7 Reasons Your Is Betta Gasping For Air & Breathing Heavily

Last Updated on 2023-10-18

There’s nothing more worrying than when your betta is gasping for air or breathing heavily. And when this is the case, the chances are that something is wrong with them or the tank. In this article, you’re going to find out all the different reasons that your betta is breathing heavily, as well as what you can do to help them!

So keep reading to find out everything you need to know!

Key Takeaways:

  • Betta fish gasping for air or breathing heavily can be concerning and may indicate a problem with the betta or the tank.
  • Common reasons for betta fish gasping include insufficient oxygen in the water, high ammonia levels, presence of diseases, overcrowded tanks, elevated water temperature, fish bowl housing, stress, and feeding with floating food.
  • Proper care and attention to water parameters, tank conditions, and feeding habits can help alleviate betta fish gasping and ensure their well-being.

Why Is Your Betta Fish Gasping For Air?

Here are all the different reasons your betta could be gasping for air, and more importantly, what you can do to help them!

Causes of Gasping for AirSymptoms
Insufficient Oxygen in WaterBreathing from the surface, rapid gill movement
High Ammonia LevelsLoss of appetite, lethargy, inflamed gills
Disease or IllnessVaries based on the specific disease
Tank OvercrowdingIncreased fish population, high carbon dioxide levels
High Water TemperatureSurface breathing, seeking cooler areas
Fishbowl EnvironmentLimited surface area for oxygen exchange
StressErratic behavior, unusual swimming patterns
Floating FoodGulp at the surface in anticipation of food
After Water ChangeStress from parameter changes, temperature fluctuations

The Water Doesn’t Have Enough Oxygen

One of the most common reasons your betta could be gasping for air is because it’s not getting enough oxygen. As well as gasping for air, you may also notice that they’re only breathing from the surface of the water.

There are a number of different reasons that the water may not be holding enough oxygen including:

  • The filters not producing enough current to disturb the water.
  • The water temperature is too high.
  • There’s nothing else in the tank disturbing the water enough to help add oxygen.


Fortunately, this is one of the easiest problems to fix. And there are a number of solutions you can use to do it.

Move The Filter

The easiest solution is to move the filter, so it’s disturbing the surface of the water more. The more the surface of the water is moving around, the more oxygenated the tank is going to become. Just make sure the current in the tank isn’t too strong, as this could end up stressing your betta out.

Add An Airstone

If moving the filter doesn’t work for you, another thing you can try is adding an airstone. Airstones are a great way to add more oxygen to your tank, and they’re extremely cheap to set up and run.

Adjust The Temperature

And lastly, you can also try adjusting the temperature if it isn’t right. The ideal temperature for bettas is 78°F; however, anything between 76-80°F is going to work. If you notice that the tank is consistently too hot, then you can let a fan blow over the surface of the water to cool it down.

You should also make sure that the tank isn’t placed in direct sunlight or near a radiator, as this can also affect the temperature of the tank.

The Water Is High In Ammonia

Another reason that your betta may be gasping for air is that the ammonia in the tank is too high. When the ammonia is too high, it’s going to start burning them, especially their gills, making it a lot harder for them to breathe.

If high ammonia (ammonia poisoning) is the cause, then you may also notice the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite and lethargy
  • Constantly breathing at the surface of the water
  • Bleeding gills
  • Inflamed eyes and anus

Ammonia poisoning is most likely to occur in tanks that haven’t been cycled properly when decaying matter has been allowed to build up, if you’re not changing the water frequently enough, and if the bacteria colony in your tank dies.


If you think that your betta is suffering from ammonia poisoning, then here are all the different solutions for treating them!

Add An Ammonia Detoxifier

If you need to change the ammonia in the water instantly, then the first thing you should do is add an ammonia detoxifier. The best part is detoxifiers don’t remove ammonia from the tank but make it harmless, which means that the beneficial bacteria colony in your tank can still feed on it.

Perform A Water Change

Another great option when the ammonia is too high is to immediately change the water. Doing this is going to remove a big portion of ammonia and then dilute the remaining amount of ammonia with fresh water.

However, before adding water to the tank, make sure you check the water you’re adding, as if it also has a high ammonia content, it’s not going to help the problem in any way.

Add Ammonia Removal Media

You can also add ammonia removal media to your filter as well, to help remove ammonia over time. Like everything else on the list, ammonia removal media is also inexpensive, and you can even pick some up off Amazon!

Colorful fancy beautiful Siamese fighting fish long tail and fin swimming on black background.

They Have A Disease

Another common reason that bettas can end up gasping for air is that they are suffering from a disease or illness of some kind. Ich, columnaris, anchor worms, and hemorrhagic are all diseases that can cause your betta to end up gasping for air.

Each of these is going to need a different treatment, but as a general rule of thumb, quarantining your betta and performing water changes are some of the fundamentals of getting them back to good health.

(Here’s a helpful article on how to treat the most common illnesses and diseases in bettas.)

The Tank Is Overcrowded

Another reason that your betta could be gasping for air is when the tank is overcrowded. The more fish that are in the tank, the more oxygen is going to be used up. On top of this, the more fish there are, the more carbon dioxide will be expelled into the tank as well.

Secondly, the more fish in the tank, the bigger than chances of an ammonia spike occurring, especially if the tank is small.


Obviously, there are two main solutions if your tank is overcrowded. You can either try to move your fish to a bigger tank or move some of the fish over to another tank. Either of which is the healthiest option for your fish.

However, sometimes this isn’t always possible. In this case, you can try adding more live plants and an air stone to the tank to increase the amount of oxygen in the water. But even then, with an overcrowded tank, the chances of an ammonia spike are going to be higher.

The Tank Is Too Hot

And lastly, your betta may be breathing at the surface of the tank because the tank is too hot or even because they’re suffering from temperature shock. When the temperature gets too hot, often time, a small amount of highly oxygenated water stays just below the water’s surface.

So if you notice that your betta is gasping for air, then you should also check the temperature to make sure it’s around 78°F


Once again, if the temperature is too hot, the only thing you can do is try to cool the tank down. The easiest way to do this is to blow a small fan over the water’s surface to help air evaporate faster.

As well as this, you should also move the tank if it’s in a location that heats up a lot or where the temperature changes drastically.

betta care facebook group

You’re Keeping Them In A Fish Bowl

If you’re keeping your betta in a fishbowl, this in itself could be one of the reasons that your betta is constantly gasping. Unfortunately, because fish bowls are smaller at the top, it’s often the case that there’s not enough surface area to oxygenate the water properly.


There’s a whole bunch of reasons that you should move your betta from a fishbowl to a tank, and this is just one of them. However, if you’re still determined to keep your betta in a fishbowl, then you can try adding more plants and an air stone to help increase the oxygenation in the water.


One of the most common reasons your betta could be gasping for air is due to stress. Unfortunately, though, your betta being stressed can be caused by all sorts of things—the wrong water parameters, disease, overstocking, a tank that’s too small, etc.


The only way to deal with stress is to deal with the problems at hand. Great places to start are checking the water parameters and adjusting them if necessary, making sure there aren’t too many other fish in the tank, making sure the tank is big enough, and making the tank feel safer for them (lots of hiding places).

You’re Feeding Them Floating Food

Have you noticed that whenever you feed your betta floating food, they tend to gulp at the surface of the tank? Sometimes, over time, your betta can begin to associate you walking to the tank with them getting food.

When this is the case, they may immediately start gulping at the surface in anticipation of being fed.


The best solution here is to feed your betta food which will start to sink with time. While it’s not awful for your betta to constantly be breathing from the surface, it’s not great for them either. So changing their food is your best alternative.

Is It Normal For Bettas To Gasp For Air?

If your betta is gasping for air in 99% of cases, it means there’s some sort of problem. So when you notice this happening, you need to figure out exactly what’s causing it to happen and treat it appropriately.

What Does A Betta Gasping For Air Look Like?

You’ll notice your betta gasping for air by the large mouthfuls of air they try to take in, mainly from the surface of the tank. As well as this, you may also notice that your betta’s gills tend to open more every time they breathe.

Why Is Your Betta Gasping After A Water Change?

There are a few different reasons that your betta could be gasping for air after a water change.

  1. The first reason is that the water is too hot. If you’ve added water that’s too hot, then your betta could be suffering from temperature shock if it’s raised the temperature of the aquarium too much.
  2. The stress of the water change alone could also be causing your betta to start breathing heavily, especially if you’ve changed the parameters of the tank drastically.


If you notice that the water in the tank is too hot, then you should add some conditioned cold water to stabilize the temperature.

If you’re certain the temperature of the water isn’t the issue, then you should check the parameters of the tank. If they’re not right, then you should adjust accordingly. However, if they are, then it’s a good idea to turn the light off and allow your betta to hide.

Why Is Your Betta Gasping At The Top Of The Tank?

There are three main reasons that your betta is gasping at the top of the tank.

  • The temperature in the tank is too warm, and they can only breathe oxygen from the top.
  • There’s too much ammonia in the tank, and they’re struggling to breathe the water.
  • They’re used to eating pellets from the top of the tank, and they’ve seen you approaching the tank.

Why Is Your New Betta Breathing Heavily?

There are so many things when you get a new betta that can cause them to start breathing heavily. However, fortunately, most of these things can be remedied quickly, and they shouldn’t cause any lasting damage to your fish.


The stress of the move can often be one of the reasons that your betta can start breathing heavily. Especially if you’ve kept them in their transfer container for a long time, then the temperature may have changed, they may not have enough oxygen, or they may be getting stressed with the small space.

As well as this, the change in water parameters from the bag to the tank can also cause your betta to become stressed and start breathing heavily!


If your betta is stressed due to a new move, then the first thing you’ll need to do is check the water parameters to make sure everything is fine. Once you’ve made sure that everything is fine, you can add API Stress Coat to the tank to help lower your betta’s stress level.

On top of this, Indian Almond Leaves are also known to soothe bettas, so it can be a good idea to add some to the tank before you add your betta. And, of course, when you’re adding a betta to a new tank, you should turn the lights off to give them a chance to adjust in peace.

How To Tell if My Betta Has Difficulty Breathing?

You can quickly spot if your betta is having trouble breathing by watching for signs of panting. The fish’s body will visibly expand and contract rapidly, with breathing being noticeably quicker and more intense than usual.

The Tank Is Uncycled

If you’ve added your betta to an uncycled tank, then they could be suffering because the parameters in the tank aren’t right. The most likely cause is going to be ammonia poisoning.


You should immediately check the water parameters. If you notice that the ammonia and nitrite levels are above 0ppm or the nitrate levels above 25ppm, you should immediately perform a water change to dilute the remaining amount.

As well as this, you can also add an ammonia neutralizer to the tank to make the remaining ammonia in the tank harmless.

Why Is Your Betta Breathing Heavily At The Bottom Of The Tank?

If your betta is laying at the bottom of the tank and breathing heavily, then once again, the chances are they’re suffering from ammonia poisoning or nitrate poisoning.

So to fix the issues, you should immediately perform a water change and add an ammonia neutralizer to make sure your betta doesn’t get harmed. You should also make sure that you’re checking the water regularly to make sure that parameters are improving.


As you can see, there are so many different reasons that your betta could be breathing heavily or gasping for air, but fortunately, there are so many things you can do to fix it!

If you liked this article, make sure you check out the rest of the website otherwise, have a great day!




Ultimate Betta Fish Care Guide
About the author

Hey! I'm Nicolas from Iguane Media !

Blogger and Owner of the betta care fish guide
Thanks for reading this blog

I'm an Animal Lover