Since we want the best for our animals, it’s natural to wonder if your fish is feeling joy. Is it comfortable and happy with the care you give it? So how can you tell if you have a happy betta fish?
A betta fish that is happy will advertise it through behavioral cues. Its colors will be bright and its fins will be fully open. The betta will actively explore its environment, build bubble nets, and engage with tank mates.
There are ways to tell if your betta fish is unhappy as well. All it takes is a moment of interest in how your fish is behaving!
How To Tell If a Betta Fish Is Happy – Common Signs & Behaviors
Fish psychology is still a new field of study. But there are some reliable behavioral cues you can use to determine if your betta fish is happy or not.
One sign that you are keeping your betta fish happy is its activity levels. Happy betta fish will swim all throughout the tank. They aren’t like most tropical fish, which have preferred regions of the tank to swim in.
Normal betta fish behavior includes exploring the bottom, middle, and surface of a tank. Sometimes they are looking for leftover food in between grains of gravel. Other times, they are simply interested in exploring the aquarium.
Driftwood, plants, and other decorations give betta fish a place to perch in the midwater region. Bettas also return to the surface regularly to breathe using their labyrinth organ. As well as building bubble nests if they are feeling truly satisfied!
You can tell a lot about an aquarium fish by how it holds its fins. A healthy betta’s fins will be held out wide. Their fins often look like vibrant flags waving in the current.
Betta fish erect their fins to signal to each other and other fish. Similar to the perked ears of a dog, erect fins suggest interest in intelligent fish.
That said, you should not expect to see open and flowing fins at all times. When a betta needs to swim more quickly, it will hold its fins against its body. This streamlines its form to create less drag against the water.
Wide open fins can also be a sign of aggression, however. Betta fish use their fins to make themselves look larger when challenging a rival.
So monitor your betta fish if you see it chasing after a tank mate with erect fins and flared gills.
Even unrelated fish, such as guppies, may be mistaken for a rival due to their similarly long fins. You may need to move tank mates around if they are being bullied too often.
Another sign you have a happy betta fish is if he (or she) has vibrant colors. Bettas display their health and mood using their colors as well as their fins. When happy, their skin and scales should be rich to the point of being metallic.
Depending on the breed of betta, that is. Some varieties can be creamy or naturally light in color. But constant pale tones in a breed that is normally bright is a sign of an unhappy male betta fish.
Your betta fish may change colors at times. Water changes, sudden movements, new tank mates, and moving around the decorations can all cause temporary stress.
A betta that has gone pale is trying to hide itself from predators. But it will color back up once it feels safe again!
Attentive To Nearby Activity
A happy and hearty betta fish is one of the most attentive pets you can own. They have large, sensitive eyes and are always watching what goes on around them. Unlike many tropical fish, bettas can even turn their heads slightly.
Betta fish will perk up when you move close to the aquarium. Even if the betta’s stomach is full they are always hoping for a snack before their next meal.
And if they aren’t hungry, motion around them is simply engaging for a betta fish. As carnivorous fish, bettas instinctively track movement. They are constantly scanning their environment for signs of food, rivals, or larger predators.
Building Bubble Nests
One famous betta behavior that is a good indicator of a happy fish is the construction of a bubble nest! Anabantoid fishlike bettas and gouramis are some of the most devoted parents in the aquatic world.
Instead of scattering their eggs into plants or the water column they build elaborate nests. Betta fish use mucus to blow bubbles.
In the wild, the bubble nest is anchored to floating plants for structure. But not every betta fish tank has plants.
So instead, a betta fish will anchor it to a corner of the aquarium glass. Surface tension holds the nest in place, even against the outflow of a power filter.
Bubble nests mean that your male betta is happy and hopeful for a female to swim by. You will also see bubble nests from stressed bettas at times. Such as in pet store glass bowls. But a bubble nest remains a good indicator of excellent health and mood.
A happy betta fish is often an angry one! Male bettas are very territorial and fight for space and mates. Once a bubble nest is built they may even become aggressive towards other species.
One way to test the liveliness of your fish is to use a small mirror. Exercise mirrors like these will cause an aggressive response in healthy betta fish. Since bettas don’t pass the Mirror Test for self-awareness, they assume their reflection is a rival male.
They will start by flaring their fins and gills in an elaborate dance. Followed by tail slaps and even trying to bite! Male bettas have been bred for aggression in Thailand for centuries. Hence the general rule of only 1 male betta fish per aquarium.
Female bettas are gentler in temperament can even be kept in sorority groups. However, they also show interest and occasional aggression towards their reflection.
If you do decide to get an exercise mirror, never leave it in the betta’s tank permanently. The betta fish will feel as if there is a rival constantly threatening it.
This is a sure cause for stress, as if you had a bullying roommate always glaring at you. Exercise should be limited to a 20-30 minutes per day. that way, your betta fish gets to “win” every time it defends the whole tank!
How To Make Your Betta Fish Happy
Now we understand what a happy betta fish looks like. So how can we make sure that he stays in a good mood?
Warm Water Temperature
One important aspect to betta fish care is the water temperature. Betta fish live in Southeast Asia, where the temperatures rarely grow cold. Water temperatures should be kept warm by using a heater.
Many pet store employees will tell you to keep your betta at room temperature. This is not good for a healthy fish. Bettas will tolerate cold spells. But long periods of cold will weaken their immune system. Diseases like velvet and body fungus will be more common.
A cold betta will eat less fish food and grow slower. Eventually, your sick fish may even die. Set the heater in your betta tank to a temperature range of of 75-85℉. Warm water also allows you to keep cory catfish, neon tetras, and other tank mates alongside a betta!
Adding Live Plants
Live plants do a lot to keep a betta healthy. Plants treat fish waste as fertilizer. The ammonia they release fuels their growth, as does the nitrite and nitrate ammonia decays into.
In the wild, bettas are found in bodies of water that are thick with aquatic plants. These plants provide shade, dimming the water with shadows. These shadows add a sense of security for betta fish and encourage them to swim and explore freely.
Plants also consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which fish breathe. Some tiny bowls have spider plants that grow above them. These setups are marketed as all-in-one systems where the betta eats the plant and the plant eats fish poop.
Unfortunately, these systems are an example of false advertising. Betta fish don’t eat plants, for one. And its aquatic plants that release oxygen and consume fish waste.
Live plants that float are the easiest species to keep. Hornwort, elodea, duckweed, and red root floater all improve poor water quality. They also provide anchor points for a betta to build its bubble nest.
Just make sure you clean any incoming aquarium plants. Otherwise you can end up with a sudden algae bloom or snail infestation!
Frozen And Live Food
One easy way to tell if your betta needs a change in its life is to offer it a new source of food. Flakes and pellets get the job done. But even fish enjoy variety, from time to time.
As carnivores, betta fish need a high protein diet. Any fish store will carry live food. A few spoonfuls of live brine shrimp, tubifex worms, and daphnia will keep your betta happy for a long time.
Bettas love prey that’s moving and will dash around the tank, hunting down and eating these tiny invertebrates.
Brightly colored live food are usually high in beta carotene and other red/orange/yellow pigments. When a betta fish eats these organisms the pigments are passed onto the fish. They act as color-enhancers and make your betta even more vibrantly colored.
So live food does double duty by giving the fish a chance to play out its predatory instincts. As well as improving its overall appearance!
Adding Tank Mates
While many bettas prefer to be alone, some do get lonely – and a lonely betta is an unhappy one. Tank mates are a good way to add extra activity to the lonely betta’s aquarium.
New aquarists are often told that betta fish are too aggressive to live with other fish. But that’s not true: they are too aggressive to live with other male bettas.
A healthy betta may show some aggression and chase its tank mates. But they are much too slow to do any harm. Most bettas will watch other fish but not attack them. If you do see some aggression, it is likely due to the betta mistaking another fish for a male rival.
A small tank will limit the number of fish you can add. But there are many other fish species that will coexist with a happy betta fish.
Tetras, gouramis, cherry barbs, livebearers (guppies, platies, etc), and cory catfish all enjoy the same water quality as bettas. These fish are also peaceful and won’t nip at the long fins of a male betta fish.
Can Betta Fish Become Depressed? Common Signs Of Depression & How To Make Them Happy Again
If your betta fish is happy the signs will be obvious. But what if your betta fish becomes depressed? How will we be able to tell?
Clamped fins are not signs of a happy betta fish. When the fins are held against the body, it’s a major sign of stress. The betta fish is trying to appear small. Or it simply does not have the energy to hold its long fins erect.
Bettas will clamp their fins for many reasons. Cold, poor water quality, fear, and disease are just a few causes.
An aggressive fish may also be the cause. Tank mates like tiger barbs are known to be fin nippers. Fish that are biting at your betta’s fins will cause it to clamp them for protection. Check for ragged edges if you suspect a tank mate is biting the fins of your betta fish.
Pale Colors And Stress Stripes
Pale colors are a sign that your betta’s well being is at risk. When the normally bright red and blue tones of a betta are pale, stress stripes will show up. A pale betta will show other signs of stress as well, including clamped fins, hiding, or listlessness.
Listless behavior is when normally happy bettas stop showing any interest in their environment. Instead of playing hide and seek with other animals they simply float along.
A listless betta may even ignore feeding time, leaving uneaten food to accumulate. It will hang out in one spot of the betta’s tank. Often near the surface or along the bottom.
Listlessness can have many causes, including cold temperatures, disease, and low oxygen levels. A fish that has just woken up may act listless for awhile. But once it wakes up the fish should start moving around with speed.
What Makes Betta Fish Not Happy?
Bettas are as undemanding a fish as you could ask for. But there are a few situations that will reliably make them unhappy:
Poor Water Quality
Water quality is a major influence on the health and activity of your betta. If your betta’s tank does not have a cycled filter, you won’t see the best health in your fish.
A sick betta in dirty water will eat less, show pale colors, and is trying to conserve energy at all times. It may not even grow angry when it sees its reflection in an exercise mirror.
Filters are essential for a happy betta fish! Manufacturers make many power filters for smaller tanks. They run silently, take just a few seconds to maintain, and vastly improve the health of your betta fish.
Lack Of Stimulation
Is your tank clean but sterile in design? Many betta owners just add a few bits of gravel and call it a day. Boring environments with no change whatsoever may be easy to clean. But they give a betta fish few reasons to explore.
One great way to make a betta fish happy is to upgrade its aquarium. A larger fish tank will give your betta much more room to explore. You can add live plants, driftwood, tank mates, an exercise mirror, and other sources of stimulation for it.
A small desktop aquarium meets the basics of betta fish life. But it offers little enrichment for a happy fish.
No Tank Mates
As mentioned earlier, many betta fish don’t get lonely, but some do. Keeping these betta fish alone with no tank mates will also lead to boredom and listless behavior. A lonely fish can even be frightened by the lack of other species around.
Other fish signal to the betta that there are no predators lurking. It is therefore safe to swim out in the open. Fish that add a sense of security to your solitary fish are called “dither fish.”
The best dither fish are schooling species, like tetras and danios. As these fish swim about, the betta sees that it’s safe to expose itself!
Even for smaller tanks, there are tank mate options. A 1-gallon aquarium is just large enough for a single betta fish. But you can still add red cherry shrimp or ghost shrimp to their tank. A betta will likely eat any baby shrimp they find. But the adults are too large and fast to be eaten.
Betta fish need very little to survive. Just a little fish tank (at least 5 gallons) and some food. It is very easy to provide the basics. But we should always aim to have a happy betta fish!
A pet that will live its years out in comfort and in an engaging environment. The tips in this guide will give you the resources to provide precisely this for your fish!
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