Welcome to the Beginners guide to Betta care!
You have just got your first Betta, congratulations!
They are beautiful fish, and often the first step towards a larger aquarium collection. Sometimes they are gifts (congratulations, you got responsibility this year!) or sometimes you wanted an easy ornamental fish for your home or office.
The good news is, a Betta is easy to care for, and can live for up to six years (but generally live between two and four years).
The bad news is, there is a lot of misinformation out there on Betta care, so it’s important you know how to take care of your Betta!
So here are a few rules to get you started
Betta Care Rules
Don’t stick with the beginner tank. Most Betta’s come in smaller bowls or “nano” aquariums. These might be great for display, but they can cramp your Betta’s growth. Look for an upgrade tank straight away, at a minimum you want one to two gallons for a Betta, ideally five to ten gallons.
Betta’s need clean water. They may live in rice paddies in the wild, but in a tank ammonia can build up quickly and cause issues such as fin rot and more before you know it. Prepare for regular (weekly – biweekly) water changes, or buy a smaller low flow filtration unit to help keep your water clean and clear.
The Betta is an aggressive fish. Don’t be fooled by it’s pretty looks, make Bettas are highly aggressive. If you want tank mates, avoid other male Bettas, and if you want females, be prepared to get at least three. Otocinclus can be a good tank mate, and help keep algae down, but I’ve had one Oto disappear in a Betta tank. Snails can also be good tank mates, but again, the Betta may nip at the snails antennae. If you put other fish in the tank, make sure you have some form of oxygenation!
Temperature is important. A Betta should never live in temperatures below 74 Fahrenheit, and ideally should be kept in the 78-80 range. Get a cheap aquarium thermometer to keep an eye on water temperatures, if they get too low, invest in a small aquarium heater to help keep water temperatures ideal.
The Betta loves cover, keep the aquarium planted, if you use live plants make sure you have some filtration in place!
If you use plastic or fabric plants make sure they do not have sharp edges, the brilliant fins of the Betta are very delicate.
Bubble nests mean a happy Betta! If you notice a large mound of bubbles in the tank, don’t panic. It’s part of the Betta mating process, it means your Betta is most likely happy and healthy!
Finally, a Betta is an active fish, play with it for a few minutes each day by wiggling your finger side to side around the tank (not touching it). Before you know it your Betta will be coming out to play whenever you walk in to the room.
Setting Up a Betta Aquarium
As we mentioned in the rules, the tank your Betta comes in is probably not the tank you want to keep using. They are generally too small, and will cramp your Betta.
Ideally you want to buy an aquarium that is at least 5 gallons in size, a Betta will survive in less, but it may be more prone to disease and ammonia spikes.
The ideal setup for a Betta aquarium includes:
- A filter, either a low flow hang on, or a sponge filter.
- Plants (live or fake, see the rules for details)
- A thermometer
- A heater
- Gravel substrate
Once you have set up the aquarium, you should let your tank cycle before you introduce the Betta, that means leaving it once it has been set up for up to 6-8 weeks. This is not essential but it does help prevent ammonia and nitrate spikes caused by bacteria levels fluctuating in the tank before they stabilize.
When you add your Betta, mix the water it is currently in with water from your aquarium and leave it for around an hour, this helps it acclimatize to the conditions in it’s new aquarium. The best way to do this is to place the Betta in a plastic bag with both the new and old water, then placing that bag inside the new aquarium whilst it acclimatizes. This helps it not only adjust slowly to the new water, but also the tank temperature. Quick temperature changes can stress out fish!
Caring for a Betta
Caring for a Betta is really easy, they are a fragile fish, but thrive under the right conditions.
Feed your Betta small amounts throughout the day, or a slightly larger amount once a day. You can follow the instructions on the food packet you purchase, but be careful, overfeeding is a BIG issue with new aquarium owners. If you want to give your Betta a treat, frozen or dried bloodworms will definitely make it happy, as well as help keep your Betta looking bright, colorful, and healthy!
Don’t feed more than the fish can eat within three minutes. Do watch your Betta’s weight. If it’s getting fat, it might be time to cut down. A good beginners tip is to clean up any food left over after the three minute mark, if it dissolves in the water, or settles somewhere out of reach, it can quickly deteriorate the water quality in your tank.
I feed my betta four to five pellets twice a day, and that seems to keep it happy, and not too fat. The first few weeks I had my Betta I was feeding it six pellets twice a day, and it definitely developed a belly.
Don’t worry if your fish is laid out on a leaf, it’s relaxing!
Make sure you play with your Betta, run your finger back and forth across the aquarium without touching it. If it hides, withdraw, and then try again slowly, until you gain it’s trust.
Keeping Other Fish with a Betta
As we mentioned above, a Betta can be very aggressive towards other fish. There’s no real way to tell if a fish is going to do well with a Betta or not, but generally speaking fish that are similar in size or larger, are peaceful, and tend to stay out of the way, sucker fish and bottom feeders, generally work well with Bettas.
The most common Betta tank mate is the Otocinclus, which is very peaceful, stays clear of the Betta, can move fast when it needs to, and best of all, will help keep your tank algae free.
Larger snails, and horned snails also generally live well with Bettas, watch out for the horned snails though, they can damage your Betta’s fins.
Treating a Sick Betta
So your shiny new Betta is not looking too good. The number of fish diseases is too huge to go through here, so a Google of the symptoms might be in order (or ask in our community forums!).
However, we will cover one very common beta illness, that is treatable. Fin Rot.
Fin Rot with Bettas commonly occurs when a Betta tears it’s fin on a sharp object, or is kept in dirty or cold water. The best cure for this is prevention, keep your tank clean and warm.
If this information comes a little too late, then there are a few steps you can take.
- Treat your Betta with Betta Fix. This can cure early stage fin rot, and you can also treat the fish if you see a fin tear to prevent fin rot in the first place.
- If Betta Fix does not work, it’s time to switch to the antibiotics. Minocycline or Erythromycin are the two most common antibiotics used to treat fin rot in Betta’s, and I’d try Minocycline first. The unfortunate truth is that fin rot is not just one bacteria, it’s an all encompassing name for the huge number of bacterial and fungal infections that can cause fin rot.
Whichever method you choose, it’s best to put your Betta in a holding tank while you treat it. Do a water change in your main tank as well, and throw the filter up to full blast to help remove any potentially bad bacteria in your water.