Common Signs of Stress in Betta Fish


full glory 2, originally uploaded by littlerottenrobin.

Q: G wrote,

[I] found your web site to be most informative and that is why I am contacting you.

Attached please find a picture of sparky, my 8 year old helped to name it.

Here is the set up that I have in place right now. It is a 2 gallon hex tank and I populated it with plastic plants and a couple of caves which he likes. I have an under the gravel filtration system and a good layer of gravel to ensure good filtering.

I use aqua plus and cycle in the water and I am changing it once a week. He seems happy, but could you please explain what signs of stress would be as I am not sure what to look for. As I said he seems happy and comfortable. I put a bent straw sealed at both ends, (no chemicals used) to create a boom on the surface of the tank to deflect air bubbles coming from the filter so he could have a clear space to come up and breath and to eat food. Seems to work quite well.

Another question is how can you tell if the current is effecting him and if he is struggling? Seems ok but you never know.

Food wise I am using freeze dried blood worms. Is there any other type of food that I should be supplementing him with? I do not have a heater for this small tank as the store where I purchased it did not have a small heater for the tank. Is there anything available on line? Is there alternatives?

I know that Betta’s do better in bigger tanks but this was a compromise that allowed me to purchase the little guy. I am happy to provide him a home as the store where I bought him kept him in a small cup with water in it that was only half full, they said it was natural for the Betta. I would like to let everyone know that the total set up cost of this tank and for the little guy was around $100.00, but the continuing cost look to be low and requiring more TLC then money. Spend a little bit of money for your fish to make his life better.

A: Hello and thanks for writing in and showing a photo of Sparky, who is just adorable. I’d be happy to go over some common signs of stress but first I will start with good signs of a healthy Betta.

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

Of course, this isn’t a complete list but it covers the basics. I should also mention that any one little thing isn’t a cause for panic. For instance, if your betta won’t build a bubble nest, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s stressed. More than any one particular signal, you really want to observe for drastic changes in behavior. For instance, If your betta actively approaches the surface at feeding time, has bright coloration and frequently explores his tank and then you suddenly notice he has no interest in food, appears pale and hides in the back, then you might want to start looking for stressors.

As for current, a struggling betta is fairly obvious. Since they aren’t strong swimmers a strong current will literally push him aside. In a large enough tank this isn’t generally a big deal because he can swim in areas where the current is less and venture into the current when he wants. If the current is overcoming the entire tank then he wont be able to swim much at all and will be forced to cower or take shelter. If he is able to explore his tank, then the current is probably fine.

To answer your question about freeze-dried blood worms, I think they are an excellent food for bettas but I do recommend offering a variety of other foods as well. Just blood worms alone are not a complete and balanced diet. You could supplement his diet with betta pellets or a variety of other foods like brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, beef heart, daphnia, live black worms or live white worms among other things. To learn more about feeding bettas and the types of foods available visit Nippyfish Feeding

There are also several heaters available for smaller betta tanks. I recommend a small 7 watt heater for a 2 gallon tank. I really like Drs. Foster & Smith for aquarium supplies. You can order from their catalog or from their online store.

Thanks for your idea of using the straw as a boom. That’s really inexpensive and easy way to cut the current and I think it will really help our readers. I hope I answered all your questions and good luck with Sparky!


Actual photo of Sparky by the original emailer.

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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:

21 Comments for this entry

  1. Tracey says:

    I really like the straw idea. I found somewhere else how to make a baffle for my filter using an old plastic soda bottle. Anything to cut the current!

  2. Christie says:

    That’s a neat idea Tracey. I have also heard of using one of those plastic soap dishes with the suction cups in front of the filter outlet. Though, a brand new one of course, not one that has had soap in it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    my betta started out with popeye…but always had red streeks in his tail….i didnt know it was a problem…

    now his popeye has reduced a little…but still bigger…i used marcyn 2 but..know his eye is red and tail is getting more red as well as his eye!

    I took this fish from a person who was going to flush time …so I am trying to same him! and I need help…

    Now I am using aquirsol..becouse he has white little worms on him…LORD HELP this fishie

    yolandramartin@gmail.com

  4. Anonymous says:

    That was a good idea for the straw that will help alot because im getting a betta after i move so i want him to live 4 a long time thanks christie

  5. Rebecca says:

    Anonymous with the poor, poor fishie–

    Go to Bettatalk.com. Buy the "Betta First Aid Kit". My betta started out with fin rot and the first aid kit was totally worth it. If it weren't for Bettatalk.com, my poor little fishie would've been down the toilet!

    PS Maracyn sucks, i would know :P

  6. Lisa says:

    I was looking for the signs of stress in bettas and I am glad to have found it! Just wanted to say thanks and that I have a healthy lil friend. I have my tank at 80 and a very small filter set on low on one side of a 5 gallon tank. He’s always flaring and he eats well. Most betta I see are not lively at all so I was worried for a bit. Now I can rest and not worry. Thanks

  7. Lisa says:

    By the way…in my joy of having a happy Xerxes, I forgot to tell you that your betta is absolutely STUNNING!

  8. marie says:

    reading your guys comments help out a lot. I’m trying to learn more about Betta’s and how to take care of them. is getting a heater for a one gallon tank a good idea?

  9. Amy M says:

    i have a one gallon tank with an internal filter and i have a veil tail male betta. so far ive not needed to get a heater because i keep him in the home office on my desk where its warmer and that room is close to the furnace so it stays warm and his water temp stays around 75 degrees all the time…

  10. Jocelyn says:

    we ran out of food for a day and had to wait til the next day to buy some more, and the store was closed so we waited longer. our poor betta Jasmine was being poked and chased by our betta ariel. Once the food has been fed to them ariel still picked on jasmine and and jasmine is constantly hiding in their ship and flower log. I was going to remover her today and now she is missing? HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? did ariel eat Jasmine?

  11. Jocelyn says:

    i feel horrible these are my first betta females and my kids are going to be crushed :(

  12. Jocelyn says:

    we’ve had them since september

  13. Brin says:

    HI,
    I am a new beta owner and seeing the beta’s in their small cups at petsmart I felt terrible for the little guys and bought 3..yes 3 betas, In hopes to give them a happier home.
    So thinking I was a hero I went out and bought 3 vases, water conditioner, living bamboo, rocks, and food. One vase is about 5 gallons, and the other 2 are 1 gallon, each have a twisting bamboo. Since I got this bamboo..this clear weird clowdy goopy white stuff has been spreading all over it and through out the water.. I washed it off and changed the water and still it does this.. what is that? Should I be worried? One of the beta’s ate some of it yesterday and seems fine today..
    Also, my beautiful blue beta is very very active in his one gallon, almost to the point where he seems either super hyper or super irritated, he swims around like crazy but how do I know if he is happy or not? He will swim up and down and up and down in the same spot in his vase. None of them are building a bubble nest, the room is pretty warm, and they all ate today. No filters either. Should I put the over active one in the 5 gallon? Do beta’s have memories? Would ziggy be depressed to go from a 5 gallon to a 1 gallon? I have so much anxiety about these guys being cared for properly …

    • Cameron says:

      No, he would be fine. Justadd water from the five gallon to Ziggy’s tank for about a week, and he should be fine.

  14. Cameron says:

    Is there a way to put two Male Bettas in the same 10 gallon tank? (I am pretty poor, so please dont give me expensive suggestions)

    • Renae says:

      The only way you could viably do that is if you got a tank divider. But, whenever you can, for the love of all that is holy, move one out. Dividers are evil things of evil, for all that they’re convenient, as if one betta gets sick, the other(s) will too, as they share the same water. Alternatively you can just keep a very close eye on them and watch for signs of illness and keep a quarantine tank around to move a sick one into temporarily just in case. But ya may as well just get a separate tank if you were going to get a quarantine tank anyhow.

  15. Annie Strus says:

    I’ve had a dark blue betta for a week now. He seems happy, but occasionally he would swim rapidly and hit the bowl glass. I recently changed his water, in hopes the grayish brown specks go away. I think he’s stressed. The glass bowl is 1/2 gallon.

  16. Justin says:

    I just got a betta yesterday. After I put him in his big tank he was swimming around fine. Then as time went on he got slower and lazier. Now he is just hanging out at the bottom of the tank. I made sure to treat the water and get it to room temp. Just want to see if he is stressed out from the move and handling, and if or when he will get better. Worried about little Heisenberg.

  17. Justin says:

    I just got a betta yesterday. After I put him in his big tank he was swimming around fine. Then as time went on he got slower and lazier. Now he is just hanging out at the bottom of the tank. I made sure to treat the water and get it to room temp. Just want to see if he is stressed out from the move and handling, and if or when he will get better. Worried about little Heisenberg.

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