Stressed Betta Fish Guide (Symptoms, Causes, Treatments)

Having a stressed betta fish is never good. And if you feel like your betta is stressed then you’ve come to the right article. Soon you’ll find out the dangers of stress in bettas, as well as the symptoms, causes, and treatments!

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

What Is Stress?

Stress in fish is similar to stress in humans. It’s where a circumstance causes your betta to release cortisol (A stress hormone) and adrenaline into their system.

As you know already, these two hormones are harmful to animals and over time will begin to damage your betta in a number of different ways.

You should also be aware that there are different types of stress.

Low/Long Term Stress

Low or long term stress is stress that is minimal, however, occurs constantly. In a low, long term stress environment your betta will be constantly trying to adapt. This will weaken his immune system and health which slowly begin to deteriorate.

If a betta is stressed for long amounts of time it will exhaust itself until death.

High/Short Term Stress

Another type of stress is high short term stress. This is the stress that is going to occur very rapidly, however, it’s not constant. The effects of high short term stress are only going to last for a few days.

However, repeated exposure to this type of stress is still bad for your betta.

betta care facebook group

What Stresses A Betta Fish?

There is a range of different causes of stress in betta fish. Being able to spot the causes and address them correctly is one of the ways you’re going to keep your betta happy and healthy!

Common Low/Long Term Stress Causes

Here are the most common low/long term stress causes that are likely to affect your betta. Luckily they’re also largely within your control.

A Tank That Is Too Small

When you’re picking a house for your betta you should never house him in anything smaller than 5 gallons. When a tank is smaller than 5 gallons it will become dirty quicker which will stress your betta out.

Not only that, but he will also become bored with his surroundings which will result in frustration or even depression. (Believe it or not, bettas can suffer from this too, find out more.)

So if your tank is smaller than 5 gallons then you should look into buying a bigger one ASAP. Here are some of the best 5-gallon tanks on the market right now, but remember, there’s no harm in going bigger than 5 gallons either!

Fluval SPEC Aquarium Kit, Aquarium with LED Lighting and 3-Stage Filtration System, 5-Gallon
  • SPEC Series Aquariums: The newly redesigned SPEC series now features an impressive high output 7000K LED, which generates 20% brighter lighting performance for noticeably bolder fish colors and plant growth.

Overcrowding

Just like if a tank is too small, if a tank is too overcrowded the conditions are going to be too poor for your betta to survive. If you’re not sure how many fish you should add to a tank, the general rule is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water.

However, take the rule with a pinch of salt, and research thoroughly the recommended tank size for any fish you plan on adding with your betta.

(Want to know what the best tankmates for bettas are and what to look for when adding fish to your betta tank?)

Poor Quater Quality

If your tank isn’t overcrowded and it’s large enough the conditions may still be incorrect. So make sure that the pH of the tank is correct (Check out the best pH level for bettas) and that the water temperature is correct as well.

You may see bettas in cups in pet stores, but this isn’t right and if they’re left in these conditions they’ll die quickly.

Making sure the conditions are right isn’t just important for your betta, but it’s also important for any other living creature in the tank as well. And in the wrong conditions, an increase in harmful bacteria, parasites, and algae is likely to happen.

You’ll also need to make sure that the water isn’t too hard or soft for your betta (this normally determines the pH of the water)

If you want to know more about the correct water conditions for bettas then check out this article.

A Lack Of Hiding Places

Because your betta is a solitary fish, it’s important to give him some hiding places where he can relax. If your betta never has any downtime and always feels like he’s on edge then it’s going to slowly stress him out. That’s why it’s so important to decorate your tank in a way that makes him feel safe.

And this can even occur when he’s in a tank alone. Betta’s will always think there’s a risk of a predator trying to attack them, so by giving them places to hide you’re going to alleviate some stress.

Short/High Term Stress

It’s not just long term stress that is going to be detrimental to your bettas health. There are also many different causes of short, high term stress that will damage your betta too. Here are some of the most common.

Bullies/Aggressive Tank Mates

Aggressive tank mates that might bully your betta are going to be short/high term causes of stress, however, if left over time they can also cause long term stress. It’s hard to think that another fish in your tank will bully your betta, but they can.

Unfortunately bettas aren’t fast swimmers, so fish that are fin nippers may take a bite before swimming off rapidly. Not only is this going to stress your betta out it’s also going to increase his chances of suffering from fin rot, a disease which can become fatal if left untreated.

The problem with aggressive tank mates is there’s no way they can be escaped. In the wild, if a fish is acting aggressive, your betta can choose to either swim away or fight. In a tank, there’s no where he can swim too.

Sudden Changes To The Water Conditions

You should also be aware of sudden changes in the water conditions. Slowly deteriorating water causes low stress, but when the water shifts quickly it can often shock your betta, or stress him so much he’ll die.

There are a number of different causes that can change the water conditions in your tank. You may have introduced something into the aquarium on purpose (such as a new decoration) or by accident (accidentally spraying chemicals into the water). Whichever it is, you’ll need to act quickly to sort the situation out.

A sudden change in the nitrogen cycle may cause ammonia poisoning in your betta, and if there was a sudden swing in temperature, your betta could also suffer from temperature shock as well!

As well as introducing an agent of change, sometimes it’s beyond your control completely. For example, if your heater breaks then then this could cause a sudden change in the water conditions (Especially in 5 gallon tanks, which lose heat quickly. Check out some of the best heaters for 5 gallon tanks, as well as what to do if your heater breaks and you don’t have a spare.)

Illness

Another cause of high/short term stress are illnesses which can either be parasitical, bacterial or fungal in nature. Illnesses are going to be short in nature, and if left untreated they will often become fatal to your betta.

There’s a whole range of different illnesses and diseases that can affect your betta so it’s well worth your time reading up on them. Here are some of the more common illnesses and diseases bettas can suffer from.

Turquoise Betta

What Are The Symptoms Of A Stressed Betta Fish?

The symptoms of stress in bettas are vast, and some of them may also be natural behavior. That’s why you should get to know your betta and how he acts, so you can realise when there’s something stressing him out. Here are the most common symptoms of stress in betta fish.

In short…

The most common symptoms of stress include a lack of color, skittish swimming behavior, hiding in the tank, and a general lack of confidence in their swimming. You can normally remedy stress, by providing more hiding places, changing the water frequently, and feeding them high quality betta pellets!

(I’d highly recommend these pellets for your betta, and here’s a helpful feeding guide for bettas as well!)

1. He Just Seems Off

One of the first signs of a stressed betta is that they just seem off. Maybe they aren’t swimming as much as they used to before. Or perhaps they’re not personality is different. Whatever it is, he just won’t be the same.

Spotting this early is one of the best ways to remove the cause of stress before it gets worse.

2. Lack Of Appetite

Another sign is a lack of appetite. When your betta loses his appetite you know there’s something wrong. they’re incredibly gutty so it takes a lot to put them off their food.

However, don’t take a lack of appetite as a sign they are stressed alone. It often means a lot of things including your betta may be sick, constipated or perhaps even depressed.

If you’re trying to diagnose stress in your betta then a lack of appetite should be an accompanying symptom.

3. More Prone To Disease

If your betta has become sick then it’s probably because he’s stressed. A lot of people think that disease causes stress when actually stress causes disease. Stress will weaken your bettas immune system making them more prone to infection.

So if you notice your betta has become sick then as well as treating the sickness, you should also look for what’s causing your betta to be stressed in the first place, such as poor water quality, aggressive tank mates etc.

4. Skittish Swimming Behavior

It’s normal for your betta to dart around the tank every once and a while. But if you notice your betta constantly darting around or any other skittish swimming behavior then you should figure out the cause behind it.

Most likely it will be because he’s scared of other tank mates, but it could also be something in the tank or outside the tank that’s putting him on edge.

As well as skittish swimming behavior you may also notice him: rubbing and crashing into rocks, clamping his fins, darting to the bottom of the tank, and rubbing against the gravel.

(If you notice your betta swimming erratically then here are some common signs. It’s also important to recognise some common behaviors you can spot in your betta before death, too!)

5. Hiding

Another sign of stress is hiding. Every once in a while your betta will hide away and that’s fine. However, if you notice him spending most of his time hiding away rather than swimming then there’s something wrong.

You’ll need to figure out whether the fact he’s hiding is because of bullying, or because of some threat he sees (even if you realise it isn’t a threat).

6. Change In Color

You may also notice a change in the color of your betta. Instead of being his usual vibrant and colorful self, your betta may begin to become duller or more pale.

He’ll look a lot paler and won’t catch your eye as much when he’s swimming around.

However, a loss of color can also occur when your betta is depressed, and in rarer cases, when he’s suffering from hole in the head.

(Find out all the reasons your betta might be losing color.)

7. Jumping Out Of The Tank

Hopefully, it won’t come to this, but if the water conditions in your tank are stressing them out too much, then it could cause them to end up jumping out of the tank.

Sadly if they fall too far, this will be fatal, but if you catch them quickly enough, you can put them back in, and save them!

8. Lethargy

You may also notice that your betta is a lot more lethargic than they used to be. They’re not longer swimming around the tank anymore, but instead they’re just staying in one spot. Perhaps, they’ve even lost interest in their food as well.

9. Clamped Fins

When bettas are stressed especially due to sickness, it can cause them to clamp their fins. This is because they’re tensed up, and can’t relax their body. If you noticed clamped fins, especially with laboured or fast breathing, then you know something is definitely wrong.

10. Rubbing Against Objects In The Tank

If you notice that your betta is rubbing against things in the tank, then they could be suffering with a skin infection or parasite that is stressing them out. As well as this, look for other signs of a parasite like white spots, yellow dust, or lesions.

11. Stress Stripes

And lastly, you may also notice stripes along his skin that are a different color. These are commonly referred to as stress stripes. Stress stripes can either be light or dark depending on the color of your betta, and they’ll run horizontally along their body.

Don’t mistake them with breeding stripes that occur on female betta fish, and run vertically along their body.

12. Ripped Fins

When your betta’s fins are ripped it’s going to cause stress to their body. It can also be cause by fin rot which will also weaken their immune system. Neither of which are good.

In some cases, however, bettas can become so stressed that they rip their own fins, which is known as tail-biting. You may even notice huge chunks of their fins being ripped off overnight

13. Slow Growth

If you have a juvenile betta, or a betta that hasn’t matured fully yet, you may even notice they’re not growing as quick as they should. If the stress is left untreated, it can actually stunt their growth and they may never reach full size.

14. Glass Surfing

If you notice your betta gliding up and down the tank’s glass like they’re trying to escape, then they’re glass surfing. This is another clear sign of stress that needs to be addressed quickly.

Grey Betta

How To Help A Stressed Betta Fish

Now that you know some of the most common causes of stress in betta fish and what the symptoms are, you’re going to want to know how to treat them effectively as well!

Remember, it’s important that you figure out the cause of the stress ASAP and address it straight away. Here are some of the most common ways you can treat stressed bettas.

1. Frequent Water Changes

Obviously water changes are going to stress your betta a little bit. But not changing the water is going to stress him out a lot more.

You should perform water changes once every week or two weeks depending on the size of the tank. This is going to reduce the amount of ammonia and nitrates in the tank, making it more hospitable for your betta.

The cleaner environment is going to stop your betta suffering from long term stress.

2. Use A Better Filter

Going hand in hand with frequent water change is having a better filter. Filter’s act as a way to keep your tank water clean when you’re not around to do it.

They are a lot less invasive than performing water changes, which is why they’re so good at keeping your betta stress free!

Just make sure that your filter isn’t going to produce a current, or your betta won’t like it.

(Find out just how important filters are to your betta.)

3. Checking The Temperature

As well as making sure the water is clean, you also need to make sure the temperature is staying constant. Depending on the size of your tank, where it’s placed in your house, etc the temperature may be fluctuating.

Fluctuation in temperature is one of the things that will really stress your betta out. In fact, when the temperature drops too quickly and too low, it can even shock your bettas system so much that he’ll die.

Remember ideally bettas need a temperature of 78°F, however, anything between 76-80°F will work

(Find out more about temperature shock in bettas.)

4. Remove Any Aggressive Fish

Your betta is already aggressive so the last thing you need is to add him with other aggressive fish. If you notice a fish being consistently aggressive towards your betta then you’ll need to remove them from the tank.

Even if your betta is fighting back he’s still going to be stressed out.

Likewise, if you notice your betta constantly attacking other fish then to stop all the fish from stressing you should move him to another tank.

(If you’re not sure how to properly keep your betta with other tank mates, then check out the e-book detailing how to make it work, and 65 great tank mates for your betta!)

In the mean time though, some tank mates that normally work well with bettas include shrimps, snails, corydoras catfish, and some tetras like neon tetras.

5. A Lot Of Hiding Places

One of the best things you can do to stop your betta from being stressed is to provide him with a lot of hiding spaces. Hiding spaces are vital a helping keeping your betta relaxed.

They provide him with places where he can rest without fear of being attacked and also make him feel safe if he’s beginning to feel stressed.

Some good hiding places are plants and caves as well as various decorations.

6. Provide High-Quality Food

If you’re giving your betta food which isn’t high-quality then his immune system is going to suffer. And a weakened immune system is obviously going to stress him out.

When choosing high-quality food you should have a mix of high-quality betta pellets, as well as live and frozen food!

(Here are the best live foods you can feed your betta fish!)

7. Give Your Betta Enough Space

Your betta is going to need a minimum of 5 gallons to be happy and stress free. However, bigger is always betta. You may have heard that bettas can survive in small tanks even 2.5 gallons in size. And this is true. However, survive and live happily are two different things.

If you want your betta to be happy and stress free then stick to at least a 5 gallon tank.

(These are the best 5 gallon tanks you can purchase for your betta. My personal favourite is the Fluval Spec V 5 Gallon.)

8. Turn The Aquarium Lights Off

By turning the aquarium lights off you’re giving your betta so many more places he can hide. This will help reduce his stress massively. On top of this, turning the lights off will also reduce the chance of him seeing his own reflection and flaring at it, which will slowly stress him.

9. Try API Stress Coat

API Stress Coat is used to help calm fish down, thanks to the aloe vera added to it that will soothe your fish. I always use it instead of water conditioner, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for keeping your betta happy, healthy and stress free!

10. Try Aquarium Salt

If you don’t have any API Stress coat, you can also add some aquarium salt to your tank as well. This is going to be great for treating some infections such as mild fin rot, however, it can also improve your bettas immune system overall.

Many hobbyists add aquarium salt to their tanks as a preventative measure.

11. Add Indian Almond Leaves

Indian Almond leaves are great in fish tanks as they’re going to reduce stress in fish. Not only this but they also contain antibacterial and antifungal properties which means, they’ll help stop your fish from getting sick in the future as well!

12. Make Sure You’re Tank Is Cycled

If you’ve just put your betta into a new tank, then it may not have cycled properly. You should ensure that you’re cycling the tank beforehand if possible. However if your betta is already in the tank check the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels.

If the ammonia and nitrite are above 0ppm, and the nitrate is above 20ppm, then you’ll need to perform a water change. As well as this, you should also add an ammonia remover to the so the ammonia can’t harm your betta.

You’ll then need to monitor the water parameters in the fish tank regularly over the next few weeks, performing water changes when the ammonia levels spike too much, until they stabilize.

13. Make Sure You’re Using A Water Conditioner

You should also make sure you’re using a water conditioner every time you add new water to the tank. Tap water often contains chlorine, chloramine and heavy metals that will stress your betta out and potentially even kill them.

White And Pink Betta

What Are The Best Medications To Help Stress?

If you want to help your betta, there are a few different types of medications you can use as a preventative to soothe them! My top rated one has to be API Stress Coat, however, any of the following are great:

API Stress Coat: API Stress coat is a water conditioner which also contains ingredients such as aloe vera which help soothe your betta and any other fish in the tank

Seachem Betta Basics: Seachem betta basics has been made with your betta in mind, so you should definiltey consider adding it to the tank, to help aid their slime coat growth.

Seachem Stress Guard: Seachem Stress Guard will help your betta by improving their slime coat and improving the water quality in the tank.

Aquarium Salt: While a lot of people think aquarium salt should only be use for treatment, it can also be used as a preventative measure when added to the tank in small enough dosages.

Seachem Garlic Guard: I recently found out that garlic actually helps your betta’s appetite. One way you can help them feel less stressed is by ensuring they’re eating enough.

Medication

Sometimes your betta will be suffering with an illness or disease, that requires actual medication. Make sure you never use these in your main tank and instead, move your betta to a quarantine tank.

Methylene Blue: Methylene blue is commonly used to treat fungus and bacteria. You’ll need to perform dips for 5-10 minutes for it to work successfully (Always read the instructions first).

API Melafix: API Melafix is great for bettas who have ripped fins or other mild cases of fin rot, as it helps prevent bacteria from growing in the tank.

How To Tell If Your Betta Is Stressed Or Happy?

If you notice your betta is slowly swimming round the tank, has vibrant colors, eats well, and it isn’t afraid to lounge in the open, then he’s happy. If you’re noticing the opposite behavior, then he’s stressed.

Is Stress Fatal To Betta Fish?

On a long enough timeframe stress will be fatal to your betta fish. It will slowly weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to illness and disease, which will eventually result in death.

How Long Will Your Stressed Betta Need To Recover?

Once you’ve removed all the stressors for your betta, they should recover from stress in a couple of weeks. However, if they are also suffering from an illness due to stress, it could be longer.

Are Betta Fish Stressed After A Water Change?

If you’re performing small water changes and conditioner the water beforehand, then your betta shouldn’t be too stressed. However, it’s always a good idea to turn the lights off after to help them feel more relaxed and hidden.

Why Is Your Betta Freaking Out After A Water Change?

When bettas freak out after a water change it could be that the parameters of the new water are different. The temperature or pH could be higher or lower, or there could be chlorine in it still.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if you’re treating your betta right and providing him with the necessary care, then the chances of him becoming stressed are low.

If you do notice your betta appears stressed then you should act immediately to fix whatever the problem is. When you do that, your betta will live a long life.

Wondering where you can find a complete guide on Betta fish care?

About the author

Hey! I'm Antonio!

Betta fish keeper for over 6 years now! Since owning a betta I've also housed all kinds of tropical fish, and have seen all manner of problems and how to look after them!

If you need any advice you can always message me or better yet join the Facebook group where a community can answer your questions!

9 thoughts on “Stressed Betta Fish Guide (Symptoms, Causes, Treatments)”

  1. I just bout two bettas home two days ago. One is a gold plakat and the other is a Red Dragon Half Moon. I think both are boys?….. The shop people gave them to us in a container the size of maybe a litre bottle. It has enough stones on the bottom and a water lettuce. But my suspicion set in when they told me I just had to clean the small tank once in maybe 2 months or maybe 3. They told me to feed them just once a day with just one pellet. They gave us the osaki betta fish pellets and told us the same. Is that true? What steps can I take to ensure my bettas are happy? I am thinking about ordering a bigger tank, but there is a slight delay. What other measure can I undertake? The gold plakat seems really calm except for the occasional darts but he seems happy and fine. But the Dragon just seems to freak out a bit when I go near him. I know they don’t do well with intense lighting, so I am going to keep them away from it as much as possible. But that just doesn’t feel like it. I don’t know if I’m seeing things, but in my mind, I think the Dragon wad a bit more vibrant in colour till yesterday. Now he just seems a bit dull. Should I be doing something? I’m concerned. Pls do clear my doubt about the cleaning procedure and the feeding habits.

    • Definitely get a bigger tank I’d use a 10 gallon for two I have one male he’s a veil and he’s happy in a 6.5 gallon tank I feed him twice a day frozen brine shrimp one in the morning and once at night he’s on a schedule so he knows when it’s time to eat. But only one pellet is way too little food for them.. also keep the tank at 80 degrees and I clean my tank once a week smaller tanks get dirty quick they are more prone to disease if it’s dirty .. I’m currently treating my boy for Popeye I was only cleaning his tank once a month now I’ve decided once a week will help with this feel free to message me with any questions

  2. I just brought home a betta yesterday. He’s small, just a baby, probably around 6 months old if that. I noticed this morning he has stress stripes. I’m hoping it’s just from going to a vase that the fish store had him in to a giant 10 gallon tank with tons of decorations and tannins in the water (I have a piece of driftwood). Do you think it would be helpful to do a 25% water change? The tank was set up about a week ago and I did put cleaning bacteria in it to speed up the nitrogen cycle.

    • Hi Jessica, you need to check the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels every day in the beginning as they can fluctuate massively (and potentially even give your betta ammonia poisoning). If any of the levels are too high, then perform a water change and add some API Ammo Lock into your tank. However, if all the levels are fine, just leave the water and give your betta some more time to settle in!

  3. My betta fish just got stuck in a seashell,and luckily we got him out, is it normal for my betta to be stressed after this incident?

    • It’s perfectly normal for your betta to become stressed after this, you should turn the lights off for a few hours to help calm him down.

  4. Hi
    I need help!!
    My betta has suddenly started to hide and I see white dots on his fin.
    His fin is slightly ripped.
    What is going on with him?

    • It sounds like it could be columnaris or fin rot. In both cases, you should perform water changes, isolate your betta, and if necessary dose with an antibiotic

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