Why Betta Fish Get Sick !

Colorful exotic betta fish swimming around decorative glass bowls have become a very fashionable choice of pet for the home. It can be argued that they rival even the humble goldfish in popularity. People's curiosity for these unusual fish doesn't stop with the family home, but you'll also find betta fish bowls on display in restaurants, company offices and even on tabletops at wedding receptions.

Betta fish are truly a resilient fish that can stand water and tank conditions that many other fish cannot. However, keeping bettas in undersized bowls or glass jars will not allow them to flourish, nor will they be happy fish. Unless special consideration is given to their environment and requirements, they will become stressed, resulting in bad health and regret for the owner.

So what special attention should they be given?

Before I answer that question let's understand a little about the background of the Siamese Fighting Fish.

Bettas are native to tropical Asia where they thrive in shallow warm waters, often being found in muddy rice paddy ponds. Having a unique labyrinth organ located on the very top of their head permits them to survive in this oxygen starved environment. Their labyrinth organ allows them to extract oxygen from the air and they do this by merely raising their head to the water surface. That is why you'll often see Siamese Fighting Fish hanging inactive at the water surface.

Although betta fish are quite capable of living in small bowls or tanks, they do prefer a larger oxygenated tank to live in. A tank range of between one to three gallons minimum is my recommendation. Install a small filter to the tank. This will not only clean the tank of organic wastes, but also oxygenate their water.

Smaller tanks, or betta fish containers, need regular water maintenance, especially if the tank has no filter! All fish produce waste which, along with leftover food, builds up in the tank and gradually rots. As a result of this rotting organic materials, nitrite and nitrate levels in the water will increase. Nitrite is particularly toxic to fish and if not taken out of the water, your betta will end up perishing. Too many fish enthusiasts overlook nitrate because their fish bowl looks clear and clean. Don't be fooled by this as nitrite is hard to identify by simply looking into your tank. By the time it becomes visually noticeable it will often be too late for your betta. Betta fish keepers must check their fish's water weekly for nitrite levels and carry out daily water changes (renewing up to a third of the tank water volume). This monitoring and maintenance can be, to a great extent, reduced by having a larger tank with a filter.

When releasing your betta to its new fish tank or making water changes, it is necessary that the water is free from chlorine and that it is cycled. In an idyllic water environment, wastes are broken down by bacteria into nitrates and nitrites and then other beneficial bacteria will feed off these, keeping the water in balance.

When adding new dechlorinated water to your aquarium, the new water will not contain established colonies of beneficial bacteria. This can result in speedy imbalances if fish are introduced too quickly. Water should be added and allowed to cycle in the betta bowl for at least a week before adding your betta fish. To hurry this cycling process up you could pour a cup of water full of useful bacteria from an existing aquarium or even outside pond to the new betta tank. These useful bacteria like to set up themselves in the filter. Fish bowls without one won't be conducive to these bacteria.

Now that you appreciate why betta fish do best in larger filtered aquariums, let's look at temperature. Being a strictly tropical fish, bettas do require warm temperatures of about 78 degrees Fahrenheit. They can endure cooler temperatures, but won't be content, nor will they flourish. What Siamese fighting fish won't put up with though, is a fluctuating water temperature. Betta bowls or containers can vary in temperature significantly from night to day. These fluctuations will put strain on your betta fish resulting in illness. Betta tanks should have a heater with a thermostat installed to keep the water temperature stable and warm. Placing your betta fish in sunshine to warm it up, or by using an external heater will not be sufficient, and in fact could cause greater changes in temperature.

Water pH is a lesser concern for betta keepers. Bettas will tolerate a broad pH range, so long as it remains constant and does not overly fluctuate. Like a fluctuating water temperature, a fluctuating pH will put strain on your fish.

Betta keepers like to be able to view their beautiful bettas and will sometimes, unknowingly, leave their betta bowls or tanks void of plants or hiding spots so that they can be seen. Bettas, (just like humans), like to be able to disappear from peering eyes at times. By having nowhere to hide, they will feel vulnerable to predators and dazzling light, which will again stress them.

When selecting decorations and plants for their aquarium, it is best to choose living plants as these help with cycling and oxygenating of the water. Jagged edged plastic plants and ornaments can catch on the betta's elongated fins, resulting in tears. Floating plants will filter light and provide a structure for when your betta fish wants to construct a bubble nest.

Lastly, Siamese fighting fish are notorious for jumping, especially during the night. A top for your betta fish tank is essential if you want your fish to remain in his tank. A jumping fish in a lidless aquarium will, without a doubt, end up dead!


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