Is your betta laying sideways at the bottom of the tank?
First, ask yourself if your betta fish has experienced or is experiencing any of the following:
1) Noticeable lethargy
2) Loss of appetite for days
3) Discoloration (looking pale)
4) Flicking against décor or rocks
6) Trouble swimming
7) Heavy breathing or gasping
8) White spots or fuzz on fins or body
Next, observe your betta closely for the next 30 to 60 minutes:
While it’s possible your betta is simply resting on the bottom of his or her tank, look at your betta’s mouth and gills and check for signs of rapid breathing.
If your betta fish continues to breath rapidly and seems exhausted, check to see if your filter is too powerful.
If your betta is swimming sideways along the gravel and otherwise seems normal, your fish may be suffering from a swim bladder malady.
If your betta is gasping for air, laying on his side, and unable to move, your betta may be fighting a more serious disease, such as a fungal or bacterial infection.
Check for sores, bulging eyes, white spots, fuzzy areas, fin rot or other signs that your betta may be fighting a disease.
What You Can Do to Help Your Sick Betta
1) Provide a Clean Tank
A huge contributor to betta illness is a dirty tank.
If a betta is fed frequently but does not receive regular water changes, nutrients and waste build up in the bettas tank and allow bacteria, ammonia, and even parasites to thrive.
So, if your betta is ill, move your fish to a quarantine tank and thoroughly clean his old tank.
If your betta does not recover after entering a clean tank, medication may be necessary to help your fish fight off a fungal infection or other malady.
2) Change the Aquarium Conditions
Providing a larger tank is a quick way to have a healthier fish.
In a small cup, bowl, or vase, waste collects directly below a betta and pollutes the water more quickly than a tank with more water volume and a filter.
Bettas in big box pet stores are often lying on their side in their own waste and uneaten food.
This is not healthy for the betta and may lead to a fungal infection or other disease.
A 2.5 gallon tank is really the minimum for a betta fish.
While bettas certainly survive in smaller tanks and may live in smaller areas in the wild, domestic bettas are healthier and live longer in larger tanks because water conditions and waste are much easier to control in larger tanks.
You and your betta friend will receive more enjoyment if he is kept in a 2.5 gallon more larger.
3) Keep a Betta first aid kit:
Keeping betta medication on hand is a smart idea because pet stores often do not carry betta specific medications or may be out of stock.
The quicker you are able to treat your betta’s disease, the higher chance that your betta will recover.
Types of Betta Fish Medication
Most Betta medication can be found online, but if you don’t have betta medication on hand and need some ASAP, then look for one these at your local pet store:
6) Jungle Fungus Eliminator
7) Maracin 1
8) Maracyn 2
Natural Betta Fish Medications Include:
2) Aquarium Salt
3) Indian Almost Leaves
I used all three of these to successfully treat my betta’s cloudy eye (bacterial infection), which you can read about here.
Even if you are not entirely sure what is making your betta sick, treating your fish with a medication like Melafix over the course of a week may give your fish a fighting chance.
Treating a Sick Betta Fish
You may be thinking that you are no fish doctor. Well, neither am I, but don’t be intimidated by the various medications that exist to help your fish.
First, you are going to diagnose your fish.
Then, you are going to pick the best medication for your betta’s specific illness.
But, before you dose any medication, if your betta tank has plants, or you have snails that you want to keep, it’s important that you put your betta into a different tank, a quarantine tank.
Doing so will prevent the medications from killing your plants or favorite invertebrates.
Let’s take a look at some diseases that may explain why your betta is laying on it’s side on the bottom of the tank.
a) Fungal Infection
Signs: your betta may look noticeably paler and lethargic. Clumped up fins or cotton-like patches on your betta’s body are also signs that your fish has a fungal infection.
Treatment: First, start by quarantining your fish.
Fungal infections are highly contagious and can easily spread to the tank’s other inhabitants.
If your betta lives alone in a planted tank, you may still want to quarantine your fish in a different tank to prevent any medications from harming your plants.
Once your betta is quarantined, administer an anti-fungal treatment in the appropriate dose.
i) Salt for fungal infections
While it might seem strange to add salt to a freshwater aquarium, adding aquarium salt (not table salt which may contain harmful additives) to your betta tank may help treat a fungal infection.
Adding salt is not without risk though; adding too much may harm your fish or your plants.
A general dosing guideline is one tablespoon per 5 gallons.
Use common sense and do your own research before attempting to add aquarium salt to your betta tank, and do not forget to do follow up water changes once your betta is feeling better.
ii) Bettazing or Bettamax
Adding these to your infected betta tank over a period of at least three days should dissolve any remnants of the fungus.
Be sure to do a water change after all remnants of the fungus have disappeared.
b) Tail or Rin Rot
Signs: Your betta’s fins appear to be rotting away.
While fin rot may not be the primary reason your betta is lying on the bottom of the tank, it is a nasty and potentially disease that your betta can contract while in a weakened condition.
If your betta is lying on the bottom of his tank, make sure to do frequent water changes and vacuuming to prevent waste buildup.
If your contracts fin rot while already fighting off a different disease, his chances of survival are much lower.
Treatment: Fin rot can be treated by adding Ampicillin or Tetracycline.
You may also want to treat your tank with an anti-fungal.
Once your tank is back to normal, consistent water changes and vacuuming will help prevent future outbreaks.
c) Swim Bladder Disorder
Bettas are voracious eaters and thrive on a protein rich diet.
However, your gluttonous little fish may overeat and become constipated.
Signs: Symptoms of swim bladder disorder include bloating, swimming on his side, or even swimming while upside-down.
So, if your betta is on it’s side on the bottom of the tank, your fish may need a diet rather than medication.
Treatment: You will need to fast your betta until he is able to properly pass his food again. Reducing the amount of food you give him will prevent future swim bladder issues.
d) Ich (white spot disease)
Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) is a protozoan and is actually present in most aquariums and ponds.
A healthy fish’s immune system wards off ich on its own, but a stressed or weakened fish is highly susceptible to ich.
Infrequent water changes, improper water temperature, and a poor diet may substantially weaken a fish’s immune system.
But, one of the biggest stressors on fish is being shipped in the mail.
The process of shipping and handling fish from fish farm, to wholesaler, to retailer, takes a big toll on a fish’s immune system.
Ich is highly contagious and the most common cause of fish deaths.
Informing yourself about Ich and how to treat it will vastly improve the chances that your betta or other fish will live.
Signs: If your betta is covered in white spots and no longer wants to eat, ich is likely the culprit.
Treatment: To treat ich, quarantine your betta in a different tank, and raise the temperature to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then add formalin or malachite green.
Maintain the tank at 80 degrees for 48 hours and monitor the condition of your fish.
Again, quarantining your fish is important because ich is highly contagious.
Velvet shows up when a tank has not been properly treated with water conditioner or salt.
Signs: If your fish is trying to scratch itself on aquarium décor or rocks, has lost interest in food, and holds his fins tightly against his body, your betta may be suffering from velvet.
Shine a light on your fish and look for a light gold or rusty film over its scales.
Treatment: cleaning the tank and adding BettaZing to the new water will help eliminate velvet.
If your fish has a bulging eye, it likely has pop-eye.
Signs: A single cause of pop-eye is not known, but testing your water and cleaning the tank should be the first course of action if you notice a bulged out eye on your betta.
Sometimes pop-eye is treatable and other times it is permanent.
Treatment: If your fish has pop-eye, test water conditions immediately.
If water conditions look ok, treat your betta with a medication intended to kill gram positive bacteria or use a medication that specifically lists “cloudy eye” or popeye on the bottle.
Consider treating with Maracyn or Maracyn II.
Follow the directions on the medication and performing at least 30% water changes for the about 4-5 days in a row after your betta’s eye gets better.
This should bring your tank back to healthy conditions.
Dropsy is not a specific illness, but rather a term used when your fish’s stomach swells, causing it’s scales to protrude sideways.
Signs: Swollen, bloated stomach, scales sticking outward rather than flat against the body.
Treatment: Dropsy is a sign that your betta can no longer regulate his or her fluids.
Dropsy will be fatal if not caught early on, but it can be cured with aquarium salt and medication.
But, early signs of dropsy are difficult to diagnose.
Dropsy is not contagious, but it is likely a sign that water conditions are not optimal and should be tested and changed.
Catching signs of disease early gives your betta fish a good chance of recovering quickly.
If you want to find out how I cured my betta;s cloudy eye with natural medication, check out my post here.
One of the best ways to help your betta fish is by keeping him or her in a cycled tank and performing regular water changes.
Aside from that, keep your betta’s water clean (get a filter), don’t over feed your fish, and have a betta first aid kit ready.
Keeping your betta in a tank that is 2.5 gallons or above, with live plants, will also help your fish thrive rather than just survive.
And, don’t underestimate the power of water changes.
Even small water changes, performed on a consistent schedule, will drastically improve the health and lifespan of your betta.
And remember, stay zen aquarists.