10 Signs of a Sick Betta Fish and What To Do  | LoveToKnow Pets (2023)

10 Signs of a Sick Betta Fish and What To Do | LoveToKnow Pets (1)

Do you know how to spot a sick betta fish? If you see your pet struggling to swim, looking bloated, or with deteriorating fins, these could all be signs of betta fish sickness. Learn the most common symptoms to help you identify possible fish ailments and get the treatment your betta needs to recover.

Signs of a Sick Betta Fish

Unfortunately, symptoms of sickness could point to a number of betta fish diseases. Most bettas will display one or more of the following signs when they are ill. Use these symptoms to help determine if your pet's health is suffering.

Not Eating

Bettas have very healthy appetites, so one of the first indicators a fish has an illness is when they show no interest in food. This is why it's so important to watch your fish when you feed them and make sure they eat. If they refuse food for more than one meal, examine them a little closer to see if you notice any other signs of potential illness. It's possible your betta could be constipated, or may be responding to poor water quality or stress.


10 Signs of a Sick Betta Fish and What To Do | LoveToKnow Pets (2)

Betta fish can be very active, but they do stop and take time to rest and even sleep. Because of this, it may not be immediately apparent to you that your betta is less active than usual until some time has passed. Monitor your fish closely to note any changes in their activity level.

Bettas are curious and territorial creatures, so if your pet stops investigating their surroundings for any significant amount of time, they may be ill. Additional indicators that your fish is lethargic are floating aimlessly at the top of the tank with their mouth at the water's surface, settling into a secluded spot at the bottom of the tank, and showing no interest in anything going on around them.

Keep in mind that bettas do sometimes rest or remain immobile even at the surface, as they can breathe air through a special organ called the labyrinth. This does not necessarily indicate they are sick. The key is to have a frame of reference and compare their current activity level to their typical behavior. Is your fish indifferent to your presence, ignoring their food, or do they otherwise appear "off"? These are the signs of lethargy you need to watch for.

(Video) 10 ways to tell if a betta fish is dying - Betta fish informational video

Looking Skinny

Some fish begin to look like they are wasting away even if they haven't gone off their food. A skinny betta's body will typically appear concave on their sides. This could be a sign that your pet's current diet is lacking in important nutrients or you may be underfeeding them.

Most hobbyists recommend offering bettas a varied diet that includes a mix of staples, such as betta pellets and high-quality flake food, supplemented with fresh or frozen brine shrimp, and freeze-dried bloodworms. Ensure your betta is eating a balanced diet and you're offering them an adequate volume; many owners fear causing bloat due to overfeeding, but underfeeding is generally more concerning.

Appropriate live foods, such as brine shrimp and daphnia, are excellent for bettas, but finding a quality source can be difficult. Also, be aware that feeding live foods comes with the risk of introducing parasites or other diseases to your fish. If you are treating a sick betta, it is best to avoid offering live foods unless you are sure of their quality and safety.

Trouble Swimming

Some diseases interfere with a betta's ability to swim normally. The swim bladder is a structure that allows a fish to control their buoyancy. If the swim bladder becomes infected or injured, your fish could have trouble swimming.

Other causes of swim bladder disease (SBD) in bettas are poor water conditions, low water temperature, stress, and overeating. Sick betta fish with SBD may struggle to swim up or down, swim on their side or upside down, or swim in circles. Swim bladder problems are generally treatable; depending on the cause, your betta might need antibiotics formulated to treat fish.

White Spots or Film

Parasitic and fungal diseases typically leave some sort of evidence on the fish. If you notice any odd material that looks like cotton clinging to your betta, they likely have an infection like ich, columnaris (also known as "cotton wool" or "cotton mouth"), or velvet.

(Video) Top Tips For Curing Your Sick Betta Fish!

Areas of thick mucus, a film over the skin, or itching on objects in their habitat are other signs of these conditions. These infections can be fatal if left untreated, so appropriate water treatments should be used. Minimizing your betta's stress and performing daily water changes are necessary during the healing period.

When you are treating a betta for a parasitic or fungal infection, it may be necessary to move the betta to a temporary hospital tank setup, especially if your betta lives with tankmates. Using a hospital tank allows you to isolate your fish in a clean, safe environment with appropriate water quality, and treat your fish's main aquarium without having to worry about harming other fish or invertebrates.

Fin and Tail Deterioration

Bettas tend to clamp their fins when they don't feel well. Beyond that, fins that begin to look frayed or appear as if they are being eaten away may indicate your fish has fin rot infection. Fin rot begins with mild signs, but as the disease progresses, your betta's fins will look increasingly ragged. You may notice their color begin to fade or holes appearing in the fins.

This damage to the fins and tail is generally a result of poor water quality. Both fungal and bacterial infections can cause fin rot in fish, and there is no single cause of this condition. Bacteria in the water eat away at the fins to create a ragged appearance. These bacteria are not transmissible to humans.

If you notice these symptoms, know that it's a common condition and is treatable if addressed in the early stages. The first step is to remove your betta from their primary aquarium and place them in a quarantine hospital setup. This step may not be necessary if there are no plants or other animals in your betta's main setup, but it doesn't hurt to remove your betta to keep them comfortable while you address the water quality issues in the main system.

You can use aquarium salt to help treat fin rot in bettas. Select an aquarium salt intended for medicinal usage in freshwater systems, and treat per the directions on the label. Do not use aquarium salt as a treatment for more than 10 days at a time. Aquarium salt typically helps with mild to moderate cases of fin rot, but it may not help with more advanced cases.

Medicines like tetracycline are available to help betta fish suffering from fin rot. Fungal infections are unlikely to respond to this treatment, however. Depending on the cause of fin rot, you may need to try different combinations of medications.

Melafix and Bettafix are popular treatments for fin rot that contain an antimicrobial active ingredient, but these are not always safe to use as treatment for bettas. There is a risk a betta may die from exposure to the active ingredients found in these products. MelaFix has a higher concentration of the active ingredient, melaleuca extract (tea tree oil), so avoid it in favor of BettaFix. Follow all manufacturer warnings, dosing levels, and treatment protocols. Also, consider the danger to your fish. You may only want to treat your pet with this product in severe cases of fin rot, where other treatments have failed.

If you prefer to try an all-natural option, you can add a single Indian almond leaf to your betta's aquarium and perform careful water changes. The leaf will reduce water pH slightly, so monitor it to make sure it doesn't go too low, but with regular water changes, this shouldn't be an issue. In cases of mild fin rot, this may just do the trick.

(Video) 10 Signs of Happy Betta fish


If your betta's body suddenly looks puffed up or swollen, this is a sign of sickness. It could be indicative of constipation, but it could also be sign of a condition called dropsy, which can be life-threatening. With dropsy, the entire fish swells up, and the scales stand out a bit from the body. It is caused by a bacterial infection in the tank, so antibiotic medications are necessary. You may need to set up a hospital tank for your betta, as well, perform appropriate water changes, and administer an antibiotic that is safe for bettas.

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Lack of Feces

Sick betta fish generally do not have normal bowel movements, so if your betta is not pooping or has stringy feces, this could be a sign of sickness. It's possible they could be constipated, underfed, ill, and simply not eating enough. Examine your fish to see if they show any other signs of sickness. Constipated bettas can often show many of the above signs like a bloated abdomen, trouble swimming, lethargy, and a low appetite.

Swollen Eye

Swelling of a betta's eye is often referred to as betta fish popeye. This condition can be caused by bacteria, fungal, or parasitic infection, or may result from physical trauma to the eye. Most of the time, an injury will lead to only one eye being swollen, whereas swelling of both eyes typically indicates an infection. Treatment will depend on the cause, but popeye can be successfully cured with early action.

(Video) Common Signs Your Betta is Sick

Loss of Color

When a betta's color fades or they appear to be losing color, this can sometimes point to sickness. You should consider a few factors when deciding if this is a sign of illness. A betta's color can fade when they become stressed. This alone isn't cause for concern, but stress can make a fish vulnerable to infections or other ailments. It's also possible the color loss could be due to old age or injury to the scales. However, if you notice other signs of sickness in addition to the loss of color, it's important to begin treatment.

General Steps to Prevent and Treat an Ill Betta

Once you've noted any specific signs of illness your betta shows, it's time to determine which disease or condition could be making them sick. You can compare the symptoms to a variety of the most common betta diseases, but if you're still not sure what's wrong, give your local aquarium shop a call and describe what you see. Someone on the staff may be able to hazard an educated guess about what your fish has and recommend a specific treatment that can help. There are also exotic pet vets who have specialized knowledge in fish medicine.

However, many hobbyists forgo more aggressive measures when treating their bettas. The most important thing you can do is check and maintain your betta's water quality on a weekly basis, perform water changes of roughly 20 to 25 percent of tank volume every week, and thoroughly clean your betta setup on a monthly basis. This involves vacuuming the aquarium substrate to remove uneaten food and fish waste, and performing a water change with treated tap water or appropriate fresh water.

Setting up a hospital tank is another excellent option, especially if your fish is suffering from some sort of infection, and there are plants or other tankmates in the primary aquarium. This does not need to be permanent. Use the hospital tank as a place to quarantine your fish in ideal water conditions while you administer any medications or treatments and clean the main system.

Prevention is always preferable to treatment after a disease is present. Follow the guidelines for each illness if your fish is showing symptoms of serious illness. However, by monitoring your fish on a daily basis, attending to tank maintenance and water quality, and avoiding the introduction of parasites and other infectious agents, you can effectively give your betta the gift of lifelong health. Bettas are famously hardy, resilient fish, and with adequate care, your betta will give you years of enjoyment.

Listen to Your Gut

Remember, the time you spend observing your betta fish means you know them better than anyone. If your gut tells you something isn't quite right, it's probably true. Trust your instincts, try to note as many symptoms as you can, and get your fish the treatment they need as quickly as you can to keep them happy and healthy.

(Video) Signs Your Betta Fish is Sick - Bettas 4 Life

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What to do for a sick betta fish? ›

It is best to isolate the sick betta fish. Treat with 1tsp aquarium salt for every gallon of water. Then change 80% of the water daily for ten days. If this treatment does not work, you can try medications like Maracyn-2.

How do betta fish act when they're dying? ›

You can tell if a betta fish is dying when its body color changes and fades, and it becomes lethargic, unresponsive, agitated, feeble, gasps for air, or stops eating.

What medicine can I give my sick betta fish? ›

BETTAFIX™ API® BETTAFIX fish remedy is an all-natural, antibacterial fish remedy for Bettas that should be used whenever your Betta exhibits signs of disease, such as wounds, ulcers, mouth fungus, fin & tail rot, slimy patches, and cottony growths.

What does an unhealthy betta look like? ›

One way to spot unhealthy betta is by their swimming pattern. They often float on the surface of the tank, gasping for air. The surface breathing is usually a clear indication that there is a shortage of oxygen in the tank water. A sick fish will often show a decline in both physical health and behavior.

How do you save a dying fish? ›

How to Save a Sick Fish
  1. Step 1: Check Your Water Quality. Poor water quality is the #1 cause of illness and disease in fish. ...
  2. Step 2: Fix Your Water Quality. ...
  3. Step 3: Check Your Fishes' Food. ...
  4. Step 4: Call Your Veterinarian About Your Sick Fish.
Feb 25, 2020

Does salt help sick betta fish? ›

Aquarium salt can be used as a cure for some betta illnesses. It's not always a good fit for treating betta disease and sometimes chemical medication is a better choice, but if used properly it can be very effective. For some illnesses, we recommend using both aquarium salt and medication.

How do I know if my betta fish is suffering? ›

Look for lethargy.

If your betta is sick, his activity level will go down. He won't be his normal, active self. His movements will slow down some. Another sign of sickness is your fish hiding out at the bottom of the tank more often than normal.

Why is my sick betta fish laying on the bottom? ›

One of the leading causes of betta fish laying on the bottom of the tank is ammonia poisoning. Ammonia is a natural compound in the aquarium; fish and invertebrates constantly create waste that is then processed by beneficial bacteria populations.

Is my betta fish sleeping or dying? ›

To put it simply, dead fish don't breathe. So, look closely at your betta's mouth and gills. Even during sleep, you should notice your betta draw water in through its mouth and out through the gills. Speaking of which, during sleep, the mouth and gill movement of your betta will be much slower than when it is awake.

How long can a sick betta go without eating? ›

They can go ten days to two weeks without eating and still survive. Keep in mind, though, that Bettas in this state might be very weakened and are more vulnerable to diseases. If starvation doesn't kill them, the stress or some disease will, so it's still not a good idea to leave your pet unfed for a long period.

What do Stressed betta fish look like? ›

Strange Swimming: When fish are stressed, they often develop odd swimming patterns. If your fish is swimming frantically without going anywhere, crashing at the bottom of his tank, rubbing himself on gravel or rocks, or locking his fins at his side, he may be experiencing significant stress.

What is abnormal betta behavior? ›

You may notice that your betta seems drunk, swims in circles, or drifts with the current. There are also those that may sink to the bottom and are unable to raise itself, or may be incapable of swimming toward the bottom. A sick betta may also float and stay at the water's surface.

Will Salt help a dying fish? ›

Yes, you can treat new fish using the level 1 low salt dosage for 2 weeks. This solution should eradicate roughly 60% of potential illnesses. You can also use this technique for healing any fish that got beat up and needs some solitary recovery time in a hospital tank.

What to give a dying fish? ›

Clove oil is a sedative which at high doses, can be used to euthanase small fish. Unlike veterinary anaesthetics, clove oil is readily available from most chemists. Around 0.4ml of clove oil per litre of aquarium water is sufficient to cause death in exposed fish.

Do fish suffer when they are dying? ›

Fish certainly feel pain when they suffocate, which can be an incredibly drawn-out process. It can take some fish species over an hour to die from asphyxiation.

Why is my fish getting skinny and dying? ›

Water parameters

Poor water quality will increase the risk of fish disease. Once fish get sick, they may lose interest in eating, and then become thinner. Meanwhile, if the water temperature is too low, fish will also lose their appetite, and get thinner finally.

How long do Betta fish live? ›

In the wild, they are less territorial due to the large space they live in - they will only spar, not fight to the death. Betta fish grow to be no longer than 3 inches, typically. Their usual lifespan is 2-5 years. They have brilliantly colored fins, and various tail types.

Why is my fish swimming sideways at the bottom of the tank? ›

When a fish is unable to control its depth, or starts swimming sideways, upside side down, or head or tail down, it may have "swim bladder disease." A fish with swim bladder disease can be a troubling sight to see, but it can be treated.

What does an unhappy betta fish look like? ›

Instead of being his usual vibrant and colorful self, your betta may begin to become duller. He'll look a lot paler and won't catch your eye as much when he's swimming around. As well as this you may also notice stripes along his skin that are a different color. These are commonly referred to as stress stripes.

Why is my betta fish not active? ›

If you check and see that your tank water pH and temperature are at optimum levels and your Bettas aren't moving, high nitrate, nitrite, or ammonia levels could be the cause; your fish might be poisoned. It's pretty easy to check if your fish is poisoned.

Why is my Betta fish floating upside down but still alive? ›

If your fish is swimming upside down, it has a problem with its swim bladder. Your fish has stopped being able to control its swim bladder and has got stuck with too much air inside it. The reason for this could be constipation, a poor diet, eating habits, or an infection.

What does ammonia poisoning in fish look like? ›

Red or Purple Gills and Bloody Patches

The fish's gills will take on a red or lilac color, making them look like it's bleeding. As the problem progresses, the fish's tissues will begin to deteriorate, evidenced by red streaks or bloody patches on their body and fins caused by ammonia burns.

Why is my Betta fish laying on its side but still alive? ›

Betta fish often enjoy laying on their sides while resting. It's comfortable for them, even though it looks like very strange behavior to most aquarium keepers. A betta with a good appetite, plenty of energy, and hasn't been seen gasping for air but is on the bottom of the tank is often just taking a nap.

Do betta fish need light at night? ›

Do Betta Fish Need Light at Night? No. In fact, it's not healthy to do this. Bettas, like most other animals, need light and darkness to stay physically and mentally well.

Do betta fish hide when they are dying? ›

If your betta is dying, it can be showing signs of stress like hiding, laying on the bottom of the tank, white or brown spots on the body, strange movements, or disintegration of its fins. These can all be signs of severe illness that lead to fish death.

What position do betta fish sleep in? ›

"When sleeping, they become still, with their eyes open because of their absence of eyelids. Betta fish may lose their color while sleeping (it's their natural form of self-defense), and they can sleep in different positions: curled up like a cat, on one side, or even vertically, with the head down.

How often should bettas be fed? ›

It is recommended to feed your betta fish two to four pellets, once or twice per day. Pellets expand when placed in water and are very filling for your betta fish. Freeze-dried or fresh food can be substituted for their pellet feeding 1 to 2 days per week.

How long do betta fish live in a 5 gallon tank? ›

In a tank smaller than 5 gallons, your betta won't live out his full life span. In an aquarium, a betta should live for 3 to 5 years. In a cramped 2.5-gallon tank, your betta won't live as long.

Can a stressed fish recover? ›

Once the panic has passed, the fish must also regain its natural balance. This can take hours or days, even after only a short period of stress. Long-term changes, such as a poor or unsuitable environment, are handled with the same initial response – an alarm message to escape.

What does normal betta behavior look like? ›

Normal betta fish behavior

First, he will move around in the tank and inspect new items. He will also swim to the surface if you notice him. Second, he'll look for food. While he doesn't do this every day, a betta's happy and healthy behavior is a sign that it's happy.

Do betta fish get sick easily? ›

Betta fish are also prone to most freshwater parasites. Since they are kept individually, they usually are not the parasite provider, but can easily fall ill if it enters their system on another fish or infected plant. Learn more about how to properly quarantine your fish and your aquatic plants.

What stresses betta fish? ›

Check your water temperature.

Many people buy a betta under the mistaken impression that they require no special equipment. However, bettas are tropical fish and will become stressed in standard room temperature water. Ideally, your betta should have a heater that keeps the water between 76 and 80 degrees.

What does a depressed betta fish look like? ›

There are a number of different signs that a Betta fish is depressed, including a lack of appetite, swimming close to the bottom of the tank, becoming withdrawn, and losing its color. Depressed Betta fish may show some or all of these signs, and they can become physically ill too.

Why is my betta fish lifeless? ›

As we have seen, bettas can die from poor water conditions, overfeeding, cool water temperatures, and a dangerous living situation. Aside from the physical damage these issues can cause, when your fish is under constant stress, he is more likely to get sick, and more likely to die.

How long does it take for a betta fish to starve to death? ›

Betta fish can survive up to 10 days without food, however, this is not recommended! It is possible they may even survive a few more days than this, however, this is merely surviving and you are actually slowly starving your betta fish which can cause them to die easily.

What is normal betta fish behavior? ›

Normal betta fish behavior

First, he will move around in the tank and inspect new items. He will also swim to the surface if you notice him. Second, he'll look for food. While he doesn't do this every day, a betta's happy and healthy behavior is a sign that it's happy.

What does a betta in distress look like? ›

Getting Pale. Experienced fish keepers know to take care of their betta fish because a healthy and happy betta freely shows off its vibrant colors. In contrast, stressed bettas go pale and lose coloration, revealing their stress stripes.

Why is my betta fish slowly dying? ›

One of the most common causes of betta fish death is poor water conditions. Some myths are believed which state that bettas can be kept in very small, cramped containers and that they don't require much maintenance. While bettas are relatively easy to care for, lack of clean water and space will often cause death.

Is my betta fish dying How do I save him? ›

To save a dying Betta fish, you need to get in touch with a vet and identify what is wrong. They may be sick and need medication, they may have suffered an injury, their tank environment may not be suitable, or they may have issues with their diet.

Can I feed betta once a day? ›

It is recommended to feed your betta fish two to four pellets, once or twice per day. Pellets expand when placed in water and are very filling for your betta fish. Freeze-dried or fresh food can be substituted for their pellet feeding 1 to 2 days per week.


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