Last Updated on November 28, 2020
We always see our pet Betta fish every day and learn its behavior and usual reactions. Months go by and suddenly something seems off. It is stressful to find out that your Betta fish isn’t well.
You worriedly ask yourself: “How do you know if your betta fish is dying?”
Let us discuss this rather unfortunate situation. Here are the 9 possible signs that your Betta is dying. We will also talk about what we can do if we see such signs and the things we can do.
Table of Contents
Less Than Vibrant Colors
While adult bettas look stunning with their vibrant colors, the colors on older ones will often fade and become dull or even brown. Iridescent coloration may fade entirely.
Betta fish especially the males should have vibrant colors. Loss of color may show that something is wrong. Changing color is usually one of the first signs of sickness. It is also one of the easiest ways to let you know that something is going on either internally or externally with your betta fish.
Stress can also trigger the loss of color. You might notice this lack of color as you suddenly open the aquarium light when it’s dark and your Betta is sleeping. It should gradually become vibrant as your Betta wakes up. If the dull color lingers, then you might need to check on your pet.
Check water parameters, clean your fish tank, and do a partial water change. A betta living in a small container is more prone to disease, so aim for at least a 5 gallon tank. If this still does not ease the loss of color after a few days then something might be wrong such as disease.
Clamped fins are a giveaway for disease in fish. You can see this as though the fish is trying to keep its fins as close as possible to its body. It is like a person who doesn’t want to move when feeling uncomfortable.
Betta fish should flare its gills and fan its fins when there is a stimulus like its own reflection. You can try to trigger this reaction. If your pet fish isn’t responding, then that is not a good sign.
Water parameters are important for the wellbeing of fish. Clean water does wonder for fish. It will help regain its vitality. Poor water conditions can cause clamped fins.
First thing to do is a partial water change of about 20% to 30%. You can add some aquarium salt to help your fish regain its body’s natural equilibrium, also known as osmoregulation. Observe your Betta for the next two days.
Also, check the temperature of your tank. Ensure that your water temperature is between 78°-80° F (25.5° and 26.5 C). Any temperature below this will cause your Betta’s metabolism to slow down and make it lethargic. This can lead to clamped fins.
Aside from clamped fins, also check each fin and tail for signs of fin rot, white patches, decaying portions, or tears. This could be a sign of a bacterial or parasitic infection.
This will also cause clamped fins and will be difficult to treat if it goes on too long.
Old betta’s fins have wear and tear and may have tiny tears. Some old bettas may also develop chronic fin rot, which persists despite all medication and even in the best parameters.
Slow to React or Lethargic
A young betta fish should be active and should respond to stimuli. If it just stays in one portion of the tank for a long period then this is what a lethargic betta looks like. Most sick fish still have a good reaction time, unless they cannot move.
Low energy levels may come with age. If your betta swims away slower or takes longer to react to food and other objects in the tank, it could simply be getting older.
Old Bettas will still be able to move away from potential threats, but it will take longer for them to recognize the threat and to get away.
Betta fish that aren’t active may seem to stay too long inside a crevice, aquarium decoration, plant stems or leaves, or on the aquarium substrate. When you open the fish tank light or go near your aquarium, your betta should react and be inquisitive.
Lethargy doesn’t always signal disease. As mentioned earlier, bettas will become lethargic when temperatures are below their preferred range. Slowed reactions are common in fish with lower metabolisms or with eye issues. Using an aquarium heater will help you solve this problem.
Another cause of lethargy is bad water conditions. It is important to do testing of your water. Do a water change to achieve the correct water parameters. Ammonia and Nitrite should be at 0 ppm. Nitrate should be no more than 20 ppm. pH should be 6.5 to 7. A test kit will really come in handy when you want to provide the best water conditions.
Check the food you are feeding your Betta. It might not be suitable for the nutritional needs of your pet. It should be a high protein diet because Bettas are carnivores. Have Betta food made specifically for the dietary requirements of these fish.
Loss of Appetite
Older betta fish will not have much appetite, and this is a sign of old age. As it grows older, its metabolism slows down, so it does not need as much food as it once did. For older betta, the change is gradual over weeks or months, but for a sick betta, the change will be much faster, normally in just a week.
Very sick fish will mostly not have an interest in eating food at all. Loss of appetite is something that Betta owners worry about. Food is an essential need to survive. These fish are known as picky eaters, so this area of concern is something to look into.
Doing a partial water change and using aquarium salt may help ease illness. Keep on doing partial water change every two days. Observe if your pet fish’s appetite is coming back.
A healthy betta should be interested during feeding time and go to any food you place in the tank. Loss of appetite can also be a symptom of constipation. You can also let your Betta fish go through 2 days of fasting. Fasting can help it regain its appetite.
Overfeeding can cause food to get stuck inside your Betta fish’s digestive tract. Fasting will help to clean out its digestive tract. Take note that a betta will survive for 2 weeks without food, so 2 days without food will not endanger your pet.
If after a few days of fasting your betta is still not eating then look for specific signs of disease and treat accordingly. The disease will stress out your Betta and make it lose appetite.
Long-term disease because of overfeeding can damage the internal organs of your Betta fish. A condition called dropsy may show up where the scales of the Betta fish may look like they are pointing out like an acorn. This is a hard condition to treat and may usually be a sign that your Betta fish will die soon.
Make sure the temperature is not lower than normal as this can cause the same effect on a healthy betta. Lower than optimal temperature will slow down the metabolism of your fish. This will make it require less energy and eat less. Use an aquarium heater to maintain optimal temperatures for your pet Betta.
Ich is a very common disease in Betta. This is caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. The telltale sign is the white spots that develop on the scales, gills, and fins of fish. This is very annoying to see, especially on beautiful Betta fish.
Ich will appear as little white spots around the head, body, and mouth of betta fish. Ich commonly starts off in one area of the fish and continues appearing elsewhere as the parasites spread. This will also cause flicking, flashing, and scratching behaviors in fish as they try their best to dislodge the white spots.
Ich is a parasite that will ultimately kill if not treated properly because it damages the gills and may cause secondary bacterial infections to occur. We can spread it between fish or even through water that has been contaminated by the parasite. Tools such as nets and siphons being used in multiple aquariums can harbor the parasite!
The best way to prevent your Betta from getting ich is to practice proper biosecurity. Do not introduce water from other fish tanks. Use tools specifically for your tank. Sanitize and disinfect tools if this is not possible.
Make it a practice to do handwashing with soap and water before doing anything in your fish tank. Also, do this after to protect yourself. This will also prevent cross-contamination with other tanks in your fish room.
Providing correct water parameters will also be essential in preventing the Ich invasion. A healthy Betta has an immune system strong enough to fight off the parasite. Poor water conditions will cause your Betta fish stress, which will make it prone to Ich and other parasites.
Ich usually manifests in low-temperature ranges because such conditions lengthen their lifespan. Higher temperatures will be good for your Betta, which prefers tropical ranges. Higher temperature speeds up the life cycle of Ich. We speed the parasite’s life cycle so it allows us to medicate its most susceptible stage.
Ich life cycle has 3 stages. The white spots we can see on fish are called trophonts. This white spot which is very reflective under light is the crust formed by the fish’s immune system as it tries to contain the parasite.
The 2nd stage is when the trophont dislodges from the fish and lands on the bottom surfaces of the fish tank and becomes a tomont. This tomont goes through a multiplication period where it will produce thousands of Ich parasites.
The 3rd stage is when the tomont will burst and release thousands of free-swimming theronts. Theronts will swim in the water column looking for a new fish to infect. This stage is susceptible to anti-ich medication. Aquarium salt has also been used effectively to kill the parasite during this stage.
Medication for ich treatment need not be prescribed by a veterinarian and can be found online and in your local pet store and fish stores. It is very common that it will be wise to have medication ready all the time.
Laying Down More than Normal
You may see your Betta is not moving as it lies on the substrate or on a plant, but it remains upright. Don’t panic, he or she is probably just resting. They are known to like resting when not in the prowl for food or intruders. However, if you notice them resting more often than normal, it could be lethargy or because of old age.
On the other hand, if your betta is lying down horizontally on the substrate, something could be wrong. If your betta has Swim Bladder Disorder, it may appear lethargic or look like it has difficulty swimming. It may wiggle on the aquarium floor or it may not move at all.
The causes of swim bladder disease are overfeeding and constipation, temperature shock, parasitic and bacterial infections, low temperatures, and injury.
A betta that is lying flat on the substrate for too long is a sick betta, and this is a very bad sign. If it is caused by disease or old age, your betta may not live much longer.
This may also be due to poor water quality. There is a chance that your betta will make it if you do three very large water changes in 24 hours and keep ammonia and nitrite at 0 ppm and nitrates less than 10 ppm for the following weeks.
Keep water parameters optimal for Betta fish to avoid sickness to set in. Do not overfeed your pet. Provide the correct temperature.
Slightly Hunched Back
Some old bettas seem to get a bit of a hunchback and they often look skinny compared to when they were young. They may develop a slight, or significant, hunch in their back. This is normal as they age, for both male and female bettas because of their spines changing just like in humans. However, if your betta also develops a very skinny stomach and loses weight, look at both fish TB and internal parasites as causes.
Difficulty in Breathing
Betta fish still need oxygen to breathe and they get this through gulping air from the surface of the aquarium water or through their gills. They prefer the former option, though.
Bettas who are lethargic or lazy may not swim to the top of their tank to get air, but instead, they will filter the water through their gills and get oxygen that way.
Do you notice your betta constantly near the surface for an extended amount of time as though gasping for air? Then this is a sure sign that your betta is sick and having difficulty breathing. Seeing your betta on the substrate of the aquarium doing the same gasping motions can also be a sign that something might be wrong.
The maximum depth of 12 inches is ideal for the water level to allow the Betta easy access to the surface. Do not overcrowd with too many floating plants to allow some access for the betta to breathe.
Your filter should provide enough water agitation to allow gas exchange to occur. This will oxygenate the water. Do not let the flow be strong though because Betta fish dislike powerful flow and currents.
Ich parasites attack gills and can cause difficulty in breathing. Poor water conditions will also stimulate the gasping reaction of fish. Ammonia and Nitrite poisoning will destroy the membranes which allow proper gas exchange in gills and labyrinth organs.
Always use water that has been treated with a water conditioner when doing water changes. Chlorine and chloramine can burn the membranes of the gills and labyrinth organs. This will decrease the capacity of your Betta fish to breathe.
Scratching Against Items
Flicking, flashing, and scratching behavior could be caused by irritation of the skin by high ammonia levels in the water, extremes of pH, or residual chlorine in the water because of ineffective or neglecting water conditioning.
This is a sign that your Betta fish is trying to relieve irritation and dislodge foreign objects from its skin. Parasitic infection usually triggers this. Treat with medications from your local fish store. However, if these do not resolve after a recommended course of treatment, then professional help is necessary.
Diseases that do not respond to treatment are best handled by a trained veterinarian who specializes in fish. The vet will treat your Betta with corresponding medication in a quarantine tank.
Betta Fish Dying Slowly: What Should I Do?
- Lower the water level – 4 to 6 inches is a good depth to allow Betta fish easier access to the surface to breathe and will require less energy.
- Use a low flow filter – Too strong flow will just add more stress to a sick Betta. Gentle filters will prevent your Betta from getting exhausted.
- Add an air stone – An air stone will create small bubbles that will constantly agitate the water surface and allow gas exchange. This will help your Betta if it has difficulty swimming to the surface to gulp air.
- Add a sun-dried leaf of the Indian Almond (terminalia catappa) – This will leach tannins into the water column. This will make the water slightly acidic and has antibacterial properties.
- Avoid too much feeding – Only feed quality food and in the correct amount.
- Maintain good water parameters – Clean water is essential to revitalize a sick Betta. Daily partial water changes of 15% to 20% will help prevent harmful substances from accumulating.
- Provide 6 to 8 hours of dim light – Allow your Betta to rest. It will get too stimulated by bright light.
- Ask a professional for help – If you have access to a veterinarian who specializes in fish care, then you may have succeeded in saving a dying Betta fish. There is a possibility that a veterinarian can save our Betta fish from dying. However, we must also know that if our Betta fish is dying because of old age, then we must learn to accept the reality of the situation. Cherish the moments shared together instead.