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10 Things to Know Before Getting a Betta Fish

A green plant in an aquarium, a betta fish swims in a tank, and a log in a fish tank

Betta fish are incredibly popular pets due to their bright colors and beautiful long fins. Here are a few things you should know before buying one.

Most pictures you see of betta fish feature them swimming around a small bowl or vase filled with aquatic plants. They’re kind of known as the most low-maintenance fish around, but that isn’t really the case.

While bettas require less work than many other aquatic animals, they still need specific living conditions and care to be happy. Be sure to check out this guide before you grab a betta at your local pet store, otherwise, you might be unprepared for some aspects of their care.

What Is a Betta Fish?

A blue half-moon betta fish.
panpilai paipa/Shutterstock.com

Also called Siamese fighting fish, due the males’ aggressive behavior, bettas are small, colorful fish native to Southeast Asia.

Believed to have originated in Thailand, they could be found in shallow stagnant water, like marshes and rice paddies. Because their natural environment is small, they do well as domesticated pets, as long as they’re cared for properly.

For more in-depth information about the history of betta fish and how to take care of them, pick up this complete guide by Walter James.

Can I Keep My Fish in a Bowl?

A large glass aquarium

Betta fish need a lot of room to swim around, and a small bowl or vase just isn’t big enough. A small living space also means the water will fill with toxins more quickly and any decorations will take up a large chunk of their space.

Experts recommend putting your betta in a tank that’s at least five gallons. If you’re planning on filling the tank with decorations or adding any other fish, you’ll need a tank that’s even bigger than that.

This 10-gallon aquarium will give you more flexibility in terms of how you fill the tank.

Do Betta Fish Need Friends?

A log is in an aquarium and a fish swims in a tank

Bettas are called Siamese fighting fish for a reason—they generally do not do well with roommates, and you should absolutely never put two males together.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you have two female bettas that aren’t very aggressive and have enough room in their tank (at least five gallons of water per fish), you might be able to keep them together.

Tank mates like shrimp and snails can sometimes be added to the environment of a male or female betta fish without any issues. Feeder guppies, cory catfish, and clown plecos are other fish that might do well in the tank.

It’s important to remember that all betta fish are different and will react differently to any new additions to their tank. While some bettas might do fine with new fish, others might prefer a solitary lifestyle. When introducing new fish to a tank, keep a close eye on how your betta reacts.

Bettas will be more comfortable with roommates if they have somewhere safe to hide.

How Should I Decorate in the Tank?

Six different silk leaves and two betta fish in different tanks

As we mentioned above, betta fish like to have plenty of places to hide when they feel threatened or nervous. Swimming around plants and decorations will also keep their brains stimulated.

How you decorate your tank will mainly come down to personal preference, but there are a few things to remember when adding items to an aquarium. Avoid decorations that are sharp or pointed, as betta fish can tear their long fins on these as they swim by.

You should also make sure there’s still plenty of room in the tank for your fish to swim around. If you want to add lots of decorations, get a bigger tank.

Betta fish are curious and love to explore their surroundings. Both real and artificial plants work very well with these fish. These artificial leaves can be placed on any wall of your fish tank and give your betta places to hide and rest.

Can I Put Live Plants in the Tank?

A man holds a green plant and a green plant underwater

Live plants are a great addition to a betta’s tank. Aquatic plants provide enrichment for your pet, keep the water clean and oxygenated, and add beauty to the environment.

You’ll want to find plants that don’t get too tall or large as they grow if your betta is in a five-gallon tank, though. Plants with long, dense leaves are favorites of bettas. Some of the best live plants to add to a betta tank include Amazon Sword, Anubias Nana, Java Ferns and Moss, and Marimo Moss Balls.

Do I Need a Heater?

An aquarium heater and several fish swim in an aquarium

Bettas are tropical fish that thrive in warmer waters, so they do need a heater in their tank. The ideal water temperature for betta fish is 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperature fluctuations of even a few degrees can stress your fish out so much stress, it might die. Even if you live in a warm environment, a cold draft or chilly evening can be enough to harm your fish if it doesn’t have a heater to keep the water temperature stable.

This heater fits tanks from 5-15 gallons and will keep the water temperature steady all day and night.

How Often Do I Need to Clean the Tank?

A black aquarium filter

How often you’ll need to clean your tank depends on its size, how often you feed your fish, how many live plants you have, and whether you have an aquarium filter. Small tanks under five gallons with no filter need 30-50% of their water changed every few days, and a deep clean once or twice a week.

Larger tanks with a filter, on the other hand, only need a deep clean about every three weeks. It’s also smart to change out 10-15% of the aquarium water every couple of weeks.

Your aquarium will need a deep clean when grime begins to build up on its walls and floor. This aquarium filter will help keep your tank healthy between cleanings.

Do I Need to Add Anything to the Water?

A bottle of water conditioner and a Betta fish swims in an aquarium

The most common type of water used for betta fish (and most pet fish in general) is tap water. It’s safe for bettas, but only after it’s been treated.

Fortunately, all it takes to make tap water safe for bettas is a special water conditioner. These inexpensive products remove harmful chemicals from tap water immediately. You can use this betta water conditioner every time you add or change your aquarium’s water. Just follow the instructions on the back.

What Do Betta Fish Eat?

Someone feeds a Betta fish and a bottle of Betta fish food

Betta fish are carnivores and need a lot of protein in their diets. It’s easy to find betta fish food in pet stores. You can also supplement their diets with brine shrimp and bloodworms, which are also available at pet stores.

Betta fish only need two to four pellets twice a day, and you should remove any food they don’t eat within a few minutes.

This betta fish food comes with flakes, freeze-dried shrimp, and pellets so your fish has plenty of variety in its diet.

How Can I Tell if My Betta is Sick?

A bottle of Betta fish medication and someone holds a fish in a bag

There are a few ways a betta fish can get sick. Most illnesses will have physical symptoms you should be able to notice. Fin and tail rot, for example, will result in your Betta’s fins and tail looking ragged and tattered.

Other physical symptoms include growths or white spots on the body, swelling, bulging eyes, or lumps. Difficulty swimming can also indicate something is wrong.

If you notice any negative symptoms on your Betta fish, it’s best to take it to a veterinarian or pet store for a diagnosis. Different illnesses will need to be treated with different medications.

This medication can be added to your tank’s water to help clean ulcers, infections, and open wounds on your fish while you wait for an expert’s diagnosis.

Betta fish are beautiful pets that don’t take up a lot of space. As long as you follow the instructions for their care, you’ll have a happy, healthy fish. Another way you can keep your fish healthy is by testing its water frequently with one of these kits.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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