When it comes to taking care of fish, most people think you simply need to add water. Unfortunately, fish husbandry is much more complicated than this and varies greatly from fish to fish. Luckily, betta fish are very hardy, making them good beginner pets, as a few mistakes won’t kill them. In addition, they require one of the smallest tank sizes of all fish; you can keep them in a tank as small as five gallons.
Given that betta fish are some of the easiest fish to take care of, their care requirements are not difficult to follow nor are they complicated. You only learn by trying, and while some fish care requirements may at first be difficult to grasp, bettas can help you along the way. They need the same basic things as other pets: food, water, light, etc. However, unlike other pets, these are trapped in a closed system, which entirely changes the care and cleaning.
In this article, we will cover basic food information, equipment, monitoring the health of your pet, playing with your pet, decorations, planted tanks, cleaning the substrate, cleaning the filter, water changes, temperature, and day to day care.
Basic Food Information
One common mistake that people often make with new pets/ species is the type of food that they feed their new pet. For example, there is a commonly circulated myth that betta fish eat plant roots. However, betta fish are not capable of digesting plant material or plant-based protein.
In the wild, bettas are purely carnivorous, eating smaller fish, fish fry, invertebrates, insects, and other animals. The Plant matter is not a natural part of their diet, so they have not evolved the ability to process it. If you attempt to feed your betta the food of an herbivore, such as goldfish food, they will suffer digestive issues.
Aside from the type of food you feed, you must also consider the portion size. Most fish food bottles state that you should feed as much as your fish can eat in 1-2 minutes. Unfortunately, those that follow this advice often shorten their fish’s life spans.
Betta has a stomach about the size of its eyeball. Feed your fish an amount of food this same size 1-2 times a day. All bettas are prone to overeating and obesity, so if they are allowed to overeat, they will overeat themselves to death.
In addition to staple food, which is any pellet or flake food labeled for bettas, you should also feed some treats 1-2 times a week. The treats should be fatty, which is why they shouldn’t be fed daily. The most common foods for the treats are bloodworms and brine shrimp.
Avoid freeze-dried bloodworms as they have little to no nutritional value and lead to bloat, while the frozen ones are full of essential vitamins.
Betta fish luckily do not require a lot of equipment; you only need a tank, water conditioner, food, a heater, a filter, substrate, and decorations. They are not picky about the type of substrate or decorations, so designing your tank is fully up to you!
The filter is the only part that you have to be specific. Since most bettas have very long fins, it is difficult for them to swim in strong currents. This means that you should buy either a sponge filter, which has a very gentle flow or an adjustable Hang on Back filter, as you can always lower the flow if it is too strong.
Monitoring the Health of Your Pet
Just like with any new pet, you need to monitor the health of your new betta for the first month. Unlike other animals, symptoms of an illness may not be quite what you expect. For example, a metallic sheen may appear harmless, but it could be an aggressive parasite.
One of the easiest signs to spot in fish that something is wrong is lethargy. If your betta is spending more time resting at the bottom or top than normal, seems less active, or has duller colors, they may be sick. Gasping at the top of the water is another common symptom, one of poisoning, which will be discussed in detail later on.
On the outside of their bodies, be sure to watch for sores, lesions, growths, external parasites, fungus like growth, torn scales, and missing fins. Sores and lesions are normally bacterial growth, as is “fungus” looking growth. You should use strong antibacterial medications, such as Kanaplex or Furan 2 to combat these.
If you see external parasites, you will have to take immediate action against them. Most are easily identifiable and common, so finding information about diagnosing your fish and treating them is not difficult. In addition, most every pet store carries anti-parasitic medication, especially the type for external parasites.
Torn scales and missing fins are normally caused by sharp decorations or filter injuries. Be sure your filter is safe for bettas and check your decorations for any sharp spots. Growths are normally tumors, which you can’t do anything about, but they are luckily often benign and won’t harm your fish.
Playing with your Pet
Playing with your pet… fish? It may sound outlandish, but bettas are extremely interactive and love to play. There are several different ways to do so, each with different levels of interaction. Playing with your fish ranges from feeding live food to training them to do tricks, or even writing on the tank with an erasable marker.
Surprisingly, betta fish love laser pointers. A great way to have fun with your fish for hours on end is a simple laser pointer; just be sure not to aim in their eyes! It also helps if your tank has a background, otherwise, they can only chase the laser across a few decorations in the tank.
The R2 fish school is also a great way to interact with and train your betta. Training your fish is a great way to grow closer to them, but you should always be cautious when teaching bettas any jumping tricks. They are natural born jumpers, and even though you need a secure lid at all times, be especially careful with these tricks.
Live food may not seem like great interaction, but if you have tweezers and some blackworms, white worms, or other live food suitable for bettas, they will go wild! It’s comparable to having a ball that your dog really really really wants.
Aside from a laser pointer, the cheapest way to play with your betta would be to draw with an erasable marker on the outside of the tank. Since the tanks are made of glass or acrylic, any drawings can easily be removed.
Not only will your betta follow the marker around (thoroughly impressed with your drawing skills no doubt!) they will also continue to interact with your drawings after you have left the room.
Not only do betta fish love decorations, but also they are necessary if you want to keep one healthy and happy. As you may have noticed, betta fish are very small; this means that they are often prey animals in the wild, as well as predators of smaller organisms.
This means that they will not feel safe unless they are able to hide frequently. A stressed fish is a sick fish; stress has a severe and negative impact on a fish, and since pathogens are constantly in the water, they will become ill if they get stressed.
Most decorations made for aquariums are resin cast pieces. Most of the caves, fake logs, and other such items would fall in this category. Unfortunately, a great number of these pieces will have some sharp points along with them, and you must ensure that they will not harm your fish.
Run your hands along with the entire decoration, and if any area seems suspiciously sharp, run a tissue over them. If the tissue tears, that means it will tear your betta. Either use a different decoration or sand down the sharp area.
A planted tank is the best tank for a betta. They absolutely adore being able to swim in and out of plants as well as being able to hide in them and rest on large leaves. In addition, planted tanks are not difficult to maintain, as long as you choose the right plants.
Setting up a planted tank can be done in the same way as setting up any other tank; you simply need to add plants. Start with plants like Anubias, Java Fern, Duckweed, Frogbit, Pennywort, Anacharis, or Banana plants. These plants do not require extra care and can simply be added into the aquarium.
Java ferns and Anubias should be tied to decoration, or even superglued to them. It takes multiple days for them to anchor themselves, and they will otherwise aimlessly float around the aquarium.
Pennywort and Anacharis are traditionally floating plants in the wild, but they can have the lower parts of their stems planted to grow upwards. This creates a cleaner and neater looking aquarium, but the buried part of the plant will die.
Duckweed and Frogbit simply float at the top of the aquarium, while banana plants will root and anchor themselves without any intervention.
Plants are beneficial to the aquarium as they help increase the dissolved oxygen levels and take in some of the excess nutrients. They normally help to limit the nitrate levels in aquariums but do not reduce the number of water changes you should do. The increased levels of oxygen are extremely helpful to any fish and invertebrates you may have.
Cleaning the Substrate
While cleaning the substrate may seem like an arbitrary or unimportant task, it is a vital one. Without regular cleaning, mulm will build up in the substrate and cause astronomical nitrate levels, harming the fish. In addition to harming the fish, it makes your job of cleaning the tank much more difficult.
Whether you have gravel, sand, a bare tank, tile, or some other substrate, a gravel siphon will be the easiest instrument to use to clean it. For a gravel tank, plunge the siphon into the gravel until mulm stops coming up from one area, then move it to another section of gravel.
For tile and bare bottom tanks, hovering over noticeable mulm is the easiest way to clean the bottom. The sand substrate needs to be cleaned differently. Swirl the gravel siphon over the substrate, but do not plunge it into the substrate.
The sand can be removed, and you don’t want to lose all of your substrates. Instead, the swirling motion lifts the mulm without disturbing the sand. While it may seem odd at first, it is actually a very easy cleaning method to use.
Cleaning the Filter
While cleaning the filter may seem simple at first, most people clean it incorrectly. For example, simply changing the filter cartridges may seem like an easy and harmless task, but it is a good way to kill your fish.
Since an aquarium is a closed system, there is no way for the waste to leave. Instead, the waste is turned from ammonia to nitrite to nitrate, primarily by bacteria found in the filter media. It takes about a month to fully cycle the tank.
If you fail to cycle a tank before getting a fish, or if you remove the filter cartridge, thereby removing the bacteria colonies, the tank will “recycle”. This will cause very high ammonia and nitrite levels. Ammonia causes severe chemical burns on fish, often causing irreversible damage to the gills, while nitrite binds to hemoglobin in the blood and suffocates fish.
In order to avoid poisoning your fish with either ammonia, nitrite, or both, you should only rinse the filter media in old tank water. Not directly in the tank, but in a separate bucket filled with either dechlorinated water or water from the tank. This removes mulm while preserving the bacteria and your cycle.
For sponge filters, simply remove the sponge and squeeze it out in old water. Though you should be warned, the amount of crud in sponge filters can get quite excessive…
While water changes and substrate cleaning go hand in hand, here we will discuss a few more steps involved in the average water change. The gravel siphon will remove the water to wherever you have the hose leading to. It could be a bucket, a sink, or anything else that holds water.
After removing however much water you wish to remove, (though 20% or more weekly is recommended) you now have to refill the water. Fill a bucket, or other food safe container, with water the same temperature as the tank water.
Next, use a water conditioner/dechlorinator to remove chlorine in the water. Now, you can slowly pour the water back into the tank, and you’re done! Be sure to turn off the filter (unless it is a sponge filter) and the heater while doing a water change.
A drop in the water level can damage a Hang on Back filter, and heaters can explode if left out of the water. This often results in numerous fish deaths, as the insides of a heater can be toxic. Not to mention it is extremely dangerous to your health as well.
Now, why do bettas need a heater? Isn’t room temperature good enough for them?
Most fish are cold blooded animals, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature. If a betta’s environment is not warm enough, their bodily functions will slow until they die.
While room temperature is not likely to kill betta, it will very likely make them sick. Whether we like to think about it or not, germs and bacteria are constantly around us. The only reason we aren’t constantly sick is because of our immune system.
Similarly, there are constantly germs and other pathogens in the water of an aquarium which can infect fish. Most fish have great immune systems, but if they are brought out of their temperature comfort zone, their immune system will become much less effective.
Since their body cannot properly function at an inappropriate temperature, their immune system will also function improperly. This leaves them open to potentially lethal diseases that could have easily been prevented.
So, what’s the proper temperature? The ideal temperature is between 78-82 degrees for the average betta, though a range within 3-5 degrees of each end is acceptable for shorter periods of time. Long term, a slightly higher temperature will increase a betta’s metabolism and shorten their life span, while a cooler temperature can lead to digestive tract and immune system issues.
Day to Day Care
On a daily basis, betta care is very easy and simple. You should turn on ambient light in the room to start, then turn on your betta’s light 30-60 minutes later. Their eyes take a long time to adjust to the lighting, and while many find this extra step unnecessary, it will help your fish’s eyes long term.
You should feed your betta twice daily, and as previously mentioned, feed only a small amount of food. At the end of the day, or after 6-8 hours, turn off the aquarium light. The 6-8-hour time span works for most aquariums and helps to prevent algae growth, though wild bettas get 12 hour days.
In essence, this is all you need to do to take daily care of your betta, but you should be sure to play with them as much as possible, as this will help keep them healthy and is quite fun! You should also do weekly water changes to keep nitrate levels low.
While bettas are low maintenance, you should remember that they are living, intelligent creatures. They can feel pain and know when something is up. Be sure to prevent any ammonia or nitrite poisoning and take care of your little buddy; they live a long time.
In conclusion, basic betta care requires feeding a proper amount of food, proper tank set up and equipment, and water changes. They are not overly demanding but can be just as fun as any other small pet. They are interactive and loving, so just be sure to take good care of your new friend.