Preventing Betta Fish Diseases

With bettas, most problems are because of improper care by the fishkeeper.

Bettas are popular freshwater fish. ( Betta splendens. Via CCAC North Library/Flickr

The Betta, which is also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) is one of the most popular fishes in the hobby. Any pet store that sells tropical fish will have a display of bettas – usually a rack of individual bowls, each with a single fish. Bettas are available in an almost unlimited number of colors, and fin variations; the most popular are the ones with very long fins, a characteristic of male Betta splendens that has been refined by professional fish breeders. The male betta needs to be kept in his own home as they will fight with other male bettas, sometimes to the death, or at least serious injury, of one or both combatants. And most other fish find their long flowing fins irresistible.

Betta Fish Diseases and Conditions

Bettas are not as susceptible to “diseases” as other fish may be, as most are kept alone their entire lives. With bettas, most problems are because of improper care by the fishkeeper. With other fish kept in an aquarium with their brethren, diseases are introduced with new fish or plants added to the tank, something that does not happen with a fish that is alone his entire life – and very happy that way.

Some of the more common diseases that may affect bettas are also common in tropical fish. These include:

  1. Ich
  2. Velvet/Oodinium
  3. Fungal infections
  4. Bacterial fin rot
  5. Body bloat
  6. Popeye

Oftentimes a water change and some added epsom salt can help to remedy some of these conditions. Use FishChannel’s Search to find more information about these diseases and conditions. -FishChannel editor

The most common problem with bettas is what is simply termed “failure to thrive.” The fish looks “lonely” if we may be allowed to anthropomorphize. The male betta, which displayed beautiful finnage in the local fish store, and was a vibrant color throughout, is dull, fins closed, and lethargic. The most common cause for this is that the betta is being kept at too low a temperature – more about that later.

Fungus and slime coat problems are pretty much the two diseases that bettas suffer. After all, new fish, which may carry ich or other parasites and nasties are not being introduced into the bettas habitat. Fungus can pop up at any time, and usually shows up as small cottony growths on the betta, most often in the mouth area or at the edge of fins. Slime coat problems result in the fish showing patchy areas or blotches on the body, where the color is different from the rest of the fish. Sometimes the slime coat (which all fish have and which protects them – slime is not always bad) will appear to be sloughing off in places, and small trails of the slime coat can dangle off the fish. Both fungus and problems with the slime coat are indications that there are problems with the water in the betta’s tank, and a simple water change and cleaning of the barracks will help with both problems.

Preventing and Fixing Problems

Most of the “diseases” that bettas get are really problems with water conditions and fish husbandry rather than an infection by a bacteria or protozoan. Therefore, it is much more important to concentrate on prevention than cure. There are three areas of betta husbandry that are most important, and if the fishkeeper pays attention to all three you will be definitely assured of success with your betta(s). These are habitat, temperature and food, and we will look at each individually.

Betta Fish Habitat

Bettas are, indeed, very forgiving fish when it comes to the container they are kept in. The little individual bowls that bettas are usually displayed in at your local fish store are probably the most room they have had for their entire life. Bettas are raised by the hundreds of thousands in the Far East, usually in little containers about 1 ½” to 2” square and 3” tall. That said, they should not be kept in such a small container on a long term basis. There are a fascinating variety of glass / plastic containers available at most local fish stores for keeping and displaying bettas. For a single male betta one of these containers that is a gallon or less will be fine. I would caution against anything not purchased at a local fish store, as since it is not intended for keeping fish it may not be safe for them.

What Temperature is Ideal for the Betta Fish?

The temperature that a male betta is kept at is probably the cause of the demise of most of these fish. Somehow an urban myth has been perpetuated that bettas are fine at “room temperature.” This very important piece of misinformation has not necessarily been corrected by some local fish stores, where bettas are often kept on a shelf in the store which is, in fact, room temperature. Bettas are not happy at room temperature ! ! !  In fact, they are best kept at a temperature around 80º F. They will exist in the 70’s, but would really like to be warmer.

Betta Fish Food

Food is very important to the health of a betta, although they can survive on less than ideal repasts, and can go for long period of time without any food at all. In the trade, bettas are shipped in tiny bags, with just enough water to keep them wet, packed 200 – 250 in a box smaller than a shoebox. They don’t need or eat a lot of food, which is why the quality of the food is important. The little red pellets sold most often as betta food are fine, but should be supplemented by “meaty” foods such as frozen or freeze-dried brine shrimp, bloodworms or tubifex. Tiny amounts of food should be offered two or three times a day, and if the betta does not eagerly take the food from the water surface you are feeding too much.

I gave a betta to the post office in the tiny (population 4,800) town I live in. They had a “peace lily” in a glass container the size of a large bottle of soda. The postmistress fed “Charlie” once a day. Over the weekend the temperature in the building was allowed to go as low as 55º F. Charlie lived for over two years.
Bettas are wonderful fish, and should not get any diseases. The problems usually have to do with water quality and temperature. Keep your betta(s) at 80º F, clean their tank on a regular basis, and sit back and enjoy one of the most fascinating fish we keep.

Article Categories:
Fish · Freshwater Fish