do betta fish need an air pump

Do Betta Fish Need an Air Pump? Our Fish Tips!

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Whether you’re an old hand when it comes to looking after betta fish or a newbie looking to set up their first aquarium, one of the most frequently discussed topics is “do betta fish need an air pump?”

Well, the answer is not quite as straightforward as it may seem!

Keep reading to find out whether your betta fish needs an air pump in his tank.

What Is an Air Pump?

Air pumps are different from aquarium pumps that move water through the tank’s filter system.

Aquarium air pumps come in many shapes and sizes but are essentially electrical motors fixed to a length of tubing that pushes air bubbles into the water in your betta’s tank.

The bubbles generated by the pump pass through the tubing or through a stone attached to the tubing. The bubbles then float up to the water surface, where they pop.

The air bubbles themselves don’t actually add a huge amount of oxygen to the water, but the water surface agitation they create increases the efficiency of gaseous exchange within the tank, helping to increase oxygen levels.

Can Betta Fish Thrive Without Oxygen?

The short answer to that question is no. Like all fish, bettas need oxygenated water to survive.

That said, it’s true to say that bettas do thrive in the slow-moving, shallow waters of paddy fields, ditches, and ponds of their wild habitat, where oxygen levels are typically low.

How so?

Well, bettas are labyrinth fishes. Labyrinth fishes or Anabantoidei are a suborder of the anabantiform family of ray-finned freshwater fishes that have a lung-like labyrinth organ that enables them to breathe atmospheric air.

Gouramis are also labyrinth fishes.

Labyrinth Fishes

The betta’s labyrinth organ enables it to breathe at the water’s surface. The betta takes in gulps of atmospheric air to supplement the dissolved oxygen that the fish absorbs from the water through its gills.

In fact, bettas need to use their labyrinth organ throughout the day to remain healthy. So, although floating plants are great for betta tanks, take care not to completely obscure the water surface, or your fish won’t be able to breathe!

In addition, for the labyrinth organ to remain healthy, the ambient room temperature must be as close as possible to that of the water temperature in the betta’s tank.

Is an Air Pump Strictly Necessary an a Betta Fish Tank?

Whether a betta tank needs an air pump or not is really down to your fish’s personal preference.

As we mentioned earlier, betta fish can live very happily in a low-oxygen environment. These fish are also not keen on too much water disturbance and strong currents, and that’s where an air pump can cause problems.

If you are going to install a pump in your aquarium, choose a device that will not cause your betta buddy any unnecessary stress. A small device that diffuses the bubbles and doesn’t disturb the water too much should be more than adequate.

Air Pumps and Breeding

Male betta fish create bubble nests even when there are no female bettas present in the tank with them. That’s just a thing that male bettas do!

Unfortunately, an air pump creating its own bubbles can disrupt that nest building and cause stress to the betta.

Try putting the bubbler on a lower setting, or move it well away from your betta’s favorite nest-building spot.

If you are running a betta breeding program and trying to encourage your betta fishes to spawn, you should turn off air bubblers altogether.

In addition to disrupting the nest-building process, too much water movement will make it difficult for the fry to swim and feed.

Signs That Your Betta Needs More Oxygen

do betta fish need an air pump

Bettas make regular visits to the water surface to breathe through their labyrinth organ.

However, if your fish is constantly swimming to the surface to grab a gulp of air, that could mean the water in the tank does not contain enough dissolved oxygen.

Check Your Filter System

Check that your filter system is working correctly. An efficient, low-flow filtration system should provide sufficient surface movement and flow through the fish tank to oxygenate the water adequately.

Sometimes, the filter media gets clogged with sludge, preventing water from flowing through it freely. This causes the water flow within the tank to become sluggish and can lead to depleted oxygen levels.


Although male bettas cannot be kept together, they do appreciate some peaceful company in their aquarium.

However, having too many fish and other critters in your setup can lead to a shortage of available dissolved oxygen to go around.

Ideally, you should allow one gallon of water per one inch of fish, plus extra space for your territorial male betta to be comfortable.

If you have too many fish, you need to upsize to a larger tank or give some of your fish to a friend or your local fish store.

Air Pumps and Water Quality

Air pumps can be an aesthetically pleasing addition to any aquarium, creating a pretty curtain or column of bubbles.

Air pumps are also an inexpensive tool that can improve the quality of your betta’s habitat. By gently moving the water, an air pump can temporarily help out if there is a problem with the aquarium filter.

A pump is also a good idea if you are medicating your betta fish, as some betta medications can cause oxygen depletion in the water.

Betta fish need a stable environment in terms of water parameters and temperature. An air pump moving the water around the tank helps keep the temperature even, especially during hot summers and cold winters.

What Are Some Alternatives To an Air Pump?

There are a few alternatives to using an air pump in your betta tank:


No aquarium is complete without some living underwater greenery, and bettas love nothing more than playing and hiding among dense planting. If you choose broad-leaved plants, you’ll probably see your betta resting on the leaves during the day.

Easy-to-grow aquatic plants provide an excellent source of oxygen and need very little maintenance.

It is a good idea to stock your tank with a variety of tropical plants that will remind your betta of home, but be careful to leave enough room for your pet and his tank mates to swim freely.

Water Changes

As well as running an efficient, well-maintained filter system in your betta’s tank, you need to perform weekly water changes.

Changing some of the water in your betta’s tank helps remove nitrate accumulations and keeps the water fresh. You should use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to remove fish waste, uneaten food, and dead plant matter and replace up to 20% of the water in the tank.

Regular water changes can also help to keep the water well-oxygenated in the absence of a bubbler. However, your filtration system does most of the work in helping to keep levels of dissolved oxygen adequate for your fish.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed our article on whether betta fish need an air pump in their tank. If you found the information we provided helpful, please take a moment to share the article.

Bettas are labyrinth fishes that can breathe atmospheric air through a special labyrinth organ. This ability enables the fish to survive in oxygen-depleted environments.

However, bettas also need plenty of dissolved oxygen in their tank water to thrive and remain stress-free.

A bubbler works by agitating the water surface, improving the rate of gas exchange. However, bettas are bubble-nesters and not the strongest of swimmers. So, your betta fish doesn’t really need an air pump.

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