If you find that your betta is gasping at the bottom or surface of the tank, pale in color, has a limp tail fin, unresponsive eyes and with their gills fanning visibly then they may be in critical condition. There are a few things you can do to increase their chances of survival.
Prevention is the Best Cure
Preventing inhospitable conditions that can lead to the death of betta fish requires you to keep their environmental conditions stable and favorable for their overall health , you can do this in a combination of 4 ways.
1. Practice regular tank maintenance (water changes, siphoning waste/uneaten food and cleaning the filter)
2. Feed them a good diet including a variety of frozen, dried and live foods at appropriate times (a small amount twice a day)
3. Maintain a suitable environment (minimum of a 5-10g tank, filtration, ventilation above waters surface, live plants when possible and a secluded hide area for security)
4. Take note of any recent or out of routine changes made to the betta’s tank conditions. Sometimes something as simple as a new decoration can cause illness if it turns out to not be fish safe and leech chemicals into the water.
Check and Correct Water Parameters
Lack of appropriate water conditions can quickly become fatal to any betta. Ensure that your water temperature is between 78°-80° F (25.5° and 26.5 C)
Check that the ammonia and nitrate levels in your tanks water via a test kit. Safe water parameters are 0ppm ammonia and less than 30ppm nitrate, if levels are above this then your betta will be suffering ammonia/nitrate poisoning and you’ll need to do a 50% water change asap.
If levels are 20-30ppm above safe levels then you need to immediately relocate your Betta to an entirely quarantine/hospital tank. Acclimation isn’t necessary in this instance because the shock and danger of their own lethal tank water far outweighs the stress of acclimating to new water conditions.
As for setting up the quarantine tank, ensure that in addition to the usual steps you also do the 5 following
1. If you notice the fish sinking to the bottom of the tank repeatedly it is likely too fatigued to come up for air as often as it needs to if at all. You’ll need to help your fish by either dropping the water level about a quarter from the rim of the glass so that the fish does not have to swim so far to take air from the surface. Alternatively you can also put them in a breeding net/box or a large plastic tub with shallow water (the larger surface area of the tub compensates for the depth of the water.)
2. Conserve the fish’s energy by lowering the flow of your filter via either obstructing the output (aiming it at the glass/an object) or using a sponge filter instead.
3. Using an air stone can help oxygenate the water to allow your betta to breathe through its gills more easily.
4. Make sure you have a lid that allows for some ventilation.
5. Putting dried Catapa/Indian Almond Leaves in the tank or soaking them in the quarantine water can boost the fish’s immunity, increases appetite, releases tannin’s which gives the fish a sense of security, has antibacterial properties and is completely natural.
See the following article on how to set up a quarantine tank for your betta fish.
Identify the Symptoms and Medicate (Only When Appropriate)
It’s important to take all factors into consideration before deciding to medicate as illness can occur for reasons other than just viral diseases (such as genetic or heritable illness, behavioral issues such as fin biting, old age and tank conditions). Bettas also tend to hide their symptoms until they are severely ill or critical, when in a critical state medicating can potentially weaken them further via causing them undue stress. So its a good fish keeping practice to quarantine and wait until the betta has stabilized (begun eating or stopped gasping for air) before beginning a medication regime that could potentially last weeks.
For more information on how to medicate your betta fish see this article.
Also see the complete guide to betta fish disease and treatment for more information.
Fish Certified Vet
Fish vet’s can treat all manner of aquatic pets on both a private and commercial basis, many also do house calls and perform tests on scene (scale scraping, in depth water testing for contaminants, mouth swabs and even ultrasounds) so as not to stress the fish out with a trip to a vet clinic.
See the following article on how to move or travel with your betta fish if you need to take it to the vet.
In closing, although prevention is the best measure to take when ensuring your fish survives to its fullest lifespan, if you do happen to have the misfortune of losing your beloved betta then you can give them a good send off.
Here is more information on how to give your betta fish a proper send off.
thank you so much ive used your advice and my fish looks so much better. Its probably getting old but it looks so much better than it did before!
What medication dinyiu recommend?
My fish is 6 years old and over the last week or so he is laying sideways at the bottom having a hard time breathing…. he still eats.. I dont know if it’s just his time or if there is something I can. do
Your fish has lived so long.
My betta needs help oh please reply my Betta is laying sideways and dying slowly help!
I dont know what is wrong with my fish, but his fins are turning white, and he is swimming in a jerky way. if you have any ideas please tell me.
I think it is gonna die soon
Well. I bought my son a betta yesterday, but I was not aware of the nitrogen cycle. I read the instructions that came with the aquarium, and it said to use aqua safe with tap water so that’s what I did. After that I went and bought the fish and acclimated the fish to the water before adding. I fed the fish a couple of pellets, it ate them. By the late evening, the poor fish was hanging out at the top of the tank. I had to go to work before the pet store opened but I added safe start this morning. After work I took a sample of the water to pet smart. They said the parameters were out of whack. I asked what specifically, they said everything- very low ph, high ammonia and high nitrates. They said my poor fish may not survive. I asked if there was anything I could do, like do a water change, she told me no but to wait a week. I came home and thought about it. I felt like I had to do something, the water was already toxic and making him sick. I ended up doing a 75% water change except this time I used Nestle pure life water. I figured at least it shouldn’t have harsh chemicals and the PH is higher. I still treated it with aqua safe just to make sure. Hopefully this would check at least one thing off the list of bad parameters? Then I added more safe start and started the filter. I didnt use the filter yesterday because I got the feeling maybe he didnt like it or it was too strong. When he was laying at the top the filter’s current kept pulling him and it doesnt appear to have a lower setting. After I did the water change and started the filter, hes been laying in the fake bushes. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Maybe hes too tired and sick to go up for air, especially with the filter running and pulling him. I did notice the filter isn’t quite as strong after the water change because the water level is a tad higher. Is there anything else I can do to try to save this poor fish? Should I continue doing water changes every day? Turn the filter off? Maybe I should take him back to the pet store and have them put him back in their water. I hate when living things suffer because of my stupidity. Maybe this aquarium thing just isn’t for us.
I fish is just over a year old and I was cleaning out some of the water he was swimming towards his cup and got scared and injured him self some how . and now he isn’t wanting to swim to the top of his tank at all. Hes just hiding.What should I do ? He seems like hes dying but then hes swimming a little bit . Should I leave him a lone for the rest of the day amd just wait to see what happens?
My Betta fish’s abdomen is swollen, he is always on his side, and he can’t swim down. I’ve tried a pea, different food, medicine and heaters but nothing works.
My betta is not eating and is still kind of swimming around how do I get him to eat again?
I’m not a vet for fishes but, I’ve had the same results on both of my male bettas’. Try to put your hand in a tank and slowly try to get the fish sitting in your hand. If the fish gets scared of your hand (such as young betta) then it means your fish is still healthy. If not then your fish is most likely going to come to an end of their lives. Bettas’ only last up to 5 years maximum or even 2 and start to lose their beautiful colors. If your betta is lying down on its side and refuses to move, it means it is old or either has a type of disease. Types of disease could really hurt the fish and you could try to bring it to a fish vet as soon as possible. This is all the information I have!!! Hopefully your betta (s) don’t have any of the problems I had!!! Make sure to be prepared and know what is happening!!! I know it is hard after all these years but, make sure to stay strong and say goodbye…