Betta Fish Care
Photo by Kyaw Tun
Being able to take care of a betta fish, means knowing what makes them happy and healthy. It also means knowing what causes stress and disease so you can avoid it. In our comprehensive betta fish care guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to promote a healthy habitat. This includes the recommended tank size, water quality and maintenance, feeding, and much more!
With proper care, your betta could live up to five years despite their average life of 1-2 years. This discrepancy is largely due to misinformation from chain pet stores. Betta fish are a beautiful and intelligent species of fish and deserve proper care.
Taking care of your betta requires a little education and responsibility for both kids and adults. The beautiful betta is pretty resilient and inexpensive to purchase and maintain, and they can bring years of companionship and joy.
If you’re reading this, chances are you already have your betta fish at home. If not, pat yourself on the back for researching before purchasing one. Knowing how to take care of a Betta before you buy one will make things a lot easier; especially when purchasing a tank and other accessories for the first time.
The absolute minimum tank size for healthy betta is 1 gallon with the recommended size being 5 gallons or more. Larger tanks are easier to maintain nitrogen cycles and temperature and require less frequent cleanings.
In the wild, the bettas live in shallow oxygen-deficient streams, rice paddies, and puddles, but many of these areas are still expansive in water volume. Your betta needs room to swim around and places to hide. Plus you’ll enjoy him or her that much more if they have ample space to put on a show.
Never fill your tank to the maximum volume. Betta fish need access to the water’s surface to gulp air using their unique labyrinth organ. The labyrinth organ allows them to extract oxygen from the air and not just the water via their gills. This is why bettas don’t require air pumps. It's also important to make sure you have a lid on your tank because bettas are great jumpers, and may leap right out of your tank.
Betta fish need natural or artificial light while they are awake during the day, and darkness at night so they can sleep. This establishes a regular day and night pattern, regulating their internal biological clock. Plants and other decorations provide shade if they do want to get out of direct lighting for some time.
Avoid direct sunlight entering your tank because it can quickly raise the water’s temperature to dangerous levels and promote unwanted algae growth. Artificial lighting is recommended, placing your betta fish’s habitat away from windows. This way you control light being on during the day, and off at night with the simple touch of a button.
Some bettas are too aggressive to live with other inhabitants, but they can play nice with certain tank mates that are non-aggressive and do not possess any bright colors or long fins. The reason the betta is known as the Siamese fighting fish is because of the male’s acute aggressiveness. This was heightened from selective breeding in the 1800s and is still a part of their genetic makeup.
Success increases by adding community fish with bettas in larger tanks that have plenty of spaces to hide. Use a 5-10 gallon or larger aquarium to provide enough space for a proper community habitat.
The increased space in larger tanks will decrease the territorial instincts of the betta and may decrease the aggression against certain types of fish. If in doubt, always ask a store employee before you buy a potential tank mate.
8 GREAT BETTA TANK MATES
1. MYSTERY SNAILS
Snails don’t get enough credit for being as cool as they are! They are one of the best tank mates for your Betta. Mystery snails are a great addition because they feed on uneaten food and clean up algae, helping with aquarium cleanliness. They also don’t reproduce asexually like the nerite snail which can quickly become a mess with snails everywhere!
Mystery snails are plant-safe and do well with bettas because of their docile nature. Sometimes a Betta will be curious or even nip at a mystery snail, but they have a hard shell they can retreat into if needed. Adults can grow to around 2 inches in size, with an average lifespan of one year. You’ll love watching them navigate around the tank, using their siphon for air at the surface, and watching their tentacles meander around.
2. CHERRY SHRIMP
Cherry Shrimp Care is easy because these invertebrates are pretty low maintenance and self-sufficient. Red Cherry Shrimp are hardy and adaptable to a wide range of water conditions provided the aquarium water remains stable. Water parameters should be in the tropical community tank range, invest in some java moss or java fern (pick ones with really tangly rhizomes and let them semi-float) other live plants work as well. Driftwood is also a nice addition they can hide under or behind.
The recommended introduction is in a group of 2-4, with 6 or more leading to potential breeding.
Cherry shrimp are easy to care for, inexpensive, and they are scavengers who will scour your tank looking for excess food to eat off the substrate. They can grow up to 1 inch in length and live for 1 to 1.5 years with proper care. These active critters are really fun to watch, love moss balls and other live plants and help keep your tank clean.
3. FEEDER GUPPIES
Feeder guppies are bred for food for larger fish and don’t have the bright coloring or long fins like the fancy guppy. This makes them an ideal fish to live with a Betta. Guppies are also content living on their own, so adding one as a tank mate is easier than schooling fish.
Enjoying the same pH and temperature range, feeder guppies are also very resilient fish. Their temperament is relatively docile, so you won’t have to worry about them nipping at your betta.
4. CORY CATFISH
Corydoras (cory/cories) catfish are good additions to a community betta tank. They are easy to care for and enjoy the same water conditions as bettas. Corydoras live on the bottom, feeding, and can live alone or in schools (2 or more recommended) depending on the size of your tank. They range from 1.0-2.5 inches in length.
The average lifespan for cory catfish in captivity is 2-3 years and have a non-aggressive temperament. This makes them a perfect companion for betta fish. For the most part, they are very active and can liven up a tank. If you want to be extra cautious, you may even look at the pygmy corydoras which are duller in color and only grow up to 1 inch but are not always available.
5. HARLEQUIN RASBORA
The rasbora is a shoaling fish that prefers to live with a school of 5 to 6 in a tank. They’re great tank mates for a Betta as long as your tank is 10 gallons or more. This will give them plenty of space for activity. Rasboras also love tasty brine shrimp just like the betta.
If you decide to introduce your betta into a tank with the harlequin rasbora, you can expect rasboras to grow to around 1.5 inches in length and live on average five years. This species is also very peaceful, adding additional quality to coexistence with the betta splenden.
6. AFRICAN DWARF FROG
African dwarf frogs are excellent betta tank mates too because of their peaceful personalities. They are also relatively easy to care for. Dwarf frogs can grow up to 2.5 inches in length and live on average five years. Males tend to be slightly smaller than females and the species also enjoy at least 2 per tank.
They are very active and like to explore their surroundings. The frogs come to the surface to get air since they have lungs and not gills. If you’re lucky you’ll even witness them shed their skin, (every 1-2 weeks) which is a speedy process that ends with the frog eating it. As for eating, you’ll also love watching them stuff their mouths with food using their little webbed feet!
7. NEON TETRAS
Despite advising betta fish owners to avoid tank mates with bright colors, the neon tetra can do well with betta fish because of their speed. In your community tank, you will need to add more than one, as neon tetras prefer to school in packs of 6 to 10. A long narrow tank is recommended for plenty of horizontal swimming space.
Typical lifespan is five years in captivity, and they can grow up to 4 centimeters in length. In prolonged periods of darkness, you may witness their red stripe fade or disappear completely. Neon tetras are fascinating to watch as they swim together and navigate about the tank looking for food or safety. Neon tetras also like heavily planted tanks with lots of places to hide, just like the betta.
8. CLOWN PLECOS
Another algae eater that can be compatible with the betta is the clown pleco. Make sure to avoid the Common Pleco, however, because it can grow up to two feet long! The Clown Pleco is the dwarf member of the species making it a suitable tank mate at a maximum length of around 4 inches.
It’s a hardy and easy to care for fish, enjoying an average lifespan around ten years in captivity. They like to explore and have tough skin in the event a betta fish does get curious.
BETTAS LIVING TOGETHER?
DO NOT put two males in the same tank because they will fight and nip at each other, likely until one is dead or severely stressed. This is cruel and should never be done! Males should also never be housed with a female unless they are breeding for short periods and then separated.
Males will exhibit aggressive behavior against females too. Females, however, can live together in groups of five or more, but the tank size should double to 10 gallons or more. A good rule of thumb is 1 gallon per 1 inch of each fish. If you have five females, every 2 inches, that will translate to a 10-gallon tank.
A major part of caring for a betta fish involves making sure they are content and not stressed. Mimicking their natural habitat is the best way to accomplish that. Bettas love places to hide so they can feel safe, especially when sleeping. Think of hiding places like their homes.
Their natural habitat has lots of places to hide, including substrate, rocks, plants, and sticks. Live plants are the best for aquariums because they can help remove ammonia from the water (e.g., Amazon Sword) and they’re soft.
Don’t worry though, artificial plants are fine too, and they are inexpensive and resilient. Their quality has improved in recent years and look almost identical to the real deal.
Betta fish come from a tropical climate in Thailand, so they require warm water in their tanks. Never let the water in your tank drop below 65 degrees or go above 82 degrees, and try to keep it in the range of 76 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature bettas are happiest and active at.
If your habitat’s water is consistently too cold, your betta will become withdrawn and eventually sick. This is the quickest way to reduce their potential lifespan. The only time a heater is not required is if the surrounding temperature in the room the tank is in is at least 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thermometer and Heater
Purchase an aquarium-safe thermometer to record the water’s temperature. If the temperature is too low, purchase a small aquarium heater (e.g., 5-20 watts). Heaters that are adjustable and contain a built-in thermostat are the best solutions, but be careful not to set them too high and cook your fish.
Betta fish are very sensitive to changes in their habitat’s temperature and water parameters. When changing the temperature and water conditions, do it slowly and methodically. Abrupt changes can stress your fish and even cause adverse health consequences.
While filters aren’t mandatory, they are highly encouraged for aquariums larger than 3 gallons. Filters reduce harmful bacteria while supporting healthy bacteria. They are your little helpers when it comes to tank maintenance and caring for your betta fish. A filter is relatively inexpensive and is best when included with an entire setup.
Betta fish are not very strong swimmers, and a filter can stress them out if the current is too strong. Prolonged agitation can lead to ripped fins, acute stress, and even death. Choose a filter that is adjustable or recommended for a betta fish. Baffle intake tubes and exits with pre-filters or plastic plants if necessary to reduce strong currents.
Water added to the tank must be free of chlorine and other contaminants. We recommend you use tap water and be sure to use a water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, and other heavy metals. This prevents any potential harm or death. Never use distilled or bottled water either, because it has been stripped of all the essential minerals that bettas need to thrive on.
Betta fish prefer their water’s pH to be slightly acidic. They do best in the pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 (7 is neutral). Some tap water and spring water may be significantly higher than 7.5 which means you should always test your water before adding it to your betta’s tank. Consider purchasing a pH kit to keep it in a healthy range if necessary. Tap water in the Los Angeles area tends to be 7.4 right out of the faucet!
Also consider adding aquarium salt to your aquarium’s water to reduce stress and swelling, and to promote healthy fins.
Keeping a betta’s tank (ecosystem) clean is crucial to their health and happiness. As your betta consumes food, digests it, and eventually gets rid of it (poop!), it ends up in the tank’s water. The smaller the tank, the quicker it becomes polluted.
One of the most common issues linked to poor betta health is sustained exposure to increased levels of ammonia and nitrites. Water quality declines as ammonia build up from waste and uneaten food. This forces the pH level of the water to drop out of a healthy range.
Your fish will be swimming in its waste and over time can lead to illness or even death. A good filter can help reduce these levels and establish healthy bacteria in tanks 3 gallons or larger. Filters are not recommended for tanks smaller than 3 gallons.
How Often Should You Clean A Betta Fish’s Tank?
A systematic maintenance schedule should be adhered to. Tanks under 3 gallons will need more frequent and complete water changes to avoid dangerous levels of ammonia. It can be done; it’s just a little more work.
Non-filtered tanks require a full 100% water change each week (depending on water quality). A 5-gallon or larger filtered tank will only need around 25%-50% of total water volume change once per month depending on water quality.
Keep a pH kit in your supplies to test your tank’s water. Smaller tanks and those that are unfiltered are more work in the long-run because of how rapidly the water’s quality can decline. Remember, adding live plants can also help reduce ammonia levels in the water naturally.
Water cycling (removing some and adding new) and changes (complete volume replacement) are necessary for filtered tanks too but are more frequent and important in non-filtered habitats. Don’t remove your betta during partial water changes; Unnecessary removal can lead to potential stress and injury. Only remove your betta during 100% water changes using a fish net.
Betta fish get used to their ecosystem and don’t like abrupt changes to it. Because of this, you should do partial changes more than you do a complete change. Removing too much of the existing water in the tank and then adding new can cause your fish to go into shock. This may be due to changes in water parameters or temperature. Always acclimate your betta fish when re-introducing them to their tank after a complete water change.
Removing 25-50% of the tanks water and refilling with similar temperature and pH dechlorinated water is the safest route. Whenever adding new tap water, make sure to use dechlorination drops or water that has chlorine already removed.
How to Clean Your Tank and Decorations
Cleaning your tank and its decorations is very important for your betta fish’s health. Only use approved aquarium decorations and materials that are safe for fish. Use a magnetic or algae cleaning pad for regular algae removal while the tank is filled.
Filters and their media should be cleaned by rinsing them in existing tank water to preserve healthy bacteria. Other components can also be gently rinsed. Never clean a tank or its components with soap! It’s very tough to remove all the soap, and it can poison your betta once the tank is refilled.
All existing and new decorations should be rinsed thoroughly with hot water to remove dust and other contaminants. If you want to increase the cleaning power, you can use distilled white vinegar to remove stubborn stains and smells.
Part of betta fish care means regular feedings! Betta fish need specific food because they are carnivorous and like meat. In the wild, bettas feed on insects and their larvae on the water’s surface. Replicating they're feeding environment and food will keep them happy and healthy.
Betta food comes in different varieties including pellets, flakes, live, and freeze-dried options. The most common ingredients are meat, fish, and shrimp. Try not to feed your betta other tropical fish food because they need a specific protein-rich diet.
Betta fish can be very picky eaters too. Persistent refusal may mean trying a different brand or blend until you find the right one. Betta’s also love treats once in a while, but they might start to prefer them if you overdo it.
Freeze dried bloodworms, and brine shrimp are a betta’s favorites. Some owners prefer to use freeze-dried bloodworms or shrimp as their exclusive food source. Breeders may also stay away from manufactured pellets and flakes, opting for live foods to prepare for shows and breeding. The most important part, however, is ensuring a rich and varied diet.
It’s hard to gauge how much you should be feeding a Betta. Food labels are often unclear and inconsistent. Their stomach is roughly the size of their eye and pellets can expand after they’re ingested. Overfeeding leads to bloating, constipation, swim bladder issues, and a build up of uneaten food in the tank.
Get on a regular feeding schedule, and follow these guidelines if you’re still unsure. If you decide to feed your betta twice a day, make sure to feed them about 2-3 pellets max during each feeding. Feeding once per day should be 3-5 pellets.
Many betta owners get stressed wondering why their fish won’t eat, but in reality, it’s usually from prior over feedings. Betta fish may also refuse to eat during stress, especially when first bringing them home. Betta’s can go 14 days without food before they starve to death, just like a human.
If you’re going away for 2-7 days, try a vacation feeder block for bettas. Never add extra food to compensate. It's better to allow a betta to go without food than to dump a bunch in there and think they’ll eat it. They won’t, and it will only dirty the tank.
How to Take Care of Different Betta Fish
The difference between female betta fish care and male betta fish care is very minimal. They both require the same water parameters, food, tank size, and decorations/plants. Males and females can require different types of care before, during and after breeding, but that’s more advanced than basic care. Females can also coexist together in sororities which lead to different recommendations on care too.
Betta fish fry (babies) require special care during upbringing. Petco recently began selling baby betta fish, and with improper care, they can die prematurely. Fry require special care, and special diets to survive because they cannot fit most betta pellets into their mouths. Fry upbringing should be reserved for experienced caretakers and breeders.
There are over 70 different species of betta fish, with the betta splenden being for sale in pet stores. Betta splendens come in many different tail variations through selective breeding. However, all require the same level and types of care. These include, but are not limited to, the crowntail, veil tail, double tail, delta tail, plakat, king, butterfly, and halfmoon.
Caring for a betta fish isn’t that hard once you establish a routine and separate the myths from the facts. As a betta owner, you should always be monitoring the health of your fish and watching out for any indicators of concern. Most issues can be traced back to poor care in feeding patterns, acclimation, and tank maintenance.
Once you know how to care for a betta fish, please spread this information to other caretakers. Over time we can help reduce the prevalence of misinformation out there. Betta fish deserve the right to live a long and healthy life in captivity.