When my first pet betta died, I was too young to grasp the concept of death. My mom told me she sent my betta to a fish boarding school. Yes, I was gullible like that, but I was only 6.
It was only several years later that I realized my betta had died and was never coming back.
Throughout my life, I’ve always had a betta or two in my fish tanks. So naturally, I have observed their brush with death and untimely death up-close and personal.
As a matter of fact, my rosetail betta breathed its last just a few days ago. The fish was 4 years old. I’d like to believe it died from old age.
I hate to admit this, but I’ve had some of my bettas die due to my shortcomings in the past.
So, cutting to the chase, this recent experience inspired me to put pen to paper and jot down everything I know about a betta’s death – the causes, the signs, the diseases, and so on.
I have a feeling this is going to be a long article. So, buckle up. We have a long ride ahead.
Why Did My Betta Fish Die?
The common reasons behind a betta fish’s death are:
- Wrong water parameters
- Wrong water temperature
- Wrong diet
- Bullying by tankmates
- Uncycled tank
- Wrong cleaning technique
- Things beyond your control
- Old age
Wrong Water Parameters
Besides the stunning look, the reason bettas are so popular in the hobby is their hardy nature, which we often take for granted. The number one reason bettas die an untimely death is wrong water parameters.
Here’s what the water parameters should look like for a betta fish:
- Water temperature: 75°-81°F (23.8°-27.2°C)
- pH: 6.5-7.5
- General hardness: 3-4 dGH
- Carbonate hardness: 3-5 dKH
- Ammonia: 0 ppm
- Nitrite: 0 ppm
- Nitrate: <20 ppm
As hardy as betta are, they do not tolerate sudden or extreme fluctuation in their environment. What’s worse is bettas are often subjected to small tanks without a filter.
So, there is every possibility that the ammonia and nitrite levels in the tank will be higher than what’s deemed safe. No fish can live for an extended period in such environments.
If your betta is suffering from ammonia toxicity, the fish’s body color will darken, the gills will become reddened and bleed, the body will produce excess mucus, and breathing will be labored.
If the right step isn’t taken in time, the fish will contract secondary infections that are almost always fatal.
Likewise, the common signs of nitrite poisoning are hanging near the water outlet, rapid gill movement, gasping at the water surface, and darkening of the gills.
Needless to say, nitrite poisoning also has a high mortality rate.
A change in the pH, general hardness, and carbonate hardness could also profusely stress a betta and compromise its immunity.
Therefore, we recommend testing the water parameters at least once every week to ensure nothing dangerous is brewing in the water. We use and recommend using API’s Freshwater Master Kit.
As I mentioned above, bettas are often subjected to small tanks and fish bowls without any kind of filtration mechanism. The fact that they can take gulps of air from the surface if the water is polluted has created a misunderstanding that they can live without a filter.
But remember, no fish can survive for long without a filter, no matter how hardy it is.
On top of that, small tanks tend to get polluted quickly, and the water parameters fluctuate without warning. Contrary to popular belief, small tanks are harder to manage than big tanks.
So, there you go – the number one reason behind a betta’s sudden and untimely death is wrong water parameters. Test and correct the water parameters before other fish kick the bucket as well.
Wrong Water Temperature
A lot of times, beginner hobbyists assume a betta fish doesn’t require a heater like a goldfish. But, they’re often subjected to tanks so small that they can’t even accommodate a heater.
But here’s the thing to keep in mind: goldfish are coldwater fish. They thrive in colder water and live their entire lives without a heater.
On the other hand, betta are tropical fish. They need the water to be on the warmer side. The water temperature should fall in the 75°-81°F (23.8°-27.2°C) range for a betta fish.
The fish’s metabolism will slow if the water temperature is lower than the aforementioned range. As a result, the fish will become sluggish and sleepy.
The fish’s immune system will be compromised. And all of a sudden, the fish becomes susceptible to a host of pathogens waiting for the right moment to strike.
Having said that, the water shouldn’t be too warm either. If it is, it will speed up your fish’s metabolism, and the fish will become hyperactive.
But unfortunately, warm water cannot hold oxygen. If it’s too warm, your betta will suffocate and die.
So, make sure you get a heater for your betta tank next time. There are nano heaters available for tanks smaller than 5 gallons, but if you get a 10-gallon tank, you’ll have many options to choose from.
We don’t think very highly of bettas when it comes to channeling intelligence or emotions. But the truth is that they’re super sensitive fish able to feel various emotions.
And one emotion they’re often forced to feel is stress. Yes, stress – you read that right. The tiny, unassuming betta with a ‘primitive’ brain can feel stress, and they do so often.
Unfortunately, when the betta is stressed, its immunity is compromised. As a result, the fish becomes vulnerable to a host of viruses and pathogens that are almost always present in the tank.
So, stress doesn’t downright kill the fish but paves the way for a disease to bring the fish down. Therefore, removing stressors from the tank as soon as you detect them is essential.
Some examples of stressors for a Betta fish include:
- Poor water quality
- Wrong water temperature
- Wrong feeding style
- Underlying illness
- Sudden change in environment
As you can guess from the aforementioned list, the stressor can be anything. And often, before you even realize the fish is stressed and correct the situation, the fish will have bitten the dust.
Some signs of a stressed betta include:
- Excessive hiding behavior
- Darting around the tank
- Crashing at the bottom
- Frantic swimming
- Gasping for air at the surface
- Lack of appetite
- Scraping against gravel or rock
And here is a look at a few simple steps you can take to soothe a stressed fish:
Choose a low-flow filter that doesn’t blow the fish around the tank. Betta’s have a hard time swimming in strong currents.
Create numerous hiding places in the tank so your betta can hide away and relax when it finds any situation overwhelming.
Remove bullies from the bank. An awful lot of fish like tetras and barbs tend to nip at a betta’s beautiful, flowy fins.
Bettas may be small, but they demand a strict carnivore diet. They need to have the meaty stuff. But bettas are often subjected to wrong feeding practices, which ultimately shortens their lifespan.
The four most common diet issues are:
- Expired Food
- Wrong Food
Overfeeding is the most common issue regarding a betta’s diet.
Bettas have long, flowy fins and tails almost bigger than their body, but their stomachs are tiny. The stomach is around the size of its eye.
Yes, you read that right! Therefore, you really need to channel moderation while feeding them. If given the opportunity, your betta will finish an entire box of food.
This could lead to grim health conditions like digestive obstruction, swim bladder issues, and even obesity. Needless to say, these conditions could prove harmful and even fatal if not addressed in time.
A bloated stomach, leftover food, and frequently polluted water are some signs that you’re overfeeding the fish.
On the flip side, if the fish is underfed, it will lose its colors and start getting bony like humans. It cannot go on for more than a week without feeding.
If your fish has stopped eating, try giving it its favorite food. Also, don’t forget to find out the reason it has stopped eating in the first place.
So, what’s the right feeding frequency and size?
Experts recommend giving your betta fish 2 to 4 pellets twice a day. It may not seem like much, but remember what I told you about their tummy size.
You can give freeze-dried or fresh food instead of pellets once or twice a week. But bear in mind that they’re carnivores. So they will not snack on any plant-based food.
Lastly, always make a point to check the expiry date before buying your betta fish food. Needless to say, feeding expired food can pose serious health risks.
Bullying By Tankmates
Bettas aren’t exactly social fish. They’d rather have the entire tank to themselves. They’re known to even fight their own reflection.
So, you need to be careful when choosing the tankmates for your betta fish. You definitely don’t want to keep them with other fish with flowy fins that can be mistaken for a male betta.
But there’s another side to the story as well. While bettas are aggressive and solitary fish, they are fairly small, slow-moving creatures.
Therefore, they’re often at the receiving end of bullying and harassment by larger fish. Their flowy fins and tails make them an easy target. They can get bullied by even fish as small as tetras.
This might sound like overkill, but when you keep a betta in a community tank, you need to have a backup plan for when things go south.
The backup plan in question might be a simple one-gallon bowl. I’m assuming that you’ll move the betta to at least a 5-gallon tank in the near future.
Also, if the tank is smaller than 10 gallons, it’s best not to add other tankmates. There simply won’t be enough space for everyone to get along.
An uncycled tank is a leading cause behind a sudden death of a betta fish within a few days or weeks after you bring it home. It’s a rookie mistake. The tank needs to be cycled first before adding the fish.
If you add the fish as soon as the tank setup is finished, the fish will die within a few days due to excessive levels of ammonia and nitrite present in the tank.
Once the tank is cycled, which can take a couple of weeks, the beneficial bacteria will have established their colonies in your filtration media to keep the nitration cycle going.
A cycled fish tank will have established bacteria colonies to transform ammonia into nitrite and nitrite into nitrate.
Adding bottled good bacteria, a filter media, or substrate from an established tank can accelerate the cycling process.
Tentatively speaking, cycling a tank from scratch can take anywhere between 6 to 10 weeks. However, if you use bottled bacteria, the cycle can be completed as quickly as 2 weeks.
To start the cycle, you first need to add a source of ammonia like a pinch of plain ammonia, some fish food, and decaying plant matter.
Here’s a quick link to Tetra SafeStart, concentrated aquarium bacteria, that will give you a jump-start to cycle the tank.
Wrong Cleaning Technique
If your betta fish suddenly died after one of the cleaning sessions, there’s a good chance that something went wrong during the process.
Although super hardy, bettas don’t adapt to sudden changes very well. So, if the water parameters fluctuate severely after the cleaning process, the fish will become profusely stressed.
And by now, you already know the repercussions of a stressed betta fish.
Likewise, another common mistake is adding the fish into the water before the chemicals have evaporated. You first need to let the chemicals and the air bubbles settle before you put the fish back in the tank.
And let’s not forget how some hobbyists hastily transfer the fish from the tank to a temporary bucket or bowl filled with tap water with no regard for the fish’s wellbeing whatsoever.
As trivial as it may sound, this action could likely lead to sudden death.
Things Beyond Your Control
Bettas are the poster child of tropical fishkeeping hobby in all corners of the world. They’re bred in huge numbers. And for a certain part of their lives, they live in teeny cups, as you may have seen in the fish store.
Now imagine the kind of life they lead in such a small, congested place. So, there’s every chance that the betta you brought home had a congenital issue to begin with.
With a new puppy or a kitten, you can take it to the vet and have it checked for such issues, but with small fish like betta, there’s no way to know.
Thus, sometimes, you can do everything right, and the fish may still die. If this has happened to you, go easy on yourself.
And be careful next time you buy the fish. Make sure to buy from a credible seller and check the fish for any signs of deformity.
Bettas don’t enjoy a very long lifespan. Their average lifespan in captivity is just around 2-5 years.
So, if you’ve had your betta for a long time, the chances are that the fish died naturally after reaching a certain age.
There’s no surefire way to tell a betta’s age, but most older bettas have faded colors and a jaded appearance. The fish will also have stopped nesting.
Now that we have addressed the most common reasons behind a betta’s death, let’s discuss some of the most common illnesses bettas endure in their lifetime.
Common Betta Fish Diseases
Although hardy, bettas are not invincible. If kept in the wrong environment and fed the wrong diet, they can suffer from fungal, parasitic, or bacterial infections.
Most fungal infections stem from previous health conditions, whereas parasitic ailments are introduced with any new additions to the tank. Likewise, bacterial infections result from improper handling and poor water quality.
Let’s have a quick look at some of these diseases:
Fin And Tail Rot
As the moniker gives away, this disease attacks the fins and tail of the betta fish. It can either be due to a bacterial or fungal infection.
The fins and tail will fall off in parts and become discolored. The sick betta should be treated with antibiotics like sulfadimidine, erythromycin, and trimethoprim after a consultation with a professional.
The product I have been using on my fish since 2015 with a 100% recovery rate is Hikari Revive, made by a brand we all know and love.
The 5-day treatment comes with clear instructions on how to use it. What I love the best about this treatment is it’s effective from day one!
Columnaris is a bacterial infection that causes the fins to rag and fray. The infected fish can die in less than 72 hours if not treated in time.
This disease also causes skin ulcers and lesions, white marks on the mouth, cottony growth on the mouth, fins and scales, and gills discoloration.
The fish will have an incredibly hard time breathing as it sustains injuries in the gills.
Columnaris is treated with oxytetracycline and antibiotics containing triple sulfa, sulfa 4 TMP, and TMP sulfa. Of course, you first need to consult with a vet before starting any treatment.
To prevent this dreadful disease in the first place, you have to treat open wounds and fungal infections. Keeping the water clean and oxygenated, as well as maintaining water hardness go a long way in preventing columnaris.
Commonly known as redmouth, hemorrhagic is a grim health condition characterized by severe bleeding inside the mouth and eyes of the fish.
It is a highly contagious disease. Therefore, if you suspect your betta is suffering from hemorrhagic, you must isolate the fish as soon as possible.
This disease can be avoided by regularly cleaning and disinfecting the tank to kill Yersinia ruckeri, the bacteria responsible for this illness.
For treatment, you need to give antibiotics like ampicillin after consulting with the vet.
As dreadful as it sounds, this disease is treatable if detected in the early stages. Therefore, the fatality is low.
Dropsy is a severe health condition that attacks the fish’s kidneys. The telltale sign of dropsy is a swollen belly resulting from internal fluid accumulation.
Other common signs of dropsy include sunken eyes and scales sticking out.
As of now, we don’t know the cure for dropsy. However, having said that, some hobbyists reported that using Betta Revive helped reverse this condition.
But the truth is that most fish that contract dropsy do not survive.
Keeping the tank clean at all times and feeding a nutritious diet go a long way in keeping this baneful disease at bay.
Pop eye is the catch-all term for any health condition that causes the fish’s eye or eyes to bulge and appear swollen. The infected eye often has a white ring or splotches around it.
The reason behind pop eye could range from a viral infection to a deadly tumor. As a matter of fact, the pop eye itself is a symptom of secondary diseases that can be avoided by preventing infections.
Antibiotics like tetracycline are used to treat pop eye disease. If not treated on time, the affected fish may end up losing eyesight in the infected eye.
Also called cloudy cornea, eye cloud disease is characterized by white films developing on the eyes. This condition can be prevented in the first place by improving the water quality.
Testing the water and using a water conditioner to make the water safe can help prevent this disease.
While this condition isn’t fatal, it can severely impair vision in the affected eye.
This condition is often treated with antibiotics like Metafix and Fungus Clear. But I’d recommend consulting with a vet first before starting any treatment.
Mouth fungus is a bacterial disease that causes white lines or clumps around the mouth and the lips of the fish. Once again, this disease can be prevented by regularly changing and conditioning the water.
While the mortality rate is low, the disease may end up killing the fish if not treated early enough.
With a vet’s recommendation, you can use an antibiotic called amoxicillin to cure this condition.
Fish fungus is yet another grim disease that stems from old infections. The infected fish will experience white, fuzzy film, cotton-like growth, slime production, and white lumps and bumps on the skin.
Fish fungus can be prevented entirely by avoiding primary injuries and infections and keeping the tank clean at all times.
Antibiotics like methylene blue and Fungus Clear primarily treat fish fungus. It can also be treated using Bettafix Remedy.
Needless to say, the disease can be fatal if not treated on time.
A betta that has contracted velvet appears to have a velvet-like texture in the belly and gills. It can be accompanied by black spots.
This parasitic disease can be prevented by keeping the betta’s environment clean and stress-free. Unfortunately, the disease is highly contagious.
However, it is also fully treatable by using API Body Cure. This medication contains curing components like copper sulfate, sodium chloride, formalin, acriflavine, and methylene blue.
If this disease is not treated promptly, the fish will kick the bucket in a few days. Remember, a stitch in time saves nine.
Ich, also known as the white spot disease, is a parasitic disease that manifests as white dots, rings, marks, and spots on the betta’s belly, gills, tail, and other body parts.
Polluted water is the main reason behind the outbreak of ich. To make matters worse, the parasite causing ich has a very complex life cycle – making it hard to kill it entirely.
At Urban Fishkeeping, we recommend using Ich-X to treat ich, as we believe this is the best medication available to treat this condition currently.
Anchor worms is a parasitic disease that primarily attacks a fish’s fins or tail. The affected part becomes red and swollen and will have worms protruding from them.
Antibiotics like Methylene Blue and Parasite Clear can be used to treat anchor worms. If not treated in time, this ailment can be downright fatal.
Bettas suffering from the hole-in-the-head disease literally have an abrasion on the head that looks like white fuzz or a pinhole.
This parasitic condition can be prevented by cleaning the water off carbon. Also, Parasite Clear is an effective antibiotic often used against this disease.
The betta can die within a few days if the treatment is not carried out soon enough.
Swim Bladder Disease
Swim bladder disease, also known as the flip-over disorder, is a condition that forces the fish to float at the water surface or sink involuntarily. The fish may also swim sideways.
The cause behind swim bladder disease can range from constipation and parasitic infection to enlarged or injured internal organs.
The treatment varies depending on the cause. If it’s constipation, fasting the fish and feeding fibrous food can help.
If it’s due to an internal injury or swelling, you will have to seek a vet’s help to relieve your fish from this condition.
Betta tumors are cancerous lumps, bumps, and cysts that grow under the fish’s skin. The most vulnerable regions to grow tumors are reproductive organs, the belly, gills, and tails.
The cause could be a genetic mutation or an unhealed infection.
The tumor can be controlled by feeding the fish healthy food, maintaining a clean tank, and treating infections timely.
As far as treatment is concerned, it’s hard and somewhat far-fetched to treat tumors in fish. Having said that, surgical operations do help.
Benign tumors and cysts can be treated in many different ways depending on the cause of the bump or lump.
What Are The Signs Of A Dying Betta Fish?
As fish, bettas aren’t too expressive but will display certain signs when dying. For instance, their breathing will be labored, they will lose weight, they will feel lethargic, and they will have raised scales and curled fins.
Discoloration of the scales, glassy eyes and curved spine are also telltale signs of a dying betta fish.
Let’s have a look at these symptoms in brief below.
Labored breathing is one of the prevalent signs of ill health and impending death.
The cause behind this behavior can vary, but it’s a strong indication that the pet’s gills are not working correctly. It could imply there is a blockage somewhere in their respiratory system.
The best way to deal with this problem is to perform a quick water change, increasing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the tank and making breathing easier for the pet.
Loss Of Appetite
A dying betta fish will naturally lose its appetite. It’s a very common sign of sickness and disease.
If your betta doesn’t eat for more than a couple of days, the most likely reason is that something is very wrong with the environment. And as it goes without saying, a starved betta cannot live a long life.
A loss of appetite means the fish’s metabolism and immunity are compromised. It will no longer be able to fight off illness and infections.
Thus, you should try experimenting with your betta’s favorite foods as soon as possible.
Cloudy pupils are a symptom of severe infection – especially a sign of an advanced case of fungal infection, pop eye disease, or fin rot.
Since whatever disease affecting your betta has already reached an advanced stage, you must diagnose the illness as soon as possible and offer the necessary treatment.
If left untreated, the fish won’t just lose vision but can also die untimely. To make the matter worse, most of these illnesses are contagious.
The best way forward is to quarantine the sick betta and start the treatment immediately.
Another common sign of a dying fish is erratic swimming. The fish will swim sideways or upside down – all in all, it will have difficulty staying afloat.
The fish may choose to not swim at all and rest at the bottom of the tank.
One such disease that causes a fish to swim erratically is swim bladder disorder, which disrupts the fish’s bladder functions.
Now, the reason behind swim bladder disease could be an internal injury, swelling or something as simple as constipation.
It may be hard to gauge whether the fish has put on some weight or lost it, but a dying fish often loses weight quite significantly.
It will almost appear as if the betta is shrinking even if you feed it daily. The fish will be highly stressed and have no appetite – so naturally, the fish will look small, frailed, and unhealthy.
Bettas aren’t active swimmers to begin with. However, if it seems more sluggish than ever, there’s something wrong with it.
If your betta has lost interest in the tank’s internal affair, seems aloof, and doesn’t even seem excited when you offer its favorite food, it’s a matter of concern.
Bettas are one of the most vibrant and colorful fish available in the hobby. Therefore, losing color is one of the most apparent signs of a dying betta.
The body color will fade to a pale or dull gray. This will mainly be more noticeable in the male bettas as they are more colorful.
While in some species, color changes are completely normal and a part of growing up, that’s not the case with a betta. They don’t change colors as they grow unless there’s a health problem.
The swollen belly is yet another sign of something wrong with the betta fish. The swelling could be due to something as minor as constipation or as severe as dropsy.
Nonetheless, if you think your betta’s belly is swollen, it’s best to seek medical advice immediately and figure out the cause of the swelling.
Immobile Gill Flaps
Another critical sign of impending death in betta fish is immobile gill flaps. As you already know, gills provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the betta’s system.
So, if the gill flaps don’t seem to open or close for a long time, it’s a sign that the fish is severely sick. I hate to say this, but the odds of recovery at this stage are minimal to none.
Raised Scales And Curled Fins
A dying betta often has its scales raised and fins curled. This sign is mostly linked with dropsy, for which there’s no cure yet.
Dropsy affects a fish’s kidney function. If not treated on time, dropsy is almost always fatal.
Other health conditions can also make a betta’s scales raised and fins curled. All in all, it’s a sign that the fish is not well, and immediate action is required.
Dead fish often have glassy eyes. And so do the fish that are experiencing extreme discomfort or pain.
Quarantine the fish and seek medical help as soon as possible. Glassy eyes mean the fish doesn’t have a long time to live.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Betta Fish Float Or Sink When They Die?
Naturally, bettas are slightly denser than water. Therefore, they will sink immediately after death. However, the fish’s body will become buoyant over time as bacterial decomposition produces gas inside the body.
When enough gas builds up in the body cavity, the betta’s corpse will float like an inflated balloon.
What Should I Do If My Betta Fish Died?
Don’t flush the betta down the toilet, as toilets aren’t meant for fish disposal. You can tie the fish up in a bin bag and place it in the waste, bury it or cremate it.
I usually bury my fish in the garden and plant a small flower on top of it.
Why Did My Betta Die After A Water Change?
If your betta fish died immediately following a water change, the water parameter is incorrect. Sometimes, we eradicate the good bacteria colony when we overdo a water change.
In such conditions, the ammonia and nitrite levels will spike, resulting in suffocation and swift death.
Other times, the drastic environmental change can profusely stress a betta, ultimately leading to the fish’s death.
Why Did My Betta Fish Die In A Week?
The most likely reason is that your fish was sick when you brought it home. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for mass-produced bettas to have a congenital disease.
Why Did My Betta Fish Die In 2 Days?
Your betta fish died within 2 days, probably because you forgot to cycle the tank before adding the fish. Another possible reason is that the fish had a congenital disease to begin with.
Why Did My Betta Fish Die At The Bottom Of The Tank?
Bettas are denser than water. Thus, they sink to the bottom once they die. However, the corpse will become buoyant as bacterial decomposition creates gas inside the body.
When enough gas builds up in the body cavity, the corpse will float like an inflated balloon.
Final Words: Why Did My Betta Fish Die?
Bettas aren’t blessed with a very long lifespan. Even worse, they often die untimely for various reasons like wrong water parameters and temperature, stress, wrong diet, bullying, and bad tank-cleaning practices.
Make sure to keep them in a spacious tank with clean water and plenty of hideouts, as well as feed them a proper diet – this way, the betta will live the longest life possible.