Being a betta fish owner can be hard, and truthfully, I’ve found it to be even more difficult than being a cat owner at times.
While it’s true that the regular care routine for a betta fish is less rigorous than that of a cat, it can be much more difficult to tell if something is wrong with your betta fish than if something is wrong with a cat or a dog.
Although cats often hide the fact that they are sick, their symptoms are usually fairly clear. Not only that, but you can handle a cat and take a closer look, which is something you’re not as likely to be able to do with a betta fish.
You may remember almost a year ago I did a 100% water change that put Blub into a stressed shock. From then on, I’ve refused to do a 100% water change, unless absolutely necessary.
Instead, I make sure that I keep a good amount of his old water to make sure there are enough nitrates to start his cycle.
I’ve also been providing some bacteria to help start the cycle. I would speak to a fish store clerk to see if they have similar bacteria in their store.
As a betta fish owner, you will be required to keep a close eye on your betta fish and see if there are any changes.
If you are uncertain what the symptoms sick betta fish commonly exhibit, I would recommend checking out this article.
Today let’s dive into one of the most common “symptoms” a betta fish will exhibit while they are sick. This behaviour/symptom is lethargy or is staying at the bottom of the tank.
Because this is the most common symptom a betta fish will exhibit when sick, there are several reasons why your fish will lay on the bottom of their tank or act lethargic.
Just like every other animal, Betta fish can get constipated.
Betta fish have very tiny stomachs, and so a lot of times, new fish owners will overfeed their betta fish. It took me a bit of time to find “the perfect” amount to feed my Betta fish.
Betta fish who are constipated tend to bloat or may even float to the top of the tank, while still being alive.
If your betta fish is showing signs of constipation, you can feed them a defrosted pea for extra fibre. You’re going to want to make sure you cut the pea up into tiny, tiny pieces making sure you still don’t overfeed your betta fish.
Due to the amount of fibre in the pea, your betta fish should poop within the next day or so! If conditions stay the same, repeat the process and contact your local vet.
This was the cause of Blub’s scare a year ago.
Betta fish are pretty sensitive fish, even though they are quite hardy as well. Make sure you are cycling the water in your fish tank, especially if you’re going to do a full water change.
Simply put, your betta fish is going to like water that is a bit dirty with their own waste because of the nitrates, and will not be able to survive in an unconditioned fish tank as it will make them feel sick.
Water condition directly can cause a betta fish to lose their appetite, or worse… not want to move at all.
You should always be using a water conditioner. It’s not expensive, and it will save you and your fish a lot of stress. That being said, it’s more common for fish owners to end up with a sick dead fish due to poor water conditions.
Another great addition to your fish tank would be a moss ball / Marimo plant. This little bugger will help keep your nitrates low and make sure your tank doesn’t grow algae.
TOO MUCH AMMONIA IN THE WATER
Something I didn’t understand as a new fish owner was the importance of filters. Without a filter, your tank will be building up quite a bit of ammonia which can cause your fish to get sick or act lethargic.
You want to make sure your fish tank has a maximum of 0.25 ppm in regards to ammonia and about 20 ppm of nitrate.
But a little something to calm your nerves. There can be about 40 ppm of nitrates before it starts getting toxic, but it still would be best to keep nitrate level down by changing the water once a week and making sure you have clean filters.
Betta Fish owners can use a Freshwater Master Test Kit to test your water for ammonia.
Please make sure that your tank is the right temperature. Your water should be between 78°F and 80°F (25.5°C and 26.5°C) if your water is below 74°F(23.5°C) your water is much too cold for your betta fish and may be causing a lot of shock to them. If you have a tank that is 2.5 or more gallons, it would be best for you to buy a water heater.
I wouldn’t suggest using a heater on a smaller tank, because some heaters have been known to fry the fish.
(Note: this will not happen with better heaters especially in larger tanks.it is best to buy a water heater you can change the temperature of, or spend some extra time reading the reviews.) We personally use the marina compact heater for a 2.5 Gallon tank.
As a general precaution, always keep your tank far from windows or out of rooms that experience drastic temperature changes.
TOO LITTLE OXYGEN
Remember your little ones still need to breathe, and if your tank doesn’t have a pump the only oxygen they are going to get is through you pouring new water in. This can become a huge problem, especially if you’re not someone who changes water frequently enough.
If your tank doesn’t support a pump or waterfall filter, there are plenty of bubblers you can put at the bottom of your tank! I highly suggest getting one of these for your betta fish.
Now, before you jump on me and say that betta fish don’t need pumps or aerators because they are “top of the breathers”, while yes this is true betta fish still have the ability to filter air through water. If your fish is acting lethargic, the chance of them swimming to the top of the fish tank are slim to none, making aerators very helpful.
Sometimes your fish is sick at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to diagnose to the untrained eye, and actually, this happened to our poor Flub a few weeks ago.
Although we don’t know how old Flub was since he was a surrender, his fins clamped very quickly and he passed away shortly after.
Make sure you’re taking a close look at your fish every time you feed them to make sure they’re still in good condition.
The most common issue is bladder disease from ammonia.
Luckily, we’ve never had this issue, but I would take a look at our guide to feeding if you’re interested in learning how to promote good bladder health.
If there’s a lot going on in your home, or your Betta is stressed from its water condition, it may stay at the bottom of the tank. Stress can be a huge factor that leads to bladder disease, so make sure that you know the rules of making sure your Betta is happy.
YOUR BETTA IS FINE, IT’S JUST SLEEPING
Sometimes your fish being lethargic is none of the above and your fish is just tired and needs to take a quick nap. Some Bettas like to sleep at the bottom of tanks, that’s why we got ours a little place to hide and sleep.
If your Betta is only at the bottom of the tank for a short while, you’re probably in the clear!
Though lethargy can be extremely scary, especially for a betta fish owner, it is good to understand that with proper care a betta fish can be nursed back to health.
The first thing you should always do when you think your betta is sick is to check the pH and ammonia levels in the water. Dirty water tends to be the biggest culprit when it comes to sick bettas.
After you’ve checked whether or not the water nitrates and acidity level are to blame, it’s best to move on to checking whether or not the temperature is right in your betta tank. It is always a good idea to have a heater in the tank to ensure that the water temperature never drops too low.
It is never a good idea to let your central heating or the sun be the heater for your tank. This leaves too much space for temperature swings which can ultimately end with a cold betta fish.
If ever you are concerned that the lethargy is being caused by an illness always make sure to check for other symptoms. Sick betta fish tend to ignore food and/or will always stick to the bottom of the tank. Other symptoms and causes can be found here.
If you are still concerned about your betta fish after reading the list of symptoms and are unable to find the cure it is a good idea to speak to a fish specialist or a vet. They may be able to provide you with a stronger medication that is not available at your local pet store.