Scientific Name: none
Description: Digestive Blockage
Symptoms: bloating around stomach, lack of defecation
Cause: overfeeding, feeding dry foods, lack of fiber in high protein diet
Notes: Can be mild or severe, can be fixed by dietary changes
Constipation is very common in bettas and in most cases can be fixed by a few simple changes in diet. The most obvious sign of constipation is a bloated stomach. When a betta is bloated due to blockage he will only be swollen in the digestive area. This is easily viewable from the side and not the top. Full body swelling or scales sticking out like a pinecone could indicate a more serious problem like Dropsy. Obviously, when your betta is constipated he won’t be passing food so a lack of defecation is another sign to look for. In severe cases the bloating associated with constipation can put pressure on the internal system that controls the betta’s swim bladder leading to the appropriately named “Swim Bladder Disorder” or SBD. The obvious symptom of this is the inability for the fish to right itself in the water. In many cases the betta will be swimming on its side or even upside-down. Once the pressure is taken off of the organ, the fish will often return to normal.
The most common cause of constipation is overfeeding. Whatever you are feeding your betta, too much of it can be a problem. Unlike many other fish, bettas are quite sensitive to overfeeding and cannot be fed according to the directions on most tropical fish food packages. Many flake and pellet foods for tropicals recommend feeding what your fish can eat in 2 – 5 minutes. This is usually too much for a betta. Instead, it is common practice to feed according your betta’s stomach size. A general rule of thumb says, your betta’s stomach is about as big as one of his eyeballs and he should be fed that amount at a time. This equates to about 2 – 3 pellets or 3 – 4 bloodworms for a full-grown adult male betta. Feeding this two times per day will insure your betta is getting enough to eat.
The types of foods you feed your betta can also lead to blockages. Many manufactured dry foods like flakes, pellets and freeze dried foods contain very little moisture and swell once water is introduced in the betta’s digestive track. Since these foods contain less then 10% moisture they can grow considerably inside your betta making it difficult to pass. To worsen the situation, most pellets and flakes consist largely of protein fillers like wheat meal, soybean meal, oatmeal, and brown rice. Because bettas are carnivores much of this food goes undigested and ends up constipating the betta or back in the tank where it turns to ammonia. If you have to feed pellet or flake food check the ingredients to be sure it contains mostly fishmeal or shrimp meal. Once you select a pellet brand it is strongly recommend that you soak the pellets in a glass of tank water [conditioned] for about 10 minutes before feeding. This will allow the pellets to swell to their full size before entering the betta’s digestive track. This will also allow you to better gauge just how many pellets you should feed at a time. The amount of swelling among pellets differs from brand to brand.
You may hear people refer to live and frozen foods as being “too rich for bettas” and thus causing constipation. These comments are made from lack of understanding. Bettas naturally eat live insects and insect larvae in the wild. The betta fish food nature provides also includes exoskeletons, fly wings, and other forms of roughage. Feeding your betta a strict diet that contains no fibrous roughage may also contribute to constipation. This is easily avoided by giving your betta a small piece of blanched pea once per week or giving him foods like mysis shrimp that contain an exoskeleton or flightless fruit flies that sill have wings attached. A diet of various live and frozen foods is usually preferred to pellets and flakes and shouldn’t be avoided out of fear of constipation. Just be sure to introduce fiber into the diet on occasion.
One of the easiest things you can do to avoid constipation is to fast your fish one day per week. A day off will not hurt your betta; in fact it will allow him the chance to clean out his digestive track naturally.
If you find your betta is constipated, first give him a day or two without any food. Simply not feeding will often cure the problem. If after two days he is still constipated, feed him the inside of a pea. I buy a box from the freezer section at the grocery store and let one thaw out each week, remove the skin and offer him a small portion about the size of one of his eyeballs. This isn’t as unusual as it may sound. It’s actually a trick-of-the-trade and is used by betta keepers all over the world. Visit: How to Prepare Pea for a Bloated Betta
For severe constipation, a tiny portion of daphnia can be served your betta. Daphnia is known to act as a mild laxative and can be purchased in the fish food section of most fish stores.
Keep a close eye on your fish and constipation should cure itself so long as you are not overfeeding and are offering a proper diet. You may find it helps to remove any gravel or décor in the tank while your fish is blocked up. It will make it easier to see his waste indicating when he has returned to normal. If your tank is cycled, you may find it easier to remove the betta and keep him in a hospital tank until he is well again.