Also known as “Siamese fighting fish”, betta fish are popular pets due to their brilliant, vivid colors and long, flowing fins. They’re relatively intelligent, and some can even perform tricks and recognize their owners. With proper care, bettas can live as long as three years.
Let’s take a look at the basic guidelines required to keep your betta happy and healthy.
Before you buy your favorite betta from the pet store, it’s important to have the proper equipment for providing suitable habitat for the fish. Here are the bare essentials:
A Five-Gallon Tank, or Larger
Although bettas can live in one-gallon bowls or tanks, experts recommend providing a larger home. In the wild, bettas may live in rice paddies that contain a few inches of water, but the paddies typically form a larger body of water that contains a complete ecosystem. If you want your betta to live as it would naturally, consider using tank that holds five gallons, or more.
Bettas are carnivores. To provide your fish with a balanced diet, feed it a variety of foods, such as betta pellets, betta flakes, freeze-dried bloodworms, and freeze dried shrimp. Diversifying your betta’s diet with a variety of proper nutritional sources helps ensure the fish has the vitality it needs to make those quick, occasional darts around the tank, with tail colors flying.
A thermometer lets you monitor the tank’s temperature, so you can adjust it as needed. However, once the temperature is within the proper range, adjustments should be slight. Fish care experts recommend keeping the temperature of a betta tank between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5 and 26.5 Celsius).
Decorations and Accessories
While tank accessories aren’t critical to the health of your betta, providing a diverse environment can help the fish exercise muscles used for fin control. Your local pet store should have a wide range of options, including rocks, driftwood, and live or artificial aquatic plants for aquariums.
Setting Up Your Tank
Now that you have the essentials ready, it’s time to set up your betta’s new home. Start by thoroughly rinsing the tank and all accessories with filtered water to remove microscopic impurities.
Next, place your accessories in the tank. If you’re using a filtration system — filters and aerators are not required, but they can be beneficial — set that up, too. Now, it’s time to fill the tank with water. Don’t use tap water. Tap water contains trace elements that can harm or even kill your betta.
Fill your tank with filtered or bottled water, or use water specifically sold for bettas. Again, water temperature should be between 78 and 80 degrees. Bettas can survive in temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, but 78 to 80 degrees is the range in which they thrive.
Be sure to position the tank away from fans, heaters, air conditioners, or anything else that could cause temperature fluctuations.
Acclimating a Betta to a New Tank
It’s important not to move your fish immediately from the pet store bag into the tank. The fish needs to acclimate to the temperature first. Place the fish and half of the water from the pet store bag in a separate container, such as a large bowl. Bettas can jump, so be sure to keep the bowl covered with a lid that has air holes.
Wait for 30 minutes, while the water temperature adjusts to match the temperature in your tank.
Once the temperatures match, add water from your tank that is equal to the amount in the bowl. Wait another 20 minutes for the temperature to even out. Then, use a small fish net to remove the betta and place it directly into the tank.
Feeding Your Betta
Now that your betta is situated in its new home, it will probably have quite an appetite. Feed the fish the previously mentioned betta pellets and/or flakes two to six times daily. Treat your new aquatic pet to freeze-dried shrimp and bloodworms about once a week.
If you choose to feed your betta live worms, be sure to rinse them with filtered water before placing them in the tank. However, if your tank has a gravel bed, don’t feed the fish live food. The organisms may use the gravel at the bottom of the tank as a hiding spot.
Above all, don’t overfeed. Overfeeding bettas can be dangerous or even deadly. Only feed your fish as much food as it will eat in approximately two minutes. It may be tempting to treat your new friend to a feast, but the consequences can be severe.
Maintaining Your Tank
If your tank doesn’t have a filtration system, change the water once a week. If it has a filtration system, it’s fine to change the water at two-week intervals. Changing all of the water at once can kill bettas, so only replace the water in portions of roughly 20 percent at a time.
When cleaning the tank, remove half of the water and all of the tank accessories, and place them in a large, clean bucket. Use a small net to place your fish in the bucket, too. As you do this, don’t disturb the substrate at the bottom of the tank. You don’t want dirty water in the bucket.
While you’re cleaning the tank, keep roughly half a tank’s worth of water in the bucket, at the proper temperature, so your betta won’t suffer. Use clean paper towels to thoroughly clean the inside of the tank, then rinse the tank with filtered water. Do not use soap. Replace the substrate, and clean your accessories.
When everything is clean, place the old water back in the tank, then use your net to place the betta in the tank. Slowly pour temperature-conditioned, new water into the tank, filling it up.
Adding Other Fish
If you love aquatic life, you may want to give your betta some friends. However, it’s generally a bad idea to have more than one betta in a tank, as they can be quite aggressive — hence the name, “Siamese fighting fish”. While female bettas are less aggressive than males, they have still been known to attack each other.
Here are some creatures that make excellent tank mates for bettas:
- Ghost Shrimp
- Blue Gouramis
- Neon and Ember Tetras
- African Dwarf Frogs
- Khuli Loaches
As much as you may love a diversity of creatures in your tank, avoid overcrowding it. If you plan to add multiple fish quickly — and possibly some more later on — upgrade to a larger tank.
Signs Your Betta Is Healthy or Unhealthy
As long as you feed your fish properly and monitor the tank’s temperature daily, your betta should have a long, happy life. Here are signs that reveal if your fish is healthy or unhealthy.
- Consistent eating habits
- Seems alert and active
- Body colors remain bright
- Aggressive reactions to outside stimuli
- Loss of appetite
- Muted body colors
- Elevated scales
- Cloudy eyes
- Erratic behavior/swimming
- Weight loss / bloating
- Labored respirations
- Frayed fins
As with any pet, it’s good to speak with a professional if your fish appears to act abnormally. Check on your betta regularly, and be proactive if it seems to be struggling. A betta is a great fish to have as a pet, and this simple guide can help you be the attentive owner it needs.