Betta Fish Care: The Ultimate Guide

Having a Betta fish as a pet is more than just plopping him into a small cup, bowl, or decorative container and tossing a few pellets at him once a day. 

Like all fish, the Betta species will not do well in a sub-par environment (which is inhumane). You will also never want to purchase one on a whim, without first researching what it takes to keep this creature happy and healthy (to do it right, there will be an initial cost and time spent as you go through the journey of Betta keeping).

Luckily, we are here to give you all the ins and outs of Betta fish care with our ultimate guide. 

Check it out!

betta fish

The Betta Fish

Before we teach you how to properly care for the Betta, let’s discover more about this fascinating fish.

There are around 73 different species in the genus Betta. However, the most popular and common in the pet trade is the Betta splendens (Siamese Fighting Fish). 

If we were to find one in its natural habitat of Asia in slow-moving water bodies such as marshes or rice paddies, we would be surprised to learn that they don’t really resemble the pet store variety. Wild Bettas have short fins and are usually a dull greyish-green.

It’s only been through selective, captive breeding that our buddy the Betta has developed those long-flowing fins and vibrant colors. In fact, they come in a wide range of colors and patterns along with various fin shapes and sizes such as the half-moon, delta, veil, crowntail, and double tail. 

Male Bettas grow up to 2.5 to 3 inches long (females are 2.25 inches long) and with proper care can live about 3 years (some even longer). But to get the longevity and those beautiful colors and fins from this fish, you will want to set them up properly from the get-go.

The Betta Fish Aquarium & Habitat Requirements

Do not let undertrained pet store employees convince you that the Betta fish is “just fine” in small containers or bowls. This is simply untrue, and more importantly, it’s a cruel existence for this fish. 

We recommend at least a 5-gallon aquarium to house one male Betta. Yes, there are plenty of tanks on the market as small as 1-gallon sold for Betta fish; however, this is not enough room for all the requirements this fish needs and deserves. Plus, the smaller the tank, the more maintenance you are going to have to perform. 

So, let’s start the Betta off right with the minimum 5-gallon tank and the following “accessories.”

Filtration

A filter is more than just a motorized unit that creates water flow in your tank. A proper filter will remove impurities from the water and create that important biological cycle that every water habitat needs to thrive. 

There are many filtration systems on the market, but since Bettas are slow-moving, you will want to choose one that has a slower intake and output, or one where these parameters can be adjusted.

We recommend using a sponge filter as these are made with Betta fish in mind, so they keep the flow low and the sponge (intake) will not damage the fins of the fish as they swim past. Plus, the sponge provides an excellent place for good bacteria to grow. 

Heater

Bettas are tropical fish, therefore they need a heater to keep their tank between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Unheated environments will reduce your Betta’s appetite and activity levels. It can also lead to stress that can bring on some common Betta ailments (more on that later). 

If you purchase a Betta kit, check to see if there is a heater included. If not, you can purchase these separately, just be sure it is made for a small tank. 

Pro Tip: Don’t try to guess at the temperature of your tank. Use an aquarium thermometer to get it just right (especially during water changes). 

Lighting 

Bettas like low to moderate light. The best lighting for Betta fish is LED or luminescent lamps.  You can also use the natural light of the room for the majority of the daytime hours.

Bettas also need a regular day/night cycle. We recommend 8 to 12 hours of daylight and 12 to 16 hours of darkness. If you use natural lighting for your Betta, then this will take care of itself. However, if you use imitation lighting, be sure to turn it off at night.

Betta left in total light will become stressed and ill, so let your buddy “sleep” those nighttime hours away.

Pro Tip: Do not place your Betta tank in direct sunlight. This will create too many fluctuations in the temperature that can endanger the health of your fish. It will also create algae growth that is difficult to manage. 

Substrate

You may not think much of substrate, but it also plays an important role in the life of the Betta. In the wild, the Betta species has leaf debris, sand, and pebbles on the bottom of their habitats. In captivity, we want to provide something similar.

Leaf debris is messy, so most aquarists choose smooth gravel or aquarium sand for the bottom of their tanks. There are pros and cons to both. Gravel is easier to clean with an aquarium vacuum, but sand provides a softer texture and a better place for live plants to grow (their roots can take hold easier). 

Regardless of which one you choose, be sure to give them both a good soak in a clean bucket to remove any debris before adding to the aquarium. You will also want to choose smooth gravel, so your Betta is safe from nicks, cuts, and scrapes. 

Pro Tip: Do not take gravel or sand from the outdoors. These can contain parasites, pesticides, chemicals, and other toxins that can kill your Betta. 

Plants & Decorations 

Betta love to hide and rest among live plants. These are easily added to any aquarium habitat and are readily available at fish retailers.

Plants that Betta prefer include;

  • Java Fern
  • Water Sprite
  • Marimo Moss Ball
  • Anubias
  • Betta Bulb
  • Sword Plant
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Vallisneria
  • Various Floating Plants

When choosing aquarium decorations (such as Betta Caves) be sure that there are no sharp edges that can tear Betta’s delicate fins. You will also want to make sure that the paint is aquarium safe with no chipping or peeling. 

If you notice sharp edges, file them down to make it safe and if the paint is inferior, remove the object from the tank to avoid it leaching into the water. 

Adding a Betta Fish to the Tank

Whether your Betta comes in a cup or a bag, you want to make the introduction to his new habitat safe.

To do this, float the cup or bag on top of the aquarium for at least 15 minutes – this allows the water in the travel container to acclimate to the temperature of your tank.

Pro Tip: If your Betta is in a bag, go ahead and untie it, then fold the edge over the corner of your aquarium. Cups can just float around on top. 

Now, take a small amount of your aquarium water (a couple of tablespoons) and add it to the bag or cup – a clean syringe works well, or you can use a small cup. 

Let your fish acclimate for about 15 more minutes and repeat the process. 

Once you have transferred small amounts of tank water into the carrying container, gently scoop out the Betta with a fishnet and release him into his new habitat. 

Do not place the travel container water into your aquarium as there could be contaminants in it you do not want to be introduced into your home aquarium. 

Keep a close eye on your Betta for the next 24 hours to ensure he is doing well. 

Tank Maintenance

Now that your Betta tank is set up and your fish has been safely added to it, you will need to know how to keep this watery world in tip-top shape.

First, you will want to ensure the filter and heater are always working. Monitor the tank’s temperature with an aquarium thermometer and replace the filter media for optimal water cleaning according to the product’s instructions (generally, once a month).

The biggest part of maintenance is using a gravel vacuum (weekly or bi-monthly) to gently sift through the substrate to remove debris and fish waste. While you are doing this, watch that you are only removing about 25% of the old water. Replace this water with fresh tap water that has been treated with a chlorine remover. 

Pro Tip: Before adding new water, be sure it is the same temperature as your tank. Sudden temperature changes can put your Betta into shock. 

It’s also good practice to test the tank’s water parameters for pH. Betta likes a pH between 6.8 and 7.5. If your tank is out of these bounds, do an additional water change of around 10%, then retest. You can also add pH boosters and reducers to help reach optimal levels. 

Feeding the Betta Fish

In the wild, Betta fish will dine on insects, various invertebrates, and larvae. They are carnivores, so keep that in mind when choosing food for these hungry fish. 

Generally, as a time-saver, aquarists will choose processed flaked and/or pellet food made for this species for the bulk of their diet. High-quality food made from wholesome ingredients is better than cheap food that uses inferior ingredients. 

As a treat, you may also feed the Betta frozen foods or live brine shrimp and bloodworms. 

Feed small amounts twice a day

Pro Tip: Remember that the stomach of the Betta is only about the size of its eye, so measure out the food accordingly. Too much food can lead to bloat and constipation which can be detrimental to his health. 

The Betta and Tankmates

We know that male Betta cannot be housed with other males of the species, but does that also mean they must live alone?

Not necessarily.

Some male Bettas can live peacefully with other fish. However, it will depend on the size of the tank and the species of fish you add.

Betta does love their space, so overcrowding a small tank is never a wise idea. We recommend at least a 5-gallon tank for one Betta, so if you want to add other small fish, you will need at least 10 gallons.

Typically, Betta will “go after” brightly-colored fish with long fins (they identify these fish as other male Betta), so avoid fantail goldfish, angelfish, and even long-finned guppies. Also avoid fish species that like to “nibble,” such as barbs and cichlids.

Suitable tankmates include;

  • Kuhli loaches
  • Cory catfish
  • African dwarf frogs
  • Guppies (not long-finned/fancy)
  • Neon and Ember tetras
  • Ghost shrimp

Remember, to keep your Betta happy and stress-free with tankmates, be sure to give him plenty of live plants and decorations to hide among. 

Keep a watchful eye on your Betta to ensure he is not chasing the other fish, or hiding too much due to stress. 

We recommend adding a Betta to an appropriate tank after the other fish, so he does not become too territorial. 

Betta Fish Diseases

You can be the best aquarist and still have an outbreak of illness in your Betta tank. Here are the common ailments for the Betta species.

1. Ich 

This is an external parasite that needs a host to live. Ichthyophthirius multifiliis is contagious among fish and needs to be treated immediately for the best chance of survival. 

The first sign of Ich is tiny white (cotton-like) dots covering the scales and fins of your fish. These are the cyst stage of this illness which harbor the immature parasites called tomites. 

Since these cysts are bothersome to the Betta, he will clamp his fins tight and may rub himself on the substrate and decorations in an attempt to loosen them from his body. 

Ich can only be treated once the parasites are free-swimming. So purchase the appropriate medication, raise the temperature of the water to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (this encourages the cysts to detach and burst), and remove the carbon from the filtration system (carbon deactivates the medication). 

Ich can be introduced into a habitat by other fish or can be brought on by stress and poor tank conditions. 

2. Fin & Tail Rot 

This is a bacterial infection that literally “eats” away at the fins and tail of the Betta fish. It can be brought on by poor water conditions that stress the fish and lower its immunity and ability to fight the infection. Left untreated, fin and tail rot will advance to the body of the fish where it will most likely succumb to the infection. 

Signs to look for are ragged fins, legarthy, a poor appetite, and damage around the face and mouth. 

To treat this ailment, you will need to perform a complete water change and treat it with the appropriate medication.

3. Velvet 

This is another parasitic infection that can commonly affect aquariums. Unfortunately, it is aggressive and can wipe out all occupants before the owner even knows there’s a problem. 

The culprit is a parasite known as Oodinium. It is also known as Rust or Gold Dust disease because it resembles rust of gold-colored dust on the Betta’s face, fins, and scales.

It is classified as both an algae and a protozoan. The affected fish will have a coating on its body that can be spotted under good lighting. Other symptoms include scratching the body against objects, lethargy, lack of appetite, rapid or labored breathing, clamped fins, and scales peeling off (advanced stages). 

To treat velvet, you will want to purchase the appropriate mediation and follow the directions. 

4. Bloat/Constipation 

Betta fish love to eat and will continue to stuff themselves as long as there is food available (why not overfeeding is crucial). 

Signs of bloat and constipation are a distended abdomen, lack of appetite, and a lack of feces on the bottom of the tank. 

The easiest treatment (and usually the most effective) is to fast your Betta for a couple of days. You may also add a single cooked pea (with the skin removed and mashed up) for a boost of fiber that helps remove the blockage.

To help prevent bloat, feed a high-quality food that is free from inferior ingredients and add a cooked pea every couple of weeks to your Betta’s diet.

Prevention of Disease

However, just as with any pet, the best defense against disease is a better offense – meaning prevention.

To prevent disease, never overfeed your Betta fish and keep performing regular maintenance on his habitat. Many diseases can be avoided with these two simple applications. 

Signs of a Happy & Healthy Betta Fish

If you have followed this ultimate guide to Betta fish care, then you can expect that your pet fish will be happy and healthy. Check for your Betta to exhibit these signs of all your hard work;

  • Vibrant colors
  • Long flowing (intact) fins
  • Active
  • Good appetite
  • Doesn’t spend long periods hiding
  • Readily greets you at the surface of the tank
  • Reactive to unknown stimuli

Final Thoughts on Betta Fish Care: The Ultimate Guide

The Betta species are a popular fish that are beautiful and relatively easy to look after, but before you embark on keeping one as a pet, you will want to know what you are getting yourself into. 

Having a minimum of 5 gallons of water, a heater, filter, light, and plenty of plants is just the beginning. Once you have your setup ready, add your Betta and watch him for any signs of stress.

You will also want to feed him a healthy diet of flaked, pellets, fresh or frozen foods (with the occasional cooked, deskinned pea for fiber). 

The lifespan of the Betta is around 3 years, but disease, stress, poor tank conditions, and overfeeding can all shorten his longevity and quality of life. 

Be sure to gather all the information we have provided and follow our helpful tips to keep your Betta a fun and lively pet for the duration of his life.