Many owners panic when they see that their betta fish is at the bottom of the tank. They assume that something is seriously wrong. After all, fish are supposed to swim, right?
But actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are a number of possible reasons why a Betta fish might be at the bottom (and not all of them are bad).
And this guide is here to help.
It will teach you why they might be at the bottom of the tank, how you can address each problem, and how to use positional and behavioral cues to accurately diagnose any problem.
IS IT NORMAL FOR betta fish to settle ON THE BOTTOM OF THE TANK?
Betta fish are some of the most beautiful fish out there. With their long, flowing fins and vibrant coloration, they are at their best when swimming around your aquarium and showing off their beauty.
But what does it mean when a betta begins to settle to the bottom of its tank? It is normal?
Witnessing this behavior can be alarming to owners who are used to seeing their fish act energetic and playful.
There are actually a number of reasons a betta might do this, and some of them are innocent enough. However, others are cause for concern.
This means that sometimes it is normal.
ALL POSSIBLE CAUSES
1. THE BETTA IS GETTING AGED
Bettas have a relatively short lifespan. Under good conditions, these fish will live between three and five years! If you’ve had your betta for a while, it could be suffering from the effects of aging.
Like any other animal, old bettas tend to slow down as they age. They just don’t have the energy to roam their habitat like they did when they were younger. Their bodies start to slow down and they have a harder time keeping up with the younger fish.
As a result, most older fish prefer to rest a little longer. Your fish might start to lie down on leaves or spend more time resting on the substrate at the bottom of the tank.
Author’s Note: Unless you have raised your fish from the fry stage, it is difficult to determine the age of your fish. Even if you just got your Betta a few months ago, they could have spent years with a breeder or in the store. If your fish looks healthy overall and seems to be slowing down, it may be nearing the end of its life.
2. AMMONIA POISONING
As your fish produces waste, the ammonia levels in the tank will increase. As you probably know, ammonia is a dangerous chemical for fish. It can cause chemical burns to the gills and eventually lead to death.
The problem with ammonia is that you can’t see it. You must rely on good tank maintenance and monitoring to prevent these levels from skyrocketing. In other words, regular water changes and a good filtration system.
If you don’t have an effective filter in place, ammonia levels will steadily rise. This weakens your Betta fish.
Basically, they are struggling to breathe!
Small tanks or overcrowded environments also tend to suffer from ammonia problems. Use a test kit to check ammonia levels. The only «safe» level is 0 PPM. Anything higher and your fish could be in pain.
3. EXCESSIVE CURRENT
Betta fish do not do well in strong currents.In fact, their massive fans are purely ornamental.They don’t do much to help this fish swim.
If you have significant flow coming from the filter or air pump, your fish is probably exhausted!
It takes a lot of energy to constantly fight against a strong current. Your betta fish may have given up and decided to rest by lying down on the bottom of the tank.
To reduce the flow of water from your filter, you can fit a sponge filter. Alternatively, you can redirect the current towards plants or decorations. Breaking the current will do a lot to reduce the flow throughout the aquarium.
4. NITRATE POISONING
Nitrate is another compound created by fish waste. However, it is a byproduct of bacterial degradation. Bacteria in a well cycled tank will convert ammonia to nitrite. Then, it will break down the nitrites into nitrates.
Comparatively speaking, nitrates are less harmful than ammonia. However, they still do a lot of damage.
And to make matters worse, nitrate is a slow killer.
It makes the fish lethargic and weak (and could cause them to lie down on the bottom of the tank). Your Betta fish could lose its appetite and have difficulty breathing. You can even see its color start to fade.
Get out your water test kit and see where the nitrate levels are.Ideally, it should be no more than 5-10 PPM.
5. THE WATER IS TOO HOT
Temperature shock is a very real threat to Bettas. These fish enjoy warmer temperatures. However, excess heat during the summer will pose several health problems.
You see, warm waters release oxygen much faster than cold waters. The problem is not so much the temperature. Rather, it is the lack of oxygen that is affecting your fish!
Without that oxygen, your Betta fish will be gasping for air at the bottom of the tank. Even with its ability to breathe atmospheric air, water without a good supply of oxygen is a serious problem.
Author’s Note: Cool down your tank temperatures slowly. You can do this with a fan or air conditioner. To quickly infuse some oxygen into the water, use an air bladder.
6. SWIM BLADDER DISEASE
Your fish’s swim bladder is a crucial organ that it needs to swim. Control buoyancy. When a fish suffers from swim bladder disease, they often swim in strange patterns, have difficulty moving, or lie down on the bottom of the tank.
This disease is quite common with Bettas.These fish have a healthy appetite and as a result often eat more than they should. These causes can cause constipation and swim bladder problems.
You can treat the disease by providing high-fiber foods like Daphnia and blanched peas. To prevent this in the future, reduce the amount of food you are providing.
Sometimes swim bladder disease is chronic. The treatment does not help all fish. In those cases, the fish generally must be euthanized.
7. ILLNESS AND ILLNESS
If your Betta fish looks lethargic and spends time lying on the bottom of the tank, it could be sick.
There are many diseases that affect Bettas. In fact, these fish tend to get sick more often due to a weaker immune system.
Diseases like Ich, Bloat, Dropsy and more can cause Betta fish to become weak.
Author’s Note: In most cases, these diseases are caused by stress and a poorly maintained environment. Stay aware of the water conditions and make sure the parameters are within an acceptable range.
When things go beyond the recommended range, your Betta fish will become stressed and more susceptible to disease.
8. JUST TAKE IT EASY
A Betta fish at the bottom of the tank is not always a cause for concern. Sometimes your fish is just taking things slow!
Take a look at their behavior. If the pelvic fins are still in motion, your fish might just be relaxing! They may go through episodes of movement before resting on the substrate.
While those huge fins look great, they can be tedious for a Betta. Because of this, they may take a moment to rest. This is completely normal and nothing to panic about!
9. THE WATER IS TOO COLD
Just like being overheated, cold waters beyond a Betta’s comfort range can cause problems. Ideally, your tank’s water temperature should be no lower than 74 degrees Fahrenheit (learn more by reading our full care guide).
When the temperature drops below that, your fish’s metabolism will slow down. Oxygen is also absorbed more slowly. This combination of events causes your fish to become very weak and lethargic.
If you don’t raise the temperature, your fish could become stressed and get sick.
Author’s Note: Use a heater or lights in the tank to slowly raise the temperature of the water in the aquarium. Don’t try to do it all at once!
10. THE AQUARIUM IS NOT BIG ENOUGH
Many new fish owners make the mistake of thinking that Bettas can live anywhere. It is true that they do well in aquariums that hold as little as three gallons.
But bigger is always better!
When your fish is confined to a tiny, sterile environment, you have nothing to do! There is nothing to explore. Your Betta fish will lose interest in things quickly, leaving nothing for them to do but lay on the bottom of the tank.
That’s not exactly the best way to live, is it?
Give your betta fish a little more room to explore. Consider increasing the tank size by a few gallons.You should also implement all kinds of enrichment items for your fish.
This includes caves, plants and natural decorations. All of these things will keep your fish happy and healthy.
11. THEY ARE SLEEPING
Believe it or not, Betta fish sleep just like any other animal! In fact, they follow the same general sleep rhythm as humans. They like to rest at night and be active during the day.
If they don’t get enough sleep at night, you may find them sleeping in the bottom of the tank!
Bettas have a unique reputation for finding interesting places to sleep. They can curl up in corners, rest on the substrate, or even sleep on top of plant leaves!
If you notice that your Betta sleeps a lot during the day, think about your night setup. Do you leave the tank lights on at night? What about ambient lighting in the room?
Leave your fish in a dark, quiet place overnight to ensure they get all the sleep they need.
THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIONING
It is important to consider the way your Betta fish rests on the bottom of the tank. The different positions and movement patterns can help you choose the correct cause from the list above!
Below, we look at some of the most common signals to watch out for.
WHAT CAUSES A BETTA FISH TO LAY ON ITS SIDE?
In most cases, a Betta fish lying on its side is not a major concern. Bettas like to sleep on their sides instead of being upright.
Author’s Note: Take a close look at their gills to make sure they’re breathing and otherwise healthy. A healthy Betta should perk up once it wakes up.
While side sleeping is perfectly normal, you can give your fish more options if you want to keep them off the substrate.
Consider adding plants to the aquarium. There are also many «sleeping racks» and artificial caves available. These decorative elements are made specifically for sleeping fish!
WHAT IF YOUR BETA FISH IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE TANK AND IS NOT MOVING?
If your fish isn’t moving, you need to take a closer look to see what’s going on.
Take a look at their gills. Hopefully your fish is breathing well! If so, they are probably just sleeping. Bettas cannot close their eyes, so it will appear that they are still awake.
If your fish is trying to move its fins, it may be dealing with temperature shock or swim bladder disease. Adjust the temperature accordingly, but be sure to do it slowly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to provide immediate relief from swim bladder disease. You can reduce the flow of water to make things easier for your fish. However, it’s largely a waiting game until you can provide high-fiber foods.
Lastly, there is a chance that your Betta fish is dead. You will most likely see the signs of death before this happens. Because Bettas can’t close their eyes, it’s easy to mistake death for sleep.
If your fish does not move their gills, it is very likely that they have already died.
WHAT MAKES THEM PLACE ON THE BOTTOM OF THE TANK FACE DOWN?
Seeing your Betta fish in an inverted position is a huge red flag! This is usually a sign that your fish has swim bladder disease.
If they are still breathing or trying to move their fins, you can easily tell that there is still something going on internally. That’s good.
Reduce the flow in the aquarium and wait a bit. You can also add a little salt to the tank (which can sometimes help with constipation issues).
WHAT IF THEY ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE TANK BREATHING HEAVILY?
If your Betta fish is lying on the bottom of the tank and breathing heavily, you need to take action as quickly as possible.
There are a couple of possible causes for this:
It could be ammonia poisoning, nitrate poisoning, or high temperatures. All of these problems make it difficult for betta fish to breathe, which explains the difficulty in breathing.
Test the water to see what problem needs to be addressed. If it’s ammonia or nitrate poisoning, do a 50 percent water change to provide immediate relief. Then make changes to prevent the levels from rising again.
For high temperatures, turn on an air conditioner in the room and point a fan at the surface of the water.Do not use ice cubes or cold water for lower temperatures.You should do this slowly so you don’t kill the beneficial bacteria.
As you can see, it is not always a bad thing to see a Betta fish at the bottom of the tank. Sometimes they just need a break!
But you still need to be prepared if the cause is serious.
Grooming and a consistent level of high-quality care are two things great owners practice. You must understand your fish in case you need to help them!
Because this is such a common concern among Betta owners, please share this guide as much as you can. Our hope is to help as many aquarists become informed as possible!