Betta Fish Care 101: Care, Feeding, & Health (2024 Guide)

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Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: May 12, 2024
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The tradition of the Siamese fighting fish has entertained people for centuries. Even though we no longer engage them in battles for spectacle, the lively energy of these tropical fish continues to enchant us. As a result, we’ve compiled an extensive guide on betta fish care, drawing from extensive research and expertise.

Article Summary

  • Betta fish come in various colors and have different tail shapes, including veil tail, half-moon tail, and double tail.
  • Common betta fish diseases include Tail and Fin Rot, Dropsy, Ich, Swim Bladder Disorder, and Betta Tumors, so proper care and a clean tank can help prevent these illnesses.
  • Bettas do not need direct sunlight, but they require 8-12 hours of light per day, either from natural or artificial sources.

How to take care of a betta fish

Betta fish care requires at least a 5 gallon tank, aquarium heater, filter, some fish tank decorations, and a willingness to learn. While it’s not difficult to care for a betta it does require some basic aquarium knowledge which is why we’ve created this betta fish care guide to help out.

Are betta fish easy to take care of?

Betta fish are extremely easy to take care of, are low maintenance, and are considered to be one of the best beginner fish.

Betta Fish Species Overview

Common names:Betta fish, Siamese fighting fish
Scientific name:Betta splendens
Size:1-5.5 inches
Lifespan:2-5 years
Family:Osphronemidae
Genus:Betta
Distribution:Southeast Asia
Color:Varies
Diet:Carnivore
Temperament:Semi-aggressive and territorial
Minimum tank size:5 gallons
Place in the tank:All over
Care Level:Beginner
Breeding:Capable in captivity

Chapter 1: Betta Fish History and Background

A common exotic fish, the betta might have a richer history than you know.

What is a betta fish?

Betta fish, or siamese fighting fish, is a species of ray-finned fish known for their long and ornate tails and feisty personality. popular in the aquarium hobby due to their bright colors and active interest in the world around them.

Origin

Betta’s are tropical fish and were originally found in Southeast Asia where there were shallow, freshwater reservoirs like puddles, marshes, and rice paddies. Historically betta fish were collected from the wild and placed in an arena of sorts as people would watch them fight.

Natural Habitat

Bettas hail from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, and wild bettas are still found in the shallow pools and puddles of the land. To better live in this environment betta’s developed a labyrinth organ that helps them breathe the air above the surface, as well as keep their gills like other fish.

Because of this labyrinth organ bettas can survive in oxygen-poor environments. Other labyrinth fish include gouramis, leopard bush fish, and ctenopoma.

Chapter 2: Betta Fish Appearance

Betta Fish Side View
Betta Fish Side View

Well known for their beautiful coloring, most bettas have been selectively bred to have longer, flashier tails and patterns.

What do betta fish look like?

These popular fish are well known for their bright colors and long flowing fins. In the wild betta fish have a gray-green coloration with short fins which allows them to swim fast and hop from puddle to puddle in their natural environment. They have been selectively bred for the spectacular colors you see in the pet store, though they are still very active fish.

You’ll also notice that while the male bettas have large dorsal, anal, and tail fins the female bettas do not. This is because males with more colors and larger fins are more often selected by the female betta fish to father offspring.

Betta fish variety

Not only do betta’s come in a variety of colors they also have been bred for several tail shapes. We’ve included the more common below,

Veil tail

These bettas have a large tail that tends to droop downwards because of their length and weight.

Half-moon tail

These bettas have a tail that fans out behind it and when fully open resembles a half-moon. Their tails can spread as wide as 180 degrees from top to bottom.

Double tail

A double-tailed betta has a tail that is split down the middle into two lobes due to a genetic mutation. These lobes can be similar or completely different depending on the individual.

How big do betta fish get?

Most bettas won’t grow larger than 3 inches (though they have been known to grow up to 5 inches!), and the female is most often smaller than male bettas. Males average 2.6 inches whereas female bettas are generally only 2.25 inches.

How fast do betta fish grow?

Bettas are usually considered to be mature and mostly finished growing around 7 months old, but this can change depending on the environment and care given. Most pet stores sell these fish when they are between 6 months and 1 year old.

How fast and how large a betta grows depends on environmental and care factors such as the size of the tank, parameters of the water, and a balanced and varied diet. In other words, the better care you take the faster and larger your betta will grow.

Chapter 3: Betta Fish Temperament and Tankmates

Koi Angelfish with Betta
Koi Angelfish with Betta

Known for their feisty personality betta’s are very specific when it comes to who they’ll accept as tankmates.

Can betta fish live together?

Male betta fish should absolutely NOT live together. They are very territorial and will fight if kept in the same tank.

A female betta can be kept with another female as they are not nearly as territorial. However, you should carefully watch the two to make sure they don’t exhibit any aggression toward each other.

Male and female bettas can cohabitate for short periods of time and when breeding, but a majority of the time the male will still be territorial towards the female.

RECOMMENDATION

You shouldn’t attempt to keep more than two females in one tank as they are still slightly territorial and will occasionally show aggression toward each other. If you keep 3 or more females in a tank they will likely team up and bully the weakest member.

How many betta fish should I keep?

How many betta fish you have really depends on how many separate tanks you have room for and what gender of betta fish you are keeping. Each male betta needs a separate 5-gallon tank (minimum). If you’re planning to keep two female bettas together you should have a 20-30 gallon tank as the smaller the tank the more likely it is they will fight.

What fish can live with betta fish?

Due to their territorialism tank mates should have a peaceful personality, be able to hold their own, and not be tempted to nibble on your betta’s fins.

Top 5 compatible tank mates

  • Mystery snails

An excellent tank mate as they are docile, have a shell in which to retreat if a betta gets aggressive, and will help manage algae growth in your tank.

  • Cory catfish

Easy to care for and have similar water parameters as bettas they are large enough to hold their own, but not so intimidating that your betta would view them as a threat.

A shoaling fish that will match your bettas activity level and vibrant coloring.

  • African Dwarf Frogs

Relatively peaceful and not bothered by the aggressive betta nature. You will need a larger than a five gallon tank to keep these beauties.

  • Neon Tetras

Unlikely to be threatened by your betta because of their speed and preference for schools. They generally enjoy a heavily planted tank to ensure hiding spaces.

TIP

When choosing any of these tank mates remember that you will need a larger tank for each additional fish you add.

Top 5 Tank mates to avoid

  • Other bettas

Do not try to keep multiple male bettas in the same tank unless you have a colored divider to prevent them from seeing each other. Females can be placed together but should be observed carefully for any signs of aggression or bullying.

  • Barbs

Barbs will likely nip at your betta’s tail making them likely to get attacked.

  • Dwarf Cichlids

Also well known for being a nippy species, they will likely mistake your betta’s tail as a worm, insect, or other prey and try to eat it.

  • Dianos

With activity levels higher than your bettas, dianos will likely disturb their peace and quiet making them unhappy campers.

  • Gouramis

Like bettas gouramis have a labyrinth organ. When oxygen levels are low both fish will try to inhabit the same territory at the top of the tank leading to potential problems.

Chapter 4: Betta Fish Tank Requirements

Betta Swimming In a Planted Tank
Betta Swimming In a Planted Tank

Bettas are curious about nature and love exploring their habitat. A tank that is diverse and offers lots of stimuli such as live plants, caves, and other toys will make your betta happy.

Betta fish tank setup

Betta fish care is relatively easy especially when it comes to tank setup. Tank water should always be treated with a water conditioner before being added to a tank and fresh water changes should occur weekly.

TIP
Distilled water should not be added into your tank’s water unless it has had proper minerals added to it. Distilled means that all of the natural vitamins and minerals have been filtered out of the water, if added to your aquarium water you could have a sick betta due to lack of trace elements such as magnesium or sulfate.

The most common mistakes when it comes to betta fish care are not keeping the tank water at the temperature bettas require and not checking water quality often enough.

Substrate:Sand
Filter:Yes
Water Heater:Yes
Lighting:8-12 hrs a day

Tank Shape

Betta’s aren’t picky on tank shape and will explore all corners of the aquarium regardless. However, you should make sure that your betta has enough room to swim around, especially if you have a community tank with other fish.

Water Parameters

Tank Size:>5 gallons
Water Type:Freshwater
Water temperature:75-81
Water pH:6.5-7.5
Water hardness:3-4 dGH
Water Salinity:0
Nitrate:<20ppm

What size tank do I need for betta fish?

You should have a minimum of five gallons for one betta fish. Many people keep bettas in smaller tanks not realizing that a one gallon tank is actually detrimental to their health. Bettas need to be constantly exercised and stimulated by their environment, something that is only possible in larger tanks

Plants For Betta Fish

Bettas like heavily planted tanks as it reminds them of their natural environment and gives them plenty of places to play and hide. Some of our top recommended betta plants include;

  • Java Moss
  • Hornwort
  • Amazon Sword
  • Marimo Moss Balls
  • Duckweed

Do bettas need filter?

Yes, betta fish need a filter, especially if you have a small tank. A betta fish filter will help ensure your betta lives a long and healthy life and reduces the amount of tank maintenance you have to do.

Why do I need a heater?

Because bettas come from a tropical environment their tank needs to stay at a high temperature range. Not only should you have an aquarium heater you should also keep an aquarium safe thermometer in your betta’s tank to monitor conditions.

Betta Substrate

Many aquarists use sand or medium-sized gravel as betta substrate for their tank. Not only does this provide somewhere for any live plants to root, it can also be used to replicate a betta’s natural environment.

TIP

I often don’t use substrate in my betta fish’s tank unless I am planting something because I find it hard to clean and keep ammonia pockets from happening.

How should I decorate my betta tank?

Bettas are smart fish and need lots of stimulation to stay happy. You should consider adding live plants or artificial plants, leaf hammocks, betta toys, and betta logs, as well as creating several hiding places where your betta can get away from external stimulation.

Do I need an aquarium light?

We get it, aquarium lights show off betta’s iridescent scales and can be beautiful. However, betta only need light 8-12 hours a day, more than that and it will start interrupting their sleeping patterns. If you do choose to use an aquarium light be sure it is on a timer so that your betta’s circadian rhythm is not interrupted.

TIP

Don’t put your betta tank in direct sunlight. Not only could this heat up the water temperature it can also cause extreme algal growth.

Chapter 5: Betta Fish Care

Betta Close Up
Betta Close Up

Betta fish are easy to care for once you understand their requirements as well as the warning signs of any health problems.

Diet

To keep your betta fish healthy you should feed it a diet that is rich in protein and nutrition. A variety of live, frozen, and freeze-dried food is best with supplemental commercial pellet or flake food. If you run out of betta fish food, some human food you have in your home like peas, raw fish, and raw shrimp can work as a substitute in the meantime.

RECOMMENDATION

While it’s great to feed your betta a diet that replicates what they would get in the wild, it’s also beneficial to supplement their diet with commercially available food such as betta flakes or pellets. These have been specifically crafted to contain vitamins and minerals that betta’s in captivity might not get.

What do betta fish eat in nature?

In nature betta most often eat insect larvae, fish larvae, and whatever other small organisms they can find.

What to feed betta fish?

You should feed your betta a mix of frozen food, live food, and commercially available betta food to ensure that they are getting all of the minerals and vitamins they need. Examples of common frozen and live food include brine shrimp, blood worms, and tubifex worms.

TIP

When feeding betta commercially available food do not use flakes more than 3 months old, and pellets more than 6 months old as they will lose their nutritional value.

When to feed betta fish?

Betta fish should be fed twice a day, in the morning and evening to replicate their hunting patterns in the wild (dawn and dusk).

How much to feed betta fish?

Feed your betta a pinch or two (3-4 pellets or flakes) of food at every feeding. If they seem disinterested, scoop any uneaten food out of the aquarium. They are likely full and the uneaten food can lead to an increase in nitrates.

How to feed betta fish?

I usually just drop my betta’s food in the top of their tank and allow them to nibble at it at will, however, some aquarists choose to have a more personal experience by hand-feeding their betta.

  1. To do so first make sure your hands are clean of all lotions, soaps, and cosmetic products, even the unscented kind. Your hands should also not have any open cuts on them.
  2. Before starting to feed them by hand you need to allow your betta to become used to your hand. Do this by placing your hand in the water while they’re eating, this will take patience as betta are usually skittish and shy.
  3. Once your fish have gotten used to your hand being in the water you can hold food between your fingers while also offering it elsewhere in the aquarium. Your fish will eventually figure out that there is more food in your hand and happily nibble at it. While your fish is eating you should keep your hand as still as possible so as not to disturb it.

Hand feeding isn’t necessary for betta fish care, and there are many other ways to feed your betta including tweezers with blunted ends, drop feeding, or automatic feeders.

Health

An apple a day keeps the betta doctor away? Probably not, but it is a good idea to feed your betta a high quality diet to ensure their health is top notch.

Signs of healthy betta

A betta fish’s health can be judged by its activity level, the brightness of its coloring, and behaviors such as making a bubble nest (only males). If you notice loss of color (sometimes this is because your betta is sleeping!), unusual hiding, not eating, inactive at the bottom, or lack of normal activities is likely a sign that something is wrong with your betta and there could be stressors (such as water quality, or light intensity) or it is sick.

Common Betta Fish diseases

Tail and Fin Rot

Unfortunately, this is one of the most common betta diseases due to improper betta fish care. This disease looks like an animal has taken bites out of your betta’s tail or fins, leaving jagged edges. Fortunately, it is easy to prevent and treat. To prevent tail and fin rot you just need to keep your aquarium clean. To treat fin rot use antibiotics such as trimethoprim, erythromycin, and sulfadimidine.

Dropsy

Dropsy is fairly uncommon, but deadly if not spotted soon enough. Most of the time it is mistaken for constipation or swim bladder disease, but the tell-tale sign is the fish’s scales sticking straight out like a pinecone. To prevent this you should keep your tank clean as well as feeding your betta a vitamin rich diet. Treatment includes using epsom salt to help drain fluid and reduce swelling.

Ich

Every fish owner’s worst nightmare, ich is also called the white spot disease as a result of the markings it leaves. Treatment can include using aquarium salt, or Fish-zole.

Swim Bladder Disorder

This disease is fairly easy to recognize as your fish will be swimming upside down or sideways due to an internal imbalance. To treat, lower the water levels to be just barely higher than your fish, raise the water temperature, allow the fish to fast for a few days, and then feed them shelled peas. This will hopefully encourage the passing of the gasses built up in the swim bladder.

Betta Tumors

Mainly affecting reproductive organs, abdomen, tail, and gills, these tumors can be caused by genetic mutations, or viral infections and can be the result of cancer, growths, or cysts. Depending on the cause, surgery, or other treatment options can be beneficial. You should discuss with your vet the best treatment plan for you.

Betta fish lifespan

Betta fish live 2-5 years in captivity and about 2 years in the wild. The best way to ensure that your betta will live the longest is by getting your new fish from a good breeder who will be able to tell you the history and genes of your new betta fish. To ensure maximum lifespan you should also provide the best possible care and high quality diet.

Chapter 6: Betta Fish Breeding

Two Betta Fish
Two Betta Fish

Breeding bettas is not for the weak at heart, in fact, many breeders are unsuccessful in their attempts.

Can you breed a betta fish?

Breeding betta fish can be tricky due to their territorialism and you should never attempt to breed a female betta fish before she has the barring pattern across its abdomen.

Additionally, once bred you have to find separate tanks for each baby betta as they can not cohabitate.

How to breed a betta fish?

To breed betta you first need to set up a breeding tank somewhere private, and it should be a long and low tank. Begin setting up this tank prior to getting your mating pair.

When choosing your breeding pair take into account these factors

  • Color
  • Fins
  • Activity level

Once you’re ready to start the breeding process you should know that the whole thing will take roughly two days to ensure your bettas have been properly introduced.

One of the most popular and well known rituals of the mating dance is the male betta fish making a bubble nest, where he will later house the eggs and fry. If the female isn’t satisfied with the bubble nest she’ll make him build it over and over again.

When the female finally accepts the male’s mating proposal she’ll begin laying eggs and the male will follow behind her fertilizing them. Once the spawning process occurs you should immediately remove the female betta fish, and leave the male to take care of the babies until they become free-swimming.

FAQS

Can betta fish live in tap water?

It depends on where you are sourcing your water from, prior to adding tap water to your aquarium you should test it to see what the natural water parameters are. Regardless of the parameters, you should always treat water with a conditioner before adding it to your aquarium.

Most municipalities treat their water with chemicals such as chlorine, if not properly conditioned these additives can kill your fish.

Do betta fish need sunlight?

Bettas don’t necessarily need sunlight, but they do need light for 8-12 hours a day. Whether this is sunlight or an aquarium light is up to you, but you should make sure that your betta has a consistent light/dark schedule each day, or else your betta fish won’t be able to sleep.

Do betta fish need a place to sleep?

No, betta’s sleep wherever they feel safe regardless of any sleeping areas you add in a tank for them.

How often do you change betta fish water?

Depending on your tank size and bioload you should aim to do a 25% water change each week. A smaller betta tank or higher bioload means more water changes.

Is the betta fish for you?

If you’re looking for a curious companion that is sure to be a talking point, the betta fish might be for you. As a low maintenance species, it’s perfect for a home office or on display in the dining room. If you can change their water once a week, feed them twice a day, and install a filter plus heater in their tank, then you’re ready to care for your betta fish!

Conclusion

Betta fish are a fun, low maintenance fish perfectly suited to beginners. They only need to be fed twice a day and with so many different varieties available, there are plenty of bright, colorful options to choose from.

They’ll love a tank with lots of plants, and they’re best-suited to tropical waters so be sure to install an aquarium heater to watch this fish flourish!

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