Bettas are truly some of the most beautiful fish in the world. They’re colorful, lively, have spectacular fins, and are fortunately both readily available and not particularly difficult to keep. Despite being considered a “beginner” fish, there are some misconceptions when it comes to keeping bettas that often lead to unhappy and/or unhealthy fish. I’m going to give you my top five tips for success. These concepts can also be generalized and applied to any aquatic system.
1. Give your betta fish a proper place to live.
Preferably prior to taking your betta home, make sure your aquarium setup will provide your new fish with everything he’ll need to thrive.
One of the biggest mistakes with bettas is not giving them enough room. Just because they can survive in a half-gallon bowl doesn’t mean they’ll like it. You could survive in your bathroom, but that certainly wouldn’t be too enjoyable. A tank of 3 gallons or more is preferable so your betta has enough swimming space.
Unless you live in a place where the ambient temperature never dips below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll want to get a heater, too. Bettas prefer water between 75 degrees and 82 degrees.
They don’t require powerful filtration systems, or any for that matter. In my own betta tanks, I stick to an air stone set on low flow with a control valve. Bettas, or Siamese fighting fish, are indigenous to warm bodies of fresh water in Southeast Asia with minimal to no flow, so a high current setup is not desirable.
Because of the low oxygen conditions in which they have evolved, anabantoids (the order bettas belong to) have an accessory breathing apparatus called the labyrinth organ that allows them to take in oxygen directly from the air. It’s a vascular modification of the gills that essentially works like a lung, making them far less dependent on dissolved O2 in their water compared to other types of non-anabantoid fish. This also means that bettas require easy access to the surface, so tanks with more horizontal space are better than those with vertical depth.
2. Keep the setup simple.
Decorations in tanks can be fun, but it is best to keep your aquascaping simple. Bettas prefer open swimming space with the optional protection of added design elements.
Some plants, real or fake, can help make the environment more natural. Keep in mind that any non-living decorations you add to the aquarium should be thoroughly washed before introducing them to the tank water in the event there were any harmful chemical coatings on the items. I always tend to err on the side of caution by choosing easy live plants, such as java ferns, java moss, and anubias: They look great and provide a major cleaning service as they absorb nutrients in order to grow, naturally keeping your water cleaner.
Bright lights are not required, and if near a window, ambient light might be enough.
A gravel substrate is good, though nothing too tiny that could be accidentally swallowed in the event your betta is scavenging food off the bottom.
3. Provide your betta fish with a healthy diet.
Now that your betta has a nice home, what’s next? Food. Bettas are generalists in their diet preferences, and are used to eating just about anything. In the wild, they’ll eat worms, insect larvae, tiny fish, and will even graze on algae, so in the home aquarium they tend not to be too picky. There are many betta foods that have been formulated as dry pellets, but there are also plenty of frozen options as well. While not necessary, variety is good for them, and a weekly treat of frozen bloodworms is a great way to imitate a natural diet for your fish.
Multiple small feedings throughout the day is best, but most of us can only manage to feed our fish twice daily between work and other responsibilities. In general, give your betta enough food to keep him busy easting for about two minutes. If you’re uncertain about quantity, under-feeding is better than over-feeding, as bettas are prone to constipation. Uneaten food can also prove to be a health hazard because it sinks to the bottom and decomposes, fouling your water and necessitating frequent water changes to avoid sickness.
4. Monitor your betta’s health.
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your fish to make sure you catch any signs of illness early on so treatment can be simple and successful. Some common symptoms of sickness are strange swimming patterns, lethargy, clamped fins, loss of color, torn fins, bloating, and “fuzzy” patches on their bodies. Many of these issues can be treated with a medication containing malachite green, but if you suspect illness, try to diagnose the issue before adding chemicals by using reliable online resources, fish health books, or contacting an aquatic specialist at your local fish store.
5. Keep up on tank maintenance.
On the topic of treating sick fish, it is best to do everything in your power to avoid illnesses in the first place. The sustained health of your betta can most reliably be achieved with regular water changes and tank maintenance. If you even suspect an issue, do a water change. If we breathed polluted air, we would develop a whole range of health problems, and the same holds true for fish when it comes to water quality. Clean water that falls within desirable parameters will keep your betta happy and well.
And that’s about it! Appropriate aquarium equipment, a minimalistic setup, good food, a caring, watchful eye, and clean water should be all you need to help your betta live happily for years to come while also bringing you much enjoyment.
Note: I used masculine pronouns to describe the fish in this article because most bettas sold are males on account of their big, bold, colorful fins. Females are available as well, but are not as common as they are typically smaller, more docile, and less colorful.