The lifespan of Betta fish is very short. On average they live for 2-5 years, both males and females. The environment you are keeping them in has a direct impact on how long they live.
However, you’ll be able to notice some warning symptoms before they die. As a pet owner, being aware of when your pet might die is very important.
The usual signs that you’ll see in Betta fish before they die are lethargic behavior, can barely swim, loss of appetite, fading colors, etc.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the behavior of a Betta fish before death and how to decrease the possibility of death.
Betta Owners’ Survey: Common Signs Before Betta Dies
Before getting on to the main explanation, I want to start with a couple of surveys I did for this post. I asked two popular betta Facebook groups what they think are the most common signs betta shows before it dies.
Here are the screenshots of the polls I asked in those groups:
In both of the groups, we can see Lethargy is the most common sign of betta fish’s death.
According to group 1, the second most common sign is fading colors followed by clamped fins. On the other hand, Group 2 says, the second most common sign is loss of appetite followed by laying down.
According to my understanding and experience, I would say these are the ranks of the betta fish death signs in terms of how common they are:
Lethargy > Loss of Appetite > Fading colors
Here’s what one admin commented in one of the polls:
How do you know if a Betta fish is going to die?
The lethargy of Betta fish is a common and primary sign of illness.
Bettas are very active fish. During the day they explore the tank and play around. Their activity level decrease when they are sick. They act lazier than before and movement becomes slow down. They take refuge at the tank’s bottom.
However, older Betta fish also face the same problem. They tend to be lazier than usual when there is an issue with ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, tank temperature, or illness.
2. Less Swimming
Bettas aren’t lazy, they swim most of the day. Their swimming behavior changes when they are sick. Sick Betta swims less and sleeps more than usual.
It is very important to observe them properly if you notice such kind of change.
3. Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is a common symptom of old age. Because Betta’s metabolism slows down as they get older. They don’t need as much food as they did once.
Loss of appetite worries the owners most. Because extremely sick Betta fish also have a decrease in appetite.
When it comes to age, the transformation occurs gradually over weeks or months but it occurs within a week for sick fish.
Though, a healthy Betta may have the same symptoms if the temperature of the tank is lower than normal.
4. Fading Colors
Fading colors is a very concerning issue. The majority of times, they lose their color when they are extremely sick.
However, there could be a variety of factors for their color loss:
- Getting Old: A Betta can only live for 5 years at maximum. When they reach the end of their lives, they start to fade the color. Sometimes, they lose their color before reaching the age of two.
- Stress: Like a human, fish also get stressed and start to change their color. Poor water condition, unhealthy diet, overfeeding, insufficient oxygen in the tank can stress fish.
- Illness: Betta fish have a variety of health problems. Fungal, parasitic, and bacterial infections and illnesses can affect Betta fish. If Bettas are affected by any of these, they start to lose their color.
- Marble Betta: The marble gene can change the color of Betta fish at any time during their life. Depending on the situation, the gene makes the color lighter or darker. Older Bettas turn to gray very slowly by losing slightly lighter color.
So, you don’t have to worry if you are sure that changing the color of your Betta fish is not caused by any of the issues listed above.
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5. Laying Down
Fish should swim in the middle, at the bottom, or the top layer of the tank. They should not linger on the surface or at the bottom of the tank.
There could be a lot of reasons why a Betta lies down at the bottom. Some of them are a cause of concern and some aren’t.
Most of the time they take a rest by lying down at the bottom of a tank. But if you notice such behavior during the daytime for two to three days, you have every reason to worry.
Again, a Betta lies down at the bottom of the tank when they are at the last stage of their life. Sometimes it happens when there is no filter in the tank. A filter is very important because chemicals and ammonia may build up if you don’t have a filter.
When a Betta fish lie flat at the bottom of the tank, it is a very bad sign. If it is caused by disease or old age, they will most likely not live much longer.
6. Frequent Breathing
Rapid breathing is another major symptom that you’ll notice when your Betta is sick.
They breathe rapidly and heavily because of the low oxygen concentration. Heavy breathing could also happen due to stressful conditions such as an underlying disease, high ammonia levels, or chemical corruption.
Again, fish that are older and sick also breathe faster than usual. But the change will be gradual for an older fish than a sick fish. For a sick fish, you’ll be able to notice the symptoms with one or two days or only a few hours in extreme cases.
Sometimes, they take atmospheric breathe more than usual. It happens when the quality of water is not good for them.
7. Clamped fins
Clamped fins are a sure sign that your fish is stressed. It is a condition among Betta fish in which they continually hold their fins folded against the body. It starts from the top of the tail fin. The fin curls on itself, and the fish can’t do a full spread.
Poor water quality, unsuitable environment, tank mates, and a range of other factors can stress them.
Again, if you can’t provide sufficient swimming room, it can stress the fish as well.
Sometimes sick Betta Fish seclude themselves from the rest of the fish in the tank. At that time, they won’t respond to the hand, won’t be interested to eat and whatsoever. When something bothers Betta fish, they start to behave like this.
Fish isolate themselves for a variety of reasons, including illness, loss of appetite, fungal diseases, stress, and many others.
When Betta fish isolate themselves, there must be something wrong. If you find your fish isolated, take the necessary steps before it is too late.
Dropsy is one of those diseases that nearly invariably ends in death. It is associated with kidney failure, an unhealthy diet, a lack of osmoregulation, or other internal infections.
Internal swelling from accumulated fluid puts pressure on the body and abdominal area, causing it to swell. Older Betta fish are more likely to have kidney failure as well as other viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, which puts them at risk for dropsy.
It is nearly impossible to recover from dropsy. Only around 90% of the fish infected by this disease can survive. So, it is important to Make a quarantine or a hospital tank and isolate the infected fish as soon as possible.
I have written a separate post where you can learn more about dropsy in betta.
A bacteria called Mycobacterium marinum causes fish TB. These bacteria are present in most aquariums but they rarely infect Betta fish.
Fish TB is so deadly because, if your fish suffer from this disease, you won’t be able to notice any sign. Even your fish may have been infected with TB for up to 6 months before you see any symptoms.
Fish infected with TB starts to act lazier and fade out the color. They can also present dropsy. In some cases, they may present heavy loss of buoyancy, skin lesions, and appear pockmarks.
This disease has no treatment and it can remain dormant for many days. So, it is better to isolate the infected fish from the one that can come in touch.
However, Fish TB is a dreadful zoonotic disease, which means it can transfer from animals’ bodies to humans. If your fish is suffering from TB you can get it from them. So, it is very important to use gloves while dealing with TB infected fish.
Common reasons for Betta fish death
A betta fish usually dies due to poor water conditions. Poor water conditions lead to a variety of infections such as Dropsy, swim bladder disease, and constipation.
Sometimes stress can be a cause of many health issues and maybe a sudden death.Popeye and bloated Betta belly may also result in death.
Furthermore, overfeeding and loss of appetite also lead them to death.
Do Betta fish play dead?
Playing dead is a very normal behavior of a Betta fish. Betta fish can pretend to be dead for various reasons.
Sometimes they act dead for attention or to scare their owner and sometimes to eat food.
It is scary, but there is nothing to be worried about.
What to do when a Betta fish is dying?
It is important to analyze all factors before deciding to medicate because illness might occur for many reasons such as heritable illness, behavior issues, tank condition, old age, poor water quality, temperature problem, etc.
As an owner of a Betta fish, you should also keep in mind that Betta fish always try to hide their symptoms until the condition is critical. In critical situations, medicating them can weaken them even more by putting them under stress.
So before applying any medication, quarantining the sick fish and waiting for it to stabilize its condition will be more helpful. In this process, the owner will also get some time to take the fish to the vet.
How to Increase Betta’s Lifespan and decrease the possibility of death?
We know that Betta fish are very sensitive and require proper care to keep them healthy and happy.
They often suffer from various kinds of diseases. Sometimes it is very hard to spot the symptoms and diagnose the condition accurately. So, it is preferable to try to prevent diseases from the beginning.
By following some simple steps we can increase their chance of living a longer and better life.
1. Size of the tank
The first thing you need to think about for keeping a betta fish is a tank. Knowing the appropriate size of a tank is very important.
In the shop, you may find that they keep fish in a tiny tank. Because in this process, they separate the male fish from the female. If they put the Betta fish together in a tank, they will fight. Though, this is not an appropriate size of a tank for Betta fish.
Again, some people think that Betta fish don’t need a large tank to live because they live in shallow water. This information is wrong. They live in shallow water in the wild but they have plenty of opportunities to swim.
Betta fish need a minimum 5 gallons tank to live happily. However, I’ll recommend to go for at least a 10 gallon tank.
2. Keep the males separate
This might sound obvious, but to increase Betta fish lifespan, it is important to keep the males separate.
Betta fish have a bad reputation for being aggressive and territorial. In the wild, two males compete for space. They fight for few minutes and one of them gives up.
But in the tank, they will fight with one another and won’t find any space to escape. As a result, they may fight till death. Female bettas are less aggressive than males, therefore they can be kept together. However, it is not recommended too!
3. Use a filter and heater
The ideal temperature of water for them is 75-80°F. There is a common myth that Betta fish can tolerate unheated dirty water.
This is wrong. They can’t live in unheated dirty water. In the wild Betta fish live in tropical waters which are a bit warmer than room temperature. A heater can adjust the difference by keeping the tank at a warm and stable temperature.
It’s also necessary to use a filter. Because dirty, unfiltered water is very harmful to them. A filter helps clean the water by converting ammonia and nitrite into less toxic molecules, as well as keeping it aerated. Even with a filter, it’s still important to change the water of the tank regularly.
4. Use plants in the tank
Using live plants in the tank is important to provide the best possible environment for betta.
They like to rest among the plants. Although some people think that Betta fish eat plants, that is not true. Bettas are carnivores, they eat insects, not plants.
Plants help to increase the oxygen level in the tank and also replicate their natural environment. Plants give plenty of hiding places for fish, which is perfect if you have a group of females.
Again, before using any live plants in the tank, be sure if they’re safe. Java ferns and Chinese evergreen are very popular underwater plants for Betta fish.
5. Good Diet
To increase the lifespan of a Betta fish, a good diet is one of the most important factors. Their growth rate, color, and lifespan are all affected by the diet you provide.
We know that Bettas are Carnivores fish. In the wild, they eat insects. If you can’t find many live foods for your fish, there are plenty of other foods you may feed them instead.
Protein and fat are the most important nutrition for Betta fish. You can feed a quality pellet, frozen food, or flake food to your Bettas or you can make handmade fish food. But be sure that the food you are feeding them has a high nutritional value.
Owners should be aware of the behaviors that a Betta fish presents before death. If they can’t catch the disease in time it will be hard to save the infected fish.
Take good care of your betta and if you notice any of the behavior listed above in your fish, don’t waste time. Try to help the sick betta as soon as possible.