Betta Fish Care Tips (And What Not to Do)

by Kevin

Red male betta fish at bottom of tank.

Proper betta fish care is not difficult but it does require paying attention to a few important factors.

The main factor is space. Betta fish are capable of living in small tanks but that doesn’t mean they should be.

Betta Fish Care in a Bowl

A bowl like the one above is adequate if it’s 3+ gallons.

Let’s talk about good betta fish care in a bowl and bad betta fish care in a bowl.

Good betta fish care in a bowl requires finding a bowl that holds 3+ gallons of water.

These exist, but are not easy to find.

What Not to Do

Male betta fish in small bowl.
The above image is sad and wrong.

Too often, betta fish are sold with a small bowl, less than 1 gallon, and no heater and no filter.

Small bowls create problems for betta fish because waste (leftover food and fish poop) builds up and quickly creates a toxic environment for your fish.

Male betta fish in small jar with plants.
Notice how much waste accumulates at the bottom of these small jars (I found this picture online).

A filter can help with waste buildup in small tanks or bowls, but most bowls are too small for a filter or create too much water current for a betta fish to handle.

In small bowls or tanks, filters that create strong currents may actually tire a betta fish out to the point of exhaustion, especially when a betta has no place to hide from the water current.

Betta fish bowls without a heater are also a problem because your betta fish may lose his/her appetite and become lethargic.

Betta fish come from tropical regions in South East Asia and need a temperature of between 78 F to 80 F to thrive so make sure to buy a tank large enough to fit a heater and a filter.

Now, let’s talk about good betta fish bowl care.

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The ideal betta fish bowl would be between 3 gallons and 5 gallons.

The bowl pictured above is about 3 gallons and can make a great tank for a betta fish if the right equipment is used.

These types of bowls are not typically sold at most pet stores, and tend to be pricey, but they are much better for your betta’s health and happiness.

A 3-gallon bowl not only gives your betta fish more room to explore but also helps prevent sudden ammonia spikes due to waste buildup.

And a 3 or 5 gallon bowl allows you to perform biweekly water changes rather than the daily water changes that a tiny betta cup or bowl would require.

This is because harmful chemicals like ammonia build up in the water over time.

If no water changes are done or not enough water changes are done an ammonia spike could occur killing your fish.

Bigger bowls also provide enough room to put a heater and sponge filter in the tank.

Bigger bowls can also support aquatic plant life, which are natural water filters and look amazing.

Betta Fish Food

Betta fish love to eat.

If you place a pellet of food on the tip of your finger and hold it over the water, you may even get your betta fish to jump out of the water to eat the food off your finger.

Many people only feed their betta fish small betta pellets, usually the ones that come in that weird packaging where you have to shake and roll just the right amount of pellets through a plastic tube.

But, betta fish benefit from a varied diet and their main diet of pellets should be supplemented with at least one of the foods below:

1) Freeze Dried Bloodworms

Freeze dried blood worms are excellent.

They are coated with vitamins and float on the surface where your feisty fish can attack them.

While live bloodworms are more exciting for your fish, they may also carry parasites.

Freeze dried bloodworms are a great alternative to live and are much easier to feed.

2) White Worms

A culture of room temperature white worms makes an excellent source of food for betta fish.

These worms are actually live in soil and do not spoil the same way that blood worms sitting in your fridge do.

If you can get yourself a culture of white worms, you can keep them going almost indefinitely by providing them with moist soil and pieces of cat feed or bread.

Betta Fish Plants

The best plants for betta fish tanks are plants that can:

1) live in low to moderate light conditions

2) grow with little to no fertilizer

3) do not need to be rooted in gravel or substrate

Three of my favorite aquarium plants for betta fish that meet these factors are Anubias, Java Fern, and Java Moss.

Check out my article on betta plants that are almost unkillable.

Aquarium Lights for Betta Fish

Ideally, caring for your betta fish involves providing a day and night cycle with about 8-10 of light during the day.

Betta fish, like other animals, need time to sleep.

So, keeping your tank light on a timer is a good way to ensure that your fish does not become stressed from constant light or constant darkness.

If you want a betta tank that is lush and full of plants, then a higher intensity light is typically required, especially for growing carpeting plants.

Florescent bulbs, like T5s, used to be the best way to grow aquatic plants.

Now, there are powerful and cheap LED lights on the market.

One of my favorite aquarium lights that I’ve used on multiple betta tanks is the Hygger LED.

This light is powerful and I’ve had success growing easy plants like Anubias and also more light demanding plants like Monte Carlo.

For a more detailed explanation on aquarium lights, check out my post on the best aquarium lights for planted tanks.

Betta Fish Heater

Betta fish are native to South East Asia and are found in small pools, streams, and rice patties where water temperatures tend to be high.

For optimal betta health, you will need a heater that keeps your tank between 78 F to 80 F.

Yes, betta fish can survive at lower temperatures and higher temperatures, but 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit is where your betta will do best. 

Most pet shops sell relatively inexpensive heaters that automatically keep the water at 78 F.

While these are great starter heaters, they often stop working after prolonged use or break if dropped.

One heater that seems to solve these issues the Cobalt Aquatics heater.

It’s on the larger side and definitely pricier than your typical petstore heater but the Cobalt is shatterproof and tough.

I’ve had mine over a year now and I appreciate the peace of mind it provides.

Betta Fish Filters

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, water quality is a crucial part of betta fish care and fish keeping in general.

Aquarium filters can help keep water quality at optimal levels by creating a system that processes waste, like old fish food and fish feces.

But, in smaller tanks and bowls, a filter with a power head may produce a current strong enough to exhaust a betta fish, which can lead to your betta hiding at the bottom of the tank and becoming weak.

One solution is to use no filter and provide enough water changes to keep water quality high.

No filter tanks work especially well with aquatic plants because plants will act as natural filters and remove toxins from the water.

Plants also provide a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow, which also process and filter certain chemicals.

No filter betta tanks are definitely doable but you would be wise to test your water at least once a week and provide consistent water changes.

The other option is to use a sponge filter in your betta fish tank.

Sponge filters are perfect for betta fish, shrimp, and other small aquarium fish because they produce almost no water current and will not accidently “suck in” your fish.

Sponge filter suction is actually produced by rising bubbles, which create a vacuum effect as they pass upward through the sponge toward the surface of the water.

This suction is really only powerful enough to draw in tiny bits of debris, but over time a sponge filter will become clogged with little bits of waste. 

Blind Betta Fish Care

Blind betta fish.

Betta fish may become blind from a disease, like cloudy eye or popeye, especially if the disease is not treated rapidly.

Genetic defects also appear to cause blindness in some betta fish, with some fish developing scales that seem to grow over the eye.

If you have a blind betta fish, or a betta with only one good eye, there are a couple key factors that can improve your blind betta’s quality of life.

1) Use a signal for feeding time

If you fish has trouble seeing, he or she may not recognize when food is available.

But, using a signal, like tapping twice on the tank or swishing your finger in the water before every feeding will alert your fish that it’s feeding time.

Feeding your blind betta fish in the same area of the tank each feeding will also help your fish find his/her food more easily.

2) Use a Sponge Filter

While low flow filters, like sponge filters, work well for all betta fish, these filters are especially needed for blind betta fish, who may have trouble avoiding strong currents created by powerhead filters and other high flow devices.

A blind betta fish will have a much easier time navigating his or her tank and accessing food if he/she does not have to fight against a current.

A sponge filter will help keep your betta tank clean and provide a place for beneficial bacteria to colonize without disturbing or disorienting your blind betta fish.

Betta Fish Vacation Care

Feeling stressed about leaving your betta while you go on vacation?

That is completely understandable.

But, there are a few steps you can take to give you some peace of mind and provide your fish with what it needs to survive while you are away.

How Long Can Betta Fish Survive Without Food?

Generally, a healthy betta fish can go as long as 2 weeks without food.

But, as a rule of thumb, your betta fish should be getting food at least every 5-7 days while you are on vacation.

Neighbors and friends can usually be convinced (or bribed) into taking your betta for a week or coming over to feed your fish every 3-5 days.

But, if you can’t secure sitter for your betta fish, consider using an automatic fish feeder.

The feeder below is the one that got me through a 14 day vacation, but it needed a modification:

Many of these automatic fish feeders are meant for much larger tanks, typically around 20-100 gallons, and are designed to dump a fairly large portion of food into the tank.

This is not ideal for betta fish tanks because one betta fish cannot consume a huge pile of food, which will wreak havoc on water quality and eventually kill your fish.

So, automatic feeders are risky, but it is possible to use tiny pieces of duct tape to decrease the size of the hole where the food is released.

This is key because if the feeder dispenses more food than your fish can eat, poor water quality may kill your fish before you get home.

My fish survived my vacation but that was because I tested the feeders for multiple days before trusting that they would work while I was away.

Baby Betta Fish Care

Baby betta fish feeding.

Caring for baby betta fish or betta fish fry is very different than caring for adult betta fish.

Baby betta fish, for purposes of this article, are defined as betta fish that have just been born to bettas that are a little larger than a nickel (roughly).

After that I consider them juveniles.

Baby betta fish can actually be housed together until they are fairly large juveniles.

When they first emerge from the egg, baby betta fish will be cared for by their father.

If a baby betta fish wanders off too far from he bubble nest, the male betta will scoop up his baby with his mouth and deposit it back into the bubble nest.

If you are raising betta fry without help from a male betta, a typical 5-gallon tank is not ideal.

Instead, newly hatched betta fish can be placed in a relatively shallow white plastic tray.

This will allow you to see where the baby betta fish are, which is important when feeding them.

The tray should have about 2-4 inches of water in it and be heated from the bottom with a heating mat.

Feeding these tiny betta fish involves hatching baby brine shrimp and using a turkey baster to drop them in front of the baby betta fish.

The turkey baster can also be used to suck up waste or remove old food.

Water changes in a shallow tray are especially important, as water quality will degrade quicker.

But, getting rid of old water can be tricky without pouring out some of your baby betta fish, so using that turkey baster to remove old water is important.

Sick Betta Fish Care

Generally, frequent water changes, and a decent sized tank with a heater and filter will help your fish live a healthy and long life.

But, fish get sick even when all the conditions seem right.

The challenge of taking care of a sick betta fish is figuring out what is causing the sickness.

Once you identify the cause, then you can add the appropriate medication to the tank and watch your fish recover.

However, unless your fish displays obvious signs like a pale bulging eye, or fuzzy white fungus growing on his/her body, or tinny white spots covering his/her body, then figuring out what is wrong with your fish may be much more difficult.

If you don’t see any obvious signs of illness in your fish, but you suspect that he or she is uncomfortable or lacking energy, try adjusting the following:

1) Heat

If your fish is too cold, he/she may stay near the bottom of the tank and conserve energy.

Try turning up your heater to between 76 F – 80 F Fahrenheit and observe whether your fish becomes more energetic.

Food is also easier to digest in the 76-80 degree Fahrenheit range for your betta fish.

2) Water Changes

As most of us know, water quality can degrade rapidly in small tanks.

Performing additional water changes will not only help remove toxic buildup that may be affecting your betta but a water change will also oxygenate your tank’s water.

Be sure to add a de-chlorinator after a water change to prevent additional stress on your fish.

3) Add Aquarium Salt

Aquarium salt sounds like something meant for saltwater fish tanks but it is actually beneficial for freshwater aquariums.

The aquarium salt sold by API is meant help fish breathe and is also effective against certain bacteria.

How much aquarium salt you add will depend on the size of your betta’s tank.

According to API, for a 5 gallon, a tablespoon is the recommended dose; otherwise half a tablespoon per gallon of water is optimal.

I’ve used aquarium salt to help one of my betta fish recover from cloudy eye, but I recommend you do your own research before adding salt to your tank because too much aquarium salt can be harmful not only to your betta fish but also to plants and invertebrates.

To learn more about how my betta fish recovered from cloudy eye, check out my article here.

If you want to learn more about betta fish illnesses and why some betta fish swim sideways on the bottom of a tank, check out my article here.


Betta fish are extremely rewarding pets.

If you take the time to setup your betta tank properly from the beginning, you will worry less about your fish and be able to enjoy other aspects of betta care like watching your betta build bubble nests.

If you are getting a betta soon or if you have a betta fish that needs a name, check out my article on betta fish names.

As always, stay zen fish keepers.

2 thoughts on “Betta Fish Care Tips (And What Not to Do)”

    • Hi Elaine, congrats on your new betta fish. A properly sized betta bowl is between 3 to 5 gallons and can be tricky to find, so I’ve included a link to one in this article. Large bowls can also be found on eBay and even at local thrift stores. Another decent alternative to a small bowl is a 2.5 gallon Anchor glass storage jar, which can be found at stores like Target and Walmart.These jars make decent temporary betta homes while you search for a larger bowl.

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