TOPIC: untreated tap water

Q: I didn't know that tap water was bad for my betta and I filled his tank up with it and put him in, he was in the untreated water for about 17 hours. A lady at the pet store told me "the damage is already done". Is there anything I can do to prevent him from dying?

above question submitted by Jennifer, Louisville - Kentucky

AGH> You visited my website too late. Well, too late to avoid a BIG mistake such as this one, that is. but it may not be too late for your fish :)

I have a BIG issue with pet stores and fish stores: They are happy to take your money (chichink) and have no problem sending the pet home with someone, not knowing if the person has a clue as to how to care for it. I wonder whether there should be a test someone takes before they are allowed to take a fish/pet home. Sorta like getting your driver's license, you'd get your fish owner license LOL. Think about it. It might sound 'silly' but it makes a lot of sense. Especially with fish! There is so much to know and not much can be left to improvisation without the fish dying. How many fish have been lost due to ignorance? Believe me, I have done my share of damage when I first started buying fish many many many (well, too many to mention without blushing LOL) years ago. Granted when you go back to the fish store and tell them about your dead or dying fish, they will help you (or try), but would it not be much easier (and I am sure the zillion of 'killered' fish would say AMEN to this from their fishie heaven above) to ask a few questions to the potential buyer just to assess their fishabilities FIRST? I myself find myself rambling on and on about how to care for the fish and giving people a 10 page long lists of "make sure to..." and "warning, if you..." and "never ever do..". Just last Saturday I dropped off some bettas to a local customer. Mr.181 was with me. He heard me going on and on (and on) with my list of recommendations (like an over protective mother seeing her children to a summer camp LOL). Once done, I hopped back in my car and he said: " Man, you went on and on and on" LOL. Well, better SAFE than sorry! For example when I send fish to people, I always include a full info package on how to acclimate the fish properly, what to do, what not to do, how to deal with any otential problems etc... This way the customer is educated and aware. He/she can now proceed safely. Bettas are happy. People are happy. I am happy. Everybody is happy, and we all lived happily ever after and had many children LOL. Well, the bettas, that is LOL.

OK now back to your sad story. I am not sure your fish is still alive today since your email was sent a few days ago. But I will attempt to give you some info you might find useful in dealing with your poisoned fish:

  • Always treat tap water before using it, preferably about a day before using it. Well, you already know that. But I wanted to let many of you know that it is best to let the water conditioners marinate and the water age a bit for a day or so. If you don't wait that long, it won't kill the betta, but the bettas will be happier if you do. So there you go.
  • Untreated tap water can kill your betta. That is a known fact. Never EVER use tap water unless it has been treated first. For complete info on this see my water page. For info on water conditioners click here. Untreated tap water usually will kill a fish because of the harmful ammonia, chlorine etc that the city adds to your water to make it safe for you to drink. These additives kill many germs and bacteria but will not kill people because we are 'large'. Bettas, however, are much smaller in body mass and the chemicals will promptly hurt them. How promptly? It depends on many factors:
  • How fast can tap water kill a betta? Honestly I have never conducted the experiment (well, duh!), but this is my two cents: the betta will eventually die. How fast depends on many factors such as: How healthy the betta is to begin with, how resilient he is, how old he is, how much chemicals have been added to your tap water by your city (it can vary greatly from city to city and also from month to month!). 
  • Will you betta die? Honestly I have a feeling your betta might make it. As bad as 17 hours in contact with ammonia and chlorine is, it is possible a betta will survive it. So I would not give up on your fish just yet. I bet you he got clamped fins (yeah?). He might be lying at the surface, not moving around much, or laying at the bottom, also not moving except to come up for air once in a while. He might not eat. He might have lost his color. How am I doing so far? :) Prolonged (as in days and days) exposure to ammonia will cause the fins to fall apart and sores to appear.

Can you help your betta? Not a lot you can do but there are still a few things that might help him:

  • Avoid stress: Avoid disturbing your fish as much as possible. 
  • Get the proper water conditioners!!!! A MUST. See my water page to learn how to properly turn tap water into bettasafe water. I assume you removed him from the untreated water already. I hope you did not take him out of the tap water and dump him in bottled water (an honest mistake but a bad mistake nonetheless - when you read my water page you will understand why). Well, now whatever water you ended up putting him in, make sure to not change him again. Use the same water may it be bottled water or treated (as in treated to make safe for fish) tap water. Keep water clean to avoid more amonia buildups. If the betta is in a bowl, change water every other day. If in a tank with filter, no need to change water for now. Be gentle if/when manipulating your betta, he is currently weakened.
  • Methylene Blue is often used to treat fish with poisoning. So get some!!!! Read instructions carefully. To treat for poisoning, it will be necessary to use a higher concentration of Methylene blue, according to their directions. It may help him :). The good news is Methylene blue is cheap and a good all purpose disease preventative so you will have the use for it again :).
  • If your betta is not eating, do not worry. Bettas can go along time without food (weeks). In time when he feels better he will start eating again. My advice is get a small package of frozen bloodworms, bettas love them, so it might help trigger him to eat again. Kept in the freezer, the bloodworms will last for 2 years :). Drop one worm in his bowl and if he does not eat it within the next 30 mn, remove it with the help of a straw (there's a cool trick: Take the straw, close the top with your thumb, now put straw inside bowl until tip is touching the food you want to suck up, then open the top of straw by removing your thumb for a second (this will create a vacuum and the water till travel upwards into the straw, taking in the food with it). Immediately close the straw to again with your thumb (or everything will go back down LOL), and remove straw while keeping your thump on the top. You should end up with a straw and some water inside it and the food stuck at the end of the straw hehehehe. This way you can remove the food so it won't rot and pollute the tank/bowl. So try this dropping a worm in his tank everyday until he eats again :). Obviously discard the uneaten worm, you cannot use it again the next day (duh!). Oh, another thing: the frozen worms come in cubes, so you will have slightly defrost one just enough to be able to cut it into smaller still frozen pieces with a knife. The worm cube should still be covered in ice otherwise you cannot refreeze it again (will become toxic), that is why I said to "barely" defrost it. If you defrost it completely you will have to use it that day and toss whatever was not used.

Well, my young apprentice, you have learned a valuable lesson, but it is unfortunate the betta had to pay the price for it. Now the good news is: You don't have to kill your bettas to learn! All you have to do is type in your browser:

a much easier, bettasafe, guilt free way :) to become a betta master in less time than it took me to type this column!  hehehehehehehehe (shameless plugging!) your bettas will thank you!