What do you do when you bring a new betta fish home?
This guide will help you take the right steps to properly set up your new fish for a long and happy life.
Let’s get into it.
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TLDR for Bringing a New Betta Fish Home
1. Buy a 5 gallon tank for your betta
2. Buy a heater
3. Set an appropriate temperature & condition the tank water
4. Let the aquarium “cycle” for 2 weeks (give nitrifying bacteria time to grow)
4.1. (alternate scenario) If the betta fish is already at your house, or on its way, focus on providing quality water conditions by heating and conditioning the tank water; adding aquatic plants is also ideal
5. Acclimate your betta
6. Release and observe your fish
7. Make sure you have the quality betta food
8. Add a sponge filter
9. Troubleshoot potential health issues
10. Enjoy keeping a curious and striking fish
What You Need for a New Betta (My Thoughts)
So you purchased a new betta fish, or are about to, and want to know what exactly you need to for your new fish.
You’ve come to the right place.
You Need An Appropriately Sized Tank
One of the number one killers of betta fish is a tiny tank.
Contrary to popular belief, betta fish do not thrive in cups, vases, or most tanks under 2.5 gallons.
The reason is that waste builds up quickly in small environments, leading to blooms of bacteria and fungus, which will kill a betta fish.
So, if you bring home a new betta fish, make sure to provide your fish a 3+ gallon tank.
A 5 gallon tank is ideal if you plan to keep your betta with small tank mates like snails or Otocinclus.
If you don’t live near a store that sells 5 gallon tanks, check out this 5 gallon aquarium on Amazon:
It’s pricier than the average 5-gallon because it’s a low-iron rimless tank, which means it provides a clearer view (the glass itself has less iron in it) of your fish and plants.
You Need a Heater
Because many large pet stores display bettas in cups and jars, those new to keeping betta fish often assume that a tiny container with no filter or heater is an appropriate setup for a betta.
But, betta fish originate in Thailand, and are tropical fish.
This means that they do best with temperatures ranging from 76-80 degrees Fahrenheit (24.44-26.67 Celsius).
Setting up your betta fish with a heater from the start helps ensure that your fish’s metabolism and immune system are functioning at a high level.
In my experience, many aquarium heaters fail/break after a couple years, so it’s important to check the temperature of your tank regularly.
For a 5-gallon betta tank, this small Pulaco heater does a great job for the price. I’ve seen instances where it’s temperature is off by a couple degrees or it fails after a couple months.
But, I have one that has been working for a couple years so I still consider it a great betta tank heater.
Set the Correct Temperature & Condition Your Water
Ideally, your tank would be cycled for a couple weeks before adding a fish.
But, for many of you, your new betta fish is currently sitting in a plastic bag or cup and needs a place to live right now.
In this scenario, the best thing to do is:
1) fill your new aquarium with room temperature tap water (distilled water is not needed in most circumstances).
2) place the heater in the tank and turn it on.
3) Let the water reach a temperature between 76-80 degrees Fahrenheit (24.44-26.67 Celsius).
4) Add a water conditioner, like API Stress Coat Water Conditioner.
5) Float and/or drip acclimate your fish by adding small amounts of water to whatever container your fish came in. If you don’t know how to drip acclimate, just add tank water every 5 minutes to whatever container/bag your betta is currently in.
6) After 15-20 mins, release your betta into the new tank.
7) Observe your betta.
8) If you bought a healthy fish, it should be cautiously exploring its new surroundings, and swimming to the surface to take a breath. Remember, betta have a special organ that allows them to breath air at the water’s surface, so don’t be concerned if you see your betta taking a few sips of air at the top of the tank.
9) Let your new fish settle in; keep the light off for the first 24 hours. Also make sure your tank has a lid as bettas are prone to jumping.
10) Buy a Sponge Filter
You may be wondering why this step is lower down the list than buying a heater.
The reason is that betta fish can be kept without a filter for their entire lives, IF their water is kept clean and stable.
Sponge filters help with maintaining water quality and stable water chemistry because suck up waste, and more importantly, provide an area for beneficial bacteria to colonize.
These bacteria will help keep the tank “cycled” and prevent ammonia swings and other problems that may negatively affect your fish.
So, buying a sponge filter for your betta fish tank is a smart choice, but it’s not essential.
What If Your New Betta Fish is Not Eating?
There are three main reasons that betta fish stop eating.
First, your betta fish may simply be too cold.
As mentioned above, betta fish are tropical fish and their metabolisms function best in the 76-80 Fahrenheit range (24.44-26.67 Celsius).
If your tank drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.11 Celsius) your betta may become sluggish and uninterested in food.
Betta fish are incredibly hardy so short periods of time at non-ideal temperatures likely won’t be an issue.
But, betta fish will begin to experience health problems and are more likely to die if kept at low temperatures for too long.
The second reason your betta may refuse food is impaction.
Again, if the water is too cold for your fish, his/her metabolism will not be able to process the food sitting in the betta’s stomach, causing impaction, which can be fatal for the fish.
If you notice bloating, or swelling near he backside of your betta, make sure your tank is at an appropriate temperature (76-78 Fahrenheit) and withhold food for a few days.
Finally, another common reason that betta fish do not eat is that they are suffering from a bacterial infection, or some other disease.
If you can identify the disease, then you can treat it with commercially available medication, and when you better recovers, his/her appetite should return as well.
Bringing Home an Already Sick Betta Fish
If you buy your betta fish from one the large, often in a strip mall, pet stores, the betta fish you purchase may have been sitting in a small cup or jar for significant periods of time without a water change.
Betta fish in these conditions may develop fin rot, cloudy eyes, and lots of other nasty infections.
And, it may not be clear if the betta fish you purchased was exposed to poor conditions while at the pet store.
When I get a new betta fish, I treat him or her with a natural medication before placing him/her in a permanent tank.
I start by setting up a separate tank (a quarantine tank) with a heater. Then I acclimate my new betta to that tank and add a dose of Bettafix.
Bettafix is a commercial medication that uses the natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil to safely treat conditions like fin rot and cloudy eye.
I’ve had success treating both over the years, but whether the betta recovers or not will depend on how long the infection has been present and the strength of the betta’s immune system.
Bringing home a new betta fish is both an exciting event but also stressful, especially if your new fish seems low energy or lethargic.
When in doubt, the best thing to do for a betta fish you just brought home is provide it with a 3-5 gallon tank with clean, conditioned water at a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit (one or two degrees up or down is acceptable).
If you continue to provide those basics and some quality betta food, then your new betta fish is on his/her way to a long and healthy life with you.
I hope you learned something from this article, or gained some tips to pass on to a new betta owner who knows nothing about fish keeping.
My ultimate goal is to work together with other betta fish enthusiasts (including you!) to elevate the care of these magnificent fish wherever they are sold or kept.
If you want to be part of that mission, join the newsletter or subscribe on YouTube. We are still a small community but we are passionate and growing.
And, if you want to learn more about setting up aquascapes, for bettas and other other tropical fish, check out article on building a dragon stone aquascape for my betta, it includes a step-by-step video tutorial.
As always, stay zen.