7 Reasons Your Is Betta Staying At The Top Of The Tank (& What To Do)

Betta ebook-ban

Last Updated on 2024-05-02

If your betta is constantly at the top of the tank, then it’s most definitely a sign that something’s wrong in the tank. In this article, we’re going to explore all the different things that can cause your betta to stay at the top of the tank, as well as what you can do to treat the issues!

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

Key Takeaways:

If your betta has suddenly moved to the top of the tank, and it’s out of character for them, the most common reasons are: a lack of oxygenation, temperature problems, excess ammonia in the tank, overcrowding, swim bladder disease, or hunger.

Why Is Your Betta Staying At The Top Of Their Tank?

Here are all the different reasons that your betta is staying at the top of their tank, and more importantly, what to do about it!

In short though…

Your betta is most likely staying at the top of his tank simply because he likes it there. In fact, my betta rarely goes anywhere else accept the top of the tank. However, if this is a new development, then the most likely cause is a lack of oxygenation, or a problem with the temperature.

Reason for Betta Staying at the TopWhat to Do About It
Lack of Oxygenation– Change the filter current to increase water disruption and oxygenation. – Add an air bubbler to the tank. – Include live plants (e.g., anubias nana, java moss, java fern, marimo moss balls) to improve oxygen levels.
Temperature Problems– Move the heater to distribute heat evenly. – Add an extra heater for larger tanks. – Place a heater behind the filter to circulate warm water. – Ensure the tank’s location has stable temperatures.
Too Much Ammonia in the Tank– Test the water and ensure ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are within the acceptable range. – Perform a 50% water change if levels are high. – Add an ammonia neutralizer if needed. – Consider a larger tank to handle the bioload. – Add ammonia removal media to the filter.
Overcrowding– Add more plants to provide hiding places and break lines of sight. – Use decorations like driftwood, stones, and ornaments for additional hiding spots. – Remove any aggressive or bullying fish from the tank.
Swim Bladder Disease– Fast the betta for a few days to address overfeeding and constipation. – Consider an Epsom salt bath if fasting doesn’t work.
Hunger– Feed your betta 1 or 2 pellets twice a day to prevent excessive hunger.
Personal PreferenceIf water quality is good, the tank isn’t overcrowded, and your betta isn’t hungry or showing signs of illness, it might be a personal preference.

1. Lack Of Oxygenation

One of the biggest reasons that your betta is at the top of the tank is because there isn’t enough oxygen in the water. Fortunately, bettas have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe from the surface; however, constantly doing this isn’t good for them.

However, even if they’re not breathing directly from the surface, oxygen tends to rise in water. So even if your betta is a the top but not directly breathing from the surface, it could still be an oxygenation issue.

How To Deal With A Lack Of Oxygenation

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make sure there’s enough oxygen in your betta’s tank.

Change The Filter Current

The first thing you can do is change the filter current of your tank. By moving your filter current, it disrupts the surface of the water more, and you’re going to increase the amount of oxygen entering the water. If you’re short on time, this can be the best choice.

Just make sure the current isn’t too strong, as this can often end up stressing your betta and making it hard for them to swim.

hygger Hang On Aquarium Filter, 100GPH Rotatable Surface Oil Skimmer, Quiet Power Fish Tank Filter with Adjustable Water Flow Retractable Water Inlet Tube for Freshwater Saltwater Tank Filter (S/M)
  • hygger Silent Fish Tank Filter Principle of Filtration: ①Dirty water enters from the bottom of the filter. ②Part of the water with oil film enters from the oil scum removes port. ③Dirty water passes through the filter material box. ④Filtered clean water.

Add An Air Bubbler

One of the EASIEST ways to add more oxygen to your tank is to add an air bubbler to it. They’re relatively cheap, and the setup is simple. And if you don’t like the look of them, fortunately, there are plenty of ornaments you can hide them in to keep the tank looking more natural.

Air bubblers are going to fill the water with oxygen, and while in most cases they aren’t necessary, they’re definitely not a hindrance either.

Tetra Whisper Aquarium Air Pump for Fish Tanks 20 to 40 Gallons, Quiet Powerful Airflow,Black
  • POWERFUL: Tetra Whisper Air Pump provides dependable airflow to your aquarium.

Add Plants To The Tank

Lastly, you can also add plants to your betta’s tank as well. Just like trees, plants will help improve the oxygen in the tank, as well as remove co2.

If you’re not sure what plants to add, anubias nana, java moss, java fern, and marimo moss balls are all great choices!

(Here’s an article about some of the best live plants for your betta.)

2. Temperature Problems

Another reason that your betta may be sticking to the top of the tank is because of temperature problems. Depending on where your heater is, warm water will rise to the surface, and cold water will stay near the bottom. So if the water is too cold at the bottom, your betta won’t want to be there.

(If the temperature fluctuates too much it may even cause temperature shock in your betta, which can become fatal incredibly quickly.

How To Deal With Temperature Problems

If you’ve tested the water and you think the temperature is the problem, here’s what you can do!

Move The Heater

The first thing you can try to do is move the heater; oftentimes, the heater can warm up one area of the tank well, but the other areas won’t get as much heat. By placing the heater closer to the middle, you can make sure the heat radiates equally across the tank.

Add An Extra Heater

Depending on the size of the tank, you may need to add an extra heater as well. Sometimes one heater just isn’t enough to warm the whole of your tank up; when this is the case, the only other option is to have another heater.

And as long as you set both heaters to the same temperature, the tank won’t overheat.

Fluval M 100 Watt Submersible Heater
  • Submersible heater provides exceptional performance and unsurpassed reliability

Place A Heater Behind The Filter

You can also try placing a heater behind the filter as well. When you do this, the heater will warm the water up that’s being pushed through the filter, and then the warm water will then circulate around the tank, keeping it warmer as well!

Change Your Tanks Location

And lastly, you may need to change the location of your tank. If you’re placing it somewhere there’s a constant draft or sudden shifts in temperature, then you’ll need to place it where the temperature is a lot more steady.

While your heater will be able to adjust to different temperature changes slowly, sudden changes in temperature can be too much for some heaters to keep up with.

(Heaters are incredibly important in any bettas tank, and you need to know why!)

3. Too Much Ammonia In The Tank

When there’s too much ammonia in the tank, it’s going to start poisoning your betta and make it hard for them to breathe. In response, they’ll often end up going to the top of the tank again to breathe from the surface.

In fact, if the ammonia is too severe, your betta will also try to jump out of the tank in an attempt to escape.

If your betta is suffering from ammonia poisoning, you’ll notice the following symptoms:

  • Gasping for air.
  • Change in gill color.
  • Red streaks along the body and fins.
  • Inflamed eyes and anus.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Lethargy

How To Fix Ammonia Issues

If you don’t want to read the full article on how to fix ammonia poisoning, then here’s a quick guide on some of the things you can do to lower the ammonia in the tank.

Test The Water

Before anything, you should test the water of your betta’s tank. Anything above 0ppm is too much for bettas. As well as ammonia being at 0ppm, you should also make sure that the nitrite levels are at 0ppm and the nitrate levels are below 20ppm.

If you don’t know how to test the water, then you’ll need an API Master Test Kit, which allows you to test the Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels in your tank.

API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, White, Single, Multi-colored
  • Contains one (1) API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit, including 7 bottles of testing solutions, 1 color card and 4 tubes with cap

Perform A Water Change

If you test the water and you notice that the ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate levels are too high, you should perform an immediate water change. A 50% water change is recommended, as this will remove a good chunk of the ammonia from your tank and replace it with new fresh water.

Add An Ammonia Neutralizer

Sometimes water changes alone aren’t enough to bring the ammonia levels down. If you notice that the ammonia levels are still high after you’ve performed a water change, then you may need to add an ammo neutralizer to the tank as well. I like to use API Ammo Lock; however, because of the urgency, you should use whatever’s available to you.

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

Make Sure The Tank Is Big Enough

One of the reasons that ammonia can spike in a tank is when the tank can’t handle the bioload (waste) of its inhabitants. The more water a tank has, the more waste can be in the water before the ammonia begins to rise. That’s one of the reasons it’s recommended to keep a betta in a tank that’s a minimum of 5 gallons in size.

If you’re currently keeping your betta in a tank smaller than 5 gallons, then you should consider upgrading to a slightly bigger tank.

Add Ammonia Removal Media To Your Filter

If your filter has the space for it, you can also consider adding some ammonia removal media to your filter. This way, as water passes through your filter, the ammonia will be removed, taking some of the stress off your betta.

If you’re not sure what ammonia removal media to buy, then I’d definitely recommend Aquaclear Ammonia Removers.

AquaClear 70-Gallon Ammonia Remover, 3-Pack 36.6oz
  • Removes and controls harmful ammonia and nitrite

4. The Tank Is Crowded

Another reason that your betta may stay at the top of the tank is when the tank is overcrowded. Bettas tend to stay around the middle and top of the tank. However, if there are too many fish around the middle, your betta may just stay near the top of the tank to feel safer.

a betta with other fish

How To Deal With An Overcrowded Tank

Of course, the easiest way to deal with an overcrowded tank is to get a separate tank for some of your fish. However, this isn’t always possible. Here are some alternatives you can try.

Add More Plants

The best thing you can do is add more plants. Adding more plants is going to provide a lot more hiding places for your betta and other fish, as well as breaking lines of sight. Not only this, but plants aid in keeping the water conditions good, so they can help maintain the ammonia levels in your tank.

Add Other Hiding Spots

Aside from plants, decorations such as driftwood, stones, and ornaments, can also provide plenty of hiding places for your betta and other fish as well. Once again, providing a much-needed break and rest for your betta!

Remove Bullies

Your betta may also be at the top of an overcrowded tank if he’s being bullied. Oftentimes, this can be bigger, more aggressive fish; however, sometimes, even smaller fish like neon tetras can constantly nip your betta’s fins.

If you do have a bully in your tank, the best thing to do is remove them and either give them to a friend or add them to another tank.

(Here are 30 great tank mate you should consider adding to your bettas tank.)

betta care facebook group

5. Swim Bladder Disease

When your betta suffers from swim bladder disease, they’re going to find it a lot harder to swim. This can often result in them sinking to the bottom, swimming sideways, struggling to stay in one place, and also floating to the surface of the tank.

If your betta is swimming to the top of the tank of his own accord, then it’s probably not swim bladder disease; however, if you notice he can’t seem to get away from the top, even when he tries, then you may need to treat them for swim bladder disease.

How To Treat Swim Bladder Disease

While here’s a whole article that shows you how to treat swim bladder disease, if you’re short on time, then just read the following.

Treat Them For Constipation And Overfeeding

A lot of the time, swim bladder disease can be caused by overfeeding and constipation, so by treating these things swim bladder disease can also go away as well.

The easiest way to treat these two things is by fasting your betta for a couple of days. This way, you give their digestive system time to completely remove all the food in their stomach, which can often right any issues.

When fasting alone doesn’t work, you can also try adding some daphnia into your tank as well. Daphnia is high in fiber that your betta is able to digest (unlike plants), and this will help get his digestive system moving again!

Try An Epsom Salt Bath

Sometimes when just fasting, your betta isn’t going to be enough to get rid of swim bladder disease; when this is the case, it can often be a good idea to give them an Epsom salt bath as well.

If you want to give your betta an Epsom salt bath, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt with half a gallon of conditioned tap water in a clean container.
  2. Once the Epsom Salt has dissolved, add half a gallon of your aquarium water into the container.
  3. Replace the water taken from your aquarium with conditioned tap water, which is the same temperature as your aquarium.
  4. Leave your betta in the bath for 10-15 minutes. If this hasn’t cleared his constipation in that time, put him back in his tank.
  5. Continue monitoring your betta throughout the day to see if he’s excreted or he’s swimming better.

6. They Want More Food

Sometimes your betta could be at the surface of the tank because they want more food. However, this may not necessarily be because you’re not feeding them enough but rather because of how gutty they are all the time.

What To Do If Your Betta Wants More Food

If your betta is hungry all the time, then the best thing to do is make sure you’re feeding them a little bit throughout the day rather than feeding them all at once. Giving them 1 or 2 pellets twice a day is the best way to make sure that they’re getting enough food and they don’t get too hungry.

(Find out the best food to feed your betta in this handy feeding guide!)

Fluval Bug Bites Tropical Fish Food, Small Granules for Small to Medium Sized Fish, 1.6 oz., A6577
  • Tropical fish food that contains up to 40%, nutrient-rich Black Soldier Fly Larvae, the first ingredient

7. They Just Like It There

Sometimes, it may simply be the case that your betta just likes it at the top of the tank. If this isn’t new behavior in your betta, the water quality is good, you’re not overcrowding your tank, and they’re not hungry, then they may just simply enjoy their time at the top of the tank!


Why Is My Betta Fish Sitting at the Top of the Tank Not Moving?

If you notice that your betta fish is sitting motionless at the top of the tank, it could be due to poor water quality, stress, or an illness.

Why Is My Betta Fish Sleeping at the Top of Tank?

Betta fish have different sleeping habits depending on their personality. Some float at the top, while others burrow into gravel.


As you can see, there can be so many different reasons that your betta can be at the top of the tank. So making sure that you’re checking all the parameters and making sure that you’re not putting them in an overcrowded tank is the key!

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