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Betta Fish Care: Complete Guide on How to Take Care of a Betta Fish

Bettas are top dwelling fish that are part of the Osphronemidae, or Gourami, family. Their scientific names is Betta splendens. They are found in shallow, slow moving pools and streams in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam; they are usually found alone foraging for food. The captive keeping of the betta fish first started over 150 years ago in Thailand where children would keep two in one enclosure and watch them fight, which gave them their second name the Siamese fighting fish. With such popularity, the fish has also been selectively bred for certain traits, such as the crowntail betta

The Betta fish, was discovered in Southeast Asia where they claimed ditches and floodplains as their home. In this environment the water generally flows fairly slowly, however there are regularly storms and droughts, the betta fish adapted to these conditions and became a fish that can take in oxygen from the air and its gills, allowing them to survive outside the water for a short amount of time to allow them to find another water source. Fish with this unique ability are known as the labyrinth fish as they hold the labyrinth organ. Due to this ability, betta fish in captivity are able to withstand poor water conditions; however their environment should still be regularly cleaned the same as any other fish. 

Betta fish are one of the most popular fish kept by both beginners and experienced fish enthusiasts, however they are not as easy to care for as many people may think. 

Quick Betta Fish Care Summary

Betta Fish Care Summary
FamilyOsphronemidae
Care levelIntermediate
TemperamentTerritorial, usually peaceful
Lifespan3-4 years
Size2.5-3 inches
ColorVarious color morphs
DietCarnivore 
Minimum tank size5-10 gallons
pH levels6.8-7.5
Water hardness5 – 20 dGH
Temperature range76-83℉ (24.4-28℃)
CompatibilityOther peaceful community fish
Tank set upFreshwater planted tank

Appearance

The most common factor that appeals so many people to the betta fish are their vibrant colors and beautiful fins, especially those of the male bettas as their fins are long and flowing. In the wild, their colors aren’t as vibrant, captive breeding has resulted in a wider variety of colors including black, yellow, blue, pink, red and orange. They also come in a variety of patterns.

Male and female bettas both have small bodies with upturned mouths designed for feeding at the surface of the water. Adults can grow up to 3 inches long, the males being slightly bigger than the females. 

Housing 

Many inexperienced fish lovers think of a small bowl and little care when it comes to the betta fish, however this is not the case. This myth is related to where betta fish are found in the wild, in small puddles and streams, however these water sources are still large in volume, and have plenty of room and places to shelter. Betta fish have requirements and needs just like any other fish, they need space to roam and places to hide, they are also known to thrive in a community tank. 

In terms of housing, betta fish don’t require a large tank, especially if they’re being housed alone. For full information read our best betta fish tank guide. They need a minimum of 5 gallons, however we do recommend you give your betta a 10 gallon tank, as this will give your betta a comfortable amount of room for a small price. A 10 gallon tank will also be much easier to keep clean and maintain the nitrogen cycle, as well as the temperature. A larger tank will require less frequent water changes and cleaning. If you wish to house other fish with your betta, ensure that you buy a bigger tank to suit the needs of each individual fish. Adding more fish into an aquarium decreases the amount of room in that space. 

The size and structure of your bettas enclosure will have a big impact on their behavior, their bright and beautiful colors can begin to fade if they are put in an unsuitable or stressful environment, and their behavior will begin to decline, usually seen by laying on the bottom of their tank and not moving or eating. 

As these fish have a labyrinth organ and take in oxygen from the air, it is important to not fill the water up until it touches the lid, as to keep a gap for them to do this. It is also important to have a lid on the aquarium, as many bettas are guilty of jumping out of their tank. Floating aquarium plants are also a no, especially spreading species like dwarf water lettuce, as they will cover the surface preventing air intake.

Bettas also require a consistent day and night pattern, where they have light in the day and darkness at night. This can be done using natural light (not directly by a window), or artificial light. We recommend using an artificial light in the aquarium, which can be fitted into the lid, to ensure they always have a light source even when the natural light is darker than usual or if your house gets shut off from the outside light. Aquarium lights are easy to use and can be turned off at night manually or set on a timer to do so automatically. An aquarium light is also essential if you’re keeping live plants in your betta tank. Here are some lights we recommend for your betta tank:

LED lights – These lights are perfect for an aquarium that already has a heater or one that you do not want to increase the water temperature, as these LED lights do not emit heat. These LED lights listed below can be turned on or off both automatically and manually depending on how you choose to set it up. They also come in different sizes for you to choose which is more suitable for your aquarium. 

Betta Fish Water Conditions and Temperature  

When setting up a betta tank, it is important to ensure the most basic actions are carried out to improve the water quality and make a suitable environment for your loving betta. The first step to do when considering the water conditions is to take any chemicals and contaminants out of the water you wish to put into the tank, the main one being chlorine. This is easily done using a water conditioner. we recommend the Tetra Aquasafe Water Conditioner that is specifically for bettas, as this neutralizes the substances that are harmful to bettas such as chlorine, ammonia and heavy metals. 

Sale
Tetra BettaSafe, aquarium Water Conditioner For Bettas, 1.69-Ounce, 50-Ml, Golds & Yellows, Model:16837
  • WATER CONDITIONER: Makes tap water safe for bettas and other ornamental fish.
  • REDUCES STRESS: Neutralizes harmful chlorine, chloramines, ammonia and heavy metals in aquarium water.
  • FAST-ACTING: Works in seconds.
  • COMPLETE FORMULA: Use when setting up a new aquarium, with monthly partial water changes and evaporation replacement.
  • USAGE: Use monthly for maintenance.

This water conditioner should be measured correctly as instructed on the bottle, and used every time you add new water into the tank. Using a conditioner will prevent your betta from becoming sick or even dying from the substances in the water. If you can install an RODI water unit then even better. These units provide perfectly clean water perfect for bettas.

It is also important to maintain the cleanliness of the water, this is done by using a high quality filter. Filters should be used in all aquariums over 3 gallons, as they do various jobs to keep the tank clean and safe; this includes removing harmful bacteria and maintaining the levels of healthy bacteria. Filters, especially for small tanks, are relatively inexpensive and will save money in the long run due to their efficient cleaning system. To find the best filter for your betta tank, see our article on the Best Filter For Betta Fish.

As betta fish are found in warm, tropical climates in Thailand, they do prefer warmer waters. The temperature in a betta tank should ideally be 80-83℉ (26-28℃), if the temperature drops below 76℉ the betta will begin to show signs of fatigue and illness. This warmer temperature will encourage your betta to be more active and carry out positive behaviors in their environment.

If the surrounding area of the aquarium is at least 76-78℉, a heater may not be needed, however we always recommend to use a submersible heater in all aquariums that require consistent warmer temperatures, as this prevents any risk to the betta if the surrounding environment suddenly decreases in temperature. Alongside a heater, it is best to use a thermometer to observe and maintain the temperatures in the tank, this allows you to change the heater to increase or decrease its temperature depending on what’s needed.

However, ensure this is done slowly as bettas can be very sensitive to changes in temperature. To find the best heater and thermometers for you see our articles on best aquarium heaters and best aquarium thermometers.

Bettas are known to thrive in slightly more acidic water, with a pH ranging between 6.8 and 7.5, we recommend to keep the pH level around 7, however no harm will come to them if it is slightly over or under. It is important to know and maintain these levels as it can cause harm to your betta if they change dramatically. As for water hardness, Betta fish prefer soft water but can be in water with a general hardness of 5-20 dGH, and a carbonate hardness of 5-20 dKH. Ideally though both these ranges will be on the lower end.

We always recommend purchasing test strips or a test kit, as these can show the parameters in the water in a short amount of time, allowing you to purchase any products to fix the levels if they are becoming dangerously low or high. These strips measure pH, nitrite, nitrate, carbonate hardness, and general hardness. The testers we recommend using are listed below.

Aquarium test strips:

These water test strips are a quick and easy alternative to the master test chemical kits, complete with four strips and a chemical chart. One of these strips is to be placed into the water for a short amount of time and the colors on the strip should then be compared to the color chart – this will then accurately tell you the levels of pH, nitrite, nitrate, and carbonate and general water hardness.

Master test kit

Sale
API Freshwater Master Test Kit
  • Contains one (1) API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, including 7 bottles of testing solutions, 1 color card and 4 glass tubes with cap
  • Helps monitor water quality and prevent invisible water problems that can be harmful to fish and cause fish loss
  • Accurately monitors 5 most vital water parameters levels in freshwater aquariums: pH, high range pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate
  • Designed for use in freshwater aquariums only
  • Use for weekly monitoring and when water or fish problems appear

This master kit is a more advanced alternative to the testing strips, with 7 bottles of testing solutions, 1 color card and 4 glass tubes. This kit will measure the pH, high range pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, this kit may give you a more accurate result, however there is more of a risk of disrupting the process by putting too many or too little drops in the test tubes.

Feeding and diet

Bettas are carnivores that feed only on animal matter; in the wild they are seen consuming insects, larvae and other animal matter they find in the water. As they are carnivores they should not be fed on normal tropical fish food as this won’t supply them with enough protein. Food made for betta fish comes in a variety of forms that other fish food does including flakes and pellets; you can also give them live or freeze-dried food, betta food is usually made up of meat, fish or shrimp. 

Some of our recommended betta foods include the following:

Bettas are picky eaters, however this does depend on the personality of your betta, some are more picky than others. This can mean giving your betta a selection of foods and seeing which one they prefer or eat the most of, don’t be tempted to give your betta too many treat options, and try to stick with the complete balanced diet foods. Bettas are known to enjoy bloodworms and brine shrimp more than other options, this is a good food source and replicates the diet they would have in the wild. We recommend giving your betta a varied diet, using both commercial betta food and live/free dried food for a protein packed diet to bring out their colors and bright personalities. 

Bettas should be fed about once a day, and only as much as they can consume in 1-2 minutes, any more will cause the water to become dirty and create an unhealthy environment for your betta. Bettas can also be fed twice a day, but ensure you are only giving you betta a few pellets or a small portion of food each meal time. Overfeeding betta fish is a common occurrence as they always appear hungry and looking for food, they will also eat everything you give them even if it is far too much. Overfeeding a betta can lead to constipation and other health problems, it can become obvious that they’re being fed too much as they begin to develop a swollen stomach, if this occurs start to give them less food each time so that they get used to the smaller portions. 

What does it mean if a betta isn’t eating?

This is a problem many betta owners come face to face with at some point, and the main reason for this is from previous overfeeding. Ensure you are giving your betta fish tiny amounts at a time, remember that their stomachs are around the size of their eye, and pellets can expand to a pretty big size. 

Another reason bettas refuse to eat is because of stress, this can occur for many reasons. If you have just brought your betta home and put it into its new aquarium, they may not eat for a couple of days whilst they settle in and get used to their new environment. They can also experience stress if their water conditions aren’t correct or if they are housed with unsuitable tank mates that are harassing or nipping them – see what tank mates are compatible with bettas below. 

Betta Tank Mates

Betta Tank Mates

Read our betta fish tank mate guide for full information. Betta fish are often housed alone due to their territorial and sometimes aggressive nature, which is acceptable, however many betta owners don’t realize that they can be housed with other fish that are peaceful and calm, usually in a community aquarium. The personality of your individual betta does play a part in whether they can be put with other fish, some bettas are much more aggressive whilst others are usually calm. If you put a new betta into a community aquarium, it is important to observe them closely to notice any bad behaviors, if the betta does not settle in well with the other fish they can be moved into a separate enclosure by themselves. 

Betta fish rarely get along with each other, especially males due to their aggression and fighting habits. Bettas can be housed together with multiple females and only one male if necessary, however it can be risky and additional tanks may be needed if they don’t get along. If this is an option for you, we recommend having 2-3 females and one male. 

Bettas can live with a few peaceful fish such as black tetras, ember tetras, catfish, rasboras, and kuhli loaches. Peaceful bottom dwellers are a great option for a betta tank as they will rarely cross paths and will not take much notice of each other due to the use of different areas in the enclosure.

There are quite a few species that should be avoided completely when finding tank mates for bettas. These include other fish with long, flowing tails to avoid the bettas nipping them, such as Guppies, and also those that are fin nippers themselves, as these will ruin your bettas beautiful long fins. Some fin nippers include tiger barbs, serpae tetras and blue tetras

You should also avoid any fish that can intimidate and encourage your betta to show their aggressive side, so avoid any large and colorful fish as they can be dominating towards the betta, even if they are peaceful. 

Other fish that should be avoided due to their behavior and general compatibility include Killifish, Red Tail Shark, Acaras, Oscars and most cichlids. 

It is also important to compare your bettas needs and requirements before housing them with another species, as if one requires warm water and another lives in colder water, there is no way to compromise. This can help narrow down the search and find the best tank mates for your betta. 

Enrichment

Enrichment can come in many different forms, whether it be physical additions to the aquarium to change their environment or stimulate their natural behaviors, or simply changing their food to give them a new experience.

Bettas are fun fish that have some quirky habits, one being that they are sometimes seen sleeping in between large leaves. Sleeping in bettas can be encouraged by adding in some plants with large leaves, or even better, a betta hammock! If live plants are a preferred option, we recommend getting an Anubias plant, these have large cupped leaves that form a safe space for your betta, they can also grow quite big.

Betta hammocks are large leaves that attach to the side of the glass and can be placed anywhere in the aquarium, they make a great resting spot for bettas and can make them feel much more comfortable and safe in their enclosure. Here are two examples below:

Adding in these leaves to a betta tank is a great way to stimulate their natural behavior as they would do this in the wild in between foliage, fallen trees or a bundle of leaves floating at the surface.

Another source of enrichment well known to most betta owners, are catappa leaves, also known as Indian almond leaves. These leaves have several benefits to both your beta and their environment.

Catappa leaves have healing and medicinal properties that many bettas owners rely on more than store bought medicines. They can also be a food source, usually for shrimp, but bettas have also been known to have a nibble at these leaves. These leaves do leave a color to the water, however this can be a great benefit to a natural looking tank as it replicates a wild stream without polluting the water.

How do I use catappa leaves?

These leaves can be used in many situations to improve the health or condition of your betta, here are some examples:

Balancing pH – Catappa leaves help to lower and balance the pH, whilst making the water slightly softer, they also keep ammonia at a safe level, preventing ammonia poisoning.

Water conditioning – These leaves also help to condition water and keep the water at a high quality, some people are known to rely on these leaves alone, however we recommend to use them alongside regular water conditioners to prevent any risks.

Healing – Many betta owners use these leaves when their betta is sick by moving the water into a quarantine tank and adding these leaves, as they are said to have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Many breeders have started using these leaves as a replacement for general fish medicines due to the positive and beneficial results. These are used in a new, clean tank with activated carbon. 

Breeding – These leaves are also great for stimulating a bettas breeding habits if you wish to breed your betta. They release tannins that create a replica of the breeding environment they would experience in the wild, which encourages them to breed.

Catappa leaves can be quite hard to find, here are some that we use:

How To Breed Betta Fish

How To Breed Betta Fish

If you are interested in the betta fish and want to start breeding them, you need to have everything set up and ready, as well as some knowledge into the subject. Some betta breeders make their set up pretty simple whilst others go all out to ensure their bettas get the best care. 

To start, you need to set up a separate breeding tank, if you don’t want to have too many separate tanks, you can use dividers to separate the males and females.

The separate breeding tank needs to be in a quiet area where they can’t see any other fish. It will have to include a heater and thermometer to maintain the warmer temperatures of 80 – 84 degrees. There is no need to use gravel as the eggs can sometimes be dropped into the substrate and get lost, so leave the bottom bare. 

Leave the breeding tank as open as you can, but still include some plants and hiding areas for the female as the male can come quite aggressive. You should also add some floating elements to give the male somewhere to build the bubble nest, this is a nest made from air bubbles and covered in saliva. We recommend a catappa leaf or some water spangles. Use a dim light for the breeding tank, as bright lights can discourage the breeding. 

When choosing your adults, ensure that they have no signs of ill health, after choosing your male and female, we suggest monitoring their behavior for a couple of days before starting the breeding process, as this will give you a chance to notice any problems they may have. Their eyes should be clear, and their fins should be fully intact with no signs of deformity or breakage in the fins. Their age can also make a difference, the prime breeding age is between 12 months and four years, any older may introduce some difficulty. Always choose a female that is slightly smaller than the male. 

Before attempting to breed the adults, they need to be prepared and conditioned with live nutritious food. They can be fed on bloodworms, tubifex worms, small insects and daphnia, frozen food can also be an option. This can be done for a couple of weeks, the longer the better.

How to start the breeding process:

Once the breeding tank is set up, introduce the female into the surroundings by putting her in a see through breeding container that attaches to the side of the tank and is submerged into the water. Leave the female in there for around 30 minutes to get used to the water and her surroundings. You can then let her loose into the tank, and add a divider into the middle to then place the male into the other side. This lets the adults get used to each other’s presence without the male allowed to show dominant or aggressive behavior.

The male will turn darker in color and so will the female if she is interested, a new striped pattern might also appear. The tube in which she lays the eggs from, known as the ovipositor will become visible behind her fin. This will tell you that she’s ready to breed.

The male will usually make the bubble nest for the eggs to lay in around a day after seeing the female, once this is made you can remove the divider. The female should swim around the bubble nest, as if to inspect it and make sure it is up to her standard. If she rejects it, she will show it by swimming away and not acting interested or she will destroy it. If this happens, you can put the divider back in place and start the process again, if she keeps destroying the nest, you may need to use a different pair.  

When the nest is successful, the male will begin to chase and nip at the female around the tank, this is normal and can last for a while, but it is best to monitor them in case the male becomes too aggressive and needs removing. If this stage is successful, the male will turn the female upside down and wrap himself around her to fertilize the eggs.

The female will begin to release the eggs in a lifeless position, do not worry if this happens as it is perfectly normal. This process can be minutes or hours, sometimes the male and female detach a couple of times and sink to the bottom before starting again, this is completely normal. It is important not to interrupt this process and to not offer them any food or help. 

As soon as the female is in an upright position and seems recovered, remove her from the tank as soon as possible as she might start to eat the eggs, the male will collect the eggs and put them in the nest. The male will fertilize the eggs externally by releasing milt onto them. Leave the male in the breeding tank with the eggs as he will catch any that fall from the nest, the male does also eat an egg occasionally but only if it isn’t fertilized. 

Raising the fry

The fry begin to hatch with their tails first, they can stay like this for a few days before their whole body comes out. After 2-3 days they will be able to swim horizontally around the tank, this is when the male should be removed. They can also be moved into a separate fry tank if you have one, however the breeding tank will still do the job. You will need to supply the fry with food that is safe for their small size, such as brine shrimp, microworms and infurisa. 

Common Betta Fish Diseases

Common Betta Fish Diseases

Even though betta fish seem relatively easy to care for, they can still suffer from a few common diseases including fin and tail rot, ich, and dropsy.

Once a symptom is detected in your betta, it is important to act as quickly as you can to identify the issue and supply them with treatment in order for them to recover as soon as possible. Most health issues occur when something is not right with their enclosure, this could be water quality, temperature, the size of the tank, tank mates or food. Even if your bettas aquarium is in the best condition, issues can still occur if the bettas unwell. Below is a list of common issues seen in bettas, with a quick summary of how to identify and solve the issue.

Fin and tail rot

Causes – Fin rot is probably one of the most common issues seen in many fish, it occurs when your bettas immune system has become weak and can’t fight off the harmful bacteria that is always present in the water. It can also occur when the water quality itself is off and not correct, usually caused by lack of maintenance or an overcrowded tank. Fin rot can also be a symptom from another issue that occurred from stress.

Signs and symptoms – Fin rot can be mild, moderate or severe, all of which can be treated. Here are some of the signs to look out for:

Mild: 

  • Rips or tears in the fins 
  • Browned edges on the fins

Moderate: 

  • Deterioration of the fins
  • Growths or white spots on the body

Severe:

  • Inflammation and redness at the base of the fins
  • Loss of the fins
  • Rotting of the body
  • Swimming difficulty 

Treatment – The first step in treatment is to remove your betta into a quarantine tank if possible, or do a water change of 50% in the bettas usual tank. Water changes can be made easier using a product like the Python water changer. Ensure you use a gravel cleaner to remove all debris and waste from the gravel, it is also a good idea to clean the filter inside the tank and use the tank water to prevent the removal of any good bacteria, we suggest doing this before cleaning the tank. You should ensure that the temperature and pH are at the right level as this will have an effect on the healing process. 

You can use a quarantine tank and medicines at any stage of fin rot, however it is usually only used when the rotting is severe. Here are some of our recommended treatments:

Disease  Causes  Signs/symptoms Treatment 
Dropsy 
  • Bad diet 
  • Internal swelling
  • Overcrowding 
  • Swollen stomach
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Lethargy 
  • Gasping for air 
  • Water change 
  • Removing tank mates
  • Placing them in a quarantine tank
  • Add 1 tsp of aquarium salt per gallon of water to the tank
Ich 
  • Stress
  • Poor conditions
  • White spots on the body
  • Lethargy 
  • Rubbing themselves on sharp objects

Are Betta Fish right for you?

Overall, bettas are a great fish to keep with their bright colors, beautiful fins and unique personalities. If you have a large, peaceful community aquarium with the correct parameters, or are willing to purchase a 10 gallon tank for a betta, these fish will be perfect for you. As long as you are willing to give them the right conditions they require, and to ignore the rumor’s that they can live a happy life in a tiny bowl, a betta fish will be a great addition to your aquatic home or even your first fish. 

By maintaining the water quality and giving them the correct food, your betta will live a long and happy life and be the perfect fish for you. 

Hopefully this betta fish care guide has been helpful and informative!

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