A betta fish purchased from a commercial pet store is lucky if he lives 2-3 years.
The unluckier bettas don’t even make it out of the fish store.
Like goldfish, betta fish have become so common that people think they live short lives in captivity.
But, the truth is, betta fish can live much longer, with some fish making it to the ripe age of 8 or 9 years old.
The reason many betta fish only make it a year or two in captivity is that people treat them like cold water pond fish, providing only a small bowl with no heat and no filter.
When I was a kid, we did not realize that betta fish do not thrive in a vase under these conditions, they just survive.
If you want your fish to flourish and swim excitedly against the glass when he sees you, then providing your betta with an appropriate tank, heater, and filtration is crucial.
The truth is, betta fish do best when kept in sizeable tank (5-10 gallons), with a heater, filter, and plants.
So, How Long Can a Betta Live?
Betta fish, on average, live about 2-3 years when given average care.
With excellent care, and a little luck, your betta can live as long as 9 years.
How long a Betta fish in captivity is influenced by a variety of factors, including tank size and water conditions, but also genetics, diet, and disease.
Factors Affecting Betta Fish Lifespan:
1. Water conditions and maintenance (regular water changes and testing).
2. Diet: is the betta fed an appropriate variety of food?
3. The size of the betta’s tank.
4. The genetics and age of the betta at the time of purchase or adoption.
5. The fish keeper’s knowledge of common betta illnesses.
6. How much exercise your betta fish receives.
Water Conditions for Betta Fish
1. Cycling a Tank
Water chemistry is perhaps one the most important but also one of the most ignored factors that affects your betta’s health and lifespan.
Before adding a betta to a new tank, the tank needs to be cycled.
A cycled tank is an aquarium in which beneficial bacteria convert harmful chemicals into less harmful substances that can be removed with water changes.
Allowing a tank to cycle properly over the course of 2-8 weeks (depending on size and conditions) is vital to the health of your fish.
For more information about cycling a tank and speeding up tank cycling, check out my article on the nitrogen cycle.
It’s a misconception that bettas prefer cold or room temperature water.
While many big box pet stores display bettas in cups with no heater, bettas will live longer, be more active, and breed more readily if given a bigger tank with stable and clean water conditions.
While bettas are able to tolerate a range of temperatures, the ideal temperature for your bettas is between 76 and 80 degrees Farenheit (25.5-26.5 C).
Temperatures significantly above 80 will stress your fighting fish and at lower temperatures, bettas become lethargic, eat less, and are prone to certain diseases.
3. Using Distilled Water
You might be wondering, “what could be harmful about keeping your betta in distilled water?”
While distilled water is not inherently dangerous for your betta, it incentivize people to do fewer water changes, which can be harmful to your betta.
Also, because distilled water is costly, people tend put their bettas in smaller tanks or bowls, which need more attention, not less.
Doing water changes on a 20-gallon using only distilled water gets expensive.
So, while distilled water is not inherently dangerous, your betta will likely live longer if you use normal tap water for water changes and use a declorinator.
Feeding your Betta the right food will help your fish live a longer, healthier life.
Avoid over feeding your betta, which can lead to constipation and bloating.
Appropriate food for bettas include live and freeze dried bloodworms, brine shrimp, and betta pellets.
Bettas will eat fish food flakes but should not be fed flakes exclusively.
Flakes typically lack the high protein content that bettas need and can cause constipation and bloating in your fighting fish.
“My betta spits out his food”
When your betta spits out his/her food, it’s likely because the piece of food is too large.
Cutting blood worms into smaller pieces and crushing pellets into smaller pieces will help your betta accept food.
Age and Genetics
1. Betta fish purchased from big box stores, and even breeders, may be older than they seem.
Purchasing a younger betta is a great way to get the most out of your fish, and allows you to provide the fish with the proper food and care early on.
Not all betta breeders focus on breeding strong and genetically sound fish.
Because we want to enjoy these beautiful fish, while also providing them rich lives buying from a reputable betta breeder instead of a big box pet store is the superior choice.
It will also help ensure that you are purchasing a betta that was bred and raised with love.
Irresponsible breeding practices aimed at providing a big box pet store with as many fish as possible increases the likelihood that these bettas will have weak immune systems and genetic defects.
Buying from a betta breeder who is passionate about bettas is a better investment and increases your odds of receiving a bettas that lives well past 3 years.
Size of Tank
The size of your betta’s tank affects both your betta’s stress level, as well as his overall health.
Because bettas are so awesome and good looking, big pet shop chains stock bettas like they are going out of style.
Sadly, these bettas are housed in tiny cups and bowls and rarely get a water change.
Bettas in small cups swim in their own waste and sit next to other males (who they want to fight) continuously.
Plus, these bettas are exposed to stressful situations like when a customer picks up their cup to get a better look.
Bettas that live in larger tanks are typically healthier and live longer because the extra tank space gives them room to swim and places to hide from stressful situations.
Also, the water chemistry and temperature of larger tanks tends to be more stable.
If you forget to check and maintain your water parameters, a betta in a larger tank is much more likely to survive than a betta in a small tank.
More gallons = more leeway.
So how large is large for a betta tank?
Aquarists agree that a cup is too small and something like a flower vase is also generally too small.
1-2 gallon is not ideal but is certainly an improvement for most bettas found in big box stores.
2.5 gallons to 3 gallons is a generally considered the minimum size for optimizing your betta’s life, but care should be taken to measure and maintain good water conditions.
Between 5-10 gallons is ideal and provides your betta with plenty of room as well as extra space for live plants.
If you are like me, space is limited because you live in an apartment or duplex and even 10 gallons sounds like a big commitment.
That’s completely ok. Bettas, plants, and shrimp thrive in tanks smaller than 10 gallons.
But, regular water changes, and maintenance become essential when keeping smaller tanks or nano tanks.
Being a little more attentive to your smaller tanks is actually quite fun, it keeps you more connected to it and actually provides a relaxing break from normal life.
Overview of Common Betta Fish Diseases
Prevention is better than medication
And frequent and consistent water changes are perhaps the best way to prevent a disease outbreak.
But, at one point or another, all fish keepers experience an outbreak of disease.
Depending on the type of disease or illness, an entire tank or multiple tanks can be completely wiped out.
Becoming familiar with common betta fish diseases before they occur can mean the difference between a fish dying and living.
Keeping a betta fish first aid kit is a smart way to battle disease when it happens (not if).
Here’s a list of common betta diseases and illnesses:
1) Fungal infections: look for white/wool-like patches on the bettas head or body
2) Bacterial infections: may look similar to a fungal infection; look for mold-like lesions on the betta’s body.
3) Fin rot: fins appear ragged and seem to be deteriorating.
4) Ich: tiny white spots covering the body and head of the betta
5) Velvet: manifests itself as a gold/copper dust on the betta’s skin.
6) Internal Parasites: look for weight loss and lethargy.
7) Popeye: look for a protruding eye, which is caused by gram positive bacteria.
8) Dropsy: look for a bloated stomach and raised scales protruding outward.
9) Swim bladder disorder: betta has difficulty swimming normally, and maintaining his position in the water column.
As surprising as it may seem, forcing your betta to swim and flare his fins may drastically increase his lifespan.
At least one study has been conducted on whether exercise affects a betta fish’s lifespan (check out Walt Maurus’s A Complete Guide to Bettas).
In Maurus’s betta lifespan experiment, two groups of male bettas were housed in different setups.
One group was housed in jars and had limited space to swim around.
The other betta fish were kept in tanks of several gallons and were chased around with a stick for a fixed amount of time.
Both groups were given the same amount of care and feeding.
The results were stunning.
The betta fish that were kept in larger tanks a subjected to forced exercise, loved to be over nine years old.
None of the bettas that were kept in small jars lived that long.
The reason for this disparity in lifespan, the scientists discovered, resulted from fatty degeneration of organs and tissues.
The betta fish in the small jars simply built up too much fat and were not able to exercise it away.
Your betta fish may live far longer if he is housed in a larger aquarium and given regular exercise.
You may not be crazy about chasing you fish with a stick, so an alternative is to put a small mirror by your betta’s tank.
This will cause your betta fish think that a rival is nearby and encourage your betta to display and flare his fins.
Moving the mirror at regular intervals to a different side of the tank will encourage your betta to swim to that area.
While this type of stimulation is healthy for your betta, make sure to remove the mirror after a set amount of time so that your betta is not spending the entire day displaying, which may over stress your betta.
Stay zen fish keepers.