There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there about betta fish care.
And to be honest, we’re not really sure why. Betta fish are one of the most popular choices in the freshwater aquarium community.
You would think that there’d be a more consistent understanding of how to keep them happy and healthy.
Our theory is that it has something to do with the popularity, which means there’s more of a chance for differing opinions to get passed around.
But who knows what the reason is.
That’s why we wanted to put together this betta fish care guide as soon as possible. We get asked so many questions about this fish on social media and via our contact page that it was long overdue.
In this guide you’ll learn everything there is to know about betta fish care, with some extra facts and information thrown in too!
Table of Contents
- Species Summary
- How To Care For A Betta Fish
- Water Parameters
- Tank Size
- Additional Tank Recommendations
- What Do Betta Fish Eat?
- Common Betta Fish Diseases & Health Issues
- Behavior & Temperament
- Betta Fish Tank Mates
- Breeding Betta Fish
- Phase 1: Courting
- Phase 2: Fertilization
- Pass It On!
Betta fish (sometimes called the Siamese fighting fish) are an extremely common choice in the aquarium community. They’re beautiful and have a unique temperament that can be fun to observe.
A common misconception, however, is that betta fish are a low-maintenance species. They have a specific set of needs that must be met, and if cared for correctly, can be a good choice for your tank.
Betta fish are a small yet fierce freshwater tropical fish native to countries in Asia and can live to be anywhere around three years old. They are found in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Thailand (they’ve even been named Thailand’s national fish). They’re quite adaptive and can regularly be found in rivers, streams, and even rice paddies.
They’ve been said to be trainable, being smart enough to recognize who is caring for them. You can even teach them very simple tricks if you want!
Aside from their intelligence, they have one fascinating trait they are known for – their labyrinth organ which is very similar to a lung. This means they fall into the category of “labyrinth fish” because this organ allows them to gulp air from the surface of the water.
This trait can make them more tolerant of poor water conditions out in the wild, although you should still aim for perfect water quality in your tank at home (more on that later).
Bettas are small fish, growing only up to about three inches in length. Once they’re about 7 months old they’ll typically be done with their growth for the most part. However, they can sometimes get a little bigger after this time period.
The size of your fish is influenced by all of the usual factors:
- The quality of betta fish care you provide in your tank
- The quality of care from the pet store that sold you your fish
When you compare female betta fish to males, the biggest difference in size can be noticed in the fins. Male betta fish have larger and longer fins than females and possess a slightly wider body (although the difference there is small).
The appearance of betta fish is usually the main reason why an owner got them in the first place. They really are stunning to look at!
Bettas come in a variety of colors, but blue and red variations are the most commonly seen. Other less common colors betta fish are seen in are black, metallic variations, and multi-color.
They have fins that are large and flowing in comparison to their small bodies and are bright in color. Their colors can flash brighter if they are threatened or mating, which can be beautiful to watch.
How To Care For A Betta Fish
Like we hinted at earlier, betta fish care is something that can be a little trickier than many aquarists realize. This isn’t something that should turn you away if you want to get one, but you need to be aware of it.
In this section, we walk through the main areas of betta fish care that you need to get right and why they matter.
The key to caring for any fish, especially bettas, is maintaining consistent water quality, parameters, and conditions. Failing to do this can cause a sudden change in temperature or chemical levels, which can compromise their health and immune system or even be fatal.
The ideal water temperature for your betta fish should be between 74 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to place the tank by a window that gets lots of sun, or a heat/air-conditioning vent, as this could alter the water temperature.
The pH of the water should be between 6 and 8 – very close to neutral, with a hardness between 5 and 35 dGH.
Water should be dechlorinated to safe limits, and ammonia levels should be zero parts per million. Nitrate levels should stay below 40 ppm, and nitrite levels should be zero ppm.
As always, testing the water levels every few weeks with a test kit will help you keep your aquarium in these ranges. Tanks must be filled with filtered water, or tap water that has gone through a dechlorination process (conditioning).
Important note: NEVER use distilled water, because it lacks important nutrients.
Your tank water must be through one complete cycle before your betta fish are added (we recommend using a water conditioner too). Having a reliable filtration system is crucial as well. About 25 percent of the water in the tank should be renewed weekly – NEVER do a 100 percent water change.
Every two weeks or so, it’s a good idea to clean the gravel/substrate, as well as the “furniture” in the tank. You can use a strainer to sift out the gravel and rinse it, as well as using an algae magnet inside the tank.
Plants and other items in the tank can be gently scrubbed and rinsed with fresh water. Do NOT use soap. At this time, half of the tank water can be dumped out and replaced with new filtered water.
Sticking with the recommended tank size for your betta is essential if you want them to thrive.
Betta fish should have a minimum tank size of five gallons. A good general rule is to add a gallon for every additional fish. So basically, start with a five gallon tank and work your way up from there.
It is common to use bowls to house betta fish, but this is not something we recommend. Bowls tend to not provide the necessary amount of space for these fish, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress.
Additional Tank Recommendations
There are a number of other miscellaneous tank recommendations that you should be aware of if you want to provide excellent betta fish care.
Before we get into the list, always make sure that whatever goes into your aquarium is labeled as “aquarium safe”. Any furniture or plants should also be rinsed with fresh water to remove debris before they are placed in the betta tank.
Important elements of a healthy betta fish tank include:
- A filtration system: A filter with internal adjustable power is best – this will allow you to ensure the water isn’t moving too swiftly for the betta’s liking.
- A heater: The most common type are fully submersible water heaters.
- Substrate: A gentle substrate of pebbles, sand, etc. is ideal. One to two inches of a finely-milled substrate is best. This will prevent your fish from scratching themselves on the bottom. It is a good idea to rinse the substrate and get rid of any sharp pieces before placing it in the tank.
- Plants: Plants provide a good place to retreat, as well as a pleasant visual effect. Fake plants should be silk, so as not to scratch the fish. Harsh plastic should be avoided. Live plants serve this purpose and can improve the cleanliness of the tank as well. Just make sure that access to the surface isn’t obstructed, as bettas like to eat on the surface of the water.
- Lighting: Betta fish enjoy a well-lit tank, without harsh outside light. Too much direct sunlight can promote algal growth as well. Most tank owners prefer a luminescent tank light or an LED.
It’s best to find a quiet place to put their tank, as loud noises can cause stress (which will impact their overall health).
Betta fish are not exceptionally strong swimmers, so anything more than a gentle current will cause them stress as well. Because of their interesting ability to receive air from the surface, betta fish do not need an aerator in the tank.
Lastly. it’s IMPORTANT to have a sturdy lid on an aquarium housing bettas. They come up to the surface frequently and can jump out of the water quite well.
What Do Betta Fish Eat?
It’s very important that your betta fish eat the proper food. A well-rounded diet allows them to be happier, more active, and brighter in color.
They’re carnivores, easily achieved through betta fish flakes. Though their main fish food should consist of the flakes, they may also be given live food like brine shrimp or bloodworms occasionally as a snack to enjoy.
How Often Should You Feed Betta Fish
Most adult fish eat twice each day. Each fish only needs a “pinch” of flakes per feeding.
Because they are so active, Betta fish tend to eat more than they need. This makes it very easy to overfeed them (especially if you’re using food to help train them to do tricks).
An effective way to avoid this is by giving them no more than they can eat in five minutes.
Your betta may be overfed if it is acting lethargic or swimming abnormally. If this becomes the case, skip one day of feeding.
Common Betta Fish Diseases & Health Issues
It’s important to know which behaviors are a sign of illness in your betta fish. Watching for these behaviors and symptoms can be crucial in keeping your fish alive.
Common issues include:
- Cuts/scrapes: This can be caused by substrate or tank mates. These can become infected, so it is important to be aware of any and check them daily.
- Fin rot: This can be caused by bacteria in unclean water, or as a symptom of another problem. Fin rot typically starts at the fin’s edge, causing the tissue to become dull and lifeless-looking.
- Overfeeding: As mentioned above, lethargy or abnormal swimming style can be an indication of overfeeding. This can be remedied by skipping a day of feeding. Many betta fish owners “fast” their fish for a day each week to regulate digestive health and prevent overfeeding before it happens.
- Lymphocystis: A viral infection denoted by small, white dots that develop into cauliflower-like growth on the skin.
- White Spot Disease or “ich”: Often confused with Lymphocystis, this results in white spots that look like grains of salt on the skin.
Other general abnormal behaviors to watch for include hypodynamia (decreased or halted use of muscles), fish scraping their bodies along the bottom, swelling of the abdomen, hiding excessively, decreased appetite, and holding fins against the body.
Quick tip: Many tank owners add aquarium salt to the water to decrease swelling and stress in their fish, as well as to improve fin health.
Behavior & Temperament
Betta fish are very active fish, which can make them fun to observe. They go up to the surface frequently and are hungry often.
They are also very protective of their space, and good betta fish care requires you to be aware of this. You’ll have to make sure that you pair them with the proper tank mates (more on that in the section below).
This protective nature can even apply to people viewing the aquarium as well. They’ll often swim up to the glass to investigate an onlooker and even flash their colors as a warning! When threatened, betta fish will also puff out their fins and gill covers to convince you that they are not to be messed with.
While we wouldn’t consider betta fish to be as aggressive as a fish like the Jack Dempsey, they’re definitely capable of being quite mean in the right situations. This is something you need to be aware of as an owner for their sake and the sake of other fish in the tank.
Betta Fish Tank Mates
Due to the potentially aggressive nature of this fish, extreme care must be exercised when looking for betta fish tank mates (if this is something you feel comfortable doing). Some owners don’t even consider this option because they don’t want the hassle, and that’s fine too.
However, we think that it’s still important to know what betta fish tank mates make sense because it will give you a better understanding of your fish.
First off, there must NEVER be two male betta fish in the same tank. They will have the need to assert dominance, and the result will be a severe injury, and most likely the death of one or both of the males.
Two female fish may be housed with one male. Up to five females can live in the same tank together, but there is never a guarantee that your fish won’t fight. They can be extremely combative and must be watched for conflict if they are to share a tank.
If you have a naturally aggressive fish, then allowing it to have space is the right thing to do. Sometimes betta fish care can come down to knowing what’s right for your individual fish, not best practices.
If you want a tank mate of a different species, there are some rules to follow when deciding on a good combination for a community tank:
- Tank mates must be larger, and aggressive enough to defend themselves if needed.
- Fish duller in color are best. If they are too vibrant in color or have flowing tails, the betta fish may flash their colors and feel the need to compete.
- Tank mates must have the same water condition requirements.
- There must be plenty of room in the tank to avoid unnecessary conflict. Water must be added with larger tank mates.
Breeding Betta Fish
Breeding betta fish can be an intricate and fascinating process if done correctly. There are a fair amount of steps to take, but when combined they increase your chances of breeding successfully.
These steps can be done in two phases: courting and fertilization. The female is only present for the first phase.
Phase 1: Courting
Select The Bettas You Want To Breed
To start, you’ll want to select a male and female to breed. The pair should be free of any health problems. When deciding on which female and male to choose, most people take into account their favorite color variations.
The female should be slightly smaller than the male, and both fish should be properly “conditioned” (fed a high-protein diet leading up to the intended breeding time). The most successful breeding attempts happen between fish that are within four to twelve months of age.
Get Them Used To The Tank And Each Other
Once your pair is selected, it is time to acclimate them to the breeding tank (properly cycled) and to each other. This will be their new home for a time, so you want them to feel comfortable.
The breeding tank should have only three to five inches of water in it, to encourage close proximity, as well as the necessary heater and filter. The filter should be extra gentle at this point – moving the water too much will disturb the bubble nest that the male will construct later.
There should be NO substrate at the bottom-when the eggs are laid, they could sink to the bottom and be lost in the pebbles/sand! You should also have plants in the breeding tank to give the female places to hide during the breeding process, as the males can get violent.
Most breeders put a divider in the tank to separate the male and female while they get acclimated, that still allows them to see each other. The lighting should be dim- the pair need their privacy!
On the male’s side, he will need a floating area on the surface that will allow him to attach his bubble nest when the time comes. This can be anything that floats, such as styrofoam, driftwood or leaves.
Look For Signs Of Interest
As the male betta fish becomes interested in the female, he may start to nip at the divider, and he will darken in color.
If interested, the female betta fish will display vertical stripes (called her “barring pattern”), and will darken as well. Her ovipositer (the area she lays eggs from) will protrude more, and she will move her tail in the direction of the male.
It’s at this time that the male will construct his bubble nest, using the surface mentioned above. The divider may be removed, but it is crucial to watch for lethal conflicts.
Should the male get too violent, they may need to be separated. If the female betta fish immediately destroys the bubble nest, they will also need to be separated, and the process will need to start over.
Let The Games Begin
During the mating process, the pair will chase each other around the tank, flashing their colors. They may bite at each other, and the female may hide until she’s ready to submit.
When this happens, the male will flip her upside-down and will start to fertilize her eggs as she releases them. They will do this on and off for a while.
Once the female betta fish has laid all of her eggs, she will swim away, and the male will begin carrying the eggs to the bubble nest. The female should be removed at this time to avoid conflict and to prevent her from eating any of the eggs.
Phase 2: Fertilization
The male betta fish will release what is called milt into the water to fertilize the group of eggs, called the fry. In the next day or two, the male will maintain the nest, catching the babies when they’ve used up the oxygen in the bubble nest and start to sink.
He will repair the nest, placing the babies back until they start to swim, after about four days. The male should be removed at this time, the breeding process complete.
Pass It On!
Now that you have a better understanding about betta fish care, you’ll be able to help your fish thrive and give them the quality of life that they deserve.
But don’t stop there.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, there’s a lot of misinformation about betta fish care being passed around online. Now that you know what to do and what to avoid, pass on the knowledge!
Betta fish aren’t going to stop being popular anytime soon. The more we can educate owners about how to take proper care of their fish, the better off everyone will be.
Link to this guide, share it on social media, or just blab about what you learned to your aquarist friends. It will help us slowly ensure that these fish live better lives in aquariums around the world.