Betta fish, like any living organism, require some input of energy. Since they are an animal, they get their energy through eating and digesting food. They are also a carnivore, so their food needs to be based around animal protein, instead of other types of protein.
Betta fish need to be fed based around a regular schedule. They should be fed at least once a day, with twice a day being preferable, except on fasting days, which are good for fish if they are done properly. Betta fish have relatively small stomachs, and the food your feed often expands in the water, so feeding them the proper amount is a bit more than just sprinkling in an amount of food that they can eat in one or two minutes. Even though this is the amount recommended on most food bottles, that recommendation often leads to fish death.
In this article, we will discuss the size of a betta’s stomach, the 1-2-minute rule, feeding schedule, types of food, consequences of overfeeding, consequences of underfeeding.
Size of a Betta’s Stomach
You should first estimate the amount you feed based off the stomach size of your fish to avoid overfeeding. This can be tricky in some situations, such as with fish that do not have stomachs (the most common of which is a goldfish) but for a betta fish, food estimation is luckily easy.
The first thing you should do is to get a bowl of water and the brands of food you intend to feed.
Place the food in the bowl then come back 5-10 minutes later. The food will always expand, at least somewhat, and you need to base your feeding rules around the expanded size of the food.
In addition, it is much healthier to feed the expanded food that has soaked rather than normal sized food. This prevents the food from expanding within the digestive tract and causing a blockage in the intestines or elsewhere. If it does cause a blockage or minor digestive issues, the betta can become bloated and suffer associated health issues.
The size of a betta’s stomach is roughly the size of their eye. Therefore, you should not feed more than an amount of expanded food the size of their eye, as this greatly increases the chances of your betta becoming bloated and sick. Bettas are prone to bloat and obesity, so steps must be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen.
1-2 Minute Rule
The one to two-minute rule is often listed as feeding instructions on fish food. This rule is wholly inaccurate and will lead to your fish dying if you use it. If your betta can snap up one or two pellets in just five or ten seconds, enough to fill its stomach for the next several hours, imagine how much damage can be done to your fish if it eats more than fifteen times the amount it should.
This rule was implemented a long, long time ago, back when very little was known about fish care. It is from the same era where we didn’t know about ammonia and nitrite and nitrate, or that you needed to change your fish’s water, and when we knew little to nothing about tank size and thought bettas could live in vases.
In fact, they cannot live in vases. Well, they can for a short period, but after a few weeks to a few months, the burns from ammonia and suffocation caused by nitrite will finally cause them to succumb and die a painful death.
Even in community tanks, continuously adding food to a tank so fish can gorge themselves for two whole minutes is absurd. Not only will you have one bloated fish, but they will all become bloated at that rate.
Depending on the size of the food you feed, you should only need a very small pinch to keep your betta happy. Overfeeding is very dangerous for fish, often more so than underfeeding.
Food is necessary to keep your betta healthy, as is a routine. Feeding once in the morning and once at night with two different types of food is a good place to start. You should also work a fasting day into your schedule, whether it be once a week or once every two weeks.
Fasting does help prevent constipation and overeating, and just one day a week will not cause any health concerns with your betta.
You should not feed a betta more than twice a day and it is better to slightly underfeed rather than to overfeed. You will have a much longer period of time to realize your fish is starving, while a betta can become severely bloated and die in a matter of days.
Types of Food
Bettas need a staple food, whether it be a pellet or flake, and they should have at least two of these for variety. These staple commercial foods have micronutrients that other food, such as bloodworms or mysis shrimp, do not. In addition, they are high in protein and relatively low in fat.
That being said, bettas do need some good fat in their diet. The best way to achieve this is by adding in either bloodworms (frozen or live, not freeze dried), mysis shrimp, and worms such as Grindal, black, and white to their weekly feeding. Feed these only once or twice a week, as they are extremely fatty and can lead to obesity if fed in excess.
Freeze dried food has very little nutrients, as the process of freeze drying takes most of the nutrients out of food. In addition, freeze-dried food often leads to bloat, as it expands quite significantly after being in water for several minutes.
Frozen food is a great alternative to live food, as it maintains essentially all of its nutrients and the betta will miss out on very little. In addition, some live worms, such as blackworms and tubifex worms, are well known for having parasites, and freezing them takes this danger away.
Consequences of Overfeeding
All species of bettas are prone to obesity, not just the domesticated Betta Splendens. This is primarily due to a betta’s instinct to constantly eat, as they do not have the option to refuse food in the wild. If they miss out on just a few feeding opportunities, they may easily starve to death, so their bodies drive them to eat as constantly as possible
Therefore, they tend to eat whenever and whatever possible, which leads to an issue in captivity, as they are not hard pressed to find food. Food is readily available twice a day, and if their owner feeds more than necessary, they will still eat it.
Obesity is an issue that can result from overfeeding, but bloat is the number one problem associated with overfeeding. A bloated betta is at risk for several different health problems, the most common of which is swim bladder disease.
The swim bladder is an organ that allows fish to control their vertical position in the water. They use this organ to navigate from the top of the water to the bottom, and from the bottom to the top. If this organ becomes damaged or pressed by constipation or bloat, they will either be stuck at the top of the aquarium or the bottom of the aquarium, and this condition can progress until the fish passes.
Consequences of Underfeeding
Underfeeding does not normally cause issues for two or so weeks. There are also many warning signs before an issue occurs. The most common symptom is that you will notice your betta’s stomach growing smaller and smaller.
All you have to do is to simply adjust the amount your feed and slightly increase it. If a fish goes too long without food, the belly will look caved in, the fish will become lethargic, and will act sickly. In the end, it will die.
In conclusion, betta fish should be fed an amount of food the size of the fish’s eye once or twice a day. Feed a mix of at least two staple foods, plus an extra fatty supplemental food once or twice a week.