My betta fish might be starving?

  • #1
hello, i'm new to the forums but i'd like some help. i think my betta might be starving; or, if he's not starving, i don't know what's wrong with him.

my betta [his name is recycling; it's a long story] has had a difficult time in the last couple of weeks. my dad purchased him from the store and housed him in a tank with tetras. the tetras began biting his fins, and so his fins are bitten up because of that. because of the tetras, my dad let me remove him from the tetra tank and place him in a temporary 2.5 gal while i got a more permanent 5 gal. because of renovations going on in the house, he had to remain in the 2.5 gal for a week or so. this is where things became more difficult.

despite the tetras biting him up and my dad feeding him generic [tropical?] fish flakes, he seemed to do ok in the tetra tank. when i moved him to the 2.5 gal he seemed ok for the first night. then he stopped eating. the 2.5 gal tank wasn't cycled because it was an emergency to remove him from the tetra tank [his fins were all bitten up]. i tried giving him the flakes he ate in the tetra tank, then betta flakes, then betta pellets, but i never saw him eating except for that first night.

he was in the 2.5 gal for a week or so and then i moved him to the 5 gal. the 5 gal was also not cycled, but at that point i didn't know what to do because i was afraid the 2.5 gal was killing him. i've been monitoring water conditions in the 5 gal and they seem ok [i don't have a nitrite kit but i have an ammonia kit, and ammonia is 0-0.25mg/L, temperature is 78 F, and the tank is heated and filtered] and he's improved a bit. in the 2.5 gal he had lost some color [looked a bit grey] and he didn't swim much, remaining in one spot and not moving. in the 5 gal he regained some color [looking greenish the first day and darker green / royal blue the second and third day] and is swimming a bit more. i also got him freeze dried bloodworms and he had half a bloodworm the second day and a full bloodworm the third day.

but despite doing a bit better, i think he might be dying. i think maybe he's starving? he's very thin [i don't know how fat bettas are meant to be, but he looks very thin]. he seems to want to eat but has difficulty eating, and i've not seen him eat except for the [soaked in tank water] freeze dried bloodworms which i have to beg him to eat by holding them to his mouth with tweezers. he seems hungry but weak; i have to cut the bloodworms into littler bites otherwise they're too big / too difficult for him to eat. his bite, too, seems weak.

he ate the 1/2 bloodworm the second day [last night] and seemed better the third day [this morning]. he was swimming more and had blown a bit of a bubble nest. when i held the bloodworm with the tweezers this morning he seemed hungry and swam up and bit it without much difficulty [an improvement]. but then, when he'd eaten the bloodworm, it was like he was in pain? he kind of curved his back into an s shape, and when he had a bit more bloodworm a couple minutes later he curved into a c. it's very worrying to me that he might be in pain because of eating.

i don't think he's constipated [he's so thin, but maybe he is constipated?] or has swim bladder problems [like i said, he's thin not bloated], but should i attempt to do something for those? should i give him a pea? should i keep giving him bloodworms? i'm going to offer the bloodworms morning and night, but should i offer them midday as well?

sorry this post is so long but i'm worried about him.

EDIT: he's now floating on his side [a new problem] and is having difficulty swimming because of that, maybe because of swim bladder [despite not being bloated?] or maybe because of the lingering s shape in his back. please help.
  • #2
Seems like your betta is already weak and close to dying. The 5g also needs to cycle so that's more problems...

What's the 5g setup like? Heated water + airstone + darkness + dripping in fresh water everyday is probably your best bet for recovery. Although chances seem slim :(
Rose of Sharon
  • #3

So sorry that your betta boy is having so many problems! If you can post a few pics, that would help. We would be able to see how thin he is, and see what you mean by his being in an a S shape. (maybe nitrite poisoning, but that is a guess without more info)

Is he pooping at all? The problem with freeze dried blood worms is that they tend to cause swim bladder issues sometimes, especially in bettas.

I would try soaking some foods in garlic juice before feeding him. You could try giving him some pellets or even flakes after you have soaked them. Garlic juice is often used for picky eaters, and it gives the fish an immune system boost.

I would also start doing small water changes every other day (about 20 to 30%) in case there is a water quality issue. Do you use water conditioner? Seachem Prime is a great one to use, especially when doing a fish-in cycle, which is what is going on. Prime conditioner will hold the toxicity of ammonia and nitrites and make it safe for fish. If you are not sure how this works, then you can do a search about the nitrogen cycle and read all about it.

Also, if you could get a freshwater test kit that will test for not only ammonia, but also nitrite, nitrate, and ph, that would let you know what is going on as far as the cycle is concerned, in both the betta's tank and the tetras' tank (in case that one is not cycled, either).

Hope this helps!!!
  • Thread Starter
  • #4
@Cherryshrimp420 thanks for the reply

- the water's heated to 78 F. there's a whisper micro filter that was new with the tank. i've had the led light on but i'll turn it off.

- :(

@Rose of Sharon thanks for the reply as well

- i'm not good with tech but i'll attempt to attach a video and some screen shots from the video. EDIT: it wouldn't let me attach the video. sorry if the screen shots are bad i'm not good with tech, like i said. but you should be able to see how thin he is [he looks very very thin in person] as well as the s shape [more like a z shape i guess].

- i don't know if he's pooping. how do i know if he is or not?

- i'll stop giving him the bloodworms, then, and will attempt to give him the betta pellets or betta flakes in garlic.

- i've been measuring the ammonia in the tank, but will get a freshwater test kit. i was going to do water changes based on the ammonia, but i'll do the water changes every other day, then. i do use a water conditioner, though it's not seachem prime. it's top fin.

- i would guess that the tetra tank is cycled, because though the tetras are new, it's my dad's established tank that's been established for years.


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Rose of Sharon
  • #5
I am so sorry that he is having so much trouble!!!

After seeing the pics, I can say that there are a few things that can cause the s shaped spine. Scoliosis comes to mind, nitrite poisoning, swim bladder issues, and the worst of all, fish tb.

There is nothing that can be done about scoliosis. It will be a permanent issue, but bettas can live with that.

Nitrite poisoning can be treated with water changes and aquarium salt. Usually they have trouble breathing if they have nitrite poisoning. The only way to know if this is the case is to test your water for nitrites, but you have done water changes since then. It will take some time for him to recover if this is the case.

Swim bladder issues would have him not able to stay afloat, or either would have him not able to maintain his balance below the surface of the water. He could have an injury to his swim bladder which would affect him the same way. If it is caused by an infection, some antibiotics might help, but that doesn't always work.

Fish tb is also known as wasting disease because the fish become so thin. The infection is caused by a bacteria that is found in almost all aquariums, and is very slow progressing. The infection gets into the spine which is what causes the deformity. If he has this, then he could have been infected when you got him, and he had no symptoms at that time. The only way to confirm this is to have a necropsy done after he passes, and that is usually only done by people who are breeders in order to protect their stock. I am not saying that is what he has, but I did write an article about it. I will post the link below, if you want to read it. There really is nothing that can be done, unfortunately, if this is the case. It would be better to euthanize him, as his condition will only worsen.

Wasting Disease/Fish TB

I do hope this helps!!!!
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
sorry for not getting back before!

i'd like to say that tentatively, recycling [my betta!] is doing better. thank you @Rose of Sharon for your additional response and the information about recycling's s shaped spine. thanks for the article as well!

weirdly, though, his spine is... doing better, now? i thought, on the 15th, that the shape of his spine might be a pain response to eating. i'm thinking now that it was; a response, maybe, to bowel pain from eating the freeze dried bloodworms. recycling had the s shape all of the 15th. then on the 16th, the shape was gone.

the 16th, he ate betta flakes 2x, in the morning and night. he seemed better than he had been. he's been swimming more and more.

today, the 17th, he ate betta flakes in the morning and i'm tentatively certain that he'll eat them tonight as well, because his appetite seems better. his strength seems better as well.

the remaining problems, then, are

1. his fins need growing back [nothing to do there, i think?]

2. he's in a fish-in cycle [i've been looking for a freshwater test kit, and continuing to test ammonia levels in the meantime; i did a 20%-30% water change on the 16th and will do them every other day like you said]

3. he's very thin.


4. his eyesight might be poor. he seems to have difficulty targeting his betta flakes, not enough to stop him eating, but enough that it's noticeable. i don't know if that's because of his low weight, or if he does indeed have poor eyesight.

below are attached photos [sorry for the poor photo quality!] demonstrating that he's very thin and needs fattening up [poor boy :(] and that the s shape is no longer in his spine.

he no longer floats on his side as well, so i think he was doing that because he was in pain, or maybe because of weakness due to his low weight.

thanks so much for your help!


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Rose of Sharon
  • #7
Wow, he does look better!

Good job!!!! :)

HIs fins will get better with time. The frequent water changes are really going to help a lot.

I would recommend adding some daphnia to his diet. You can get frozen daphnia from some pet stores. It acts like a natural laxative, and is very good for bettas. It will keep things moving and provide an excellent source of protein. Frozen blood worms are good, too (stay away from the freeze dried).

The flakes can also cause some issues with bloat, so hopefully, you can soak those a bit before feeding to avoid those complications. There are some really good pellet foods out there too, that are high in protein and low in fillers (Omega One Buffet, North Fin betta pellets, New Life Spectrum).

It is best to add weight slowly, as too much food will cuase digestive issues. As long as he is eating, he will beef up!

About his eye sight, some bettas do tend to have poor eye sight. Many are really near sighted, and I have found as they age, their eye sight can deminish.

I am really happy that he is doing so much better!!!! Again, you are really doing a great job with him!
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
thanks, @Rose of Sharon!

update sunday, 12/19/21.

the 18th was more down than up, sadly. recycling is doing better than he was when he was in the 2.5 gal, and i'm glad to have moved him to the 5 gal. but on the morning of the 18th he was back to side swimming after he ate.

i think the betta flakes are the cause of the side swimming. i think i might be overfeeding him the betta flakes.

additionally, like i said [and you said, rose!] his vision is most likely poor. because of this, he tends to miss his food and i think the missing means that he gulps air into his belly.

because he was side swimming after eating the morning of the 18th, i fasted him the night of the 18th. fasting him seemed to help.

the 18th i also did a 20%-30% water change. i tested ammonia levels before and after the water change, and levels seemed a bit high [0.50ppm before; 0.25ppm-0.50ppm after].

the morning of the 19th, this morning, i gave him frozen bloodworms [thawed with tank water]. there's been no side swimming today, so i'll likely switch from betta flakes to betta pellets. i'm hoping the betta pellets will cause less side swimming and he won't gulp as much air into his belly.

the betta pellets i have now are kyorin betta bio-gold. they're 38% crude protein, and if you're interested i'll list the other percentages below in a spoiler.
crude protein min 38.0%
crude fat min 4.0%
crude fiber max 3.0%
moisture max 10.0%
ash max 12.0%
phosphorus min 0.7%

because of his difficulties with feeding, i'm thinking of doing a feeding schedule based on one i read about online. if you're interested, i'll list that in a spoiler as well.
i'll likely feed him 2x per day, unless he has more trouble with side swimming [caused by overfeeding]. this feeding schedule is based on the assumption that he'll eat his pellets; i've not tried giving them to him, so i don't know 100% that he'll eat them.

monday betta pellets
tuesday frozen bloodworms
wednesday betta pellets
thursday betta pellets
friday frozen bloodworms
saturday betta pellets
sunday fast for 1 day

today i managed to locate a 5-in-1 test strip, which is tetra brand [a good brand i think]. but, i'm thinking of buying a master test kit online as well, because they don't have any in the stores here.

the 5-in-1 test strip tests for pH, alkalinity, hardness, nitrites, and nitrates. i read in the forums that i shouldn't be too worried about pH, alkalinity, or hardness. the nitrites were 0.50ppm-1.0ppm, and the nitrates were 0.0ppm. ammonia was also 0.50ppm.

because of that, i think i'm going to do a 50% water change today, to attempt to lower nitrite and ammonia levels. i'll test the levels after the water change as well, to check that they're better.

well, that's the update for today! sorry for posting so much, but i just thought i'd give updates until things have leveled out. you don't have to respond if you don't want to, @Rose of Sharon, though i am thankful for your responses! i just don't want you to feel like you have to keep responding because i keep posting!
Rose of Sharon
  • #9
No problem! Glad to read your posts. Just keep those water changes coming so the ammonia and nitrite levels are as low as possible! :)

API freshwater master test kit is great; it lasts a long time, too.
  • #10
I also soak the flakes first. Then they just sink. No gulping air up top. The pellets I have float even after soaking.
  • Thread Starter
  • #11
thanks @StarGirl!

and, sorry! i forgot to mention it before, but i did soak some betta flakes when rose mentioned soaking them. the betta flakes did sink when i soaked them, and at the time i thought that wasn't good, because i didn't think recycling would be able to get the betta flakes once they were on the bottom. i've read about other bettas having difficulty with that, and i know that recycling has difficulty with targeting foods when they're in the process of sinking [likely because the food is moving too much for him to target].

but, if the food is at the bottom, it shouldn't be moving too much.

additionally i have seen him doing what i would call foraging behaviors, where he swims along the bottom of the tank just above the gravel, seemingly looking for food. so maybe it would be better for him to forage along the bottom / gravel. i'll give it a go!
  • #12
you can try garlic juice - just add a drop to food before putting it in the tank
I'd also feed just at same spot so they know where to go
I dip my finger in tank, swoosh, so fish knows it's food time in morning & go to the food spot

I had a red Koi betta with swim issues for 2 years and that was how I adapted her feeding
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
thanks for the response, Debbie1986!

i've begun feeding recycling on the left side of the tank because that's where he swims to when he sees me [bonus: the left side is the side opposite the filter]. recycling seems to think i should give him food whenever i'm near the tank, but, no. poor recycling

here's the update for 12/21/21!

it seems to me that recycling tends to side swim after his night feeding. i've been feeding him 2x per day, in the morning and in the night.

but, in an attempt to avoid the side swimming at night, i think i'm going to stop feeding him at night. hopefully being fed 1x per day will give him more time to digest his food, as well as more time to get rid of the air he might have gulped when feeding.

i did give him the soaked betta flakes, but though he does do "foraging" behaviors, i've noticed he doesn't actually seem to forage. like, he looks at the gravel, but he doesn't bite. i've been looking at the gravel before and after he's been "foraging", and it doesn't look like he's getting any of the food from the bottom. drat

i think i'm going to begin doing a 50% water change every other day, rather than a 20%-30%. it seems like the ammonia and nitrite levels are high, and the levels seem to remain high despite the water changes i've been doing. i've tested before and after water changes, and there isn't a big difference before and after. so i'm hoping the 50% water changes will make the difference.

when i've been testing the water the nitrate level has been 0ppm, but i'm only a week or two into the fish-in cycle so i'm hoping the nitrates will show up within the next number of weeks.

i'd like to give a big thank you to everyone who's commented! it means a lot, and i definitely think your advice has helped me help recycling! thanks a lot!!!

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