Christmas 2003
Originally uploaded by Mean and Pinchy.

‘Tis the season to give gifts from the heart but if you’re thinking of giving a Betta fish to someone as a gift there are a few things to consider beforehand.

Each December hundreds, if not thousands, of Siamese Fighting Fish are given as gifts to children, parents, spouses and significant others and like clockwork every January my email box fills up with questions on how to treat sick fish or where to go to find a new home for an unwanted pet. To help combat the onslaught I thought I would post some helpful Betta factoids and make note of some worthy considerations.

1. Bettas are live animals and like any pet require consistent care and monitoring. Be sure the person you are buying for wants this new responsibility and will continue to stay motivated throughout the entire life of the fish, which can be 3 – 5 years. If you are buying for your child, keep in mind that you will be the main caregiver and will be responsible for monitoring the water temperature, water quality testing, daily feeding and weekly water changes.

2. Fish are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and keeping them requires more then plopping them in a bowl and displaying them on a shelf. They need to be monitored each day and fed a balanced nutritious diet. Poor water quality can quickly lead to illness or death. Remember that all aquariums need regular monitoring and water testing, especially the smaller tanks or bowls since toxins build up at an escalated rate. Aquarium water can become toxic long before it shows any physical signs of being dirty so regular testing is a must.

3. Aquariums cost money. Do the recipient of your Betta a favor by supplying them with what they need to keep their Betta healthy. Buying them a fish and a small bowl is just the tip of the iceberg for even the most basic set up. Don’t put them in a position where they need to drop a lot of extra green. Here is a list of items you will need for the most basic of Betta bowls.

I. A tank or bowl. I recommend a minimum of 3 gallons [11 liters] but the larger the tank, the less work will be required by the new owner. Larger tanks are more stable and can be cycled providing a stable ecosystem for the fish. COST = less than $10 US.

II. An aquarium heater. Bettas are tropical fish and room temperature water can cause sluggishness or stress that can lead to illness. They require a temperature of about 80F [26.6C] that is consistent from day to night. For small aquariums, a mini heater can be purchased at most local fish stores. COST = $15 US – $30 US

III. Water conditioners. Tap water is the most common and most affordable way to supply aquarium water but most tap water contains deadly chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals and must be treated with a conditioner. For small uncycled tanks I recommend a combination of Kordon’s AmQuel+ and NovAqua+, which keeps the water conditioned and has the added benefit of keeping ammonia levels down. COST = $5 US – $8 US each.

IV. Food. Of course fish need food and Bettas should be fed daily, despite what the inaccurate instructions may say on the cup they are purchased in. A good, inexpensive starter food is Hikari brand, Bio-Gold. COST = about $2 US.

V. Gravel & Decor. Your Betta will be more comfortable if provided with a substrate (gravel, sand, marble, etc) and a hiding spot like a cave or plants (real or silk). Fish that feel secure are less likely to encounter diseases. COST = varies greatly but basics can be purchased under $10 US.

Those are the most basic requirements for Betta splendens and here are some helpful additional items.

– lighting (an aquarium hood with fluorescent lamp can be purchase for tanks as small as 5 gallons.
– net
– medicine (Rid-Ich+ for external parasites, Mardel’s Maracyn & Maracyn II for bacterial infections)
-siphon (to suck out water for weekly cleaning and removing fish waste)
replacement filter media (if you buy an aquarium with a filter)
tasty food (bettas love bloodworms, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, black worms, white worms, daphnia and other disgusting wiggly creatures)
– system upgrade (an entire Betta appropriate aquarium kit with tank, light and power filter like the MiniBow 3 gal or 5 gal are great. I also love the Eclipse series that come as small as 3 or 6 gallons) Avoid tiny bowls and mini-aquariums with light bulb heater. These tiny 1 gal and smaller are not appropriate for any fish even though they are sold specifically “for bettas.”

4. Knowledge. Fish keeping is a hobby that can satisfy many levels of interest. If the person you are buying for isn’t already a Betta aficionado (or is that “a-fish-ionado”) point them to where they can learn more, either for their own benefit or for when they need expert help. Try for general Betta splendens info, care, articles and advice.

Adopting a Betta fish can be fun and rewarding and may become a hobby that leads to a lifetime passion. Nothing feels better then rescuing an animal and providing it with a good home and proper care. This holiday season, please consider the responsibility involved with adopting a new pet before purchasing it for another person. Think about the daily time and monetary commitments and the interest level of gift’s recipient before making your purchase. If there is any doubt, forgo the surprise and ask the person directly, keeping the animal’s best interest in mind at all times.

Happy Betta Keeping and Happy Holidays.

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