When you see your betta fish lying at the bottom of the aquarium, this is typically a cause for alarm. Normally, fish don’t lie down, do they? Fish swim even while sleeping, as they need to keep the water moving over their gills. So, what can cause them to lie down, and is it always a sign of poor health?
While lying down is normally a sign of a dying or ill fish, some betta fish will simply sit at the bottom of the tank very often. If they are lying on their sides during the daytime, this could be a sign of something more worrying. However, if they are lying on their side at night, lying weirdly in decoration, or something similar, this may just be the way that your betta sleeps. There are some steps you can take to determine whether or not your betta lying or sitting at the bottom of the tank is normal, which will be discussed in detail further.
In this article, we will cover common reasons that bettas lay or sit at the bottom of tanks, causes of inactivity in bettas, identifying common illnesses, and old age.
Why is my Betta Laying on the Bottom?
While there are several reasons that your betta is lying on the bottom of the tank, some of which are very harmful, the most common reason is not. If your betta has long fins, as most do, it may simply not be able to swim as effectively.
Breeders created bettas to be an ornamental fish, which resulted in long fins and a massive variety of colors. However, some of these fins are long enough to disable the fish, especially if you have a Halfmoon, Over Halfmoon, Rosetail, or similar tail type. These tails are massive and can greatly weigh down your betta.
They simply aren’t able to swim normally or constantly as they should, so they end up sitting, or occasionally, laying at the bottom of the tank. Given that this is a result of their natural state of being (well, sort of natural), there isn’t much you can do about it. Some owners will get their fish surgery to remove parts of their fins. However, this is normally reserved for extremely severe cases and does carry some risk.
Some of the other possible explanations include illness, old age, poisoning, stress, and depression. These all slow a betta down and can cause them to lay down more frequently or start up the behavior if they never did it before.
What Causes Inactivity in Bettas?
The above illnesses can all manifest as the same symptom, so it can be difficult to diagnose your fish. Poisoning and illness are the two most common causes of lethargy and inactivity, so it is best to rule those out first.
Ammonia and nitrite poisoning are unfortunately very commonly seen in bettas. Many people have bettas as their first fish pet, and most do not do nearly enough research into caring for their new little friend.
When fish waste or fish food begins to dissolve into the water, it turns into ammonia, then to nitrite. After around a month, these two compounds will turn into nitrate, which is only a harmful long turn. On the other hand, ammonia and nitrite poisoning kill, and quickly.
If you didn’t cycle your tank, and your fish is lethargic and slow moving, test your water immediately. If the tests come back negative for ammonia and nitrite, and show some nitrate, your tank is in good working order.
You should next check for illnesses, which will be discussed further in the next section, and there is an unfortunately large number of common betta illnesses. Long fins are easy to determine, and they only cause sitting issues in males, but not male plakats. If your betta swims but appears to be dragged down by their fins, or their tail movement doesn’t extend all the way to the tips of the fin, then the fins are the most likely cause.
Stress can be difficult to identify in fish, but it does happen. Try to identify if your fish has any nearby stressors, such as vibrations, reflections in the tank, other tank inhabitants, and see if the tank is in a high traffic area. If there are stressors, remove them before attempting any other remedy.
How to Identify Common Illnesses in Bettas
Even though illnesses can each display a specific set of symptoms, most illnesses will cause bettas to be more lethargic and to display a duller coloration. As you get into more specific illnesses, you will see more specific symptoms, but all illnesses will cause some lethargy and visible changes.
Fin rot is incredibly common in bettas, particularly if they have long fins. The beginning stages of fin rot may be hard to identify, as the edge of the fin may just look slightly wobbly or undulating. As it progresses, the fin starts to appear ragged and normally has a black, gray, or even white edge to it. More frequent water changes, antibacterial meds, and hydrogen peroxide swabs often solve this problem.
Velvet and Ich are two common parasitic infections that are treated by the same general medications. Velvet appears as a golden sheen on your betta, while Ich looks like grains of salt. Both need to be treated quickly and for a relatively long period of time.
If your fish is acting lethargic and seems to be losing weight, it probably has internal parasites, which can be treated by many readily available medications.
Bacterial infections are also unfortunately common, though it is can be difficult to identify a specific strain. It can appear as fluffy spots on a betta, red inflamed veins, a general lack of activity, strange colors, whiteness on the body, and may other symptoms. It is best to treat this with strong antibacterial medications that treat both gram positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Old Age and Laying Down
As bettas grow older, they tend to slow down considerably. While this can happen as young as a year and a half old, other bettas may not start to experience symptoms of old age until they are three or four.
As they age, their metabolism will slow, their color will gray, and they will be more lethargic. They may begin to sit on the bottom of the tank more often, which can cause many owners to panic.
A sick betta will have a degrading condition very rapidly, normally over just a few days to a week or two. An aging betta will gray and slow down over a period of several weeks to several months. If you begin to notice any issues with any of your fish, start a calendar and track the condition. This should be done at all times, as some symptoms fade and new ones replace them, and it makes identifications of illnesses much easier.
Unlike an illness, old age is not treatable, but it doesn’t mean that your betta is doomed. As previously stated, some bettas will start to show signs of aging as young as a year and a half, but the average lifespan of a betta is closer to four years.
In conclusion, a betta fish lying on the bottom of its tank does not always mean it is dying, though it can be an early warning sign of a serious illness or poisoning. Always rule out such issues before assuming everything is fine, but if you cannot find any evidence of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate poisoning, or any illness, simply keep an eye on your betta. Your little buddy is likely just getting older, or they picked up an unusual habit.