| |

Healthy Betta Fish vs Unhealthy: Know the Key Differences

Despite their simple care requirements, many bettas are not properly cared for by novice fishkeepers, resulting in frequent health issues. 

A healthy betta fish has vivid coloration, and elegant finnage, gliding happily through an aquarium. 

On the other hand, an unhealthy betta might have symptoms like dull colors, loss of appetite, or fin damage.

 If you’re planning to buy a betta, it’s important to know what a healthy betta fish looks like, and if you already have a betta, it’s important to know if its health is being maintained or compromised.  By the end of this article, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a healthy betta vs. an unhealthy one to give your pet adequate care.

How Can You Tell if a Betta Fish is Healthy?

A healthy betta fish will have vibrant colors and be active and alert. It will also have a good appetite. Here are more signs of a healthy betta fish: 


A thriving betta fish will be active and alert. It will explore its tank and may increase its activity when its owner approaches it, especially at feeding time.  

Also, healthy bettas swim easily through the water. They shouldn’t experience any problems with buoyancy and should be able to swim up and down without any struggle.

Some betta species are heavy-finned and may be slower swimmers than their short-finned relatives, but they still should have no difficulties swimming.


When healthy, betta fish have vibrant coloration. Their vivid coloration should extend throughout their body, including their fins, from base to tip.

Bettas have a life span of only two to three years. As bettas get older, their coloration may fade, but they will continue to behave normally. 


A healthy betta will have a good appetite. If you feed your fish around the same time daily, you’ll probably see them become more active prior to feeding time.  When consuming their food, they’ll eat it quickly.  If your betta is not showing interest in food, it may be a sign of stress or illness.

Fin Movement 

When swimming, a healthy betta’s fins will move elegantly and freely. This kind of fin movement allows these fish to flow through the water. Males will also display fully expanded fins to attract females or ward off other males.

What Does an Unhealthy Betta Fish Look Like?

Unhealthy bettas will have faded colors, ragged-looking fins, and may be lethargic. They may also have difficulty swimming and have no appetite. Here are a few signs of an unhealthy betta fish:

🐠 Keep your betta fish in peak health with the only betta fish care guide you’ll ever need. 


A betta fish that’s lethargic most of the time is likely to be unhealthy. Other signs to look out for are:

  • The fish spends a lot of time resting at the bottom of the aquarium.
  • Has difficulty moving around.
  • Has unusual swimming patterns.
  • Has issues with buoyancy.

Common reasons for inactivity include disease, high nitrite or ammonia levels in the tank, and incorrect water temperature. The water temperature should be between 76 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 24-28 degrees Centigrade.


Unnatural color changes in a betta fish are an indicator that there are health issues. When examining a betta, look for discoloration and stress stripes. Stress stripes refer to when the fish’s natural color fades and stripes appear on its body. Stress stripes may also be accompanied by the fish darting around the tank.

Lack of Appetite

It’s not normal for a healthy betta fish to refuse a meal. If your betta fish is not eating, it may indicate that there’s a health issue.  Health issues include poor water quality, stress, or disease.

Fin Damage

While different betta species have different fin shapes, the fins of all species should be free of damage. Damaged fins are ones that have a ragged appearance or are clamped. Damaged fins may be caused by:

  • Fungal or bacterial infections, such as fin rot.
  • Aggressive tank mates
  • Poor water quality

A condition known as clamped fins is an indicator of illness or stress. In a healthy betta, the fins will be relaxed when resting and upright when swimming.

Bettas who have this condition will swim with their fins tightly clamped. Clamped fins are not a disease within itself, rather, it’s a symptom or an indication of poor water quality. Common causes for clamped fins are high ammonia levels or parasites.

Note: Fins that have a translucent appearance along the edges indicate that fins are healing. 

Breathing Difficulties

Does your betta spend much of its time at the surface of the water? Betta fish have a special organ that allows them to take in oxygen from the air when the water’s oxygen levels are low. Though a healthy betta may occasionally go to the surface to take a gulp of air, a fish that does this routinely may have problems breathing.

Breathing difficulties are commonly caused by poor water quality or by medication that has been added to the water.

Also, bettas who experience breathing difficulties will commonly be lethargic and rest at the bottom of the tank.

Healthy betta fish vs unhealthy

What is Normal Betta Behavior?

A normal, healthy betta will be active and alert, though perhaps slow moving. They may occasionally hide among plants or rocks but will normally be swimming in the open.

Common Betta Fish Diseases

The following are diseases that are commonly seen in betta fish. Most diseases can be prevented by providing proper care.

Fin Rot

Fin rot is a disease that eats away at the extremities of fish. While starting with the fins, the disease can spread to other parts of the body as it progresses.   Fin rot is caused by a bacterial infection; it makes the fish more susceptible to other diseases by weakening the immune system.

Symptoms of fin rot include the rotting away of the fins and lethargy.  Fin rot is caused by improper water conditions, so performing a water change is the first step in treatment. You can also purchase medication from a tropical fish store to treat the disease, such as Bettafix medication.  

Swim Bladder Issues

Issues with the swim bladder create problems with buoyance for betta fish. Bettas that have this condition will swim in a tilted or lopsided manner.

Fish inflicted with this condition will also have trouble staying afloat.  Other symptoms may include a lack of appetite, a swollen abdomen, and erratic movements.

Swim bladder issues are not caused by a disease. Poor water quality, parasites, or overfeeding are the main causes of swim bladder issues. To treat swim bladder issues, quarantine the fish, then do the following:

  • Put the afflicted fish in quarantine so other fish don’t bother it.
  • Do a water change in the main tank.
  • Don’t feed your betta for three days.
  • Give your fish an Epson salt treatment

🐠 Still unsure whether your betta is unhealthy? Here are 12 common betta fish behaviors before death. 


Ich is a disease caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Bettas that have ich will have small white spots on their bodies and fins. Fish infested with ich will often rub against objects to relieve themselves from the discomfort.

Ich is contagious, so if one fish has it, you’ll need to treat the entire aquarium. Increase the water temperature to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and add ich medication, such as Api Liquid Super Ick Cure Fish Remedy.


Dropsy is another disease that’s caused by poor water quality. Poor water quality weakens the immune system, which then makes the fish more susceptible to bacterial infections that create dropsy. There’s no cure for dropsy and the mortality rate for the disease is high.

Symptoms of dropsy include:

  • Swollen or bulging eyes
  • The scales of the betta’s body protrude outward rather than lying flat against the body.
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Curvature of the spine.

Cotton Wool Disease

Known scientifically as Flexibacter columnaris, cotton wool is caused by bacterium, Flavobacterium columnare. This bacterium thrives in water that contains low levels of oxygen and is of poor quality.

Symptoms of cotton wool disease include:

  • A loss of color.
  • Necrosis of the gills, leading to breathing complications.
  • Fluffy cotton-like growths on the fish’s body.
  • Ulcers

Cotton wool disease is highly contagious and difficult to treat.  Also, it can take up to a month to treat cotton wool disease. The following are treatment suggestions:  

  • Set up a quarantine tank and treat it with water conditioner to remove any harmful compounds.
  • Adjust the water temperature between 75-77 degrees Fahrenheit (make sure to let your fish get acclimated to the new water temperature).
  • Treat your fish with antibiotics such as Maraycn-two, Maracyn, or Oxytetracycline.
  • Raise the salinity of the water using aquarium salt by adding one teaspoon of salt per every five gallons of water.

Treatment and Prevention

As you can see, most health concerns are caused by not providing the proper care, in particular the water quality. It’s much easier to prevent disease than it is to diagnose it and cure it.  Prevention can be accomplished by keeping the following in mind:

Water quality

  • Do weekly partial water changes where you replace 25% of the water.
  • The pH should be between 5.0-9.0  
  • Use a water testing kit to check the water quality. Ammonia water should not be above 0.25 ppm.
  • The temperature should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit (23-26 Celsius).


The minimum size tank for a single betta fish should be 10 gallons.

Filtration and Oxygenation

Your betta tank needs to have a filtration system to help clean the water and avoid it becoming stagnant. Also, the water needs to be well-oxygenated. If you don’t think your filter is creating enough water turbulence, you can add an air stone to the aquarium.

Keep an Eye on Your Fish

Check your fish daily to see that is healthy in appearance and behavior.

The Role of Diet and Environment

Betta fish are carnivores, so it’s important that you feed them a high-quality diet rich in protein.  Feed your betta a quality commercial betta food, which may come in flake or pellet form. You can supplement their diet by feeding them freeze-dried brine shrimp or blood worms.

Avoid overfeeding your betta fish as leftover food will compromise the water quality. Your betta only needs to be fed a small amount of food, two or three pellets daily.

Also, betta fish are solitary fish and males are aggressive toward each other. For this reason, I recommend that you keep them alone, without tank- mates.

A Healthy Betta is a Happy Betta

The care requirements for betta fish aren’t difficult. Unfortunately, many people, including many pet shops, don’t provide these magnificent fish with proper care. Knowing what the signs are for a healthy and unhealthy betta fish is important if you have a betta fish or plan to buy one, so you can care for it appropriately. We hope you enjoyed this article and please be sure to share it with your fishkeeping friends.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *