How To Provide The Best Betta Fish Care: The Ultimate Guide

By Matt Thomas
Last updated on
betta fish care

Betta fish are one of the most popular pet fish in the world. But I know researching betta fish care can be very confusing!

I’ve kept bettas since around 2010. Over the years a vast amount of differing information has appeared on the internet and in pet stores when it comes to betta fish care.

I want to simplify this for you and dispel the myths. So keep reading if you want to learn:

  • What tank size you should get and why.
  • Whether your betta is best alone or with certain tankmates.
  • How to feed your betta the right way.
  • And a host of other tips!….

Betta Fish Care: The Bottom Line Up Front!

Betta fish are very adaptive and can live under differing conditions to an extent. This probably explains why there are so many different views on how to provide the best betta fish care.

But there are some critical things you need to consider. I’ll go into detail later, but the bottom line is:

  • Your betta needs a tank with enough room to swim around and establish territory. You also need the space to add plants, rocks, and driftwood for stimulation and shelter.
  • Bettas need clean, filtered, warm water kept at a consistent temperature.
  • Male betta fish are highly territorial and must not be kept together in the same tank.
  • Your betta can live in a community, but tankmates must be chosen carefully.
  • Bettas are carnivores and need a betta-specific, protein-rich diet.

Betta Fish Care: Key Facts And Recommendations

Species Name: Betta splendens
Average Size:2.5 to 3 inches (not including tail)
Average Lifespan:2 to 5 years (but can be up to 10!)
Temperament:Aggressive (towards one another)
Diet:Carnivore
Minimum Tank Size:5 gallons recommended
Water Conditions:Still, well-filtered. Neutral pH. 79.8°F temperature [1]

What Tank Size Does My Betta Need?

Firstly, let’s tackle one of the most controversial subjects when it comes to betta fish care – how big should your tank be?

The Effect Of Tank Size On Water Conditions

Originating from tropical Southeast Asia, betta fish live in rice paddies or shallow streams. These rice paddies often dry up and leave the betta in just a few inches of slow-moving or standing water.

Bettas are able to survive these shallow, low oxygenated pools due to their labyrinth organ. A lung-like structure that allows them to gulp air and breathe oxygen from the surface [2].

In Asia, bettas are often farmed in small containers, and one Thai study even showed that male bettas grew well in a very low volume of water [3, 4]. But frequent, daily water changes are needed with these smaller containers to stop the build-up of toxins.

Water quality is critical to your betta.

As with many other aquarium fish, ammonia and nitrite need to be kept as close to zero as possible. Nitrate should be at least below 50ppm, and ideally below 40ppm. A pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 is fine, but the closer to neutral (i.e. pH 7) the better.

If you keep your betta in a larger tank with more volume, your water parameters will be more stable and easier to maintain.

But It’s Not Just About Water Quality

Whilst the rice paddies that bettas inhabit in the wild can dry up, this is not the norm.

Rice paddies are usually quite deep and interconnected giving the betta an extensive habitat. In fact, wild bettas have an average population density of just 1.7 fish for every ten square feet [5]. That’s quite a bit of space!

Your betta needs room to swim around and hide. He also needs plants, rocks, or driftwood where he can establish his territory. All of which need space.

So How Big A Tank Should I Get?

For a single Betta splendens, you should get a 2.5-gallon tank as an absolute minimum. But I would recommend 5 gallons or larger.

If you haven’t got your tank already, go ahead and measure them out. A 2.5-gallon tank is about 9 inches cubed, whereas an 11 ¼ inch cube equates to about 5 gallons. Neither is enormous and the 5 gallons will fit fine on your desk, but it will give that much-needed room for your betta.

You can of course go for a bigger tank. Just bear in mind bettas are horizontal swimmers and need to constantly access the surface. So a longer horizontal tank is better than a tall, deep one.

The Betta Fishbowl Debate

You may see a lot of advice out there not to use a fishbowl for your betta. But again the debate here is about size, heating and filtration.

If we don’t get hung up on the word ‘tank’ or ‘fishbowl’, we are really just talking about a vessel or container that will hold your fish.

There are plenty of large ‘fishbowls’ and other fantastic containers available nowadays that are 5 gallons or even bigger. And many of them come with filters and heaters. Or you can install your own which can be cleverly disguised using plants and decorations.

As long as your betta’s home is the right size, and has a heater, and filter then there really is no issue.

Top Tip

Don’t fill your tank to the brim or restrict access to the surface. Your betta needs room to get to the top and gulp air!

Water Temperature And Filtration

Water temperature is another critical factor in providing the right betta fish care.

Bettas are tropical fish designed to live in the high-temperature waters of Southeast Asia. In Thailand, these waters can range from around 75°F to as high as 88°F in the breeding season [6].

The best temperature range for your betta is between 75°F to 81°F. Any lower and your betta will become less active and more susceptible to disease. Go above this range and your betta’s metabolism increases which can also lead to a shorter lifespan.

If you can, aim to keep your tank at the optimum temperature of around 79.8°F.

Research has shown this to be the best temperature for bettas when breeding, and it is thought to be optimal for their general well-being too [7, 8].

Heating Your Betta Tank

I would always recommend getting a heater for your betta’s tank. Even if your house is normally above 75°F, the point of the heater is to consistently keep the water at the right level.

The general rule is to get a heater that has 5 watts of power for every gallon of water. So for a 5-gallon tank, a 20 to 25-watt heater will do fine.

Look to use a heater that is adjustable and has a built-in thermostat to regulate itself. Check that it also has an automatic switch-off function in case your water level drops.

You will also need a good aquarium thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. Most of these sit permanently in your tank so you can take a quick look on a daily basis. Some heaters also have built-in thermometers too.

The Right Filter For Your Betta Tank

You should always use a filter to maintain your water parameters and provide the best betta fish care. Your filter should have a low-flow rate but be able to process all of the water in your tank around three to five times an hour.

The still or slow-flowing waters of the betta’s natural habitat is something that you need to reflect in your own tank. 

Betta fish are not designed to swim against fast or strong currents. Powerful filters risk damaging their delicate fins or simply tiring them out.

If you add a strong current, especially in a small tank, this will greatly stress your betta and they are likely to hide in a still corner to avoid it [9].

So use a filter that is adjustable. You can use filter sponge over the intakes and output to disrupt the flow and slow it further.

Some betta-specific tanks come with specialist low-flow filters built-in. If you are using your own filter I would recommend either a sponge filter, an internal filter, or under-gravel filter. Smaller, low-flow hang-on-back (HOB) filters can work very well too. Most of these filters have an adjustable or low-flow rate which is perfect for your betta. 

Top Tip

Place your filter near your heater. That way the water will be circulated more efficiently, especially if you have a larger tank.

Plants, Decoration And Lighting

Planting Your Betta Tank

In the wild, the betta’s environment includes thick aquatic vegetation which they use to hide from predators. So your betta will love a well-planted tank.

Stay away from anything spiky that your betta could get caught on. 

Anubais is a good option as it has soft, broad leaves which your betta can also shelter under. Java ferns or amazon sword have thinner but soft enough leaves too. If you want a wispy plant, guppy grass or cabomba are a good choice. 

The added benefit of live plants is they can have a stabilizing effect on your water by helping to reduce ammonia and nitrite [10].

If you’d rather use artificial plants that’s fine too. But stick with silk plants rather than sharp plastic. There are plenty of incredibly realistic ones to choose from.

Rocks, Driftwood, And Substrate

Rocks or driftwood will also provide your betta with shelter and a place where he can feel secure. By mimicking his natural habitat in this way you will be helping to reduce stress for your fish [11].

Just make sure that any rocks or wood have no sharp edges that your betta could tear his fins on. Malaysian driftwood is excellent and you can easily sand it if needed.

There are no set rules when it comes to substrate as your betta will spend much more time at the surface than the bottom. Sand or gravel are both fine.

One tip with gravel though. I do find feces and other waste tends to sit on top of the gravel and it’s much easier to vacuum with a siphon when doing your maintenance!

Lighting Your Betta Tank

Betta fish need a regular cycle of day and night, so you want to be able to control how much light your tank gets.

For this reason, always position your tank away from direct sunlight. You should also keep your tank out of the sun as it can very quickly raise the temperature to levels that are dangerous for your fish. Too much sunlight can also lead to excessive algal growth.

Aquarium lights are the best way to make sure your betta gets what it needs. Many specialist betta tanks come with built-in LED lighting. But there are plenty of aquarium lights available nowadays. Many of these have timers and remote controls to make life easier!

Betta Fish Temperament And Compatibility

Male bettas were once bred to fight, hence also being known as “Siamese Fighting Fish”. They are indeed highly territorial and aggressive towards each other. 

You should never keep more than one male in a tank. Two males kept together will fight and become highly stressed [12]. It is also common for them to continue to fight to the death.

As long as males are kept separately, I’ve found that their temperament can vary. Some can be more aggressive than others, and this can actually apply to females too [13].

Females can be housed together in a sorority of around five fish, but you should use caution. I have kept females before and they can still fight, particularly if one female in the group becomes dominant.

If you are new to keeping bettas I wouldn’t recommend keeping a group of females to start with. You should also only keep males and females together for a short period when breeding.

Can Bettas Be Housed With Other Fish?

You may see advice saying bettas should really be kept alone and ideally not as part of a community tank. But in my experience, I’ve seen bettas that are quite aggressive and some that are more laid back. 

It’s true that bettas can live very happily by themselves. They are often quite unsocial fish. As long as you have set up a well-planted environment with hiding spaces for interest and security they will do great.

But your betta can also do very well in a community tank. You do need to be careful what species you house them with though.

You should avoid aggressive fish, those with flowing fins, or any that have a similar appearance to the betta. Species such as paradise fish or dwarf gourami are definitely not compatible and have been known to fight with bettas [14, 15].

Don’t house your betta with nibbling fish, like tiger barbs, either. The betta’s long fins do not go well with them!

So What Tankmates Can I Keep With My Betta?

Only keep tankmates if you have a larger aquarium that can support your betta as part of a community. A 15-gallon tank or larger is best.

Bettas need their space but so do the other fish. A bigger tank has been shown to reduce levels of aggression and territorial behavior, even between bettas [16, 17].

You also need to think about the needs of the other fish, not just your betta! Make sure tank size, temperature, and dietary provisions are all suited to the other species you choose too.

Lastly, make sure you closely monitor things for the first two or three days when you introduce your betta to a community. Have a spare quarantine tank ready in case you have to remove your betta if the introductions don’t go well!

Small schooling fish that will keep to the middle of the tank, or peaceful bottom-dwellers make some of the best betta fish tankmates. Here are some of my top recommendations:

  • Otocinclus – Sometimes known as Oto Catfish or Dwarf Suckers. These gentle suckermouth catfish are fantastic for eating algae and only grow to around 2 inches. You need to keep them in a shoal of around six. They will happily stay most of the time at the bottom of your tank and won’t bother your betta.
  • Kuhli loach – A worm-shaped fish that is very gentle. As a bottom feeder, it will spend most of its time there and will leave your betta alone. The kuhli loach can grow to about 4.5 inches and should be kept in a group of three or more. 
  • Cory catfish – There are many types of cory that would go well with your betta. Corydoras grow to about 2.5 inches and can live alone or in a school of four or more. Panda corys grow to about the same size and are another great alternative. 
  • Rummy nose tetra – A peaceful shoaling fish, they spend much of their time around the middle of the tank away from your betta. They can grow to around 2.5 inches and should be kept in a group of at least six.
  • Mystery snails – Although not a fish, these snails are another algae eater that will also help clean up leftover food. They are slow-moving and peaceful creatures who will make great tankmates for your betta. These snails live for around a year and can grow to 2 inches in size.
  • Ghost shrimp – Also known as glass shrimp, these are very peaceful creatures and will make another excellent companion for your betta fish. They are also scavengers and will clear up uneaten food and algae. Keep them in a group of two to four and expect them to grow to about 1.5 inches.

The Right Betta Fish Diet

Betta fish are carnivores and need a protein-rich but varied diet.

They mainly feed on insects and mosquito larvae in the wild. Their digestive system and enzymes are geared towards this rather than too much plant material [18].

You can mimic these foods by offering your betta fish bloodworms, krill, daphnia, brine shrimp, or mysis shrimp. But you should keep this as an occasional treat. Whilst your betta does need protein, the optimal amount in their diet is around 31 to 35%, particularly for young fish [19]. 

You can use live food if you want to, but frozen or dried will do fine. These are much easier and live food is only really necessary when breeding [20, 21]

The best food to provide on a daily basis are betta-specific pellets. Do not use other tropical fish food or flakes that are not designed for your betta. They may not have the right levels of protein, or worse still have too much vegetable matter in them. There are plenty of betta-specific pellets available.

Having this mix of formulated and live food is the best way to provide your betta fish with the varied diet it needs [22].

How Often And How Much?

It’s very important that you don’t overfeed your betta fish. 

Your betta has a very sensitive digestive system. Overfeeding can lead to swim bladder issues, constipation, and bloating.

Two meals a day is optimum [23]. Make sure you only give your fish the amount it can eat in two to three minutes. If there is any excess food left in the tank after this then remove it.

A betta’s stomach is about the size of its eye, so two or three pellets are generally enough.

What If My Betta Gets Sick?

Even if you are trying to provide the right betta fish care, sometimes disease will happen.

There are some specific signs you should look out for to tell whether your betta fish is healthy or becoming sick.

Signs Of A Healthy Betta Fish

  • Eats well and regularly.
  • Swims energetically.
  • Colors are bright and vibrant. This can be true in males and females.
  • Tail and fins open wide and flowing.
  • Will interact with you at the surface.
  • Flares aggressively at outside stimuli.

Signs Your Betta Fish May Be Sick

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Erratic or slow swimming with frequent hiding.
  • Color becomes duller.
  • Curling of tail or fins towards the body.
  • Frayed or discolored fins, sometimes with back edges.
  • Cloudy eyes.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Either weight loss or bloating.
  • Spots or growths on body or mouth.

Common Betta Fish Diseases And Treatments

Betta fish can be susceptible to illnesses that are common in other freshwater fish. Diseases such as white spot or fin rot are examples. 

Bettas are also particularly prone to cotton wool disease (aka cottonmouth) and velvet disease [24]. 

All of these are also common illnesses of goldfish. We have put together a list of the symptoms and treatments as part of our goldfish care guide. This list will help you identify and treat these illnesses in your betta fish too. 

Betta Fish Tank Maintenance

Maintaining your betta’s water quality is critical to its health.

The smaller the tank, the more important this becomes as waste matter will build up very quickly. If you don’t deal with it, ammonia and nitrite levels can become dangerous to your betta in a short space of time.

If you have a 2.5-gallon, unfiltered tank you will need to do around 25% water changes twice weekly. You may even need to do a 100% water change each month.

Even if you have the recommended 5-gallon tank with a filter, you will still need to do a change of around 25% once a week. Ensure you lightly rinse your filter too in tank water only, never tap water.

Whatever your tank size, the key is to test your water parameters weekly. By keeping ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in check you will be able to determine when you need to next do your water change.

When you do carry out a water change, make sure that you add a water conditioner to the new tap water before adding it to the tank. Straight tap water contains chlorine and chloramine which are lethal to your fish. Water conditioner will neutralize these quickly so making it safe.

Check out our maintenance schedule which you can apply to your betta fish tank. Just remember to carry out the water changes to the frequency described above.

What To Do Next?

By following the steps above you can be confident you are providing the best betta fish care.

Ensure you provide your fish with enough space, and monitor and maintain the water quality to keep your betta in the best of health.

You can choose to keep a single betta alone or introduce it as part of a community. Just make sure you choose the right tankmates and provide a stimulating environment to give your fish the best quality of life!

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AUTHOR
Matt Thomas
Matt has been keeping fish since junior high when he used to look after his parent's tank. He loves guppies, cichlids, and his crowntail betta named Bobby.