7 Reasons Your Betta Fish Is Shedding/Molting (And What To Do)

If your Betta fish is shedding or molting their scales or fins, this is a worrying sign as Betta Fish do not molt, and it usually denotes that there is something in their environment that is causing their scales to fall off, or this is a symptom of an underlying illness. 

In this article, we will look at the causes of betta scale loss, the ways to prevent scales from falling off, and how to treat ‘shedding’ so your Betta fish can get back to being your happy, fully scaled, and faithful companion.

What is Molting?

Molting, as defined by Scholastic, is when animals go through the natural process of shedding their outer layer, which can be skin, exoskeleton, or an undercoat of fur, to allow their bodies to grow or adapt to the change in season.

What Animals are Known for Molting?

Crustaceans shed their exoskeletons when they become too big, snakes shed their skin for the same reason, and some mammals shed their coats to accommodate hotter or cooler temperatures, such as the wild Bighorn sheep. 

Do Betta Fish Molt?

Betta fish, just like all fish, do not molt. They are similar to humans in the fact that their bodies grow and stretch over time without needing to molt. As long as their environment is healthy and conducive for happy fish, they will never shed their scales.

Why Is My Betta ‘Shedding’ His Scales?

Your Betta may be ‘shedding’ or having their scales fall off for a number of reasons, and you will want to observe their behavior very carefully to determine the source of the scale loss. If they seem energetic, it may be something in their environment that needs to change, but if they seem lethargic, they may be sick.

Betta fish care is tricky, but with proper guidance, you can succeed! Click here to read a comprehensive guide! 

What Does an Energetic and Healthy Betta Fish Look Like?

Healthy Betta Fish Signs:

  • Swims up to check when you get close to the tank
  • Aggressive tendencies, flaring at you or other objects
  • Energetic, swimming around and investigating their tank
  • Staying in the mid-level of the tank, not hanging around the surface or bottom for long periods of time
  • Scales are smooth and brightly colored
  • Strong appetite and eating regularly
  • Whole fins, undamaged and not missing parts of fins or scales
  • Wants to socialize with or investigate tank mates or human companions

What Does a Lethargic and Sick Betta Fish Look Like?

Sick Betta Fish Signs:

  • No desire to eat and ignores food for long periods
  • Lethargic, slow-moving or not moving at all and frequently hiding
  • Dull color, or your betta fish losing color, or a shift in color palette from bright to sickly
  • Tattered fins (‘shedding’) and missing scales
  • Scales are sticking out or rising off of the body
  • Black edges around fins
  • White, cottony growths on the body or around the mouth
  • Swimming strangely
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Clamped fins (pressed tight against the body), the betta is listless or looks uncomfortable
  • Bloated or bulging gut

If Your Betta is Healthy, Why are Their Scales Falling Off?

If your Betta is healthy, their scales may be falling off due to physical injury, such as something sharp in their environment, getting knocked around by strong currents, and in the rare case, if they’re fighting or breeding.

How do Sharp Objects in the Environment Cause Betta Scale Loss?

Betta fins and scales are incredibly delicate and sensitive to even a slightly sharp edge in their environment, be it a hideout or a plastic plant. All tank decorations should be ‘pantyhose tested’ to determine if they are safe.

If a Betta swims into a sharp plant or hideout, and its fin or scale catches, it may snag, break off, or otherwise cause injury that can be easily preventable.

Many owners use the ‘pantyhose test’ where they run a bit of nylon stocking on their tank decorations. If it snags on, say, a length log, that log should be filed down to remove any sharp or jagged edges. If it snags a plastic plant, the plastic plant should not be used.

Smooth hideouts and real or silk plants are ideal when it comes to making the safest and betta-friendly tank.

How does a Strong Current Cause Betta Scale Loss?

Betta fins are massive compared to its body, catching the current in the water easily, and if this current is too strong, this can lead to the Betta being buffeted by the current, knocking into objects in the tank, which may cause scale loss.

The best way to tackle this is to opt for a filter that has a whisper filter or filters slowly with minimal current and is designed for Betta fish. Or, you can add prefilters to the intake and outtake of the filter to slow down the current more.

How do Cases such as Fighting or Breeding Contribute to Scale Loss?

Betta fish are aggressive, and if two males are put in the same tank, they will usually fight to the death or until one is severely stressed and possibly injured. This also happens when Bettas breed, as it can involve aggressive tendencies that can lead to injuries on both sides.

Betta fish history involved a lot of fighting where two male bettas would be put in a tank together in what would be a dog fight, and bets would be placed on which would be the winner.

Nowadays, this kind of fighting is illegal, but if a Betta has been accidentally housed with another male or female, they will need to be separated and should be unable to see each other. Their injuries will heal over time.

The same applies to Bettas when they breed, as they should only be housed together for a short time to complete the breeding process, then put in separate tanks.

The only Bettas that can be housed together safely are females in sororities of five or more.

If Your Betta is Sick, Why are Their Scales Falling Off?

Scale Loss can be one of the symptoms of Betta fish diseases such as Fin Rot, Ich, Velvet, and Betta hole in the head. Always look at all symptoms to determine if your fish has a physical injury or if they are truly sick, as medically treating a healthy Betta can be dangerous.

What is Fin Rot?

Fin Rot is a bacterial or fungal infection that causes fins to become tattered, with sections falling off and fins receding. As the illness becomes worse, it can reach the body and cause scales to fall off. It is caused by poor water quality and is treated with clean water and aquarium salt.

If you’re interested in how to treat betta fin rot, Bettafish.org goes into depth on Betta fish care and how to treat this infection in their article, saying it’s one of the most common infections for Betta fish and is also one of the most easily curable. 

They recommend a treatment plan depending on the severity, suggesting a water change, filter change, and checking the temperatures if they’re warm enough for tropical fish. In worse cases, antibiotics and aquarium salt for betta fish can be administered.

Fin Rot should never be confused with tail biting or physical injury. These are usually not accompanied by black or red edges on the fins. The black or red edges are unique to fin rot and allow us to identify it successfully.

What is Ich?

Ich is a parasitic disease where little white spots appear on your Betta, and you may see them run vigorously into the decor in an attempt to knock off the parasites. This can also dislodge scales and cause physical injury. Ich is caused by poor water quality or stress and is treated with clean water and antibiotics.

Like any disease, it can be treated successfully if caught early and promptly treated. You will want to increase the temperature slowly, do daily water changes, and administer an antibiotic specifically for Ich/Ick. Do not stop treatment even if the parasites have all fallen off, as they are only susceptible to treatment two days out of their seven-day cycle.

This article by Bettafish goes into detail on the causes and treatments of Ich.

What is Velvet?

Velvet is also a parasitic disease, appearing like gold dust on the scales, gills, and fins, and can cause the Betta to swim aggressively into the decor to knock off the parasites (just like with Ich), which can lead to scales falling off and physical injury.

Velvet is caused by stress, poor water quality, prolonged cold water and is treated by clean water, tropical temperature water, and antibiotics.

What is Betta Hole in Head?

Betta Hole in Head is when small holes, which look similar and can be confused with missing scales, appear in the head, around the eyes, and face of the Betta. It is caused by poor water quality and lack of nutrition and is treated with clean water and a varied diet with proper Betta food.

If treated in the early stages, it is easily curable, but as the sickness grows (holes turning into larger lesions), it can become deadly.

How Do You Prevent Betta Scale Loss?

The best way to prevent Betta scale loss is to make sure the ABCs of your Betta are covered, ensuring they have a large enough home, a clean environment, a ‘pantyhose tested’ environment, comfortable and warm temperature of the water, and no external stressors.

What are the Betta Fish ABCs?

The Betta Fish ABCs are:

  • Ensuring they have at least a 5-gallon tank
  • Using silk or real plants in the tank
  • Using an adequate submersible heater and thermometer
  • Giving your Betta enough space between the lid and the water surface to breathe
  • Performing frequent water changes
  • Checking ammonia levels of your tank with a water testing kit
  • Ensuring you are not overfeeding your Betta, and offering a varied diet

I Thought Bettas Only Need a Bowl, Vase, or a One Gallon Tank, Why Do They Need a Five Gallon Tank?

A large tank helps to keep water quality at an optimum level; it allows for less frequent water changes and less work in the long run, and more happiness for your Betta instead of cramping them in a little cubicle, which is a leading factor to illness and Betta unhappiness.

There is misinformation that Betta fish can live in small spaces, but the opposite is true. Bettafish.org talks about this in detail in their article.

If, for example, a human were to be stuck in a small wooden crate with food and water, they would be susceptible to illness and disease just as quickly as when Betta fish are put in cramped spaces.

Betta fish exhale ammonia every time they breathe, a harmful chemical that is one of the leading factors to poor water quality and sick Betta fish. This chemical builds up incredibly fast in small bowls, causing large amounts of water to be changed frequently, which is stressful on your fish.

Your Betta fish is sensitive to the slightest change in the water, so it is better to have a large tank where the Nitrogen cycle has enough space for cycling itself, and there is a buffer of water that protects your fish from feeling large changes in the water. Water changes are also needed less often and less frequently.

Always refer to your water testing kit to ensure your water parameters meet your Betta’s needs.

Poor water quality is one of the leading factors in your Betta’s health, and just by optimizing this, you can improve your Betta’s health by a large amount, reducing the risk of illness and reasons for scales to fall.

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Do Betta Scales Grow Back?

In most cases, a Betta fish’s scales and fins will grow back. Depending on the cause of the injury, it may take a longer or shorter amount of time, but it will grow back.

Just like your knee will heal after you scrape it, your Betta’s scales and fins will also grow back when they are in a happy environment for healing.

Conclusion

If your Betta is ‘shedding’ or experiencing scale loss, this is a symptom that can be easily remedied when the cause is properly identified, be it a physical injury or an underlying illness.

By carefully studying your Betta and determining what is causing their scales to fall, you will be able to take action to ensure their safety and wellbeing and give your Betta the happy, healthy life it deserves.

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