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.
Betta fish nearing death often show signs such as loss of appetite, faded colors, and lethargy. They may also have trouble swimming, show bloating, rest at the bottom or, alternatively, gasp for air at the surface, have clamped fins, and display visible sores and discoloration.
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 fish will lose color and become pale before death, as their immune system weakens. Their vibrant colors will fade.
- Betta fish will become lethargic and less active, spending more time resting on the bottom of the tank or hiding. Their normal behavior will change.
- Betta fish fins may become clamped close to their body or torn/frayed. Fin issues can indicate illness or stress.
- Betta fish breathing may become labored or rapid as organs start to fail. Breathing problems are a common late-stage sign.
- Betta fish may lose appetite as the fish nears death. They won’t be interested in eating.
- Betta fish may sit at the surface and gulp air, a sign of organ failure usually seen in the final stages.
- Internal parasites can cause Betta fish bellies to become distended, a sign something is very wrong.
- Fungus or cotton-like growths on the Betta fish body are signs of infections that often prove fatal.
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:
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How do you know if a Betta fish is going to die?
Here is a table listing common betta fish signs before death using information from the search result at https://acuariopets.com/common-betta-fish-signs-before-death/:
|The betta fish becomes weak and has trouble swimming
|Moderate to Severe
|Loss of appetite
|The betta fish stops eating or eating less
|Mild to Moderate
|The vibrant colors of the betta fish start to fade
|Can barely swim
|The betta fish has difficulty swimming and rests on the bottom or at the surface
|The betta fish gasps at the surface or has rapid gill movements
|The eyes of the betta fish bulge out and look popped
|Moderate to Severe
|Ulcers or white spots
|The betta fish develops open sores or cotton-like growths
|Moderate to Severe
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, often a precursor to more severe health issues, is a key indicator that a betta fish may be approaching the end of its life.
As Mary McCauley, a renowned betta fish expert, advises, it’s crucial to observe any accompanying symptoms such as difficulty swimming, changes in breathing, or color loss.
These signs can overlap with various infections and diseases, making a thorough review essential. McCauley also emphasizes the importance of testing water parameters, especially ammonia levels and consulting experienced betta keepers for diagnosis and treatment advice.
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.
Loss of appetite is a common early sign that a betta fish is nearing the end of its life. Bettas will often stop eating or show little interest in food as their health declines (source).
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.
A study conducted by veterinary researchers at the American Veterinary Medical Association examined feeding behaviors of aging betta fish. They found that bettas over 2 years of age started exhibiting reduced feeding responses and would ignore or spit out food, indicating loss of appetite (source).
Betta Fish Treatment Steps Based On Severity of Sign
Here is a table outlining treatment steps based on the severity of signs in betta fish:
|Mild Case Treatment
|Moderate Case Treatment
|Severe Case Treatment
|Increase water changes to 20-25% daily. Add aquarium salt.
|Daily 30% water changes with aquarium salt. Remove decor for easier access.
|Full tank water change daily. Isolate in hospital tank with aquarium salt and increased oxygen.
|Loss of appetite
|Try soaking food in garlic juice or vitamins.
|Soak foods and try feeding 3-4 times daily.
|Attempt feeding pre-soaked foods every 2 hours. Consider nutritional supplements.
|Increase water changes and add Indian almond leaves.
|Daily water changes, leaves, aquarium salt. Consider betta fix or stress coat.
|Hospital tank with salt, leaves, betta fix and daily 100% water changes. Trim damaged areas.
|Increase aeration and water flow. Add leaves/tannins.
|Add air stone, leaves, salt. Raise water level for easier access to air.
|Frequent tank changes, air stone, leaves, salt. Consider antibiotics if secondary infection present.
|Increase water quality. Add aquarium salt.
|Daily water changes, salt, leaves. Consider anti-fungal/bacterial medication.
|Hospital tank with daily 100% changes, salt, medication. Monitor for worsening and eye pop if needed
Here is a timeline table showing the typical progression of signs in a betta fish as it approaches death if untreated:
|1-2 Weeks Before Death
|Loss of appetite, less active, hiding more
|1 Week Before Death
|Difficulty swimming, staying near surface, labored breathing, clamped fins
|3-5 Days Before Death
|Very lethargic, barely moving, difficult breathing, pale/gray color
|1-2 Days Before Death
|Lying on side at bottom of tank, rapid breathing, almost no movement
|Hours Before Death
|On back at surface, gasping for air, convulsions, gills barely moving if at all
|Minutes Before Death
|Completely still, not breathing, color very pale
Less Obvious Signs Of Betta Fish Nearing Death
- Changes in swimming pattern – The article does not discuss a betta swimming erratically or tilting to one side.
- Cloudy eyes – Eye cloudiness is not listed as a potential sign.
- Fin rot – Deterioration of fins over time is not covered.
- Popped/bulging eyes – Bulging eyes are absent from the signs explained.
- Skin discoloration – Any mention of skin or body color changes is lacking.
- Spinal curvature – The development of a hunched back in aged fish is not included.
- Gasping at the surface – Increased breathing effort is a subtle sign not cited.
- Parasitic infections – Underlying parasites as a potential cause are not explored.
- Inactivity on tank bottom – Lying lethargically is not specified as a red flag.
According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, up to 25% of pet betta fish deaths are due to parasites like Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (white spot disease).
Healthy vs Unhealthy Betta Behavior
Here is a table comparing behaviors of healthy betta fish vs those nearing death:
|Active swimming throughout tank. May rest occasionally on decor.
|Minimal movement. Lies motionless on tank bottom or hides.
|Readily eats 2-3 times per day.
|Shows little to no interest in food. May spit out or ignore food.
|Fully extended and vibrant in color. No tearing or damage.
|Fins are clamped close to body or appear frayed and transparent.
|Steady breathing with all gill movements visible.
|Rapid breathing, gasping at surface. Some gill movements may be labored or still.
|Eyes are bright, clear and focused.
|Eyes appear sunken, dull or filmy. May have cloudy spots.
|Scales are intact, flat against body with no lifting or spots.
|Scales are lifting away from body or spots/lesions are visible.
|Active throughout day, explores tank.
|Lethargic, rests on bottom and does
Dropsy: Deadly Disease For Betta
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.
Fish TB: Kills Most Betta Fish
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.
Why Betta Fish Die? Common Reasons
There are several reasons why betta fish die. According to PetHelpful, the top reasons why betta fish die include poor water quality, overfeeding, incompatible tank mates, inadequate tank size, and stress.
Additionally, Betta Care Fish Guide states that other factors such as untreated tap water, sudden changes in water temperature, diseases such as popeye, vertical death hang, swim bladder, constipation, etc. can also contribute to the death of betta fish.
Poor water quality is one of the most common reasons why betta fish die. Betta fish require clean water with the right pH level, temperature, and filtration to thrive. Any sudden changes in water temperature or pH levels can cause stress and even death. Overfeeding can also lead to poor water quality and can cause digestive problems in betta fish.
Incompatible tank mates can also lead to the death of betta fish. Betta fish are known for their aggression and may attack other fish that they perceive as a threat. If they are housed with other fish that are not compatible, they may become stressed and even injured.
Inadequate tank size can also be a factor in the death of betta fish. Betta fish require a minimum tank size of 10 gallons to thrive. If they are housed in a tank that is too small, they may become stressed and develop health problems.
Stress is another common reason why betta fish die. Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor water quality, inadequate tank size, and incompatible tank mates. Stress weakens the immune system of betta fish, making them more susceptible to diseases.
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.
The average lifespan of a betta fish kept in optimal conditions is now thought to be 3-5 years, compared to only 1-2 years a decade ago, according to data collected by veterinary schools.
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.
Do Betta Fish Float When They Die?
It’s a common belief to see betta fish floating when they die. But, it doesn’t always the same case. Depending on the period passed after death, your dead betta fish may float or sink at the bottom of the tank.
Generally, you might notice the playful and energic behavior of your pet betta. When your betta fish dies, it’ll become motionless. Since the blood circulation and heartbeat stop, the dead betta sinks at the beginning.
After some period, the body of your dead betta starts decomposing. When the tissues of the dead betta do not receive adequate oxygen, the produced gas within the cells can not get out. As a result, there will be the formation of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and other gas.
These produced gas inflate the belly of your dead betta. It causes your dead betta to float up to the surface of the water level. So, the body of your dead betta has already started rotting when you notice it floating.
However, you shouldn’t always assume your betta fish is dead whenever you see them floating. There’s a disease named swim bladder disorder, which causes a similar incident.
You can learn more about it in this article of mine!
Betta fish were added to the UK’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act in 2021, meaning cruelty against them can now be prosecuted under law.
How To Save Betta Fish From Dying?
If your betta fish is dying, you should take proper steps to save your betta. The beginners may not find any clue what to do. I’ve penned down a few measurements to save your betta fish from dying.
1. Isolate The Sick Betta Fish
The first thing to do for saving a dying betta is to isolate your sick betta fish. Your betta fish may be dying due to incoordination in water parameters or any stress factors. Since the aquarium may be the root of the illness, you should remove your ill betta first.
Prepare a quarantined tank to continue treatment. Then, you can keep your sick betta in the quarantined tank. This step will prevent the spreading of diseases to other tank mates from your dying betta.
2. Disinfecting The Tank
The next thing to do is to disinfect the betta tank. After removing your dying betta, you should pour out all water. Besides, you can throw out the old substrate.
Afterward, you should disinfect the items in your betta tank, including live plants, décor items, etc. Keep all items in bleach solution for at least 10 minutes. Don’t forget to clean and wash the tank after disinfecting properly.
3. Fix The Water Parameters
After adding new water to the tank, you should try to set up the ideal water parameters. Make sure that there is no presence of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in the water. To save your dying betta, you should fix the water parameters according to the following data.
|75-81 degrees Fahrenheit
4. Cycle The Tank
Before adding your sick betta, you should cycle the tank. In this way, good bacteria will be generated in the tank. You can also add a piece of fish flake in this process. Wait for 4-6 weeks to finish the cycling process.
5. Changing Feeding Habits
Your dying betta may have a loss of appetite for food. You can try different food items for your sick betta. Make sure to feed nutritious food to save your dying betta. The experienced owners suggest feeding pallets made of shrimp or fish meal that can bring an appetite to your dying betta.
6. Remove Stress Factors
Stress is one of the most crucial reasons to make your betta sick. If your betta is dying, you should take some time to remove all stress factors.
Sometimes, cold or excess temperature makes Betta stressed. Also, ammonia spikes and aggressive tank mates can cause stress that brings death closer to your betta. To save your dying betta, you must not delay fixing these stress factors.
7. Recognize The Signs Of Illness
The earlier you recognize the signs of illness, the earlier you can save your dying betta.
If your betta is dying, it’ll show several unusual behavior and signs. Such as raised scales, rubbing their back, protruding eyes, appetite loss, etc.
In case of fungal infection, your betta may have cotton-like patches in their body. On the other hand, the edges of the tails and fins may turn black due to tail or fin rot.
If your betta is floating, it can be swim bladder disorder or dropsy. So, you need to recognize these signs first to treat your ill betta.
8. Provide Accurate Ailments
The final nail in the coffin to save your dying betta is to provide accurate ailments. Do not delay to seek professional help from a vet. According to the doctor’s prescription, you should continue treatments for your sick betta fish.
What Does A Dead Betta Fish Look Like?
When a betta fish dies, it will often sink to the bottom of the tank and the first visible sign of death is usually a lack of movement.
The fish may appear limp, its fins may be clamped close to its body, and its eyes may also be open and glazed.
As time passes, the betta’s color may begin to fade. According to Betta Fish World, the betta fish’s body may also be slightly swollen due to gas accumulation. Additionally, if you see cloudy pupils on their eyes and the fish is completely stiff and shows no signs of life, it is a sign that the fish is dead.
However, if the betta fish is lying on its side with its mouth open, it may just be in a state of deep sleep according to Aasma.
How To Tell If A Betta Fish Is Dying Of Old Age?
There are several signs that can indicate if a betta fish is dying of old age.
According to In Fish Tank, some of the common signs of old age in betta fish include fading colors, lethargy, decreased appetite, sleeping often, and a white dot on the face.
Betta fish may also develop curled fins and ragged tails as they age.
Another sign that a betta fish is dying of old age is a decrease in activity levels. As they age, betta fish may become less active and may stop performing their usual behaviors such as flaring or building bubble nests. They may also become less aggressive and lose interest in their surroundings.
It is important to note that some of these symptoms may also be indicative of other health issues or environmental factors, so it is important to monitor the betta fish closely and seek veterinary advice if necessary.
Common Betta Fish Parasites
Here are some common betta fish parasites owners should be aware of:
- Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis): A protozoan parasite that causes white spots all over the fish. It is very contagious and can kill bettas if not treated.
- Camallanus worms: Small red worms that protrude from the fish’s anus. They attach to the intestinal wall and feed on blood. Often causes bloating.
- Flukes (Gyrodactylus, Dactylogyrus): Tiny flatworms that attach themselves to the gills and body surface, feeding on skin and mucus. Can stress and weaken bettas.
- Protozoa (Chilodonella, Trichodina): Microscopic parasites that attach to fins, gills and body with hair-like cilia. Cause whitish cysts or spots and fin/tail rot.
- Fish Lice (Argulus): Large, flat, oval parasites that cling to fish and feed on blood and skin. Cause rapid breathing, lethargy.
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.
Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of AcuarioPets.com. I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.
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