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When you look at that fish you think they only need a tiny bowl, right? They live in a cup at the store you bought them at, so a slightly bigger bowl, feeding little pellets every few days and changing water if you remember is perfectly healthy, isn't it? Sadly, it's not, but pet stores make you think otherwise so they make more money. You wouldn't be so inclined to buy a betta if you knew they need supplies that range from fifty to a hundred dollars, at least in Canada.
Does this little guy look happy? Not really. I can tell you the person who bought them likely put them in one of bowls below, advertised at a local shop to be 'everything a betta needs' type of set up. The owners, not to the fault of their own, will keep them like that and that fish may live days or months, but not the five-plus years a betta can with appropriate care. The fish will likely float like this, occasionally darting but not very often with fins clamped and staying pale, like a washed out painting.
Sound familiar to people who have had a betta? That is a sad betta. A betta with a more appropriate set up will rarely rest, they will flare and get angry at things and get very bright in color. My fish never colored up, but I got him the day he entered the store and put him in a tank when I got home with what I am about to outline.
A bowl, unless it is this size in gallons, is not a good vessel for a fish to live in. A betta needs two and a half gallons of water minimum, but honestly, they are much happier in larger. Two and a half gallons of water is the minimum size to cycle an aquarium. Cycling is when bacteria builds up in the filter that changes ammonia in fish waste into nitrites into nitrates, changing the harmful waste from their poop to something they can tolerate much better. Cycling does not mean you do not need to change the water, it just means in between water changes ammonia will not get so high it will harm your fish. Do note that two and a half gallons are not the size of aquarium you need to look for. When you add decorations and substrate for the bottom it decreases the amount of water in the tank by displacement. You also cannot fill the tank up all the way; there needs to be space between the lid and top. I find that a three and a half gallon tank once all that is added will hold three gallons. My first tank was the Top Fin Delight Aquarium and my fish loved it, though he is much more active since I got a larger tank. The lid kept him from jumping out and the filter I found to not be so strong it hurt my betta but able to filter fairly well nonetheless, bringing me to my next point.
Another point to think of is height. Bettas come from rice paddies, stretches of low water than ran for miles. Bettas succeed better in tanks that are much longer than they are tall as they prefer to swim about horizontally and need to reach the surface without getting too tired.
A big part of keeping an aquarium healthy is having a filter. Depending on which you choose they can be noisy, but they are vital to keeping water clean. There are a few different types ranging from hanging-on-back filters to under substrate and many more. When you choose a filter, you need to have one rated for the size of the aquarium and need to think about the suction and flow. If either is too strong, the current will push your fish every which way or they will be sucked against where the water comes in. When they are forced against the filter the suction will rip their fins and if they cannot get off, the betta can drown. Yes, you heard me right, drown. Bettas breathe air and water, so if they cannot reach the surface, they are screwed. It is why we need the space between the lid and water.
This is a big one. Fish, like people, can starve. Feeding only once a week or every few days starves a fish. The image above shows a healthy shape for a fish with examples of over and underfeeding. It is important to feed your fish every day, if not a couple times, unless they are sick or bloated. But besides feeding frequently, what you feed is important too.
There are many different options for feeding including pellets, flakes, dehydrated, frozen, and live. Generally, quality goes in this order as well.
When looking for pellets and flakes, try your best to not buy one that contains flour or other plant-based ingredients. Bettas are carnivores and their digestive system is not built for handling those types of food. When you do have to buy food containing those products you risk bloat. If you feed pellets, soak the pellets for five to ten minutes beforehand. Pellets need to be soaked because they are dried and otherwise will expand in their guts, causing bloat as well. When you feed pellets or flakes give them one day a week of not feeding. This gives them extra time to digest the non-protein elements like plant material. Feeding 3-4 pellets, enough to only gently round the stomach, is enough.
If you feed dehydrated, you do not need to give them a day off each week for digestion, but you do need to soak them. Brine shrimp, bloodworms, and other proteins are good things to feed. Try to buy ones with forty percent or more protein. 2-3 soaked bloodworms should be more than enough.
When feeding frozen it is very important to not defrost the whole cube. A betta only needs a couple of bloodworms to eat and a cube contains more than enough to feed for a week. If you defrost the whole cube, you cannot save the extra for the next day. Bacteria will begin to grow once it is defrosted and will continue to grow while it is out. You cannot refreeze it either as the bacteria will not die, they will continue to grow the next time they defrost. The best option is to use tweezers or a knife to pull some frozen off in the freezer then feed and discard the rest.
The final option, likely the highest quality one, is to feed live. To feed a betta live means you must choose a type of food to culture, such as white worms or brine shrimp. You will need to take care of them to continue a healthy culture then release some into the food for your betta to chase and eat. Try to not release too many, though, or your betta cannot eat them all at once and the extra will die and rot in the tank.
The natural habitat of a betta is water that has a temperature of 75 F to 80 F. As a result, they will only thrive with a temperature in that range. Very few places reach that temperature naturally in water, which is a few degrees lower than the air surrounding it. This means that a betta tank needs a heater. Submersible heaters are a great option. Adjustable heaters are ideal as preset ones can malfunction or not have enough or too much power for the temperature they're set at. Too much power means that the water will get too hot and too little leads to a temperature below your fish's needs. When looking for the wattage of a heater, between 2-10 watts per gallon of water is a good range, going higher if you know that you live in a country that gets much colder than their requirements. I personally use about 10 watts a gallon since Saskatchewan gets really cold. EHEIM is a great company and their 25 watts heater is very reliable for smaller tanks.
Bettas are not very picky for decoration but you must be careful. Their fins are quite delicate and fake plants made out of plastic or sharp decorations will tear them. To test for sharp edges run a hand covered in pantyhose over the decoration. If it snags, the decoration will tear their fins. Another thing to watch out for is holes. Bettas are curious fish and will try to squeeze themselves into everything! A betta does not understand some holes are too small for them and will get stuck. If there are holes, you can plug them with aquarium safe silicone or something else!
Silk plants are a good decor but my favorite is live plants. Bettas will not hurt themselves with most plants, but if they have tangly roots exposed, like moneywort that is propagating, they do risk getting entangled. Live plants need their own care but do help with the ammonia load in a tank and give a natural look.
Bettas do get bored and need stimulation, though. A bare tank can stress a betta out because they have nothing to interact with and the species naturally lives in a crowded environment. Bettas in tanks with a lot of open space are not the happiest in most cases. Bettas need places to hide and take comfort in a tank that is full of decoration. They do not like open spaces but will not enjoy a small tank either.
In the end, how you choose to take care of your betta is your own choice. But a happy fish will all their needs met is one that flourishes. How different your betta can look and act with some changes will surprise you!