One of the last things you want is to turn your aquarium light on and see a beloved betta sick. The only thing worse than that would be seeing a sick fish and having no way of treating it!
All aquarium hobbyists should have a first aid kit on hand for emergencies such as these. But what are the best products to have when the time comes?
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about betta fish medications, betta treatments, and how to prepare your own betta first aid kit!
Why do you need a betta first aid kit?
If you’ve never had a sick betta fish before, you might not be prepared for the panic and maintenance that comes with treating an outbreak.
An especially potent fish disease has the ability to wipe out a tank overnight and can leave your aquarium sitting empty with unwanted parasites and diseases for several weeks.
Most times, adequately quarantining new aquarium fish for a month before adding them to your display tank is enough to prevent the most devastating illnesses from entering your system. Of course, this isn’t always guaranteed and something can always slip through.
This is where it becomes incredibly handy to have a first aid kit on hand with all the supplies you might need to use your fish doctoring skills to treat a sick fish; time is of the essence and your fish can, unfortunately, die in the time it might take to go to the store or to order online.
But how do you know what to buy to ensure that if the time comes, you’re ready to treat anything that comes your way to keep your fish alive?
What diseases will a betta first aid kit treat?
First, we need to take a look at some of the most common aquarium pathogens that can attack an otherwise healthy fish.
Here is a list of what might cause your betta fish to become ill:
- Ich/white spot disease (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) – parasitic infection
- Velvet/gold-dust disease (Oodinium spp.) – parasitic infection
- Columnaris (Flavobacterium columnare) – bacterial infection
- Fin and tail rot (Aeromonas spp., Pseudomonas spp., or Vibrio spp.) – bacterial or fungal infection
- Dropsy – often a secondary symptom of a bacterial or fungal infection and other underlying diseases
- Swim bladder disorder- often caused by parasites or constipation in betta
- Tumors – genetic mutations or secondary symptom
Use our Common Reasons and Solutions guide to disease and illness among betta fish to help understand if you have a sick fish, and what your betta might be sick with.
What should you keep in your betta first aid kit?
Now that we have a list of the most common betta fish illnesses that are likely to appear in the aquarium, how can we prepare by putting together a betta first aid kit?
Luckily, most of these diseases and illnesses can be treated by correcting water parameters.
However, some cases might be more of an emergency and need immediate medication. As a fish owner, you will also probably want to get your fish back to full health as soon as possible, making medications the most immediate treatment.
Surprisingly, the most effective item you can have in your betta fish first aid kit is a quarantine tank, though there are many medications that you should also have on hand at any given moment.
Your first line of defense against infection in your aquarium is a quarantine/hospital tank to house your sick fish and quarantine your fish after treatment for a few days.
These tanks provide a safe place for stressed fish to recover from diseases and illnesses while allowing the hobbyist to monitor their health, accurately dose medications, and keep infected fish away from others.
Because of this, a strongly recommended preventative measure is housing fish in quarantine for a month before introducing them into community tanks.
However, quarantine tanks are also a great place to treat sick and stressed betta fish with any of the previously mentioned ailments until they return to full health.
Here is what you need to set up a good quarantine tank for fast recovery:
- Small aquarium. This aquarium should be at least 5 gallons (18.9 L) for betta fish. A 10 gallon (37.9 L) tank is even better; this aquarium may be glass or plastic.
- Sponge filter. A sponge filter is a must for keeping water oxygenated and creating a space for beneficial bacteria to grow; sponge filters are gentle for bettas and are easy to keep cycled. clean water is key to prevent further infection.
- Heater. A heater is also a necessity for betta quarantine tanks. Most betta fish diseases require higher water temperatures for treatment, which can be maintained through an adjustable heater.
- Water parameter test kits. A water test kit is crucial for seeing if poor water quality is what is causing your fish to become sick! Documenting aquarium water parameters daily will help you understand your aquarium better, and maybe even give you some answers to the problem.
- Air pump. An air pump isn’t completely necessary, though more oxygen will help your fish breathe easier, especially if the illness is affecting their gills. Air pumps are also recommended if you are raising the water temperature as warmer water holds less oxygen.
- Filter media. For the most part, the sponge filter will provide all the beneficial bacteria and mechanical filtration you need. However, experienced fish keepers frequently run carbon to remove medications from the water after treatment.
Treatments and medications
Now that you’ve moved your sick fish from your display tank into your quarantine time, it’s time to start treatment.
Treatments can vary in intensity, with some methods being more natural than others; unfortunately, sometimes you have to be aggressive with medicating before it’s too late.
Here are a few natural treatments and medications you always want to have in your betta fish first aid kit!
If your betta fish has only been showing symptoms for a couple of days and seems to have a mild infection, then you can most likely start treatment with natural remedies before moving onto more involved medications.
- Aquarium salt – Aquarium salt is used to treat most mild cases of illness and disease in betta, especially fin rot. When dosed correctly, it can encourage better slime coat production as well as increase osmoregulation by your fish, or the ability for your fish to internally adjust to its external surroundings.
- Epsom salt – Epsom salt should not be confused with aquarium salt as it’s not the same at all! Instead, Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which is good for plants and invertebrates. However, like humans, Epsom salt can have some medical benefits for fish, like muscle relaxation and swelling relief. Epsom salt is a popular treatment for dropsy and popeye in bettas. Most hobbyists agree it’s better to perform Epsom salt baths than to treat the entire tank; always allow the salt to dissolve completely before adding your fish! It should be noted that since Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, it can raise water hardness.
- Aquarium heater – Not only is an aquarium heater good to have for a quarantine tank, but an adjustable one is a must-have as some treatments require water temperatures to be higher than usual.
- Garlic – Garlic might not be the first thing you think of to keep in your betta first aid kit, but it’s one of the easiest ways to bolster your fish’s immune system. Many hobbyists intermix garlic or a garlic product, like Seachem Garlic Guard, into their betta’s food to help naturally increase their appetite and immunity against most pathogens. However, studies have shown that prolonged use can lead to liver damage.
- Siphon/vacuum – The last thing you want is dirty water, so If you don’t already have a siphon or substrate vacuum for water maintenance, then it’s definitely worth getting one right now. Not only does a siphon make water changes that much easier, but they are also recommended for treating parasitic infections, like ich. When the external parasites (such as anchor worms) drop off of the fish, they can live in the substrate for long periods of time. This is the ideal moment to siphon the substrate and help remove them from the tank!
- Indian almond leaves – Indian almond leaves are recommended in general for most betta fish tank setups but can come in handy when facing a disease or illness. Indian almond leaves are another method of bolstering betta fish immunity. The dark water can also help keep your fish from stressing out.
Some illnesses are best treated with the application of medication. These more aggressive treatments are usually used as a last resort when conditions quickly deteriorate and it becomes an emergency.
It should be noted that some medications labeled for freshwater fish aren’t entirely safe for betta fish. This is because they include some natural oil or other additives that can coat your fish’s labyrinth organ, making it difficult for them to breathe.
All medications should be dosed according to packaging instructions.
Parasitic infections – Probably the most common infections you’re bound to come across in the aquarium hobby are the result of parasites, namely ich and velvet.
Ich – Ich can usually be treated with raised water temperatures, frequent water changes, and sometimes, aquarium salt. In extreme cases, it’s recommended to use medications. Make sure to check if these medications are safe for snails, shrimp, and live plants before adding them to your aquarium setup; some recommend half-doses while others aren’t safe at all. Here are some of the most reliable brands for treating a betta fish with ich:
Velvet – Velvet is more difficult to treat than ich in general and time is of the essence. If you have a velvet infection, check all your fish for velvet. This parasite is also less easily treated with heat, salt, and water changes, so medications are often recommended immediately. If using a copper based medication, dose in slightly lower concentrations in order to keep your fish’s labyrinth organ safe; also make sure that the medications are compatible with plants and invertebrates. Here are some of the most reliable anti-parasite medications for treating a betta fish with velvet:
Bacterial infections – Once you’ve ruled out a parasitic infection, then you might be facing a bacterial infection, like Columnaris or fin rot.
Columnaris – Columnaris can be very difficult to treat, and immediate first aid will give your fish the best chance of survival. Usually, hobbyists use both Seachem Kanaplex and Furan-2 for best results with treating Columnaris. Here are some of the best brands for treating a betta fish with Columnaris:
Fin rot – Fin rot can be contracted by betta fish through contact with dirty water. If you’re dealing with fin rot, the best course of action is usually improving water quality over a series of days through complete water changes. However, if the fin rot has started to progress towards the body or just won’t leave, an antibacterial medication might be needed instead. For the most part, fin rot is treated naturally. Indian almond leaves and aquarium salt may also be used to help strengthen your fish’s immunity and natural slime coat. Because most hobbyists treat bacterial fin rot through natural means, there is only one product usually recommended for extreme cases:
Fungal infections – A fungal infection can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses but is relatively straightforward to treat once diagnosed. The telltale signs of fungal infection will be white fuzz growing around the affected area. Most commonly, this will be body and fin rot.
Body and fin rot – While fungal infections seem to be less common than parasites or bacterial infections, it’s still good to be prepared for whatever comes your way and have an anti-fungal treatment on hand. Here are some of the best brands for treating a betta fish with a fungal infection and keeping fish fins healthy:
Other medications and treatments
Besides treating the illness, you might also want to stock up on products that will help bolster your fish’s immunity and encourage optimal water conditions. Some of these products are:
- Seachem Prime Water Conditioner
- Seachem ParaGuard
- Seachem Garlic Guard
- Seachem Stability
- API General Cure
On top of general medications and treatments, some hobbyists like to use a UV sterilizer that emits certain wavelengths of light to purify water from algae, harmful bacteria, and other pathogens. However, UV sterilizers are expensive and are usually overkill for a simple betta fish tank.
Medications to avoid
Getting the right medication can be just as hard as correctly diagnosing your sick fish. Unfortunately, some products have been advertised towards bettas, but might not be safe for them at all.
One medication, in particular, is Melafix. This product is often recommended to treat infections, including fin rot. However, tea tree oil is the main ingredient and that is a problem. While tea tree oil helps with healing abrasions and various infections, it also coats the labyrinth organ. When this happens, it can become even more difficult for your fish to breathe while fighting an illness.
Melafix is very close in composition to Bettafix, which makes it seem like it should be safer to use for betta fish, especially given its name. However, harmful oils are still used that could actually hurt your fish more than help it.
Some hobbyists believe that these products are only harmful when dosed in excess, though it’s usually better to be safe than sorry and use other proven treatments.
Having a sick fish is stressful and scary! However, being unprepared is even more worrisome and takes time away from your betta fish getting better sooner.
No matter if your fish has a parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infection, there are some widely available medications and treatments that you should always have in your arsenal of fish treatments in case of an emergency!
If you have any questions about betta fish care, other aquatic diseases or illnesses, or have had experience treating your betta with medication before, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
And remember, a healthy betta is a happy betta!