When you have a pet like a cat or a dog, most people do not need to do research as they have lived their whole lives surrounded by these animals and are very familiar with their care. On the other hand, animals such as fish are not as common, so people often have to do research. However, if you google “betta fish care”, you will end up with largely conflicting information. For example, the average tank size recommended for bettas ranges from half a gallon to ten gallons, so which is it?
Keeping a Betta fish alive is not a difficult task, and these fish are relatively long-lived, staying alive for an average of about four years. There are only a few pieces of equipment that are necessary to keep your betta fish alive, and they do not need much maintenance. However, there are many key aspects that kill bettas that people are not aware of, mainly the nitrogen cycle and various illnesses.
In this article, we will cover common illnesses, setting up a tank the right way, the nitrogen cycle, feeding your fish, and cleaning the filter and tank.
Here we will cover some of the more common illnesses that bettas get. Some of these are ones that the betta would have been exposed to before you bought them, while others will develop over time.
Columnaris is a bacterial infection that resembles a fungus. It can kill fish in 12-72 hours, meaning treatment must be carried out immediately if your fish is to survive. The best treatment is either Kanaplex or Furan 2. It is good to always have Kanaplex on hand, as it treats both columnaris and dropsy, two illnesses that need to be treated as soon as you notice them.
Dropsy is a symptom of kidney failure and causes extreme swelling in the body. This swelling forces the scales outwards from the body, giving a “pine coning” effect. The death rates are astronomical and a mix of Kanaplex and Epsom salt is the best way to treat it.
Even by adding 1 tbsp of Epsom salt for every 5 gallons of water to the main tank and dosing Kanaplex properly, this may not save your fish. Dropsy often moves too fast, and even if you can treat the symptom, you then have a failing or failed kidney to worry about.
Fin rot is another very common issue with bettas, though the cause is often environmental. If your tank has any ammonia or nitrite, or the nitrate level is over 20ppm, this can stress your fish and cause the fins to rot.
While these three are some of the most common and devastating illnesses that can affect bettas, there are many, many more. Some of our other articles, such as “Common Betta Illnesses”, go more in depth into these diseases and how to prevent them.
Setting up a Tank – The Right Way
When you first set up your betta’s tank, you want to make sure that you have several essential items. You will need a filter, heater, substrate (optional), decorations, live plants (optional, but recommended), an appropriately sized tank, and a water conditioner.
Unless you have a very specific substrate, you will need to rinse it thoroughly before adding it to the tank. Otherwise, your beautiful new tank will have extremely cloudy water. The sediment will settle after a while but will be kicked up at every water change and can damage filters.
After rinsing and adding the substrate, you can partially fill the tank a few inches. At this point, you can add any decorations or live plants you may have.
The nitrogen cycle is a commonly overlooked aspect of fish care, despite it being arguably one of the most important aspects. While the nitrogen cycle itself is vital for the survival of fish and wildlife, it leads to New Tank Syndrome and Old Tank Syndrome, both of which can be fatal.
Nitrogen compounds cycle through the tank, being converted by bacteria from one form into another. The three main compounds you need to be concerned with are ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Ammonia is converted into nitrite, nitrite into nitrate, and in rare cases, nitrate is converted into nitrogen gas, completing the cycle.
If ammonia is quickly converted into nitrate, which is something seen in established and mature tanks, there will be little to no issues with the tank. However, it takes around a month of adding an ammonia source to fully cycle a tank.
The ammonia source can be anything from pure ammonia to fish food to dead fish to live fish, though fish in cycling is tricky. Ammonia and nitrite are extremely toxic; ammonia causes chemical burns on the fish, often damaging the gills and burning off scales, while nitrite binds to hemoglobin in the blood and prevents it from carrying oxygen, suffocating the fish.
Cycling with fish requires daily water changes, which quickly becomes exhausting. Imagine keeping up with 50% daily water changes for a month, or even longer! Chemical testing is also necessary for this time period, but after the tank is fully cycled, nitrate testing should be the only necessary test.
Cycling your tank before adding fish is the much-preferred method, but bettas are strong enough to withstand a fish in cycle. For this type of cycle, you must keep ammonia and nitrite below 0.25ppm. For fishless cycling, ammonia should stay at 4ppm.
Feeding Your Fish
Feeding fish may not seem very important, but this is yet another aspect of keeping fish that many people do not give much thought. Most food containers say, “feed what your fish can eat in 1-3 minutes”, so surely that is a good guideline, right?
Unfortunately, following this advice will lead your fishy friend to an early grave. All betta species are prone to suffering from obesity, so overfeeding them is especially bad. So, how do you know you are overfeeding them?
If they start to get an excessively plump belly, you are probably feeding them too much. A betta’s stomach is about the size of their eye, so you should feed them an amount of food the size of their eye twice a day.
Feeding more than this can result in bloat or constipation, both of which are uncomfortable for your betta. Discomfort is not the main issue, as both of these can devolve into lethal conditions.
While overfeeding can cause these problems, feeding the incorrect food will do the same thing. Bettas are predators in the wild and primarily/exclusively eat meat and animal protein. Feeding them fruit, vegetable matter, or other forms of protein can wreak havoc on their digestive tracts.
Be sure to feed your betta food made specifically for bettas. It should have a good deal of animal protein listed, primarily fish. In addition to this, bettas should be fed supplemental fatty food once or twice a week. Bloodworms and brine shrimp are some of the more popular and readily available choices.
Cleaning the Filter and Tank
When cleaning your tank, you will need a gravel siphon. If you have a bare bottom tank, airline tubing will do the trick, though a gravel siphon may still be better.
Start the suction on the gravel siphon and plunge it into the substrate, but only if the substrate is gravel. Mulm will be lifted out of the substrate and drain to wherever you have the water going, whether it is a sink, bucket, or garden.
If you have a sand substrate, twirl the siphon directly above the substrate, as this will dislodge mulm and lift it into the siphon. Airline tubing can be maneuvered to remove visible waste.
Continue gravel siphoning until you have removed mulm from about 1/3 to ½ of the tank, or until you have drained the amount of water you wanted to remove. If you have a bucket, the next part will be much easier.
Now, it is time to clean the filter media. The filter media houses most of the bacteria that keep your nitrogen cycle going, so you must be careful when cleaning. For example, running tap water over the media will kill all the bacteria, as the chlorine concentration is too high for them.
Simply take the media and squeeze it out several times into the bucket, then replace it. Empty the bucket, refill it with new water of the same temperature, treat with water conditioner, then pour it back into the aquarium gently.
In conclusion, it is not difficult to keep a betta fish alive if you follow a few simple steps. While their care may be different than you expected, it’s not complex, and they only require 20-40 minutes of intensive care weekly. Bettas are very interactive and wonderful pets to have, and they are more than worth the work.