Q: B wrote,I have been all over trying to get help for my betta, Fritz. He has been sick for over a week now. Color is dim and he just lays on the bottom, rarely tries to swim or eat. I have changed the water, even tried lowering the water level so he wouldn’t have to swim far to eat. Nothing is helping. I don’t see marks on him or white spots or bugging eyes. His breathing does seem more labored today than on others. I live close to a Petco, would they have anything to help? Or am I best leaving him be? My husband and I have had him for 6 months now, no other fish.
A: Thanks for writing in. You are certainly correct in your observations that Fritz is out of sorts. Healthy bettas should be energetic and hungry. Though they may lay about occasionally, (heck we all do) they should usually be exploring their tank and begging for food when you approach. Sluggishness and loss of appetite, even without other symptoms, is certainly cause for concern. Unfortunately, it can be a bit of a task to determine the cause.
I always start with the water parameters. In the vast majority of cases, bettas become lethargic due to problems with the water. I don’t know anything about your aquarium set up so I will just go through the basics. First, the smaller the tank, the faster toxins build. A ten gallon, cycled tank with an adequate filtration system will need less frequent water changes then a 3 gallon betta bowl without a filter. Very small bowls (1 gallon) can be quite difficult to maintain and require very frequent water testing and full water changes just to keep the toxins at bay. They also tend to have the largest swings in temperature because they don’t take long to heat up and cool down at night. Bettas need stability before all else. This is why we recommend a minimum tank size of 3 to 5 gallons with an aquarium heater that has undergone the cycling process. If you haven’t yet learned about the nitrogen cycle you can read about it at Tank Cycling: The Fishless Method.
So, now that I have mentioned the importance of stability, here are a list of water parameters to check.
1. Ammonia – caused by fish waste. Even small levels of .25 ppm (parts per million) can be detrimental to a bettas health. A ammonia test kit can be purchased at your local fish store. If your betta is in a large cycled tank, ammonia testing can be done once every few weeks or when you notice something seems off. Small tanks or uncycled bowls should be tested at least every week or more.
2. pH – Most aquarists agree that bettas will do fine in a pH that is out of their natural range as long as it is stable. Check your water’s pH to make sure that it isn’t way off the charts (high or low) and mostly that it isn’t changing much over time.
3. Temperature – one of the most commonly overlooked water parameters in Betta tanks. Bettas are fully tropical and need warm stable water around 78*F – 80*F. If you don’t have an aquarium heater your water temperature may be dropping by several degrees in the evening causing stress to your fish. Temperatures below 75*F can cause lethargy and loss of appetite.
Those are the big three to start with. If you’d like to provide more information about your set up and care regimen we can try to narrow it down further but you might find the answer by checking the water parameters above. If you’d like to look into this a little deeper, here are some questions that would be helpful to know. Just answer them as best as you can.
1. How long have you had your betta?
2. What is the water volume or tank size?
3. Is this a betta bowl or an aquarium with a filter?
4. Have you tested for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate? What were the results?
5. Have you tested for pH, kh and gh? What were the results?
6. What is the water temperature?
7. How often do you change your tank water? How much water do you replace at a time?
8. Are there other fish in the tank with your betta? Which species and how many? When were they added?
9. How often do you feed your betta? What types of food are you using? How much are you feeding each time?
10. What water additives and medications are you using? Remember to include water conditioners or salt if you’re using them.
Best of luck to you and Fritz.