Betta Care for the Novice


Black Velvet in motion
Originally uploaded by RyanThomas.

Happy New Year Betta Blog readers! I hope you had a terrific holiday. Mine was wonderful as I spent it at the not-so-sunny Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fl. No bother, a rainy vacation in Florida is better then a sunny one in D.C. anyway. Still, I’m glad to be back as I have tons of plans for Nippyfish.net and Nippyfish: A Betta Blog in the new year. First things first, however, we need to address all the new Betta keepers who have received fish for the holidays. Welcome to the Betta addiction. As you’ll soon learn, Bettas are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.

This time of year I get a lot of emails from new Betta keepers who are struggling to learn as much about caring for Betta fish as they can after receiving one for Christmas or Hanukkah. The most difficult time for these fish is the first few weeks in a new home. New fish keepers often don’t know what to expect from their new Betta and need help distinguishing healthy behavior from unhealthy behavior. Since the acclimation process is so stressful for aquarium fish, many succumb to illness. Many of these fish are already struggling with weakened immune systems from spending days or weeks in a dirty cup on a cold store shelf. To help you recognize healthy Bettas from unhealthy ones and to promote good health in your Siamese Fighting Fish, I have developed a few lists geared toward the new Betta fish keeper.

First, here are some of the most basic information about Betta splendens.

Common Name: Betta (pronounced BED-duh, not BAY-duh), Siamese Fighting Fish
Average Life Span: 3 years (can live up to 5 years with good care and strong genes)
Adult Size:3 inches [7.6 cm]
Minimum Tank Size: 1 gallon [3.8 liters] but 3+ gallons [11.5 liters] strongly suggested
Tank Level: Surface Dweller
Diet: Carnivore (Meat eater)
Social Behavior: Males are aggressive toward other males and other Anabantoids. Females are generally more social. Both can be kept in community tanks but fish’s specific personality should be considered. It is not generally suggested to keep males and females together.
Breeding: Egg layer, Bubble Nest Builder
Water Hardness (gh): Soft (can tolerate a range of general hardness from soft to fairly hard)
pH Level: slightly acidic (can tolerate a range of pH levels)
Temperature: Tropical, 76*F – 82*F [24.4*C - 27.7*C] (aquarium heater is usually necessary)
Origin: Thailand, Cambodia
Habitat: Rice paddies, ponds and streams

Identifying Healthy Bettas

Signs of Good Health

- Bright coloration
- Swimming actively and easily
- Flaring
- Building a bubble nest
- Strong appetite
- Greeting human at the glass
- Full finnage
- Good body shape (no bumps, bloating, missing scales)
- Smooth, clean gills
- Dark and clear eyes

Signs of Poor Health

- Dull coloration or gray color
- Sluggishness or Lethargy
- Loss of appetite, disinterest in food
- Uninterested in surroundings
- Clamped finnage, torn, shredded or missing fins
- Bloating, weight loss, bumps, missing scales, open wounds, red streaks
- Red or swollen gills
- Cloudy, protruding or sunken eyes

Promoting Good Betta Fish Health

There are a few basic things every Betta keeper can do to help their fish stay healthy and to thrive in their new home. These are the very basics of Betta care and unfortunately many of these are overlooked by new aquarists leading to unnecessary stress on the fish and the pet parent caring for them. To get more extensive information of Betta care, visit Nippyfish.net

- Aquarium Set up. Choose a good tank for your new fish. A Betta may survive for some time in a small unheated bowl but won’t thrive there. Most Betta fish will succumb to disease or even death when exposed to poor water quality. Though it may seem counterintuitive, remember the smaller the tank the more work is necessary for upkeep. Tanks smaller then 3 gallons [11.5 liters] need almost daily water testing and can require multiple cleanings per week. Upgrading to a simple 3 gallon [11.5 liter] or 5 gallon [19 liter] with a filter and aquarium heater means less work for you and more time spent just observing your beautiful new pet.

- Acclimation. Getting used to new water can be very stressful for any new fish especially if there are differences in temperature and pH. When you get a new Betta take the time to float the fish in his cup inside the new tank. Add a couple of tablespoons of the new tank water to the cup every 5 – 10 minutes, especially if there is a difference in pH levels. Even though it’s exciting to add your fish to his new home, give him 30 – 40 minutes floating before adding him, particularly if the water temperature is more than a 2 degree Fahrenheit [1 degree Celsius] difference from the cup to the new tank water.

- Water testing. Don’t underestimate it. All fish, even Bettas, are very sensitive to water quality and any changes in water parameters. It’s a vital part of keeping fish healthy. New fish keepers can start with very inexpensive dip stick test kits bought at their local fish store. As you learn more about water testing, you can upgrade your kits to the reagent style water testing kits that use dropper bottles and test tubes and are much more reliable. The very basics you should test for regularly are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH. Be sure not to overlook a daily check of your tank’s water temperature too. Keep in mind that toxins like ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are colorless and odorless and will cause damage long before you see any signs of dirty water. The majority of all Betta illnesses fall back on exposure to these toxins. If your fish is showing signs of illness, start by testing your water parameters.

- Water changes. The basic rule is, the smaller the tank the more frequently water changes need to be performed. There is no hard or fast rule because water quality goes south at a different rate for every fish depending on that fish’s metabolism (creating ammonia), the volume of water, feeding regimen, temperature, pH and a variety of other factors. Testing will let you know how often you need to clean your tank. Once per week is generally a minimum and more frequent cleaning may be necessary for smaller tanks. Larger cycled tanks may only need 20% water changes once per week or even once every other week. It really pays to cycle a tank.

Here’s more on Water Changes and the Nitrogen Cycle.

- Temperature. This is one thing that is often overlooked by novice Betta keepers and who can blame them, aquarium store clerks almost never explain this to new Betta enthusiasts. Betta splendens are tropical fish and are naturally found in water with temperatures near 80*F [26.6*C]. Very few homes are ever kept this warm and too many Bettas succumb to the stresses derived from too cool water. Even more vital then warm water temperatures is stable temperatures. Fluctuations more then 2 – 3 Fahrenheit degrees in 24 hours can create enough stress to affect a Betta’s immune system. To avoid fluctuations, use aquarium grade water heaters and avoid heating with a light bulb. Keeping the water warm and stable will help to avoid many of the problems new Betta keepers commonly face.

Well, these are some of the basics of Betta care. If you have found that your new finned addition is starting the new year under the weather, take a few minutes to go over the pages at Nippfish.net and scope out the Illness & Disease pages as well. As always, you can email me with your Betta questions for more personal and complete advice at betta[at]nippyfish.net or for more immediate assistance, join a free Betta splendens web forum like Bettasplendens.info or Aquamaniacs.net.

Written by

Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

7 Comments for this entry

  1. Shiro says:

    hi there,

    how do i begin? i honestly don’t know how it happened, but an ant dropped into my betta’s (his name is Sandy) tank. And he ATE it. Will he be okay?

  2. Christie says:

    Bugs find their way into betta tanks from time to time. It’s usually not a big deal at all. He should be fine. In fact, he probably liked it.

    Some people even collect bugs (mosquito larvae or chopped up earth worms) to feed to their bettas. There are some risks involved with collecting your own as they may contain parasites or bacteria, but usually they are safe and very nutritious.

    Rest easy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My Betta Eats Bloodworms And Flakes,doesnt Much Like Em. What Else Could She Eat?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I tried finding the post that made most sense to leave a comment/question in. And I really hope this gets to you, because I am a novice betta owner. Anyway… I was cleaning my betta's fish tank yesterday and he jumped out of the net when I was transferring him to his temporary home. He landed on the floor and seemed no worse for wear when I got him into his temporary house. When his tank was all clean and ready for him again, he jumped out AGAIN when I wanted to put him in it! Now his right eye is HUGE! It looks like popeye (cloudy/puffy/enlarged), and I'm wondering if I should treat him like he's got that. But if it's just the fish equivalent of a black eye I don't want to treat him unnecessarily. Can you give me any suggestions on what I should do? Thank you, Christie!

    KLL (concerned betta owner)

  5. gregalon says:

    hi I've got a two gallon bowl with a filter but I am wondering if my filter is too strong for the betta and is it necessary?
    also is it necessary to get a heater? thanks

  6. rose bennett says:

    i have a betta fish named elmo and i dont know how much to feed him(veiltail male).

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