Betta Fish Laying On Side: What Does This Mean?

The popularity of the Betta fish isn’t just because they are a beauty to behold. Many Betta fans are intrigued by their quirky personalities, which tends to make them more of an interactive pet than “just a fish.”

However, when Betta’s fun behavior turns into him laying on his side, what does this mean? Is it a cause for concern?

Let’s explore several reasons why Betta’s lie on their side. 

betta laying on side


Signs of a Sick or Stressed Betta

A Betta fish laying on its side could be an early indicator of trouble in your tank. Here are other common symptoms of a sick or stressed Betta Fish;

  • Lethargy – not interested in playing or exploring
  • Lack of appetite for several days
  • Gasping or labored breathing
  • Muted or dull coloration
  • Ripped, torn or damaged fins and scales
  • Inability to swim upright
  • Clamped fins (held close to body)
  • Rubbing fins and body on substrate or decorations
  • Any unusual dots, fuzz, or lesions on the body

“Troubling” But Not Deadly Issues of Betta Fish Laying on Side

Not every Betta fish that lies on its side is sick. Check out these troubling, but not deadly issues of Betta Fish laying on his side. 


Even though Betta fish don’t have eyelids, they do rest and sleep during the nighttime hours. If you see your Betta laying on his side on the bottom of the tank or on a comfy decoration, it may be just his way of settling in for a well-deserved sleep. 

Watch your Betta during the daytime and note how he is swimming and if he is still eating normally to ensure this behavior is not the first sign of an illness. 

Old Age

Every living creature ages and as they do, they slow down. With Bettas, the average lifespan is between 2 and 5 years. If you purchased your Betta as an adult, it may be difficult to know exactly how old he is, so if he is lying on his side (without any other symptoms) this old-timer might just be trying to enjoy his “golden year.” 


Yup, even our aquatic friends can be lazy slackers. Some Betta owners have noted their fish lazing away their time propped up on a stable tank decoration, while others wrap themselves in a plant and float sideways for a few hours. 

The key here is to know what is normal behavior for your Betta. 

Bettas can also become overweight due to overfeeding. If you notice your fish is getting a little round in the middle, cut back on the food, or switch to a higher protein food that will keep him fuller longer. Without a bulging belly, you may just notice him being more playful and willing to explore. . 

Depressed or Bored

Unlike some species of fish that are content to swim back and forth in their aquarium, Betta enjoy exploring and interacting with their environment. If you have a bare tank, you aren’t doing this fish any favors. If your container is too small for added decorations, then upgrade to at least a 5 gallon tank where there is room for plants and a simple decoration or two. 

Potentially Deadly Diseases of Betta Fish Laying on Side

If you have eliminated the non-threatening reasons why your Betta fish is laying on his side, look further into these common illnesses of the Siamese Fighting Fish.

Fin and Tail Rot

This disease is common among Betta fish, especially the more fancy of the species. Although older Bettas can develop a chronic version of this disease, generally, good tank maintenance and regular water changes can help prevent fin and tail rot from occurring.

The main causes of fin and tail rot is bacteria, fungus, and virus that is already present in the water. Healthy fish are usually able to resist this condition, however, if your Betta becomes stressed, he will be more susceptible to this disease. 

Symptoms of Fin and Tail Rot

  • Lack of appetite
  • Legarthy
  • Rubbing against aquarium decor
  • Red or black ragged edges on fins (if left untreated this will eat away the fins and progress onto the body)

Treatment for fin and tail rot include over the counter products or aquarium salts.

Swim Bladder Disorder

The swim bladder in the Betta is a small organ located behind the other organs in the Betta body. It is responsible for buoyancy and Betta’s orientation (direction) in the water. 

Some young Betta may have swim bladder issues, but they can resolve themselves as the fish grows and develops. Other Bettas may eat too much which can cause a full stomach or intestinal tract which can push on the swim bladder, deflating it.

Lastly, overweight Bettas may develop chronic constipation which can greatly affect or even damage the swim bladder, making it impossible for them to dive or swim in a straight line. 

Symptoms of Swim Bladder Disorder

  • Swimming/laying on side
  • Cannot right themselves in the water
  • Cannot dive

If constipation is the culprit for your Betta’s swim bladder issues, try fasting your fish for a couple of days. Then offer high-quality floating Betta food and reduce the number of treats you’re offering. 

Ich (White Spots)

This common disease is caused by parasitic protozoa which can be transferred to stressed fish. It presents itself as tiny white dots on the fins and body of your freshwater fish.

Caught early enough, Ich can be successfully treated; however, if left, these small white dots will spread and will eventually lead to secondary infections and deep ulcerations on the body of the fish.  

You can treat Ich with aquarium salt, raising the temperature in the tank (to speed up the life cycle of the protozoa), and with over the counter medications.


Even though Velvet is not as common as other fish diseases, it can be serious if your Betta contracts it. This photosynthetic water parasite thrives in poor water conditions and cooler temperatures, so be sure to keep your tank set between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and do regular water maintenance. 

Symptoms of Velvet

  • Coating of rust or velvet specks on the scales
  • Fish is itchy and rubbing on substrate and decorations

The best way to treat velvet is to raise the water temperature, turn off the light (these parasites “feed” on light) and use aquarium salts to raise the salinity of the water or use commercial products made for this condition.


If your Betta is bloated with its scales poking out (like a pinecone) then it may have a condition known as Dropsy. This is a secondary problem caused by parasites, bacteria, fungus, or a virus and may crop up after your Betta has been sick a while.

Dropsy is very difficult to treat (you will need commercial products) and is often unsuccessful and stressful on the fish. Prevention is always a better avenue with good tank and water maintenance. 


As the name suggests, “popeye” is when Betta’s eye literally bulges out of his head. This can be caused by tuberculosis, an eye injury, or being left too long in extremely dirty water. 

Treatment will vary depending on the cause. If it is only one eye affected, it’s most likely an injury. If both eyes are bulging then it could be tuberculosis or a bacterial infection. To treat bacterial infections, you will want to use aquarium salt and a commercial product; however, most cases of popeye are usually incurable. 

Tank Conditions For Betta Fish Laying on Side

Diseases are not the only issues that can cause your Betta to lay on its side. Sometimes this behavior is due to something happening in his environment. 

Ammonia Too High

High ammonia is normal in a new tank. However, it can be fatal to your Betta. If you have a new (uncycled) aquarium, it’s important to check the ammonia levels daily. If it is high, then do a water change to get those levels back in the safe zone. You will also want to use ammonia-reducing media in your filter system. Caught early enough, your Betta should recover.

Symptoms of Ammonia Too High

  • Weakness and lying on side at bottom of tank
  • Purple, red, or bleeding gills
  • Clamped fins
  • Darker than normal coloration on scales

Nitrate Too High

High levels of nitrate in your tank can lead to nitrate poisoning. The good news is if you are diligent in doing weekly water changes this should not become a problem. However, if it does, it can be lethal to your Betta.

If your Betta is lying on its side gasping (like it is having difficulty breathing) do an immediate water change to reduce those nitrate levels.

Other signs of nitrate levels on the rise include;

  • Rapid gill movements
  • Lack of appetite
  • Listless, confused
  • Tucked in a ball with head and tail curled inward (advanced case).

Not the Right Temperature

The ideal range of temperature for a Betta fish is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (some even like it around 86 degrees Fahrenheit). 

If your fish is lethargic or hiding a lot, it could be due to the temperature in your tank. Try turning it up a couple degrees to see if he becomes more alert and active. If your Betta habitat is already on the higher end of the temperature range, turn it down a couple of degrees instead. 

All Bettas are different, so some may like it cooler, while others like it warm.

Water Flow is Too Powerful

Bettas are slow-moving fish that can become stressed or ill due to a high-flow filter. If you notice that your Betta is hiding, lying on its side, and avoiding the filter side of the habitat, then it may be too powerful for this fish. 

If your filter has a way of turning the flow down, do so. If not, you can try blocking off the intake a bit to help reduce the pulling force, or replace the filter with a more suitable model. 

Not Enough Room

Even though we are constantly misled by the cramped conditions pet retailers keep these beautiful creatures in, it is not acceptable to force your Betta to live in a “stylish” albeit inappropriate habitat. 

Bowls, jars, cups, and plant containers will not allow your fish the freedom he needs to explore and enjoy his life. We recommend at least a 5 gallon tank with a soft-flow filter, light, heater, and  plenty of plants. Anything less than this is simply inhumane. 

Wrong Choice of Substrate

Not all substrates are created equally. When it comes to Betta the wrong choice can be detrimental to his health. Substrates that are too small, such as tiny pebbles, can be choked on or become lodged inside your fish. The same can be true for sharp or jagged substrates that can rip or tear delicate scales and fins.

Some substrates use fluorescent paint or glow in the dark chemicals that can leach into the water. If you notice a colored tinge to your aquarium, then remove the Betta and replace the substrate with appropriate products that will not change the chemical makeup of your fish habitat. 

Final Thoughts of Betta Fish Laying on Side

Obviously, a Betta laying on its side is not clear-cut, so you will need to investigate this situation further. Start with the simple reasons like tank conditions and the age and personality of your pet. If these all check out, then begin to look for symptoms of other illnesses and conditions.

If you discover a serious problem with your Betta, then treat accordingly.