Complete Betta Fish Care Guide

The beautiful betta fish, also known as the Siamese fighting fish, is often one of the most popular choices for new fish keepers. With their dazzling coloration, long flowing fins, and reputation for being easy to care for, it's not surprising.

There’s a ton of betta fish information online, some of it is great and some….isn’t!

I’ve had several bettas over the years and using what I’ve learned, I’ve put together this betta fish care guide to give you all the information you need, so you know how to keep a betta fish happy and healthy.

Betta Fish Care Guide

Betta Fish
Betta Fish
  • Name / Scientific Name: Betta Fish / Betta splendens
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Maximum Size: 3 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Water Temperature: 78°-82° F
  • dKH: 5-20
  • pH: 6.5-7.5

Betta Fish Temperament

Bettas aren’t called the Siamese fighting fish for nothing. Males are well known for attacking each other on sight, often fighting to the death. It goes without saying 2 males cannot be kept in the same tank.

In fact, if you have 2 males in separate tanks next to each other, you’ll need to put something between them as they will flare up at each other through the glass.

They have also been known to flare up at their own reflection!

Even the females can be way too grouchy to live together long-term. Bettas are not sociable fish and are perfectly suited to a solitary life.

Don’t let that put you off though, bettas make great pets. They are highly intelligent and can learn to recognize their owner, interact with you and beg for food. They make a great beginner freshwater fish.

One of the great things about betta fish is that they come in practically every color you can imagine, and it’s not just the boys with the bright coloration, even the girls get in on that too.

BETTA FISH CARE VARIETY OF COLORS
Variety of betta fish colors

Are Betta Fish Easy To Care For?

With the right information, taking care of a betta fish is fairly easy. You’ve already taken a step in the right direction by reading this betta fish care guide.

How Long Do Betta Fish Live?

With proper care, a healthy betta fish can live from 3-5 years.

Betta Fish Tank Setup

10 Gallon Tank Setup Kit
Tetra 10 gallon tank setup kit

Before adding a betta, or any other fish to an aquarium, it’s vital that you have fully cycled your tank. If you skip this step, you’re going to run into trouble pretty quickly!

What Size Aquarium Do Betta Fish Need?

The minimum betta fish tank size is 5 gallons. I know there are a ton of photos online of betta fish in small bowls and vases, but these really aren’t suitable if you want your betta to thrive.

I always recommend getting a bigger tank if you have the space and budget for it. The bigger the tank, the easier it is for you to maintain stable water parameters and keep your betta happy and healthy.

Bettas are known for jumping out of the water, so make sure you get a tight fitting lid. Speaking from bitter experience, it’s not nice finding a dried-out fish on your floor.

How Many Betta Fish Can I Keep Together?

If you read the intro, I think you already know the answer. Keep only a single betta in an aquarium, whether they’re male or female.

Some will say you can keep 5+ females together, this isn’t something I’ve tried myself, but I know a few people who have tried this and it hasn’t worked out for them in the long term.

A male and a female should be kept together for breeding only. If she doesn’t breed with him you will need to separate them as he will continually harass her to mate which will stress her and lead to problems.

Betta Fish Water Parameters

Bettas are hardy fish so can tolerate a wide range of water parameters. That being said, you should always aim to keep your water parameters as consistent as possible, fish find it stressful when your pH levels, temperature, etc are fluctuating all the time.

Bettas are labyrinth fish which means they can breathe by taking in air at the water’s surface, as well as through their gills when swimming. So don’t fill your tank right to the top, leave a 1 inch gap.

Can Betta Fish Live In Tap Water?

Yes, bettas can live in tap water. Just make sure you treat your tap water with a water conditioner such as Fritz Complete or Seachem Prime so that the water is safe for your fish.

These water conditioners detoxify harmful chlorine, chloramine, heavy metals found in tap water, and high nitrate levels that can be found in well water.

pH For Betta Fish

Water pH levels for betta fish should be kept between 6.5-7.5

Bettas Water Hardness

Bettas prefer softer water with a dGH level of 3-4.

Do Betta Fish Need A Heater?

Yes, bettas are tropical fish so need a heater. Your water temperature should be between 78°-82° F. If you keep them in cold water your betta will be lethargic and could die.

Do Bettas Need A Filter?

Yes, bettas need a filter in their tank as they create waste just like any other fish. Having a filtration system in place helps to remove waste from the tank and keeps your nitrogen cycle in check.

If you choose not to have a filter, you’re going to be very busy performing lots of water changes to keep toxins in the water under control.

What’s The Best Filter For A Betta Fish Tank?

A sponge filter is ideal for bettas or you could go with a HOB filter with a low flow rate. Due to the size of their fins, a high water flow will just push your betta about the tank and stress them.

How Often Should I Change My Betta Fish Water?

It all depends on your aquarium’s nitrogen cycle. I like to do a partial water change when the nitrate levels exceed 20ppm. How long this takes varies from tank to tank. There are a few factors to take into account such as tank size, how many live plants you have, how many fish you have, etc.

The way to work this out accurately is to regularly test and record your water nitrate levels. You can then work out how long it takes for them to exceed 20ppm.

Substrate

You can use any type of substrate, it’s up to you. My own preference is sand.

Using sand is less likely to cause your fish problems should they swallow any and it doesn’t trap fish poop and other waste in small gaps where it will rot.

Also, sand won’t injure your bettas’ fins or any bottom-dwelling tank mates if you’re planning on adding any in the future.

I prefer to use a darker colored substrate as it really makes the coloration of your fish stand out.

Decorations

A lot of people like to replicate the natural betta fish environment with rocks and driftwood. Your betta really won’t care what theme you go for in your tank, just decorate it in a way that you’ll enjoy looking at.

Your betta will appreciate places to hide in and relax so make sure to take this into account.

Check any decor items for sharp edges and file them down if you find any to avoid snagging their fins. There are specific decorations available for betta fish these days.

If you’re going to put a background on the backside of your tank, choose a matt finish rather than a gloss finish. Gloss backgrounds can be highly reflective and I’ve seen male bettas flaring at their own reflection.

Plants

Betta fish prefer a planted tank and live plants are better than artificial plants. While both offer your fish places to hide and relax, using live plants in your aquarium will help to remove harmful toxins from the water.

Some of the best live plants for betta fish are:

  • Anubius nana
  • Duckweed
  • Jave fern
  • Water sprite

Put the taller plants to the back, and shorter plants to the front. The taller plants will help to hide your sponge filter and not obstruct the view of your betta and aquascaping.

If you prefer using artificial plants to save you from having to take care of live ones, make sure they have no sharp edges that could snag your bettas’ fins.

What Lighting Do Betta Fish Need?

Bettas don’t need a light. Lights are more for us humans so we can see inside our tank better and help live plants with photosynthesis. If you don’t have any live plants and your tank is in a room with plenty of natural light, just a couple of hours in the evening so you can see your fish will be fine.

If you’ve got live plants in your tank, you’ll need to use lights to help them grow. Just follow the guidelines for whichever plants you have chosen and use a timer so you don’t forget to turn them off. Bettas need a daytime and nighttime schedule just like we do.

LED lighting is the way to go these days.

LED lights have 3 major advantages over fluorescent lights:

  • 1: They use less energy
  • 2: They have a consistent color of light throughout their life so you don’t have to keep changing them
  • 3: They don’t get as hot so won’t affect your aquarium’s water temperature as much

What Do Betta Fish Eat?

Betta Fish Food
Betta fish foods

Bettas are carnivorous and should be fed a wide and varied diet of meat based foods. A specific betta fish food pellet is a great place to start.

Bettas also love freeze dried and frozen foods like:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Tubifex Worms

Defrost frozen foods before feeding them, and don’t refreeze them once they’ve thawed out.

You can feed them live foods too, but I tend not to as they’ve not been treated like freeze dried and frozen foods, so could be carrying diseases.

How Much To Feed A Betta

How much to feed your betta will vary from fish to fish. Betta’s can be a bit like Labrador retrievers when it comes to food! It’s really easy to overfeed a betta fish as they only have a small stomach.

Feed your betta daily and increase their food in small increments each week. You’ll soon figure out how much food to give them:

  • Week 1 you feed 4 pellets per day
  • Week 2 you feed 5 pellets per day
  • Week 3 you feed 6 pellets per day
  • Week 4 you feed 7 pellets per day

If in week 4 your betta starts putting on too much weight, you’ll know to keep to week 3’s feeding amount to maintain a healthy weight.

The same applies to freeze dried and frozen foods.

How Often Should I Feed My Betta?

You can feed your betta once or twice per day. I like to give them pellet food in the morning and feed them bloodworms, etc in the evening.

Another way to keep your bettas digestive system in good health is to skip feeding them 1 day per week. A healthy adult betta can go for up to a week without being fed so you won’t be doing them any harm feeding them only 6 days per week.

Betta Fish Common Diseases

There are some common betta fish diseases to watch out for.

Bloat: Often mistaken for swim bladder disease, bettas are prone to bloat due to overfeeding.

Fin Rot: Fin-rot is generally a sign of poor water quality, injury, or aggression from other tank mates.

Ich: Ich is a highly contagious parasitic infection that can quickly spread to every fish in your tank if it’s not dealt with.

Cotton Fin Fungus: Cotton like growths growing all over your betta’s body caused by a bacterial infection.

Most betta illnesses can be avoided by removing stress factors from their aquarium.

The best ways to keep stress levels down in an aquarium are:

  • Maintain good water quality by routinely cleaning your aquarium
  • Avoid overstocking your tank
  • Feed your fish a high-quality diet
  • Provide your fish with enough hiding places
  • Don’t provide too much light
  • Avoid aggressive fin nipping tank mates

How Do I Know My Betta Fish Is Healthy?

It’s pretty easy to tell if your betta is happy and healthy. They should be:

  • Active
  • Brightly colored
  • Eating well
  • Flaring at their reflection, you, or other things
  • Swimming to the side of the tank as you approach expecting to be fed

Spend time with your betta and learn what their normal behavior is. You’ll be able to spot anything out of the ordinary which could be an early warning sign of an illness.

Early warning signs of an illness are:

  • Appearing lethargic
  • Bruising or scale loss – this will be a sign that your fish has been flashing
  • Clamped fins
  • Flashing – flattening themselves out at the bottom of the tank and rubbing against the substrate or decor, twitchy swimming, sudden bursts of swimming, or even jumping out of the water
  • Hiding more than normal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale coloration

Betta Fish Tank Mates

BETTA FISH TANK MATES
Cory catfish, harlequin rasbora, green neon tetra, and khuli loach are all potential tank mates for bettas

Can Betta Fish Live With Other Fish?

I’ve had mixed experiences with bettas in community tanks. Some have been fine in a community aquarium, others have been completely intolerant of anything else in their tank, including just a single mystery snail!

Fish are like people and have their own personalities. Some are social and enjoy company, others are happy by themselves.

Potential betta fish tank mates should be:

Non fin nippers

Fin nipping fish will have a field day on your betta’s long fins. This makes fish like tiger barbs non-compatible with bettas.

Not food aggressive

Bettas aren’t the fastest of swimmers. You need to avoid tank mates who are going to beat your betta to food and leave him/her hungry.

Similar size or smaller

In the fish world, any fish that will fit entirely in the mouth of another fish will be seen as food. Avoid large tank mates that could see you betta as a tasty snack.

What Fish Can Live With Bettas?

Some of the best tank mates for betta fish include:

  • Bristlenose pleco
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Green neon tetra
  • Harlequin rasbora
  • Khuli loach
  • Mystery snail
  • Pork chop rasbora

If you do try introducing tank mates to your betta, make sure you’ve got at least a 15 gallon tank and a 2nd fully cycled tank on hand in case you need to separate them.

Do Betta Fish Get Lonely?

No, bettas are solitary fish and are suited to living alone.

Breeding Betta Fish

If you’re wanting to breed bettas, this is quite an intricate process with many steps involved, so this section is going to be pretty in-depth.

Before you start, make a plan for what you’re going to do with the babies. You could see if your local fish store will buy them, or you could sell them to friends or other aquarists.

Either way, make a plan ahead of time. Make sure your plan includes where you’re going to put the babies once you have to separate them from each other.

When selecting a male fish to breed, choosing one with large fins is a good idea. This will slow him down when he’s in the breeding tank with the female. If she needs to get away from him for a break she’ll be able to do so.

You’ll need to start feeding your chosen male and female more protein rich foods like bloodworms, tubifex worms, brine shrimp, etc, to get them prepared. You’ll also need to set up a breeding tank

Betta Breeding Tank Setup

To set up a betta breeding tank you’ll need:

  • 5 gallon tank with a lid and light. No filtration or substrate is required.
  • Sponge filter and a bacteria supplement. Although you won’t be having it running, you’ll be seeding it with a beneficial bacteria supplement to deal with any waste, and it also provides the female with somewhere to hide if she needs a rest.
  • Heater to keep the water at 77° -78° F
  • Breeder box to keep the female separate from the male
  • Dechlorinator to treat the tank water
  • Duckweed plant. This plant will provide the ideal place for the male to make his bubble nest beneath and also help the beneficial bacteria in the filter deal with toxins in the water.

Once your breeding tank is set up and your male and female are ready, add them to the breeder tank, placing the female in the breeder box.

After they get used to each other you’ll see the male create his bubble nest by taking gulps of air at the water’s surface and blowing them out below the duckweed. He will probably get very defensive of his bubble nest and may swim right up to the edge of the tank if you approach too closely.

The female should have developed stripes down her sides and her belly become plumped up because of egg production. You can now release her with the male.

They will chase each other initially, this is normal behavior and should settle down after around 15-20 minutes. The male should then start leading the female towards his bubble nest.

If they haven’t mated after 24 hours, put the female back in the breeder box, let them have some time apart overnight, and try again the next day.

Eventually, they’ll “embrace” below the bubble nest.

Betta Fish Spawning
Betta fish spawning. Image by ZooFari, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It may take them a few attempts to get it right, but they’ll get there. You should see eggs begin to fall from the female, with the male scooping each one up in his mouth before placing them in a separate air bubble in his nest.

The male is going to be a busy boy as it can take upwards of 12 hours for the female to release all of her eggs. Also, the bubbles in the nest sometimes burst and release the egg, he’ll chase after them and put them back in another bubble.

You can remove the breeder box and move the sponge filter to the other side of the tank at this point to allow the male to get to any eggs which have fallen beneath it.

Don’t worry if the female is motionless and appears to be laying at the top of the water or goes to a corner and hides, this is normal. She’ll be exhausted from the breeding process and will need time to recover her energy.

She may help the male with recovering the falling eggs and maintaining the bubble nest, but if she doesn’t, you can move her back to her own aquarium as she’s done her bit. It’s all down to the male from here on in.

Leave the tank light on throughout the next few days so the male can see any falling eggs easier. Once the fry begins to hatch you can remove the male and return him to his own aquarium.

Vinegar eels are a great first food to feed the fry. They’ll float to the top of the water which is where your fry will be hanging out, saving them burning energy chasing their food. Feed small amounts 3-4 times per day.

After a week or 2, you can start feeding them micro worms. After another week has passed by you can start feeding baby brine shrimp, and crushed flake or pellet food.

As you’re only feeding them very lightly the water won’t need changing for a while. Resist the temptation to perform a water change until the fry is around 3 weeks old as they’ll easily be sucked into your tank siphon before then.

An extra precaution to stop any fry from getting sucked in when you do change their water is to put some filter floss over the end of your siphon.

A couple of months from this point you’re going to have to separate the males from each other before they start fighting. Begin preparing what you’re going to do with them now. You could start talking to your local fish stores, family, friends, or other aquarists in your area.

Watch the fry constantly and separate the males as soon as you can instead of waiting until they start fighting with each other. Would you buy a fish that looks like it’s done a few rounds with Hulk Hogan? I know I wouldn’t.

Care For Betta Fish Conclusion

Caring for betta fish isn’t too difficult, even for a beginner. You now have everything you need to know about how to properly care for a betta fish.

I hope you have many years of enjoyment from your pet.

If you found this betta care guide helpful, check out the Aquarium Health section for more guides on keeping your aquarium in tip-top shape!