January 2019

Betta Fish

Betta fish are beautiful and ornamental. They are found in tiny cups at any pet store or found in vases with plants that they supposedly live “symbiotically” with. The running myth is that they live in mud puddles in Thailand. But these living conditions are false. While Bettas are beautiful, they are a commitment and have environmental requirements that are much more than the “low maintenance” picture pet stores would paint for them. Having kept Betta fish for 3-4 years now, I promote them as a wonderful pet to have and promote the appropriate care for them whenever possible. So let’s dive right into how to care for a Betta fish. Water pun intended.

Bettas are native to the tropical freshwaters of Thailand. Wild caught Bettas are much different looking and acting than the domesticated, ornamental types you’ll find in pet stores. That being said, their needs are the same. Tropical waters never go below 68 degrees and usually no higher than 75 degrees. Though Bettas breed in shallow waters that are warmer, around 80 degrees, they should not remain in those conditions for long. Bettas are also freshwater type fish, so tap water should do after it is conditioned properly.  Betta fish are also known as Vietnamese Fighting Fish because of their extreme territorial aggression. Bettas housed together have been known to kill each other, therefore Bettas should live a solitary lifestyle in a tank, alone or with feeder fish and snails. Note: your Betta may still decide to kill snails and feeder fish.

Preparing your tank is essential before you bring your new friend home. Begin with the appropriate sized tank. 5 gallons is the minimal tank size I would consider for a Betta. The tank should have a filter, filter pad, and submersible heater set to about 70 degrees. Rinse your filter pad and tank well before setting up your tank. Ideally, the tank should not be set in direct sunlight, that will encourage algae growth. Substrate is the next part to consider. I prefer Betta sand that has beneficial bacteria and tannins that aid in creating the perfect tank conditions for your fish. It is best to use a substrate that is similarly colored to a natural environment. Bright, neon colors can stress out your Betta. It is best to select your substrate and rinse it well before adding it to your tank.Then, I recommend adding fake plants and hides to the tank bottom. Rinse your items well before adding them to ensure there is no residue on the stone and plastic. Bettas prefer a mixture of tall and short plants to hide inside or float on. Again, picking items that appear to be more naturally colored is ideal versus the bright, colored items. Water will be added last. Generally I fill a bucket with water the night before. I allow it to sit out overnight to become room temperature. Add the water to the tank slowly and turn on your filter. You will then add in a water conditioner and a pinch of aquarium salt. A small amount of aquarium salt discourages algae and bacterial growth. Water conditioner will remove chlorines and other chemicals added to tap water. I recommend Seachem Prime, this conditioner has tannins that improve water quality, as well as, the standard conditioning constituents. Now that you’re all set, allow your tank to run without a fish for a week before considering adding in your new friend. This allows the tank to build up a healthy bacterial flora.

Adding your new friend should be done slowly over 30 minutes. Allow your Betta to float in the tank, inside of the cup she/he came in. This allows the water in the cup to slowly grow to the temperature of your tank. Once you feel the temperature is similar, continue to the next step. Then, remove a small amount of water from the cup and add in an equivalent amount of water from the tank. Allow your better to float for 10-15 more minutes like so. As long as your Betta doesn’t seem stressed and isn’t breathing heavily, you may proceed to the next step. Tilt the cup very carefully to release your new friend into his/her tank. Do this ever so slowly, so as not to “dump” them into this new environment. Stress can be detrimental to a Betta. Lastly, I recommend not feeding your fish the first day in the new home. Betta’s have very small and sensitive stomachs so it best not to overwhelm them. I feed my Betta once daily thereafter with tropical fish food. Bettas enjoy the occasional freeze dried brine shrimp as a special snack. Just like you and I don’t enjoy eating the same things everyday, your fish doesn’t either.

You’ll want to clean your tank weekly. The items you will need are an aquarium vacuum and/or a pipette and a bucket.  First turn off your tank; both filter and heater. Next, remove your filter pad and rinse it in room temperature water. Sit this aside to be replaced after cleaning. If your filter pad is falling apart or appears tattered, replace it with a new one. Remove any waste from the bottom of the tank using your aquarium vacuum or pipette. I usually do a 15% water change at this point. Remove the appropriate amount of water, and replace it with fresh water, spilling it into the tank slowly. Apply the appropriate amount of water conditioner for your tank size and a pinch of aquarium salt. Replace your filter pad and turn your tank back on. You may choose to remove your fish for cleaning. I make this judgement based on how friendly or easily stressed out my fish is. It is different for every fish. If you have removed him/her, return them to the tank using the protocol listed when introducing your Betta into the tank initially.

And that’s all!… or maybe you are overwhelmed. As you can see, Bettas require time and commitment, just like any other pet. These fish are very personable and can be trained. They are a great option for older children or for people whom have allergies to pet dander. But they definitely require your attention. I hope this article helped you out if you have been considering getting a unique pet or if you already have a Betta but aren’t sure how best to care for them. As always, thank you for reading!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Vet Tech