Betta Fungal Infection: Symptoms and Best Treatment

Last Updated on November 1, 2020

Betta fish are usually one of the first options chosen by people new to the aquarium hobby. Pet stores put them in small containers usually in an area where the buyers can instantly see them. The amazing colors and fin display will surely grab a person’s attention. Betta enthusiasts usually share photos and videos of their beautiful pets online making the beginner even more curious about the betta.

This popularity makes it an obvious choice for those who want to get into the hobby. But, just like any living creature, the betta can suffer from infection and disease. Fungal infections are not an exception. This article will serve as a guide in dealing with fungal infections.

What is betta fungal infection?

Betta fish are tropical fish and fungal infections from spores in your fish tank are among the most common diseases they can suffer from.

You can only thoroughly remove this if you nuke your fish tank with so many disinfectants and through extreme sterilization. This is not possible though because having a very sterile fish tank is actually not a safe place for fish. Let good bacteria grow in your fish tank. As bacteria colonize your fish tank, then fungi can proliferate too.

Your fish’s immune system is strong enough to defend itself from fungal attack. But, Fungi can quickly overcome stressed, injured, or diseased fish. Stress, injury, and disease weaken their immune system making them prone to infection. Fungi can rapidly take over your fish if given the right opportunity.

What are the signs and symptoms of fungal infection in betta fish?

The characteristic white fluffy appearance, also known as ‘cotton wool disease,’ is a hallmark sign of fungal infection.

These may show on the body, head, and fins of your betta. It can also affect the gills, eyes, and mouth.

Usually, it has a white blotchy look but this may worsen and look gray and reddish as the rot continues to go deeper into your fish’s body.

You may notice that your betta is rubbing itself on the aquarium decor. It is also typical to check lethargy and lack of appetite, loss of vibrancy of color, and clamped fins. Betta fish love to flare their gills and display their fins when they assert dominance over their territory. Sick fish will be less likely to do this.

What causes betta fungal infection?

Poor water condition increases the likelihood of Fungal infections to strike. This happens when water parameters are not optimal.

Poor tank maintenance also adds to the problem. Not doing water change regularly will make your tank dirty.

Fish waste and uneaten food will increase the amount of ammonia present in the water column. Ammonia is toxic to fish and an ammonia spike is possible when its level increases. At lethal amounts, ammonia can lead to gill damage and internal organ ammonia burns.

Poor hygiene will definitely stress out your fish and will lessen its ability to fend off infection.

When a betta fish gets an injury such as a cut in its body and its immune system is weak then the opportunistic fungal infection can set in. Fungi and bacteria are present in your aquarium and they may infect your betta fish if its immunity is compromised.

There are certain fungi that are the common culprits in infections. These are Saprolegnia and Achyla. The rarer ones are Branchiomyces and Icthyophonus. We will discuss each type of fungal infection next.

Betta Fungal Infection

Related: Betta Fish Swim Bladder Disease: What’s the Best Cure?

What are the different fungal infections seen in betta fish?

Why is there white stuff on my betta fish and is it harmful to its health?

The cotton wool disease is a generalized term used to talk about fungal infections on the skin, fins, and mouth of a betta. The fuzzy white patches colonize an area previously injured by cuts, affects, or nips by other fish. Saprolegnia and Achyla are the most common fungi in these infections but other fungi may also lead to these infections. There may be over one species in the same area.

Why are my betta fish’s fins turning white?

Fin rot is another condition caused by a fungal infection. But this is usually because of bacteria such as Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, and Flavobacterium. We also call fin rot Fin Melt and Tail Rot. This is especially noticeable in fish with long fins such as a betta. If caught early, then you can easily treat fin rot.

Stage 1 usually starts as a little discoloration. Mild fin rot looks like there are whitish tips or spots on the tips of your betta fish’s fins. This will progress through the fin’s membranes as time passes by.

Stage 2 is when the infected pieces slough off due to rot making the fin edges look ragged and uneven.

At Stage 3, the fins or tail entirely rot and the infection reaches the fish’s body. You may see inflammation of the body part near the fish. The betta will probably be lethargic, just staying in one area of the aquarium, and not swimming properly. This stage may lead to the death of your pet if not quickly taken care of.

Other diseases caused by the fungus

Infected fish eggs with a fluffy white fungal infection are usually because of Achyla and Saprolegnia fungi. Many breeders use Methylene Blue to help prevent the eggs from getting fungal infections.

A fish suffering from gill rot is rare and if ever it occurs it is very difficult to treat. Infected fish have minimal gill function making them look like they are gasping for air. Gills will look like it’s covered mucus and have a mottled appearance. The infection usually happens because of the fungus Branchiomyces and can lead to the whole gill to rot away. These infections happen to fish living in aquariums with high ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. That is a stressed fish with not much chance of survival.

A fungus that can bring systemic infections is Icthyophonus, but this is very rare and considered difficult to diagnose and treat. Infected fish show generalized poor health which means it lived in a very toxic environment. Once again it is due to stress and poor living conditions. Diagnosis is usually conclusive only when the body of the dead fish gets an examination in the lab.

Do I need a separate tank when treating fungal infections?

A hospital tank or quarantine tank is where you will place your betta as they undergo treatment. You can treat your betta fish in its main tank if it is the only inhabitant. If your betta is part of a community tank, then you should take out the infected fish and put them in a separate quarantine tank. Using a 5-gallon tank is a good volume for a quarantine tank.

This allows easier monitoring because you will get to see your betta right away without needing to find it in a bigger tank. This will avoid the trouble of finding your betta in a well-decorated tank with lots of hiding places. Observing your betta closely is essential during the days it undergoes treatment.

It is big enough to have an aquarium heater and air stone. It is best to use a slight amount of smooth gravel as a substrate for a glass tank just to avoid letting your betta see its reflection on the bottom. A food-safe plastic container can also be an ideal option because you may not need to put any gravel on the bottom.

The heater is essential because you must provide the optimal temperature when treating your pet fish. The betta is a tropical fish that will benefit mostly within a temperature range of 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 to 27 degrees Celsius. Have an aquarium thermometer ready so you can make sure the temperature is constant. Fluctuations in temperature will lead to temperature shock and add more stress to the betta fish.

The air stone is essential because it will let water move in the quarantine tank. This can be good if your betta doesn’t have too much energy to always swim up to the surface. It can partially get its oxygen from the water through its gills. This tank with a volume of water will also be shallow enough for the betta to not exert too much energy when swimming to the surface. Remember that your fish isn’t in top shape.

Another advantage of using this tank volume is for economic reasons. You will spend less amount of medication in dosing for a smaller tank compared to a bigger tank.

If your betta is part of a community tank, then this practice of putting it in a separate quarantine tank will lessen the stress it receives as it recuperates peacefully on its own.

How do we begin treating fungal infections in betta fish?

Once you notice the signs and symptoms of fungal infection, you may use the following as a guide. If you are not comfortable in treating your betta then it is best to seek the help of a veterinarian who specializes in fish care. They are the best people to seek advice from. They will give diagnosis, treatment, and advice regarding what is affecting your pet.

You might not find a veterinarian who specializes in fish care in your area though so your next option would be to ask in your local pet fish store if they have the items we will need to treat a fungal infection in betta fish.

Our first line of defense will be aquarium salt. Aquarium salt has a lot of benefits and can help your betta fish recover. Please note that salt may hurt live aquarium plants which are salt sensitive. This is one reason why a separate tank is better. For this article, we will discuss using a quarantine tank. You can consider your main tank as the quarantine tank if your betta lives alone with no tank mates and live plants.

1. Prepare your 5-gallon hospital tank by filling it up adequately with water treated with a water conditioner. This will remove any harmful substances such as chlorine, chloramine, and heavy metals.

2. Put the air stone in and turn the heater on. Let it reach the optimal temperature range. Check with your aquarium thermometer.

3. Add aquarium salt by following the manufacturer’s recommended dose. It is usually 1/2 round teaspoon for every gallon. A popular brand is API Aquarium Salt.

4. Carefully take out your betta fish from its main tank using a fishnet. Using a clean plastic cup, take some original water from the main tank. Place the betta fish in the cup and let it float on top of the quarantine tank for 10 to 15 minutes to acclimate it.

5. Release the betta into the quarantine tank. You can remove 1 gallon of water daily to keep ammonia levels low and remove fish waste. Replace the water removed with 1-gallon water treated with a water conditioner.

6. You can add 1/2 round teaspoonful of the aquarium salt whenever you replace 1 gallon of water. This will keep the amount of salt constant. Take note that salt does not evaporate and will stay dissolved in the water. So replenish with every water change. Using aquarium salt has a lot of benefits. It makes the water less suitable for a lot of parasites. It reduces nitrates and nitrites improving water parameters. It improves your betta fish’s slime coat which protects it from injury and organisms that may hurt it. It improves kidney and gill function.

Check your betta for the next 7 days. Note the white fuzzy fungal infection or fin rot and see if it has stopped progressing. If you are not comfortable with medicating fish on your own, then it is best to seek the help of a veterinarian specialized in fish care.

What medication is best to treat fungal infections?

Aquarium salt may be very effective if you have detected the fungal infection in its early stage but it has become widespread then medication may be necessary. If you already went through one week using aquarium salt but you still see the infection progressing, then it is probably best to use the medicine. A veterinarian who specializes in fish care will be able to properly give advice, diagnosis, and treatment for any fish disease so if you are in doubt it would be best to seek one.

The usual medicine advised for treating fungal infections is a combination of drugs. This is because cotton wool disease and fin rot can be a combination of both bacterial and fungal infections occurring one before the other or two simultaneously.

Mardel’s Maracyn and Aquarium Solutions’ Ich-X have been a popular choice in dealing with fungal infections. Maracyn contains erythromycin which is an antibacterial while Ich-X contains formaldehyde, methanol, and malachite green chloride which deals with fungi and external parasites.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions in dosage and treatment duration.

Should I feed my betta fish during treatment?

You may see a lack of appetite in betta fish with neglected fungal infections. The initial stages of the fungal infection usually will not lead to a lack of appetite. If your betta is still interested in food, then you can feed one small meal a day while it is under treatment. Choose high protein food to help boost its immune system. This will also help to heal and repair to take place.

Do not force-feed for 7 days a betta with an infection that has progressed to a stage in which it doesn’t want to eat. Remember that your betta can survive 7 days without food. Gradually re-feed with 1 small meal per day after the quarantine period.

How to prevent betta fungal infections from happening?

Prevention is always better than cure. Make sure your pet betta is living in a healthy environment suitable for it to thrive. Give it proper care such as a good diet, optimal temperature range, and water parameters suited for betta fish to keep its immune system ready to fight off infection.

Avoid putting betta fish in small containers because harmful substances accumulate and become concentrated faster. 5 gallons is the minimum recommended for a single betta fish.

Regularly following a water change schedule will ensure that harmful substances do not accumulate in your betta fish’s aquarium. If you have the money, then you can invest in a master test kit to track the water parameters of your fish tank.

Avoid sharp decorations in the aquarium. Sharp driftwood can snag the delicate fins of your betta fish, You can break off the sharp parts and smoothen edges with a piece of sandpaper.

If your betta fish is living in a community tank, then see if there are any bullies. Remove aggressive fish and place them in a separate tank.