Betta Ammonia Poisoning (Complete Guide)

Last Updated on 2023-10-19

Betta ammonia poisoning is one of the worst things that can happen to your betta. However, it’s something that’s extremely common amongst new betta owners, and especially in new tanks.

Fortunately, if you spot betta ammonia poisoning early enough you can  stop the worst happening to your betta. So here’s everything you need to know.

Key Takeaways:

  • Betta ammonia poisoning is a common and potentially fatal issue in betta fish, often affecting new tank owners.
  • Common symptoms of ammonia poisoning in betta fish include gasping for air, gill color changes, red streaks on the body and fins, inflamed eyes and anus, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
  • Causes of ammonia poisoning include new tanks that haven’t cycled properly, the buildup of decaying matter, infrequent water changes, and the death of bacteria colonies.
  • To prevent ammonia poisoning, consider adding nitrifying bacteria, performing frequent water changes, using a filter, having a sufficiently sized tank, cleaning the tank regularly, and using an ammonia test kit.

What Is Ammonia Poisoning In Fish?

Before you find out how to treat your betta, it’s important to know what exactly ammonia poisoning is in fish.

Ammonia poisoning occurs when the ammonia in the tank spikes too much due to a build up of a waste, or a tank where the beneficial bacteria hasn’t been established yet.

It’s a huge killer of many fish, especially in new aquariums. While it predominantly happens in newer tanks, it can happen in any tank.

As well as being called ammonia poisoning, you might hear it referred to as ammonia stress, nitrogen poisoning, and nitrogen stress as well.

What Is Ammonia?

Ammonia is a colorless gas that dissolves in water. It is a by-product of any fish waste. While you may think most ammonia in your tank is going to come from feces, the truth is the majority is introduced to your tank when your betta exhales.

When there’s too much ammonia in your tank, it becomes poisonous to your betta. That’s why you need helpful bacteria in your tank to break it down.

One of the problems with ammonia is that there’s no way you can see it in your tank. That’s why it’s so important to test your water frequently, especially in newer tanks.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ammonia Poisoning In Betta Fish

You should be regularly testing your water for ammonia, especially in newer tanks. However, on top of testing for ammonia, your betta may also show signs of ammonia poisoning.

Just remember, at the point when you start noticing the symptoms of ammonia poisoning in betta fish, the damage has already begun. So it’s important to spot a spike in ammonia before your betta exhibits symptoms.

Here are the most common symptoms of ammonia poisoning.

Gasping For AirBetta gasping for air at the tank’s surface.
Gill Color ChangeGill color changes to red or purple, may bleed.
Red StreaksRed streaks on body and fins.
Inflamed Eyes/AnusInflamed eyes and anus due to irritation.
Loss of AppetiteReduced or complete loss of appetite.
LethargyLethargy, with Betta resting at the tank bottom.

1. Gasping For Air

One of the initial signs of ammonia poisoning is your betta gasping for air at the top of the tank. As the ammonia begins to burn your betta, he’s going to be desperate to get oxygen from a clean source, as well as trying to escape the tank.

2. A Change In Gill Color

As well as a gasping for air your bettas gills will also change color. In fact, this is the biggest sign of ammonia poisoning, and if you notice it you should begin acting immediately.

The gills will turn from their normal color to red or purple. As the ammonia poisoning becomes more severe you may even notice your bettas gills bleeding.

You should also check to see if the gills look inflamed, which is another sign.

3. Red Streaks Along Body And Fins

Because the ammonia is going to slowly damage your betta’s body you may also notice red streaking along his body and fins. However, it’s important you don’t confuse these streaks with stress stripes, which can occur when your betta is stressed.

4. Inflamed Eyes Or Anus

The ammonia may also begin to affect the sensitive areas of your betta. Primarily, his eyes and anus. They may become inflamed as they become irritated and damaged.

5. Loss of Appetite

Whenever your betta loses his appetite there’s always going to be something wrong. So if you notice a loss of appetite you should begin figuring out what’s causing it. And in some cases, it might be ammonia poisoning.

However, be aware a loss of appetite can be caused by a whole range of diseases as well as stress and depression!

6. Lethargy

And lastly, you may notice your betta isn’t doing much of anything. He may have just stopped swimming and instead he’s just spending most of the time at the bottom of his tank.

However, once again remember that lethargy can be caused by a whole range of problems including constipation, dropsy, swim bladder disease etc.

Those are the main symptoms of ammonia poisoning in betta fish, so if you notice them you should act immediately.

betta bath

What Causes Ammonia Poisoning?

Obviously, ammonia poisoning occurs when there’s too much ammonia in the tank. However, there are things that cause this to happen. Before knowing how to treat ammonia poisoning you should first learn why ammonia poisoning occurs. Here are the most common reasons.

1. A New Tank That Hasn’t Cycled Properly

A tank is a delicate ecosystem, and part of that ecosystem is bacteria that break down ammonia into something less harmful. When a tank is cycling it takes 6-8 weeks before the bacteria become established. This means that in the time before the bacteria has become established it’s much more likely you’ll notice ammonia spikes.

2. Build Up Of Decaying Matter

If your tank has been established for a while and you’ve noticed betta ammonia poisoning in your tank, then check to see how much decaying matter there is.

Dead plants, rotten food, feces, and any biological waste is going to cause ammonia to rise, resulting in ammonia poisoning.

If your betta is being housed in a community tank you should also check for any other dead fish. Dead animals produce a lot of ammonia when they’re decaying as well as a whole host of other diseases.

3. Infrequent Water Changes

When you perform water changes you’re essentially diluting the ammonia in your tank by replacing the dirty water with clean water.

The smaller the tank the more often you’re going to need to change the water. If you’re not changing the water enough then the ammonia levels will become too high causing your betta to get ammonia poisoning.

It’s especially important that you perform water changes much more often if you don’t have a filter in your tank. Remember, contrary to what many people will tell you it’s vital that you keep a filter in your betta tank.

If you don’t, then ammonia poisoning is one of many problems your betta will face.

4. When Bacteria Colonies Die

Sometimes the bacteria colony in your tank may die. This most commonly occurs if you treat your tank with medication that kills bacteria. However, it can also occur when something goes wrong with your filter.

Whatever the case may be, when the bacteria colonies in your tank die, there’s going to be nothing to neutralise the ammonia. Which will result in an ammonia spike and eventually ammonia poisoning.

How To Treat Betta Ammonia Poisoning

The only way you’re going to be able to treat betta ammonia poisoning is by lowering the ammonia in the water to 0ppm (parts per million).

Luckily there are a few different ways you can go about doing this.

1. Add Ammonia Detoxifier

The quickest solution to treating betta ammonia poisoning is by adding ammonia detoxifier to your tank. You should use this when the ammonia is anything over 0ppm. Ammonia detoxifiers don’t actually remove the ammonia from the tank, but they do render it harmless. Using an ammonia remover is particularly effective in a new tank.

So, not only are you going to negate the negative effects of ammonia, but you’re also going to leave it in your tank which is good for the bacteria. You can pick ammonia remover up off Amazon for pretty cheap, and once you have it, it lasts for a long time!

API AMMO-LOCK Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Ammonia Detoxifier 16-Ounce Bottle
  • Contains one (1) API AMMO-LOCK Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Ammonia Detoxifier 16-Ounce Bottle

2. Add Ammonia Removal Media To Your Filter

Another step is to add an ammonia remover media to your filter. When the tank water runs through the removal media in your filter, it will be taken out of the water reducing the stress on your fish.

Once again removal media is inexpensive, and it can be a real lifesaver if you can’t quite get the ammonia levels in your tank down to 0ppm. If you want ammonia removal medias then Aquaclear Ammonia Removers are great ones to use!

AquaClear 30-Gallon Ammonia Remover, 3-Pack
  • Removes and controls harmful ammonia and nitrite
  • Ideal for new or heavily populated freshwater aquariums

3. Performing A Water Change

If you can’t get your hands on any products that are going to remove ammonia from your water, but you need to act quickly then the best solution is to perform a 50% water change. You may need to do this every couple of days until you hit 0ppm.

Remember, that when you’re performing a water change, that you make sure when you replace your water it’s the same temperature as before. Otherwise, your betta may go into temperature shock which is also extremely dangerous.

4. Limit The Amount Your Betta Is Fed

You should also limit the amount your betta is fed as well. When your betta is suffering from ammonia poisoning he won’t eat as much anyway.

However, on top of that, any excess food left in the tank is only going to contribute to ammonia buildup. And the more your betta eats the more waste he’s going to produce.

Remember, bettas are used to going a couple of days without food and sometimes it’s beneficial for them. For example, it can reduce the chance of them becoming constipated.

How To Prevent Ammonia Poisoning

The best thing you can do is prevent ammonia poisoning from happening in the first place. And there are some good steps that you can take to stop ammonia poisoning from happening.

1. Add Nitrifying Bacteria

One of the best things you can do to prevent ammonia poisoning in tanks, ESPECIALLY new tanks is to add nitrifying bacteria. Nitrifying bacteria is the bacteria breaks ammonia down and making your tank safe for your betta.

The good news is you can buy nitrifying bacteria off Amazon for a few dollars. Although it’s not going to be an instant solution, nitrifying bacteria is something you need in your tank if you want your betta to stay healthy.

2. Perform Frequent Water Changes

Water changes are one of the most beneficial things you can do for your fish tank. They remove all the old dirty water that your filter can’t process and replace it with new fresh water. And don’t forget water changes are also great for treating ammonia poisoning as well.

3. Filter Your Water

On the subject of filters, you should have a filter in your tank. It’s so common to see tanks with no filter and heater. Without a filter, there’s not going to be anything to clean your bettas tank and slowly remove ammonia.

While bettas are hardy fish, they still need to have their basic requirements met. So if you haven’t already get yourself a filter! (Why are filters so important?)

betta care facebook group

4. Buy A Big Enough Tank

The smaller your tank is, the quicker it’s going to become dirty. You should be housing your betta in a tank that’s a minimum size of 5 gallons. Anything smaller than 5 gallons isn’t big enough. Not only is it cruel for your fish, but it’s going to be a lot more effort for you as well.

In smaller tanks, parameters change quickly and it’s more likely that ammonia will build up quickly over time. If you haven’t got a 5 gallon tank then you should definitely consider getting a bigger one. Here are some of the best 5 gallon tanks on the market right now.

5. Clean Your Tank Frequently

Any decaying matter in your tank is going to produce ammonia. Whether it’s plants, fish waste, or rotten food. You should be cleaning your tank regularly and vacuuming it to make sure you’re picking up all the waste from the substrate.

6. Add An Air stone

Depending on your betta, you may want to add an air stone. Ammonia is a gas and pumping oxygen through your tank is a great way to disperse some of the ammonia.

However, be warned, air stones aren’t necessary and some bettas don’t like them. So you’ll have to test one out beforehand. If you want to know more about air stones then check out this article.

7. Buy An Ammonia Test Kit

One of the best things you can do for ammonia is buy an ammonia test kit. It will allow you to see when the ammonia is getting too high so you’ll be able to act accordingly.

I really love the API master test kit. Not only does it let you check for ammonia, but you can also check the pH levels as well as nitrites and nitrates.

You can get the API Master Test Kit off Amazon for a good price as well, and it’s going to last a long time!

Stop Betta Ammonia Poisoning!

Now that you know everything you need to know, you’re ready to stop betta ammonia poisoning when it occurs. The key is good prevention so make sure you’re doing regular maintenance of your tank and checking the water parameters to make sure everything’s okay.

If you want to take care of a Betta fish but don’t know where to begin, here’s a comprehensive guide on Betta fish care!

Learn more about Ammonia Poisoning by watching this video from The Nerdy Fish Girl:


Ultimate Betta Fish Care Guide
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