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Betta Fish Keeps Swimming to the Top? 4 Reasons & Suggestions

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

yellow betta fish

Betta fish are undoubtedly some of the most eye-catching fish to have in a home aquarium. They have bright colors, big personalities, and they can even be taught some tricks too. With that being said, you do of course need to take good care of your Betta fish. This involves everything from reproducing its natural environment, feeding it right, keeping the water clean, and looking out for illness too.

Betta fish usually like to be in the center of the water column, not near the top. However, if you notice that your Betta is always swimming near the top of the tank, there could be a problem. Let’s take a look at some potential causes and the corresponding remedies to this problem.

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The 4 Reasons Why Your Betta Keeps Swimming To The Top

1. Lack Of Oxygen

One of the problems that could be causing your Betta fish to swim to the top of the tank all of the time is poor water oxygenation and aeration. Now, these little fish are pretty special in the sense that they have something called a labyrinth organ, something that only a small percentage of fish have.

This labyrinth organ is pretty much a lung, just like humans have. In other words, Betta fish can breathe dissolved oxygen in the water, but they can also breathe gaseous oxygen in the air, just like mammals.

How to Tell

If there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water, your Betta fish could be swimming to the top to get some air from above the surface of the water. Also, the top of the water usually has more dissolved oxygen in it than the bottom.

So, if you see your Betta fish swimming to the top and gasping, or maybe even catching a breath of air from above the water, it is because the tank water does not have enough dissolved oxygen in it.

Mustard Gas Betta in the tank
Image Credit: happymay, Shutterstock

Install a Bubbler/Airstone

This is pretty easy to solve, as you can always install a bubbler or airstone into the tank. An air stone is just a small porous object that is connected to an air pump, which creates little bubbles that saturate the water. Having a good filtration unit to pump oxygenated water throughout the tank will help too.

Furthermore, if the water is very warm, it will hold less dissolved oxygen than cooler water. So, keeping the water a little cooler could help too, but keep in mind that Betta fish are tropical fish, so you cannot make the water too cold.

2. Poor Water Quality & Less Than Ideal Tank Conditions

If your Betta fish is always swimming to the top of the tank and maybe even jumping out of the water on occasion, it could be due to poor water quality and less-than-ideal tank conditions. While Betta fish are fairly hardy and resilient, there is only so much punishment and differing tank conditions that they can handle.

Let’s quickly go over the most important aspects of a Betta tank and what the water needs to be like to make them happy and healthy. This way, you can compare the recommended tank conditions to those that you have, and you might find the problem this way.

If you notice that your tank does not coincide with these recommended conditions, you might have just found your problem.

Tank Size

A Betta tank needs to be at least 3 gallons in size. This is the recommended minimum. We personally would go with something like a 5-gallon tank (we have reviewed our top tank picks here). If your Betta fish does not have enough room to swim around and frolic, it might swim to the top of the tank, and maybe even jump out to find a larger home.

Plants And Rocks

Betta fish like to have a lot of plants and rocks to hide under, play with, and swim around. If you are keeping your fish in a really bare tank without enough plants, rocks, caves, and other decorations, your Betta fish might be stressed out, unhappy, or just bored.

This will cause it to swim frantically, often to the top of the tank. Therefore, having enough of these items in the tank is a big deal.

3. A Filter

Many people hold the misconception that Betta fish do not require a filter in their tank. This is simply not true at all. Just like other fish out there, Betta fish definitely appreciate clean water and need a good filter. If the water is not being filtered properly with mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, the water might just be too dirty for your Betta to handle, thus causing it to swim upwards in search of greener pastures.

Too much ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, fish waste, rotting organic materials, and other pollutants can all have this effect.

Water Parameters

You also need to maintain ideal water parameters for Betta fish. If the water is not ideal for them to live in, they might swim upwards and try to jump out in search of water that is more ideal for them. One of the biggest factors to keep in mind here is water temperature.


Betta fish require the water to be between 25.5 and 26.5 degrees Celsius. Any warmer or colder than that can cause serious health issues which could make your Betta swim to the top of the tank, so the right temperature is very important.

Heat rises, so if your Betta fish is too cold, it might swim to the top where the water may be marginally warmer. Moreover, the water for Betta fish should be neutral, with a pH level of 7.0.

Close up of a hand disassembling a fish tank waterfall filter to clean it
Image Credit: Ladanifer, Shutterstock

3. Begging for Food

Yet another reason why your Betta fish might be swimming to the top of the tank all of the time is that it is begging for food. Betta fish will learn that the food always comes from the top, so if they are hungry, they might linger at the top in search of food. Betta fish can handle two meals per day, each of which is about as big as one of its eyes, or in other words, something like three small pellets or brine shrimp.

Right Feeding Balance

If you are not feeding your Betta enough at once, or are only feeding it once per day, this could be the issue. However, this is a bit tricky as overfeeding fish comes with big risks too. If you see a lot of uneaten food in the bottom of the tank, it could be that your Betta fish does not like the food you are giving it.

You might want to try providing it with some variety to see if it will eat the new food. Once again, just be sure to not overfeed the fish as this will cause more and even bigger problems in the long run.

4. Swim Bladder Problem

The other issue that could be causing your Betta fish to swim to the top of the tank is a swim bladder issue. However, to be clear, if your Betta looks healthy and is actually swimming to the top of the tank, it is probably not a swim bladder issue. Swim bladder issues will cause the fish to list to one side and be unable to swim straight, so in other words, if it is a swim bladder problem, it would be floating to and around the top, rather than actually swimming to the top.

Interestingly enough, swim bladder disease is most often caused by constipation and overfeeding. If your fish is swimming to the top, or more like floating around crookedly, it is probably due to overfeeding. In this case, do not feed your Betta for a few days, 2 to 3 days, and then feed it a boiled and peeled pea.

You can try a couple of peas. This should push the waste out and solve swim bladder issues. If you notice that your fish looks bloated and is swimming oddly, overfeeding and constipation could very well be the cause. If this problem persists, you will want to consult an expert or take your Betta fish in for a checkup.

fish swim bladder in hands
Image Credit: Malgorzata Surawska, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, the reasons why your Betta fish is swimming to the top of the water are numerous. You need to first figure out what the problem is, or at least try to, and then take the appropriate steps to correct the issue. If your Betta fish is swimming to the top, do not think that it is normal and just ignore it, because it is certainly not normal.

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Featured Image Credit: yin8003211 from Pixabay

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