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Stressed Betta Fish: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

betta fish in aquarium

Keeping your fish healthy and happy is the key to good aquarium husbandry. Betta fish are hardy, freshwater fish that can develop a wide range of diseases or stress-related behaviors. It is important to monitor your betta’s behavior regularly so that you can easily determine if they are stressed which will allow for prompt treatment.

There are many ways to keep your betta fish happy if you provide their essential requirements. Every betta will experience stress a few times in their lifetime; however, it can be mitigated and kept under control. Let’s take a look at at the causes, symptoms, and treatments of stress!

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Understanding Stress in Betta Fish

red betta in Aquarium
Image Credit: 13683717, Pixabay

Stress is present in all fish species. There are many reasons for your betta fish to become stressed. It is caused by a stressor factor present in the environment. This can be a lot of different things and you must try to keep these stressors minimal in their environment and encourage mental enrichment to keep them satisfied.

Stress in bettas can be compared to the stress of humans and other animals, when we have constant negative stressors, then we get to the point of depression and lethargy.

Depression is common in fish too! This may be surprising to many new hobbyists. Fish are portrayed as easy to care for and many new aquarists may neglect the basic care essentials in the beginning. Bettas react to the conditions of their environment. If they’re not cared for, they’ll look like it.

Every betta fish keeper should realize the importance of a pro-active approach to the general well-being of their betta fish’s welfare. There can be emotional, physical, and environmental stressors in bettas.

When your betta fish is constantly dealing with stressful instances in their life, they can show the symptoms both emotionally and physically. Stressful bettas will not behave like they normally do, and they will display symptoms that can make them seem generally unwell or even ill.

Unfortunately, betta fish are very misunderstood fish which makes them susceptible to being unintentionally mistreated. The most essential part of keeping betta fish is minimizing stressors and always providing them with the utmost best conditions.

Bettas are highly intelligent fish which also allows them to easily become stressed. Once they become stressed, their immune system is compromised, and they are at risk of several different diseases.

Signs of an Unhealthy Betta Fish

sick betta in aquarium
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

These curious fish are very happy when they are kept correctly. They have many ways of showing signs of happiness and general good health. It is common for your new betta fish to be stressed when you first bring them home. Remember that they are unfamiliar with their new environment and need a few days to settle in. Moving your betta fish or changing the tank layout can also cause stress for a few days in your betta fish.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of a stressed betta fish:
  • Lack of appetite: When a betta fish is feeling unwell, they will refuse food or even not find an interest in eating. They may even attempt to eat the food but spit it out.
  • Fading colors: If you have ever purchased a betta fish from a pet store and it was a completely different color, but then you place them in their new home and after a few days when they have finally settled in, their color may change completely and become more vibrant. A healthy betta fish has strikingly vivid colors that are more noticeable in red, blue, yellow, and warm-toned colors.
  • Clamped fins: The betta may appear as if it is stuck in the straight jacket. Their fins are held close to their body and do not fan out naturally. The fins are in a constant state of tension and their body cannot fully relax.
  • Stress stripes: These are hardly visible unless the betta is under a good LED light. The lines become more visible if the betta has faded color. This is more common in female betta fish but can be seen on male bettas too.
  • Lethargy: The betta will hang out around the bottom of the aquarium and not show any interest in swimming or being active. Your betta may also appear listless at the top of the tank and experience rapid gill movement.
  • Hiding: A sick betta will use an instinct-related adaption to hide when they are ill or stressed. This behavior is displayed in the wild to avoid being seen in a vulnerable state by potential predators.
  • Darting: A stressed betta fish may dart around the tank uncontrollably. This is commonly seen in bettas if there is a problem with the water quality.
  • Abnormal swimming patterns: Your betta will float or lie on its side. This is common in the more severe stages of stress.
  • Ripped fins: Bettas will nip at their fins when they are stressed. They do this to keep them busy when they are stressed. It can become a serious habit if the cause of stress is not addressed. When you first get your betta, it may appear as if they have been through a blender and their fins are all torn up. They will eventually heal and regrow with a lot of care and enrichment.
  • Slow growth: Your betta will grow slowly if it is stressed. The growing period is reduced due to their body’s state of physical stress. If your betta does not eat, this can also cause your betta to become stunted or grow abnormally slower.

The Main Causes of Stress in Betta Fish

betta fish in bowl
Image Credit: Piqsels

There are quite a few causes as to why your betta fish may be experiencing high levels of stress. It is common for new betta owners to make some understandable mistakes regarding caring for your betta fish properly.

The best option is to learn how to prevent these causes and conduct research on how to properly house, feed, and enrich your betta fish.

  • It is common practice for new hobbyists to place their betta fish in a bowl, vase, bio-orb, and other unsuitable aquaria. Spherical objects are not good for fish as it is too small, and the rounded sides distort their view.
  • Depriving your betta fish of a filter and heater will cause major issues. Bettas are tropical fish that require a filter to help aid in keeping the water clean and hosting the colony of beneficial bacteria that will help convert your fish waste into nitrates.
  • An uncycled tank is a silent killer in the aquarium hobby. Every tank must be cycled for 6 to 8 weeks before placing a betta fish inside. After the cycle is complete, harmful ammonia and nitrite will be kept under control.
  • Water quality plays a major role in the health and vitality of your betta fish. Bettas need dechlorinated water as the chlorine found in tap water burns their body and causes major stress.
  • Incompatible tank mates can easily cause a betta fish to become stressed. Male bettas should never be housed with other males. They will and do fight till death or serious injury. Avoid housing bettas with fin nippers, territorial, and aggressive fish.
  • If your betta does not have a wide variety of hiding places in the tank, they will feel unsafe and become stressed.
  • Lack of oxygen in the water will contribute to stress. There is a belief that bettas do not need much oxygen because of their origins in stagnant, poorly oxygenated waters. Keep in mind betta in captivity have evolved completely and are not adapted to live in such poor conditions. Bettas need an aeration system in the tank.
  • Freezing temperatures or even fluctuating temperatures are a common cause of stress. Bettas require a heater and will do very poorly without one.

Preventing Stress In Betta Fish

Once you notice that your betta fish is stressed, then you need to set up a treatment plan to get them on the path to healing. Treating your betta fish is simple once you have determined the main source of stress.

  • Make sure that you provide your betta with a tank larger than 5-gallons. Although many expert betta keepers recommended 10-gallons. The tank should be long and not too tall.
  • Cycle the tank before you place them inside. The tank should be fully set up with dechlorinated water and a filter during the cycle. Adding in samples of bacterial from the pet’s store can help kick-start the cycle and even make it cycle faster.
  • Use a filter with a slow flow, filters that produce even a gentle current can stress your betta. Sponge or cartridge filters are recommended.
  • Conduct regular 20% to 30% water change weekly to reduce the number of toxins in the water.
  • Only house your betta with suitable tank mates like neon tetras, Endler tetras, danios, Corydoras, and snails.
  • Turn the light off at night to ensure that your betta has at least between 8 to 12 hours of sleep.
  • Run an air stone in the tank promotes promote oxygenation through surface agitation.
  • Avoid using fake plants or decorations that are coated in paints. These leach into the water over time and cause immense stress. Live or silicone plants are best.
betta fish in aquarium
Image Credit: Kosit Pajuthai, Shutterstock

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Treating a Stressed Betta Fish

Maintenance Medication

Sometimes your betta fish can become so stressed that they need to be medically treated. Treatment should be thought out considering what type of physical symptom is being shown.

Here is a basic treatment plan for sick betta fish. These gentle medications can be helpful to target specific symptoms and prevent them in the future.

  • Seachem StressGaurd is excellent in reducing stress in bettas by helping their slime coat and other irritants caused by water quality. This can be used in the main tank and as often as the dosage implies.
  • API StressCoat can be used as a water conditioner and helps to relieve stress in fish. It is safe for use in the main tank and will not kill beneficial bacteria.
  • Seachem Prime is primarily used as a dechlorinating and helps to reduce ammonia and nitrite for a few days. This can help a betta fish who is stressed from poor water quality.
  • Seachem Bettas Basics has been formulated for bettas and aids in slime coat production.
  • Aquarium salt is a gentle medication that helps with osmosis and warding off diseases. Do not overdose on the aquarium salt because bettas can only handle small amounts at a time. If you have a 5-gallon tank, 1 flat teaspoon will suffice. A 10-gallon tank can handle 1 and a half flat teaspoons of aquarium salt.
  • Seachem Garlic Guard helps boost the betta’s appetite to encourage them to eat.
sick betta fish
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

Stress-related Disease Medications

These medications are not safe for the main tank, and you will need to move your betta into a 5-gallon bucket or tank with an air stone when administrating these medications because they can kill off beneficial bacteria and break the tank’s cycle. Stress can cause a variety of diseases that need prompt treatment.

  • Methylene blue dips help to combat diseases like ich, funguses, and bacteria on the body. The dips should be done every 2 hours for three days.
  • Seachem Sulfaplex will help rid your betta of external parasites and other diseases.
  • Seachem Metroplex is great for healing torn fins from your betta nipping at them due to stress.
  • API Melafix is formulated to treat ripped fins. This helps to ward off any opportunistic bacteria that can cause fin rot.

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Minimizing and preventing stress in bettas is the best way to keep them in good health. If you notice your betta is displaying stressed or abnormal behavior, treat them right away! Bettas can easily overcome stress and will be content in a large and suitable tank with all the necessary equipment and peaceful tank mates.

We hope that this article has helped you determine if your betta fish is stressed and how to deal with it.

Featured Image Credit: ivabalk, Pixabay

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