TOPIC: signs that a betta is sick

Q: Hello!  I have a beautiful betta fish, but he seems "sad."  His color is vibrant, and yet his appetite isn't as it usually is.  He tends to just coast to the bottom and hang out.  He usually comes to the bowl and fans his gills at me... but not lately.  Help! :)

Question submitted by Karen, Chicago - Illinois

OK Karen, now I shall roll up my sleeves.. wait.. BRRRR.. It's cold, let me roll them back down :P...

You say your betta is acting "sad" and that its behavior is not as it usually is. I congratulate you for having caught  (at an early stage) a possible potential health problem.

Yes my betta friends, it is very important that you all develop that kind of acute connection parents usually have with their kids. Cause bettas are our kids too. And like very small children, they cannot talk and tell you that they are not feeling well. So we have to be in tune with them and know how to recognize early signs of problems by reading their body language. Your betta may be under the weather if it exhibit any of the following signs (and more than likely if he exhibits quite a few of them together) :

  • lack of vitality (unless the betta is old).
  • betta hangs out at the top all the time
  • betta is laying at the bottom and does not swim around much
  • betta is lying on its side (at the bottom, or floating at the surface)
  • betta is not eating as well as usual
  • betta is spitting out his food (but you did not overfeed him)
  • betta is not eating at all (bad)
  • betta color looks pale
  • betta looks like he has patches of lighter color
  • betta is hyperventilating (labored breathing, faster than normal gill movement)

All above symptoms are signs that your betta is under the weather. Some diseases will alter your betta's appearance so it is easy to spot them, but others don't, which makes then hard to catch. Hence the behavior of your betta may be able to warn you if you know what to look for :). (which is why I made that above list for you)

Example of how diseases will alter your betta's appearance so it is easy to spot them:

  • white small spots all over body (ich)
  • layer of rusty color on body and fins (velvet)
  • fins look deteriorated, shorter or frayed (fin rot)
  • eye is budging out (popeye)
  • red sores on body (bacterial outbreak, body rot)
  • open sores on body (same as above)
  • cottony like texture growing on body (fungus)
  • body emaciated (internal parasite or tuberculosis)

etc, etc... Because the above are easy to spot by just looking at your betta's body, they are easy to diagnosis and then you can apply treatment by looking it up on my disease page.

But in your case Karen, no outward signs of disease can be seen yet. However your betta does exhibit some signs of being under the weather. So you know he is getting sick but you do not know exactly what is ailing him (or at least not yet). Diseases may start altering your betta's appearance  as they get worse and then you may see any of the above on your betta's body). The key however is to catch any problem before it has a chance to really get bad.

What I usually do when a betta is acting a bit sickly but I am not sure what it is yet because there are no changes in his body: I treat with either Bettamax or Broad Spectrum Tonic. In your case I will recommend using Bettamax. Then one of two things will happen:

  • if it is not something serious: your betta will soon show signs of improvements by being on bettamax. Continue treatment until he looks 100% fine and then still treat for an extra week to be sure.
  • if it something much more serious: your betta's body will probably start showing one of the outter signs of disease listed above. Look at my disease page to determine which is currently attacking your fish and treat accordingly. You will have to switch from bettamax to a more heavy duty drug (see same disease page).

Well Karen, I hope this helps. Remember to do a search with the word "disease" and my search form will show you all the bettatalk pages that talk about the topic especially any prior columns I wrote about it. It may be helpful for you to read them. Good luck to both of you !

To the rest of you kids ;) (young and much less young hehehehe) have a Merry Merry Christmas and I'll see you all on the 28th!