Essential Betta Fish Care Instructions

Updated May 19, 2022
Red betta fish

Betta fish care isn't difficult, but it does require know-how. Betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, are hardy, easy to care for, and will often live for more than three years if you follow the proper care instructions. By providing your pet with everything it needs to live a healthy life, your betta will remain vibrantly colorful and happy for a long time.

How to Care for a Betta Fish

Before you take on the responsibility of owning a betta fish, it's a good idea to learn a little about where this fish comes from, what its natural habitat is like, and other important information that will help you provide the best level of care for your new pet.

Take Betta Fish Care Ideals From Their Natural Habitat

Betta fish originated primarily in Thailand, but they can also be found in the shallow, warm waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and some parts of China. They prefer places where the water is clean, warm, and slow-moving, so they are often found in the region's rice paddies, as well.

Establishing the Ideal Betta Tank

Many betta owners keep these colorful fish in small fish bowls or tanks because the fish are used to shallow waters in their natural habitat, but one thing nearly all owners forget is that bettas thrive best in warm water. However, bowls are not ideal, as they limit the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. Bettas can breathe air at the surface, but these fish do need oxygen in their tank water to thrive. Bettas can survive in water with less dissolved oxygen, but this is not ideal.

If the tank's water temperature dips below 75 degrees, the betta fish will quickly become dispirited, lethargic, and perhaps ill. However, maintaining a water temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit will improve the fish's health and well-being. Ideally, the water used in the fish tank should be soft with a pH that is either neutral (7.0) or slightly acidic (6.8).

How to Care for a Betta Fish in a Bowl

Siamese Fighting Fish in Fishbowl

Decorative betta fish bowls can be found in pet stores and online in a variety of shapes and colors. However, fishbowls are not the recommended environment for bettas due to their small size, smaller surface area to promote dissolved oxygen levels, lack of filter and heater, and less room for plants and places for the fish to hide. If you must keep your betta in a bowl, here are some tips to keep them healthy:

  • Bettas need to have the water in a bowl changed often, as ammonia and other harmful chemicals will begin to saturate the water over time. You should change out about 50 to 60 percent of the water at least once a week.
  • PetSmart advises that the bowl should have at least 1 gallon of water for each inch of your fish's length (the average betta fish is about 2½- to 3-inches long), and the temperature should be no colder than 74 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 82 degrees.
  • A more attractive alternative to a bowl that's about the same size is a vase designed specifically for bettas. These contain live plants that improve the water quality for your fish.
  • If you use tap water, it needs to have a betta water conditioner added to clear toxins and chlorine from the water. These conditioners also provide a slime coating that is good for your betta.
  • If there's room in the bowl, provide your fish with some places to hide and sleep, such as small live or artificial plants and a hut or log. Marimo moss balls are also a great option for small bowls.
  • Betta leaves are also a popular option for small bowls, and they may help to simulate a betta fish's natural environment, as well as provide tannins, which can be good for their health.

Sizing the Betta Tank

Bettas are somewhat aggressive fish, but that doesn't mean your pet absolutely has to live alone.

  • According to the vets at PetCoach, a male betta does best when he's the only betta in the tank, and although males tend to fight with other male and female bettas alike, you can add a single male betta to a community tank that contains other non-aggressive fish species.
  • On the other hand, five to 10 betta females can be kept together in relative harmony in a community tank, often referred to as a "sorority."
  • The problem of fighting comes into play whenever two males are placed in the same tank, or when a male betta fish is placed in a community tank with other aggressive fish, such as cichlids, tetras, or barbs.
  • Male bettas should also not be kept in a community tank with colorful fish such as guppies because the betta may attack the guppies thinking they are other small bettas.
  • The tank's size will be determined by how many fish you plan to keep. A single betta will live happily in a small tank, while three or four females will require a well-planted, 15-gallon or larger tank to provide each one with enough personal territory.
  • No matter what, the tank needs to be large enough so that the fish can swim around the tank comfortably without the threat of injury.

Betta Tank Accessories

Bettas love to have places to hide, especially female bettas, so providing a few hiding spots in the aquarium will help keep your fish happy.

  • If you want to spruce the tank up with some plants, use only live plants or plants manufactured specifically for use with bettas since hard, plastic plants may injure the betta's beautiful yet delicate fins.
  • You can also add aquarium gravel or sand to the bottom of the tank, but it is not completely necessary.
  • Do betta fish need air? Bettas can survive without an air pump, unlike other aquarium fish, since they have a special respiratory organ called a labyrinth in addition to their gills. The labyrinth allows them to breathe very small amounts of air. This is why bettas can be kept in bowls without an air supply attached.
  • That said, they still thrive better in an aerated tank with an airstone, which promotes water movement and gas exchange at the water's surface.
  • To maintain the warm water temperature bettas require, you will need a heater designed for small fish tanks, as well as a thermometer to monitor the water temp.
  • Betta aquariums should have a cover of some type to prevent the fish from jumping out.
  • The tank should also be filled no more than 80 percent full because when these fish get excited, they can leap out of the water, sometimes as high as 3 inches above the surface. You want to make sure your pet doesn't hit the tank lid and injure themselves.

Bringing the Betta Home

Once you've chosen your betta, it's time to add them to their tank. Following the proper steps can reduce your new fish's stress and improve their environment change for a longer and healthier lifespan.

How to Transfer a Betta Fish From Cup to Tank

It is recommended to first acclimate the betta to the aquarium before you put the fish in it. This is done through a process called floating.

  1. Once the water is set up and conditioned in the tank, set the betta (while still in the bag from the store) on top of the water.
  2. If you brought the betta home in a cup, transfer the water and the fish to a plastic bag to do this.
  3. Floating the bag will gently acclimate your fish to the water temperature in the tank, and this will reduce their initial stress.
  4. The bag should be left to float for about an hour.
  5. After this time, you can add a little of the tank water to the bag and let it float a while longer, so the fish has a chance to adjust to the change.
  6. After about 30 minutes, you can release the fish into their new home.

How to Clean a Betta Tank

Bettas love swimming in clean water. Perform regular maintenance to ensure water parameters are optimal.

  • The tank should be thoroughly cleaned once a week using only fresh, clean water and an aquarium scouring brush.
  • Do not use soap to clean any part of the tank or its accessories, as even trace amounts of soap can be fatal to this species of fish.
  • Also, plan to remove and replace about 20 percent of the tank's water each week to remove built-up toxins.

Feeding Your Betta

A betta's stomach is about the size of its eyeball, so take care not to feed your fish too much at once. Any uneaten food will fall to the bottom of the tank where it will rot and affect the water quality. These fish can eat a wide range of foods, but some bettas are fussy eaters. Most bettas will do just fine eating a daily diet of a few betta pellets and a tiny pinch of betta flakes, preferably broken up into two smaller meals.

Feeding Live Food and Other Choices

Bettas can also eat brine shrimp (fresh or frozen), bloodworms, and daphnia (fresh or freeze-dried). Bettas do enjoy live food and, in some cases, very picky bettas will only accept live food. However, too much live food can lead to obesity, so watch your fish for excessive weight gain.

Feed Peas to Avoid Constipation

Bettas are prone to constipation, so to help prevent it, feed the fish one cooked, cooled, and de-shelled pea once a week, followed by a day of fasting to clear the digestive tract. Remove any uneaten portion after a few minutes to avoid spoiling the water.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Bettas

Keeping a betta also entails having a general knowledge of the types of diseases that can affect these fish. The sooner you notice a problem, the more likely you can provide your betta with medical care to help them recuperate. Most pet supply stores should have the treatments you'll need to care for your fish. Common ailments include:

  • Fin rot
  • Constipation
  • Ich
  • Velvet
  • Fungal infections
  • Swim bladder disease

Proper Care Leads to a Healthy Betta

Bettas are really very easy to care for once you get used to the routine. Continue to follow these betta fish care instructions, and your new pet will provide you with several years of graceful beauty and enjoyment.

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Essential Betta Fish Care Instructions