We often talk about the dangers of overfeeding your betta fish here at Nippyfish.net but today I wanted to address the common problem of underfeeding your betta. With the proliferation of betta blogs and online web forums sharing betta care information with the masses, sometimes the important messages get lost. Stories of Swim Bladder Disorder and abdominal bloating are in no short supply and the culprit is often overfeeding. With all these internet warnings and tales of caution there seems to be an influx of betta hobbyists who are now terrified to feed their fish.
When fish keepers write into Nippyfish.net with questions about their sick betta, I will often ask follow-up questions about their betta’s habitat and diet. Some of the feeding regimens I hear about amaze me. “I feed my betta 3 pellets and a blood worm for treat once per week.” “I feed my betta one pellet in the morning and one in the afternoon and a half a blanched pea on the weekend.” This one never ceases to surprise me, “I cut a pellet in half and…” I can’t believe how many betta keepers are cutting pellets in half. It’s amazing. I have absolutely no idea how I would even begin to cut one of those little betta pellets in half. The only thing that could possibly be left is a puff of dust.
First let me say this: Yes, betta fish are little piggies who, if given the chance, will eat until they are fat and bloated. This is because they are programmed to eat when food is available. They don’t know when the next little mosquito larvae will wiggle their way on by. Any book or website that tells you to feed your betta whatever he can eat in 2, 3 or 5 minutes (the advice varies) has probably never owned a Siamese Fighting Fish. You’d be shocked at what a hungry betta can put down in 2 minutes.
That said, a few pellets per week or even 2 per day is not a sustainable diet. Most betta fish care websites (including this one) will recommend you feed your betta an amount equal to the size of his eyeball, twice per day. This has usually been pretty solid advice because it means a smaller sized betta will eat less than a full grown betta. The problem with this advice, however, is that people still have a hard time gauging how much to feed. “Is it a portion the size of the visible eyeball or the entire eyeball?”
Now I’m going to tell you, against all the advice I’ve ever given, to throw away the rule of thumb… and…
wait for it…
wait for it…
Use your best judgment.
Bang, there it is!
I know, using your judgment can be such a letdown when you came to this site so someone could tell you what to do. Let me explain, this time, from my own experience.
Think of bettas like tiny people. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all. My bettas, for the most part, have had a pretty good appetite and I rarely experience the bloating and SBD problems that plague other aquarists. For a grown healthy betta I might offer him a couple of Hikari BioGold pellets in the morning. BioGold are small and hard and don’t swell as much as Betta Bites when wet. I watch the betta to see if he wants more. If he does I might give him another two or three so long as he is eating eagerly and his stomach is not distending significantly. That evening, any expansion in his abdomen from the morning’s feeding should have gone down. Now, I might feed him live blackworms.
If I’m bothering to buy blackworms I usually try to give them at least a few per betta. Three or four medium sized blackworms equal quite a bit more than the one eyeball-sized portion recommended, but as long as he is eating and not swelling significantly the portion is fine. In the morning I check him again to make sure the food has passed and he is not constipated and bloated. The next day I might switch to some frozen food. I offer 3 or 4 bloodworms in the morning and the blackworms again in the evening. Over the course of several months I observe my betta’s weight. Betta fish can become overweight but it is not common and often not easy to recognize.
More often, overfeeding causes other health problems like bloated abdomen or Swim Bladder Disorder. Underfeeding, however, will result in a bony, colorless betta with concaved sides and little or no fat storage near the tail. They will often clamp their fins and have a body that is very tapered (large near the abdomen where the organs are located and too thin near the caudal peduncle.) An inadequate diet or malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system and inability to fight off common diseases. Common sense says, “a well fed betta will be healthier than a half-starved one.”
If I have any advice here it is not to get too obsessed withholding food from your betta out of fear. Healthy bettas like to eat and will eat. If you happen to have a fish that has digestive problems and is bloating after meals or having problems staying neutrally buoyant after meals (turns vertically in the water or head drops down or turns up out of control) then it may be a good idea to review the quantity you feed and make some dietary changes. Don’t go crazy (20 pellets is TOO MUCH) but if he isn’t having any problems with his diet and has a strong appetite, then let him eat. The key is observation. Don’t feed him until he swells out of control and watch his growth over several months.
Emaciated Betta, originally uploaded by All Creatures Small.
Oh God, now I’m scared I’m underfeeding my betta, Mr. Bubbles.
When I was little, I had quite a few bettas, and most all of them died within a few weeks of me getting them. Little did my Mom know, that I was feeding them like, 11 times a day D: I was like, 3, so I didn’t know any better. Now I’m older, I got Mr. Bubbles a few weeks ago. He’s a beautiful orange/yellow/red color, with a blue and a pinkish stripe in his tail. I feed him 2-3 pellets a day. Is that not enough? I used to give him freeze dried blood-worms, but he didn’t seem to like them. Should I start giving them to him again? Also, I used to have him in a 1 gallon bowl, but last night I upgraded him to a 5 Gallon filtered, heated and planted tank. He absolutely loved it. But then this morning, (had this problem the past week or so) the water looked like it had milk in it it was so foggy. We went back to PetSmart and they said we should let everything sit for at least 48 hours before putting Mr. Bubbles in. So we did a 25% water change earlier and now we’re just waiting. I just wondered if you knew how much I should feed him, (he’s still pretty young. I don’t know how old exactly, but he’s smaller than Mr. BlueJeans was [he lived almost 6 years!!]) what the foggy crud is, and also, what plants do they like? I have a Moss Ball thing, a Banana Plant, and a couple of Anubias.
Thank you so much 🙂
Water turning milky is a bacterial bloom and would clear in a few days. Is your new aquarium cycled?
Mine turned milky as well but it settled fairly fast and didn’t hurt my Betta at all. Did you condition the water before putting your Betta in?
Forgot to mention, he also a few weeks ago developed some teeny tiny spots on his head and sides. Is he changing color or what is that?
Amazing, most informative website, also. 🙂
Ugh, black spots. Forgot to say the color 😛
Black spots can be a sign of Mycobacteriosis (Fish TB), had 2 young Bettas (4 months old) with black spots on body, apparently both had Mycobacteria at birth and often don’t show symptoms until older. Tried every sort of over-the-counter-medication didn’t work. Found out after a prescription Isoniazid 300mg was said to work (discovered too late for my Bettas) the same stuff as people with TB use) As time went they got more lethargic, bloated, constipated, “gasping”, black/brownish bumps on tail fin, swollen gills (between gill plates), refusing to eat, and eventually mucous clogged lungs. Death is swift 2 weeks or less unless treatment is applied. Kanaplex slows disease progress (absorbed through skin). If anyone has tried Isoniazid on a fish with Myco. please post your results here. I hope this helps a poor fishie out there
Fish TB is very rare, and it is extremely unlikely that Gracie’s fish has it .A more likely diagnosis, commonly found in aquariums is an external parasite. This can be treated with aquarium salt, which can be bought at any local pet shop, like PetSmart and PetCo. I would recommend putting the fish in a quarantine tank with the aquarium salt. The quarantine tank does not have to be as your usual tank, as the fish will only be living in it for a maximum of 2-3 weeks. Do not put any decorations or gravel in the quarantine tank, as this allows you to more clearly examine your fish, and see how he is doing. Make sure, though that Mr. Bubbles does not get over stressed without a lot of cover.
Also, Betta mommy, bettas do not have lungs, they have a labyrinth organ, and Isoniazid is used from treating people TB, and I am not quite sure it works with fish.
I have a blue betta named diego(my little brother named him). I feed him 2 pellots a day never tried blood worms. Shoud i. After what you said do i need to feed him more.
i feed my betta the smallest amount i can shake out of the food contaioner then skoop out what he dosent eat in about 5 min am i feeding him right ?i just got him a few days ago and he looks a little bloted (im still trying to figure out how mutch he needs) one person sayed to dip a wet tooth pick in the food and give that mutch is that about right?
I’d say change to brine shrimp. My crown tail Betta loves them and I use a pocket knife I bought to shave a thin layer of the top of a cube for a single feeding, I do two feedings for my fish. He chases the brine since it floats a bit so it also gives him some good excersize and takes him a good 3-5 minutes to chase it all. He also never looks bloated and his dark blue body and white fins are a bright healthy looking color.
I was one of those people who fed 2 pellets in the morning and 2 at night and my betta fish didn’t look good after a while even with the Hikari pellets. One day, it dawned on me that where I come from, we had bettas in the wild and they don’t eat pellets so I switched mine to live blackworms and frozen bloodworms. My fish is healthier, more active and his weight is healthier, not all skinny and scrawny.Stay away from freeze dried anything though, those are just bad.
I used to feed my Betta, Red (that’s his name becausw he’s red) like 12 pallets. But, he got Swim Bladder Desease so now I’m feeding him 5. And he keeps getting it. He has it now. How many pallets should I feed him? Someone please tell me! I’m really worried!
I know this is a late reply, but I did some research on SBD, and found a website that I think would be worth your time to look at. I’d do your own searching around and whatnot, but here’s one I found;
And by saying you feed your Betta fish five pellets – is that per day, or twice a day? How big, roughly, are the pellets? I know I have two types for my Betta Shark – one of them is rather large pellets(maybe a fifth or sixth the size of a pea), while the other are itty bitty, more like crumbs. (He seems to prefer the crumb-ones) When I feed him the crumb-sized ones, I feed him a few more of them than i would the large pellets. Generally 1-2 large pellets in the morning and night, or 3-4 tiny ones morning/night. I’ve also heard people recommend to fast your Betta one day of the week, which helps to keep constipation – which can lead to SBD, so I’ve read – from occurring.
I have a problem with my betta that I’ve had for over 3 years now… He looks “fat” and just lays on his large leaves all day long and just raises his head every once in a while to get air. I’m lucky if he’ll eat once a week at this point… When I first got him I had to get him healthy again (he was living in a bad environment) and after that he was all happy and swimming and would follow everyone around the room in his bowl and would flare up at you if you got too close to his bowl. He was feisty but now doesn’t care. His bowl is clean, he has a little discoloration I assumed was “old age” and I don’t know…. I’m concerned…
I’m not expert, but I’ve a Betta myself and I’ve been doing some research on them(actually how I got to this website ;D). Is your Betta perhaps bored? Have you changed anything in his cage – maybe moved around his decor or removed or added new ones? I’ve heard many people’s stories on how their betta’s got bored of their surroundings. Swimming around the same plant in the same spot every day and night – nothing changing, i can see how they would get bored, especially in a smaller tank where room is so precious to move in, and there aren’t many options of ‘places to visit.’
Aside from adding things inside the cage, you can also move things around /outside/ the cage. Put a plant or something next to his bowl, or a stuffed animal or any object you can think of. It can be ‘ordinary’ or bizare, but what matters is that it’s new to your betta, or in a new spot.
I hope that helps! ;w;
I got a delta tail betta recently. Most everything about him seems healthy. He is active, brightly colored, and seems happy. But for some reason, he is not interested in food. When I feed him, he doesn’t even look up. Is he eating food off the bottom when I’m not looking, or is he going to starve? What should I do?
What are you feeding him? He may not be interested in it. If it is pellets, Try something different like brine shrimp or blood worms. Once you find something he likes he should take an interest in it.
Oh my. Scared now has a 2 way street. I started looking at my betta and he is looking kind of thin. I fed him 2 pellets and 3 blood worms around 11 am or Noon and now at 6 pm I just fed him 3 more pellets after reading this. I was fasting him on Sundays, because people say to fast them one day a week because it is good for their digestive system. All the false info out there is alarming. I need one place that knows what to do and stick with it. I had cut him down to 2 pellets in the AM and 2 in the PM thinking that if I gave him more than that it would kill him. I guess as long as the pea idea works if he accidentally eats too much it is better to give him a little more, because I got to looking closer at him and it looks like I can see his bones a little bit through his skin. Granted he is being treated for a bacterial infection right now and that could maybe cause some of his problem of looking thin, I’m not sure.
So, I have an elephant ear Betta who’s basically doing fine, but I have some concerns about what I’m feeding her. Right now I’m giving her two pellets and one freeze dried blood worm twice a day and fast her on Sundays. However, some websites say that pellets aren’t particularly healthy for fish, and neither are freeze dried foods. My Betta is very active and I’ve had her for about a year now. Should I switch to frozen foods, am I feeding her too much, too little, or what? And are pellets and freeze dried foods healthy for Bettas to eat? Please give me some advice.