You just got a betta fish, but have no idea how to care for it… this is the guide you need. Here are the top 10 things to know about your fishy friend.
1) Betta fish have a special organ called a “labrynth organ” that lets them breathe air, which means they must always have access to air (no covered tanks or containers). They do also have gills, but usually there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to sustain them so they breathe air as well. Because of this, it’s a good idea to get your betta one of the betta hammocks or a tall plant they can use to rest on near the surface so they don’t have to constantly swim up for air from lower in the tank. (See the images below for some betta hammock examples.)
2) You must condition the water before adding your fish to its new home. What that means is that something called a “water conditioner” must be added to the water to remove the chlorine and other chemicals before you put your betta in it, or it will quickly die. Water conditioners are sold at all major pet stores. I recommend SeaChem Prime. It may be a little more expensive depending on what size of it your store carries, but it’s what professional aquarists use – it’s quality.
3) Your betta needs a minimum of 2.5 gallons, though 5 gallons or more would be better. The smaller the tank, the more often you will have to clean it (annoying) and the more likely your fish will die, soon. This is because ammonia (a chemical in fish waste and leftover food) builds up in the water and makes your fish sick with what’s known as ammonia poisioning. More advanced fish-keeping explaination: this is the first stage of what is known as The Nitrogen Cycle: ammonia is released, over time it turns to nitrite, then it becomes nitrate (which live plants eat) – any of which can kill your poor fish if they are allowed to build up to high levels in the water, which is why cleaning is so immediately necessary in smaller containers. The little cup they’re often in at the pet store has to be changed every 48 hours at the most.
4) Bettas are tropical fish and need tropical temperatures to survive. For most of us who like to keep our homes at less than 78 degrees F (the lowest temperature recommended for a betta), a heater will be necessary. I prefer to use a heating pad personally, but an aquarium heater is also an option. My recommendation for a heater is be sure you have one that shuts off if it gets too hot. Getting a thermometer can also help you to be sure the temperature is at a good level. (No lower than 78 F and no higher than 82 F.)
5) Bettas need soft tank decorations because of their delicate fins. They’re a fighting fish, so you’re probably going to see them tail-box their tank decor (Here is a video of what tail-boxing is), which can easily result in torn fins. Protect them by only getting silk or live plants. Spikey plastic plants are a no-no for bettas unfortunately. Live plants of course have the added bonus of helping to keep the tank clean as well.
6) Their food pellets expand when wet, which usually occurs in their stomach, which is dangerous. Protect your betta by crushing their pellets a little to be smaller. Check out the guide: Making Betta Pellets Betta-Sized. If you see your betta’s belly starting to bulge out, that means it’s eaten too much.
7) In the wild, betta fish live in rice paddy fields, which are basically like a grid of small room-size lakes all next to one another. Bettas will jump from one ‘room’ to another in search of a mate, which means as a pet, they need a lid on their tank or you will find them on the floor one day. The image to the right is what a rice paddy field looks like.
8) Water changes should only remove 25-50% of the water at most. Changing too much of the water at once can shock your betta fish (another reason a bigger tank is so much easier to care for) and yes, kill them. They’re sensitive little buggers. The easiest way to do this is to get a gravel vacuum and just suction out some of the water while you clean the bottom of the tank (the vacuum sucks up the fish waste and uneated food), then pour in a little clean (conditioned) water. I put the end of the gravel vacuum into an empty 1 gallon jug – easy peasy. These products are available at most major pet stores – the hand pump kind is the easiest in my opinion: you just squeeze the pump a couple times to get the water flowing, then move the vacuum around in the tank while the water goes through it and into the jug or bucket.
9) Again, bettas are fighing fish, which means they should live alone for the most part, females included. There are a few tank mates that are betta-approved like tetras (because they swim faster than bettas), snails (because they have a hard shell), African dwarf frogs (not sure why this one works, but it does), and shrimp. The risk is that your betta could kill any of it’s tank mates, so watch close for a while if you decide to add one. Also keep in mind that any extra inhabitants in the tank will require a larger tank (extra gallons) as they will increase the waste load in the water. If you see your betta flaring (expanding it’s face flaps as seen in the image to the right), that’s a sign of aggression and stress, meaning the tank mate may soon be attacked.
10) Your betta’s tank needs a filter. You can check out the post 5 Reasons Why Betta Fish Need a Filter. Basically it’s for the same reason as point 2 above: it will reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do and help protect your betta from dying from a dirty tank (ammonia poisioning). Having a filter will also increase the amount of oxygen in the water. If you ever see your betta yawning, it means the oxygen in the water is low. A filter helps prevent this, and so does an air stone. Air stones are exactly what they sound like – a stone stuck on the end of a tube that pumps air through them, making bubbles. Speaking of bubbles, bonus tip: happy bettas start blowing bubbles and make what’s known as a “bubble nest” – you can read more about those the guide About Betta Fish Bubble Nests if you’d like.
That’s it. Leave a comment here with any questions you have and I’ll be happy to reply, or you can use the Ask A Question page in the navigation bar above. Betta fish are such wonderful pets – Man’s Best Fish Friend. Plan on being surprised by their intelligence and incredibly personalities. Bettas can live a long time if you care for them well. Read through the Betta Fish Fun section here for some ideas on how to play with them, and you can even train them if you’d like – they’re that smart! Yes, I have a guide on that too: Target Training a Betta Fish. 🙂 I love these little fishes. You’ll probably fall in love with yours soon too if you haven’t already!
Here are a few of the betta hammocks that I mentioned which are available on Amazon – all of the photos below are clickable and go to their product page on Amazon. (As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.) Or if you would prefer a DIY option, check out the guide DIY Betta Fish Hammock.
Good luck with your new friend!