I can't figure out what's wrong with my betta fish.

  • #1
I bought a betta fish from Walmart back in March of this year and he has been fairly healthy this entire time. I keep him in a glass fish bowl that is less than a gallon (I believe, I don't know much about the fish bowl other than it's a regular looking fish bowl.) He has never seemed to have issues.
I went to work the other day and apparently my very young niece and nephew came into my room and dumped his entire container of food in his bowl. My sister and her husband immediately changed his water, they mentioned he had been eating and seemed fine when they got to him. So they cleaned out his bowl and used jug water they have delivered to them, they tried to make sure it wasn't too cold although I don't know how successful that was, and put him in a small, plastic, kitchen bowl. My sister went to check on him a few hours later and he was lying at the bottom of the bowl breathing very heavily. I started out by buying some preconditioned, room temperature betta water from Walmart and switching the water and putting him back in his original bowl. I also read that keeping them warm is important but don't have a heater so I've kept his bowl under a lamp. I checked on him quite a bit that night and had to keep re-situating because he would breathe so heavily it moved him onto his back and he would flail his fins, but couldn't fix himself. It's extremely heartbreaking to watch. He is acting paralyzed, but can move his fins. Even when I take him out of the water to switch bowls he doesn't move, just breathes.
The next day I noticed his color was fading, he seems to be missing scales on his side, white fungus is growing on him, and parts of his tail are coming off. I expected the worst and assumed he would pass that night, but woke up today and he's still alive.
I went to Petsmart and bought some Bettafix, put the right amount in there and left it for a few hours but ended up changing his water again because my boyfriend tried feeding him the day before and I read that uneaten food turns into ammonia. When I changed the water again I used about 25% of a jug of room temperature spring water (I didn't use much water so that if for some reason he can move himself to get air, it would be easier on him,) and one of the Bettasafe Kit Fizz Tablet Water Conditioners. I let it completely dissolve before putting him in the water. Now he seems to be breathing a little less heavy, but still flailing his fins in attempt to move. He truly seems paralyzed and I'm not sure how he could get air or even eat. I've been fasting him since the incident, although when my boyfriend tried feeding him he never attempted to eat. I've also lifted him twice in the last two days for half a second so he could get air.
I know absolutely nothing about betta fish, the ammonia/nitrate things, the diseases, any of it. I got him because I liked him and figured he would be easy to take care of so if anything I've done seems wrong, please try to be understanding and compassionate with your response. I feel terrible about how sick he seems and want nothing more than for his recovery. I should also add that I am extremely broke at the moment so a trip to the vet or crazy expensive aquariums/heaters/etc aren't doable at the moment..
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
  • #2
HI allisonrose4513. I feel your pain, this is kind of how I slipped into fishkeeping 3 months ago. There are a couple of things that are absolutely required for housing and caring for a betta fish and unfortunately it currently seems as if you’ve got almost none of them at hand. From reading so many things online over the past months, this appears to be a common situation too and many big and small pet stores do little to nothing to ameliorate this.

So first of all, your fish is terribly stressed at the moment, which has lowered his immune system, which makes him more susceptible to bad water conditions, which in turn leads to illnesses. That’s why he went pale, too. When my betta got sick, the first sign was that he stopped eating. It would have been a very good predictor of things to come if I had just known what I was doing at the time. You were right to take out the uneaten food, as it turns toxic quickly if left in the water. Once he’s better, he’ll be eating again, so don’t worry too much about him starving at the moment.

Ok, things you need to fix him, I’ll just make a list of stuff with annotations. You’ll need some money though, I’d say around $30 maybe?:

You need to always and only use conditioned water that has chloramines and chlorides removed. I don’t know anything about the fizz tablets you’re using, I tried looking them up but only briefly. I think overdosing in a small bowl like yours might be an issue, so be careful with that. I am using seachems’s prime and for my current tank, I only need about 0.3ml, which is silly to dose. I got a syringe for that now, I think I’ve overdosed terribly in the past.

I think you’ve done too many and too big water changes if I read that correctly, which can be avoided by using a gravel vacuum to only suction off the junk you want to remove. I guess you could use any old tubey-thing and suck on one end whilst putting the other end in the water and then let gravity do its magic and syphon the water off to a bucket below the level of the fish bowl. You should never do 100% water changes anyway as that stresses the fish too much (I assume it’s got in part to do with osmosis, where the fish’s internal make-up is in balanced to the environment he’s in)

I’ve got a floating thing called betta log and I am only feeding my betta through the hole in the top, so that I can just take the log out once he’s done and clean out the remaining food without disturbing the whole tank.

Other than that, water chemistry is a turd. You NEED a test kit to stay on top of that. Liquid kits are best, last longer than strips, but are more expensive upfront. You need to check ammonium, nitrite and nitrate levels at least. pH is also important and you should also test your tap water to see what comes out of the wall to makes sense of what goes on in the bowl. In an uncycled tank like yours, the most important thing to look out for currently is ammonia. Everything above 0.25ppm is bad for your fish. The seachem prime stuff () not only conditions the water, but also neutralizes the ammonia and nitrate for a day or 2 before you need to do a partial water change with conditioned water. Get it I’d say.

Other than that, a cycled tank is what you need, but you can’t buy that, you need to develop that over time. There is good info on this forum here about the nitrogen cycle and I guess you’ve got loads to read up on now

A filter is required to stay on top of the water quality, but I’d say currently with your tight budget, partial water changes (WC’s) every 2-3 days will need to suffice.

This is absolutely necessary, unless you live in a very hot climate. Keep in mind that even in a hot climate, the water will always be cooler than the room temperature. Which leads to a THERMOMETER, which you need to ensure that the water temp is ideally somewhere between 78° and 80° F, never below 74.
Unfortunately, heaters are also pretty expensive. You’re in the US, right? I found one on . You should be able to find a cheap stick-on thermometer for under $4 on amazon as well.

A fish bowl isn’t suitable for many reasons and there’s tons of info on this available online, but I guess fixing this is further down the importance list at the moment. You could even get a large (>5 gallon) clear plastic / sterilite box that's food-safe that would be more suitable in the interI'm than a tiny fish bowl. They are cheap too.

Bettas like to hide. Live water plants are best, but anything smooth and silky (as not to tear the delicate fins) would be fine. Also a terracotta plant pot (not painted), thoroughly cleaned (NEVER USE SOAP) placed on its side can also be used instead of expensive deco for the fish to swim in and out of. Be vary of sharp edges. Gravel is good because with time, beneficial bacteria can stick to it. Don't over-do it, it takes away actual water space for swimming around from the tank.

I hope someone else on the forum can say more about treating particular health issues. My betta had fin rot and ich and what helped in the end wasn’t expensive medication, but frequent partial water changes, increased heat (above the normal ideal temp) and some aquarium salt (there is controversy around the latter though). I know this sounds vague and it frustrated me back then too, but it's honestly the best and most important you can do at the moment!

By the way, I managed to save my fish, which was really honestly almost dead twice. Bettas are amazing. All the best and good luck.
  • #3
Take a frozen pea. Run it under warm water until the shell comes off. Cut a very small piece and see if your betta will eat it.

I think this might be a case of keep him warm and keep the water clean and see what happens.

Get a turkey baster, just for the betta, and use it to remove waste and do water changes.

Take some of your water to the pet store and ask them to test it for you. It's not very accurate but better than nothing.

While you're there, buy a thermometer. Digital is MUCH better IMO, but cheap is fine. You need to know your temperature.

If you can buy Prime, I would.

If you can buy a heater, I would. Check Petsmart, when I was in last weekend they had small National Geographic heaters on clearance.

I agree with what dkm says, but I'm giving you the bare bones of where I would start.

I believe that you're supposed to change the water every other day for a bowl, but I absolutely believe that the sooner you can get a bigger tank--bare minimum is 2.5, but 5 is better--the better off your betta will be. Sponge filters are easy to make and are usually cheap, and can easily fit in a small tank. Youtube is a great resource for that.
Aquaphobia, I'm sorry to bug you, but what would you suggest?
  • #4
I'd be concerned that the"small plastic kitchen bowl" they put him in may have had soap residue. Beyond everything that Mothercrow mentioned (which is great advice) it would be detergents and other household chemicals possibly on the bowl that I would be worried about. Just keep doing water changes and dose with Prime or whatever water conditioner you have on hand.
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
I know, that's what I was thinking too. He was in that bowl for several hours. Her dishwasher definitely leaves residue on things.
I ended up getting paid and bought a 2.5 aquarium with a filter, some gravel as opposed to the smooth glass stones I had, and a moss ball. I was thinking about filling the aquarium and setting it up, putting a fizz tablet in there, letting it run while I went to work tonight and then placing him in there. Although I feel bad if I do because I don't want to stress him out more. For now I put the moss ball in his current bowl with him because I read it can provide oxygen and really improves water conditions and helps with bacteria. I also plan to buy peas but how do I go about feeding him with how lethargic he is? He really doesn't move anything but his fins and his gills. He hasn't even moved from the position I put him in last night when I changed the water, though he's seriously attempted. His breathing seems a lot easier this morning though.
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
And no luck on the heater, I really wanted to buy one but they were out and the cheapest was over $20.
  • #7
I wouldn't bother feeding him peas, I don't think that constipation is his problem. That's great that you got him a bigger tank! Do you have water conditioner? I would treat the water (if it's Prime you only need to add 5 drops to a 2.5 gallon tank) and move him in immediately.

  • #8
I don't know if it helps, but I was considering this heater for my small tank.

It would take longer to get to you, but it's adjustable.
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  • #9
I really do feel bad if I don't feed him though. He hasn't eaten in four days. How long can they go without food?
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  • #10
I have Bettasafe Fizz Tablet Conditioner. I set up the tank and put one in there, I'm gonna wait for it to dissolve and then move the moss ball in there too. Could I also add the Bettafix for his fin rot/fungus or is that too much stuff in his water? I don't want to do anything that could exacerbate the problems he has.
  • #11
I recommend getting a different water conditioner. The fizz tabs only treat 2 gallons each plus they're very expensive compared to something like Prime.

Personally I wouldn't use Bettafix. The active ingredient isn't really a medication that's been proven to work on anything plus it's easy to overdose because fish with labyrinth organs like Bettas are sensitive to it.
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
I put a heater in a few hours ago and he still seems pretty bad. His eyes are black now, I can't even see his pupils well anymore and parts of his tail are just breaking off. Still not moving anything but his fins and gills. I tried to feed him with my hand and I think he managed to get a few bites, I'm leaving a few small pieces at the bottom near him in case he can move himself enough to eat it. I feel like he's just suffering. This is so awful.
  • #13
If there was soap residue in the bowl there may be no way to save him I'm afraid. I would try doing multiple water changes with dechlorinater each time to try to flush him clean but I wouldn't feed him and I recommend removing the pellets you left for him. They will only break down and foul the water.
  • Thread Starter
  • #14
Woke up to find him on the opposite side of the tank, he's finally starting to be able to move himself again. He even managed to swim up once but then nosedived back down. I think he's getting better. Full water changes? I still don't have a good way to do partial changes or take out the food I put in.
  • #15
I just purchased a turkey baster at Target for $2.99. They really are an inexpensive way to clean up waste in a small aquarium, and I have every intention of using it for water changes in my 2.5 gallon quarantine tank.
  • #16
I picked up a couple turkey basters at the dollar store
  • #17
^^ I looked, I couldn't find them, but I'll look again. ^^
  • #18
Meh. $3 isn't that much more than $1

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