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Why Is Your Betta Fish Breathing Heavily After a Water Change?

Fredrick is a supplier of pet food and care products, and he’s a true animal lover. He loves to write about dogs, bettas, bees, and pigeons.

Betta Gasping For Air

Betta Gasping For Air

If you keep betta fish, you'll likely agree that having them as pets can sometimes be heartbreaking. Bettas are delicate pets that need good care. They should be handled carefully, and above all, their environment (which is mainly water) should be well optimized to keep them free from health issues.

In this article, I will describe a number of reasons that might be causing your betta fish to breathe heavily or gasp for air after you change the water.

1. Your Betta Is Stressed Out

Stress should be the first thing to come to mind when your betta is breathing abnormally after a water change. Your fish will most likely react stressfully when you replace the old water, and therefore you should not be too worried. In addition to difficulty breathing, stress can also cause your fish to lie at the bottom of the tank or even float at one area, i.e., at the surface.

To deal with the stress, you need to always acclimatize your bettas to the new water conditions—i.e., by keeping them in a separate container with the new water. You can also add plants and other elements that can make them feel at ease and relaxed. In addition, partial instead of complete water change can minimize the stress.

2. You Have Added Water That Is Too Warm

Water that is too warm lacks enough oxygen. Bettas, like other animals, need oxygen to survive and, therefore, they will struggle to breathe if the gas is not readily available in the tank.

To deal with this problem, you should ensure that the new water is at the optimum temperature which is 24–28 degrees C or 75–82 degrees F. To regulate the temperature, you can use a heater or even a cooling fan. In addition, ensure you switch off the lights when it gets hotter.

3. Your New Water Has High Amounts of Ammonia

A high concentration of ammonia in your new water will definitely cause breathing problems in your aquatic pet. Ammonia is well known to corrode fish gills which are the animal’s respiratory organs.

When changing water, you, therefore, need to test the new water and avoid it if it has high amounts of the chemical compound. To prevent the build-up of ammonia in your tank, you should always remove unwanted elements, condition the water regularly, and keep the biological filters working.

4. Your Water Has Been Contaminated With Chemicals

If you use a bucket to add water to your tank, your water may end up being contaminated with chemicals like paint, soap, and detergent. Like ammonia, these chemicals corrode the gills causing breathing difficulties.

It is pretty easy to deal with this problem. You just need to be very careful not to use containers that are contaminated with chemicals. You also need to ensure that the water source is free from chemicals.

5. Your New Water Is Generally of Poor Quality

In addition to improper temperature and ammonia levels, other things that destroy water quality include high hardness, high alkalinity, high nitrate/nitrite levels; and low or high pH levels. If any of these things are present, there is a high chance that the breathing process of your fish will be affected.

The first step in ensuring that you are using high quality water is to test these parameters. If their levels are not in the right ranges, you need to optimize the water before using it. For my aquarium, I usually use the API Betta Water Conditioner which is quite effective in neutralizing chemicals that harm fish. It also reduces inflammation and many other health conditions that affect fish.

Fish Tank With Poor Water Quality

Fish Tank With Poor Water Quality

6. Your Fish Has Become Sick

Coincidentally, your betta can become sick in the process of changing water–may be from a disease that has just worsened. Some diseases that cause breathing problems include columnaris, velvet, ich, and tumors. You can check out this article on common betta diseases and how to prevent and treat them.

There are a number of ways to treat the diseases including the use of water conditioners and medication. But most betta keepers prefer to change the water regularly and maintain it at a high quality.

7. Your Tank Now Has More CO2 Than O2

This happens if your tank has plants that are well-known to consume oxygen (O2) and release carbon dioxide (CO2) at night. So if you have a planted tank, you may wake up the following day after changing water to find your fish gasping for air.

One way to improve the oxygen levels is to use filters that keep the water in motion hence absorbing more air. Other ways include the use of small air pumps and aquarium bubblers and also getting a new tank with a large surface area.

8. Your Tank Has Become Overcrowded

If your tank has more than enough bettas, you can expect them to suffer from oxygen deficiency after you change the water. This is because oxygen levels are usually low after a water change.

If you have an overcrowded tank, you will have to purchase a larger tank or reduce the number of fish. You can also decide to secure another tank for the extra bettas. If you are not into more than one tank, you can sell the extras or even give them away.

Overcrowded Betta Tank

Overcrowded Betta Tank

There you have it. It is most likely that your betta fish is breathing heavily or gasping for air because of one of the above reasons. Since I have included some solutions to these issues, I hope you will implement them promptly and revive your fish as soon as possible.

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.

© 2021 Fredrick aka JS

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