One of the most fundamental aspects of keeping any pet is determining the amount of space they need. Will they be able to thrive in a small cup, or will they need acres of land to be truly happy? Can a betta survive in a simple bowl or space, or do they need hundreds of gallons to live their lives to full contentment? Luckily, this answer can easily be given in a definite way.
A betta fish should be provided with a tank of at least 5 gallons, though larger is always acceptable. This space gives them enough room to swim around, enough interaction, and enough space to dilute nitrogenous waste. These things are vital to the overall health and happiness of your betta.
In this article, we will discuss normal tank sizes, long finned bettas versus short finned bettas, bettas vs other fish, width vs length vs height, and using the space given.
Normal Tank Sizes
The normal tanks sold for bettas are often woefully small. They can be as small as a single cup of water but are normally only one or two gallons. This is not sufficient for anything other than small snails or a small dwarf shrimp colony. Fish are more active than these small creatures and require a much larger space.
Not only will your fish suffer from the small space, as it will decrease their activity and overall happiness, but they will likely also suffer from poisoning and stress. In such a small area, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate will build up quickly and poison your fish. In addition to this, they will feel uncomfortable in such a small space, causing stress, which will lead to illness.
A standard 5.5-gallon tank normally costs $12-15, while the tiny cups/bowls normally sold for bettas cost $20-30. Not only is it cheaper to get an appropriately sized tank, but you will also have much more room to decorate the tank.
A small tank has a very limited area, meaning you will not be able to decorate it well. With even just a 5-gallon tank, you have a large enough space to make an aesthetically pleasing aquascape. Whether you use live plants, fake plants, or just decorations, you have many more options in terms of decorations and making something beautiful to look at.
Keeping a betta in a tank under 5 gallons is comparable to, though possibly worse than, keeping an adult human locked in a closet. Bettas are not able to be active in such a small area, just as a human cannot be active in a closet. This will negatively affect their emotions, potentially causing depression, and their health, often leading to a very early grave.
Long Finned Bettas vs Short Finned Bettas
The primary reason that the minimum tank size is questionable is due to long finned bettas. These male bettas are very common, and while it is possible to keep them in a smaller tank (3+ gallons), most assume that this applies to all bettas.
Bettas with extremely long fins are only males, so this already excludes half of all bettas from the “smaller tank” rule. In addition, not all male bettas have excessively long fins, or long fins at all. For example, both male and female Plakat bettas have very short fins.
The reason betta with excessive finnage can live in a smaller tank is due to the way that the fins inhibit their movement. These longs fins are heavy, and they are very difficult for a fish to carry around. Think about trying to swim in clothes; they’re heavy and trying to swim with them on is exhausting.
While these bettas attempt to be as active as possible, they can exist in a smaller space. Their fins limit their movements to spurts of energy, rather than a normal, cohesive movement. That being said, these long-finned bettas are much more prone to fin rot than other bettas, and the smaller tank may cause a severe infection.
This is because the circulatory system of a betta is not always strong enough to bring blood to the ends of the fins, especially if the fish is stressed. This can cause the flesh at the ends of the fins to begin to rot, which can easily lead to infection. If you keep them in a small tank, they may need water changes as often as every 3 days to keep the water clean. In a larger tank, even just 5 gallons, you will not need to do such frequent maintenance.
Betta vs Other Fish
Due to these long fins and relatively small body size, bettas require a smaller minimum space than most, if not all, other species of fish. They are more relaxed and spend more hours resting than other fish and can be perfectly content in a 5-gallon tank.
While they are curious, simply moving decorations often makes them believe that they are in an entirely new place, and this will keep them occupied for hours or days. While this trick may work for other fish, they will often grow tired of such a small space.
For example, the celestial pearl danio is an extremely small fish, scarcely reaching over an inch in length. That being said, the minimum tank size for them is 10-20 gallons, while a 3” betta can live in ¼ that space. So why is this?
Most other small fish are schooling or shoaling fish. This means that they will not feel comfortable or happy unless they are housed with others of their own species. For celestial pearl danios, it is best to keep them in groups of at least eight with many hiding places. This is simply not possible in a 5-gallon tank.
Since bettas are small, solitary animals, you can keep just one by itself (in fact, this is the recommended way to keep them in tanks under 75 gallons). The relaxed and leisurely nature of betta coupled with the fact that they can be kept alone means that they do not require as much space as other fish.
Width vs Length vs Height
Aside from water volume, you also need to look at the width, length, and height of a tank. Bettas primarily use length and width over height, making a long tank much more useful than a tall one.
For example, if you wanted a custom-built tank that was five inches by three inches by twenty four inches, betta would not be happy, despite space. If you turned this tank on its side, a betta would be a hundred times happier and more active.
In addition, bettas need to reach the surface to breathe. While a betta won’t drown in a deep aquarium, it can become difficult for them to reach the surface if they fall ill or while they age. While they won’t directly be killed by this, their health will be negatively affected by the extra strain and stress needed to reach the surface.
In the wild, bettas live in very large areas, both still rivers, and rice paddies. Their living space normally ranges between 1-2 feet deep and multiple miles wide. Bettas are accustomed to having much more length and width than height, and it is best for you to replicate this in captivity.
Using the Space Given
In addition to getting a tank with an appropriate water volume and dimensions, you need to know how to use that space effectively. If you simply fill it with water (plus essential equipment such as a filter and heather) and plop your betta in, your betta will always present with dulled colors due to stress.
Bettas are small fish; this is why they can live in a tank as small as 5 gallons. However, this means that they are often prey animals in the wild. If you do not provide them with an appropriate amount of decorations and hiding areas, they will be stressed.
While a 5-gallon tank doesn’t give you enough room for a massive amount of options, it gives enough to provide multiple small decorations. Ensure that your betta can completely hide within or behind at least two of the decorations.
In conclusion, a betta fish can survive in a tank as small as 5 gallons. The average betta needs at least five gallons in order to move regularly. In addition, 5 gallons allows enough water volume for you to make some errors here and there, and for the water to dilute toxins to normal levels.