betta_01, originally uploaded by james_b_b.

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.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Anonymous says:

    I have noticed my betta is doing the same thing. I have had several fish deaths due to square vases that they can see their reflections on, and glassy reflective stones. Seeing themselves REALLY stresses them out and causes alot of the fins puffing up. Right now, I have moved my betta back into a cylinder vase where he seems to be doing better but is still a little stressed. He lays on the bottom but when I come over to see him he gets up and wants food and becomes active. He still eats, but having mirrors or anything glassy CAN stress them ALOT.
    Experience: two dead bettas, one nearly jumped out of the vase from stress.

    • Sophie says:

      You should have at least a three to five gallon tank for your betta rro behealthy. I have a betta who lives in a one gallon tanks and is four years old. You should give your betta pellets two time a day in the morning and at night give your betta 3-4 pellets each time. You don’t always need a tester kit to find out what’s wrong with your Betta. You could be over feeding your betta. Try a bigger tank with some decorations you can find at petco or petsmart , none with sharp edges they can rip your betta’s tail . Make sure the temperature stays fairly consistant.

  2. Anonymous says:

    me and my brother own a betta we are worried because he just lays there unless he thinks theirs food but he sinks back down after hes done eating ive never really seen him through out waste but we moved him to a smaller bowl thinking it would help but nothing happened we just purchased a new betta i dont know why but i need helpp because we’re scared he might die what can we do?

  3. alehkzstud says:

    lonelyness can be a factor people! Most people talk about male betta fish but I have a female betta and at the pet shop she was quite the active sport cause she and her other sisters were about but once i brought her home, shes just sedentary and won’t eat. She feels lonely. Everythin in the tank is healthy, new, all the levels are fine. Everything is fine!But she misses her sisters. Imma have to go back to the pet shop and get her two.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Trust me, your betta is not lonely. Anthropomorphism is such a deadly thing for bettas. They are naturally solitary fish and would much rather be housed alone than with other fish, even if they are docile. There aren’t really any benefits to betta community and sororities, and they end up stressing fish out. Many bettas die from stress because their tankmates chase them around and nip their fins.

  4. Anonymous says:

    that’s almost exactly what my fish has been doing. i have 5 female bettas and four of them are active and always want food but the other one (Ariel) just floats at the top of the tank and wont eat.(and no she’s not dead) i thought that it might have been that it might have been swim bbladder desiese but when i treated the tank for that nothing happened. i’m getting really worried because she was always the most active fish in the tank and now she’s the only one in the tank that wont come away from the side of the tank or swim down to the bottom with the others, and she wont eat anything. what should i do?

    • Jacqueline says:

      Seperate all the females, since seperating only her could unbalance the hierarchy. She’s probably under stress from the other females- Have you checked for lots of chasing and fin nipping?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I recently had one of my female bettas die,but before she died she spread watever she had to my other female,Andie(they were in a divided tank because the bigger tank broke)\

  6. FishstickLiz says:

    How long have you had your betta? About two days (purchased 12/17/11)
    What is the water volume or tank size? A little under half a gallon
    Is this a betta bowl or an aquarium with a filter? It’s a large round vase, equal in circumference from top to bottom; swim space is about 5 inches tall by 5 inches wide
    Have you tested for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate? Have you tested for pH, kh and gh? What were the results? No, but I do full water changes with distilled water.
    What is the water temperature? Room temperature, range 76 to 82 degrees (I like it warm, too)
    How often do you change your tank water? How much water do you replace at a time? Full water change once a week, minimum of every other day when a fish is sick, depending on the ailment
    Are there other fish in the tank with your betta? Which species and how many? When were they added? No. He’s all by himself.
    How often do you feed your betta? What types of food are you using? How much are you feeding each time? He hasn’t eaten anything yet. I tried two TetraBetta pellets, at different times, and on a couple of other occasions BettaMin flake food with little bits of shrimp in it, but he wasn’t even interested in any of it. It sank to the bottom of the tank and stayed there; I have since changed the water to get rid of the old food.
    What water additives and medications are you using? Remember to include water conditioners or salt if you’re using them. I tried using BettaRevive for a couple of days with no positive results. He then developed classic bloat for constipation, so I attempted the pea. He avoided it violently. Having no other recourse since he’d already fasted for two days, I tried Epsom salt treatment (1/4 tsp in half a gallon, full water change, premixed). He’s gone from floating upright at the top of the tank with his side to the glass to floating sideways at the top of the tank and just lying wherever. (One step forward, two steps back?) No defecation since I bought him.
    Video of his attempts to leave the surface and floating against his will. I’m starting to get scared; his ventral fins were red when I bought them, now they’re white, and the color in his tail fins is fading.

  7. FishstickLiz says:

    Never mind. He just died.

    • Jacqueline says:

      I recommend doing more research on bettas! This website says you need a heated and filtered tank with that holds a minimum of 2.5 gallons. Full water changes are extremely stressful for the fish, and the toxin levels were most likely very high.

  8. Ita says:

    Dear Christie F,
    I am so worried about my male veil-tail betta fish….I need help! First of all, I bought him from a PetCo and he was the most active one there, swimming in his little cup. It has been a little over 6mos. now and I recently noticed he has been VERY lethargic. He won’t swim around, never flares his fins. Only if I tap on his glass or shake the bowl will he stir. But after a few seconds of swimming, he’ll just float to the top or stay at the bottom, motionless. He lives in a 1gal fishbowl with no filtration, some fake plants, fake mini coral reef, and a heater. Twice I have found him floating on his side on a plant, and on one occasion he was at a diagonal angle at the top of his bowl. Other than that, he seems fine. I haven’t tested his Ammonia and pH levels, but I do use Betta Water Conditioners and I have always assumed that it would soak up all the bad stuff.
    So what worries me most is his behavior:
    -Never Flares Fins.
    -Never Swims Around Unless I Shake The Bowl Or Tap The Glass
    How do I fix it? I really want him active and flaring and showy again, just like he used to be. I am so worried right now and praying its nothing serious. . . . . . .WHAT SHOULD I DO??????
    Other Info: I clean his unfiltered fishbowl once a week. Sometimes I let it sit for two weeks. I feed him Wardley’s Betta Pellets, six pellets a day, three days a week. ALSO: I am only 10 years old and I am worrying my head off.
    Here’s some extra info:
    1. How long have you had your betta? 5-6 months
    2. What is the water volume or tank size? I believe its 1/2 gallon. Might be 1 gal. Not sure. I think it is 1 gallon though.
    3. Is this a betta bowl or an aquarium with a filter? Betta Bowl with small heater and a couple of artificial plants
    4. Have you tested for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate? What were the results? Haven’t tested.
    5. Have you tested for pH, kh and gh? What were the results?
    Have Not Tested
    6. What is the water temperature? About 78-81F
    7. How often do you change your tank water? How much water do you replace at a time? I change the entire fishbowl water every week, sometimes I dont change until 2 wks. I fill up to the 3/4 mark. And to get the right temp we just hand-feel it.
    8. Are there other fish in the tank with your betta? Which species and how many? When were they added?There are no other fish with Clowny. He is all alone in his fish bowl
    9. How often do you feed your betta? What types of food are you using? How much are you feeding each time? I feed him every other day with Wardley’s Betta Pellets. He gets 6 pellets a day.
    10. What water additives and medications are you using? Water conditioner.
    I am serious, I will do ANYTHING to cure little Clowny!
    I just want him back to normal.
    And to be a happy fish for the rest of his years.
    PLEASE HELP!!!!!!

    • Jacqueline says:

      Note: There are no timestamps next to these comments so I apologize if I’m replying to super old threads.
      Hi Ita, I’m a novice fishkeeper not much older than you. I’m twelve. I advise reading up more on proper betta care, because they are just like any other pet and you should be prepared to take good care of it. Please, please, PLEASE get a filtered tank that holds a minimum of 2.5 gallons as soon as possible. Your fish is not living his life happily in a small fishbowl. Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates will build up very, very quickly in that size of a bowl and can eventually lead to the death of your fish. Even if he’s been surviving in that bowl six months, it doesn’t mean he’s thriving. You should be changing 50% of the water every day in the meantime.
      Six pellets a day three times a week is not ideal. Soak two to three pellets in tank water and only feed as much as the size of his eyeball. Feed every day except for maybe one or two.

  9. Sm says:

    My betta jumped out of tank
    He was on floor i put him back on tank
    N then he went back to his hiding place now he just inside
    So does this means he may not survive or what are the chances

  10. ashlynn says:

    Hi, I have a betta fish and I have had him for one year and about 8 months. He has been a very healthy happy fish in the past, but about a month and a half ago I started noticing that his fins were getting weird and looked saggy. So I assumed fin rot and started treating him with betta fix and he made very little improvement. Now he has what looks to be body rot but just in one place. I have tried bettafix, AQ salt, and furon 2 I just don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know what to use to cure him and I just want him happy and healthy again.

    Extra information:
    He currently is in a 2.5 gallon tank
    The tank contains gravel, substrate, a small structure that he loves to lay on, and one not so happy looking fish.
    I test his water every other day
    Ph is 7.2
    KH is 120
    chlorine 0
    GH is 75-150
    nitrite is 0
    nitrate is 20-40
    I do not use tap water I use Dasani bottled water (my moms 2 goldfish lived 15 years in bottled water)
    his water temp is usally around 76-81 it differs because i live in California.
    I am only 11 and I am really scared for my little winter fish and I would really appreciate any help.


  11. ashlynn says:

    He is also the only fish in his tank

  12. Tammy says:

    I HATE when parents get their children these sweet little animals and they do not teach them HOW to take care of them!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hi everyone! I have a Betta fish and he is pretty new, about a month. I am having the same problem, lethargic fish. He has a 2.7 gallon tank, a filter, and a heater. I like to keep his tank at 75 degrees. I feed him 8 pellets a day. What am I doing wrong?

    P.s. the heater is new, and when I put it in that is when he went all weird. It might have nothing to do with it though.

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