors and expressive little faces. Of course, they are still pretty in a bowl, but they are gorgeous when they have enough room to swim around. If they have enough room to be healthy they can be very entertaining pets. Many will even swim up to greet you!
It is fun to watch your fish explore and interact with its surroundings, and it feels good to know that you are giving them a more fulfilling life than they could have in a bowl. Bettas are just as much of a pet as any other animal is. They may not be able to cuddle you and give you the affection a dog or cat could, but they need you. Our bettas rely on us for everything, it's only fair to give them a comfortable place to live.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 29, 2019:
Thank you for sharing the information and the advice. I don't think that any type of fish should be kept in a bowl. I'm glad that you've publicized the dangers for betta fish.