how to travel with a betta fish

How To Travel With A Betta Fish The Right Way

As silly as the topic of this article sounds, there may come a time when you need to take your betta fish along with you on a trip farther than from point A to point B in your own home. Traveling with your betta is a nerve-racking situation. Hopefully, after reading this article, at least some of your nerves will be spared from racking.

Be it you are finally able to take that vacation you’ve been counting down the days for, or heading off to college and have to option to bring along your fishy friend, pet fish plus travel can make for a uniquely stressful situation. As long as you’ve done your pre-travel homework and ready to go the extra few steps to keep your betta fish healthy along the way, you should be able to provide a relatively low-stress experience for your fish throughout the journey.

Because betta fish are living, breathing creatures and not inanimate objects that can be relied on to do things like stay put wherever you left them, there are no hard and fast rules here. You need to assess every situation for yourself to the best of your abilities. This guide on traveling with your betta is more of a base set of suggestions.

Things to Consider

Trip Length

First, how long is your trip? If it’s just a few hours, the set up is going to be pretty simple. Making a week-long, cross country trip? You are going to need something a bit more substantial to keep your fish happy and healthy.

This guide is generally intended for those making trips that will be less than a day in length. Basically, for those whose betta will be on one car ride before arriving at their new destination, where they will stay for an extended period.

If you are taking a multi-day trip with a couple of hotel stops along the way, we’ll put a few tips throughout to help you out too.

Tank Type

Secondly, pretty much everything suggested herein will be based on the assumption that your betta fish normally lives in a tank that is not cycled. The reason for this is that most people that own bettas don’t have them in cycled tanks. If you do have your betta in a cycled aquarium, you can modify parts of the traveling process to meet those needs.

Because this is more for novice fish keepers, we are giving more advanced users the benefit of the doubt on knowing how best to take care of their pets.

Number of Fish

Some people have more than one betta fish they need to transport. If you are one of these people, please use a divider of some type, or better, use separate containers. These are fighting fish mind you. You don’t ever want to keep two bettas in the same container, even if it is only for a “short drive”. Got it? Thanks.

Betta Fish Trip Gear

Ok, let’s get right down into it. If you are planning any sort of trip by car, take a look at this list of betta approved necessities:

  • Clear Plastic Container
  • Pre-treated water
    • Water conditioner
    • Aquarium Salt
  • Fish Net + Small cup
  • Thermometer
  • Cloth and Paper Towels

Container Options

First, I should point out here that traveling with a fully equipped and filled aquarium is never a safe or smart idea. This is especially so for glass aquariums. Water shifting and sloshing back and forth in a standard betta aquarium can not only spill, but it may also cause the glass to shatter. You’d be surprised how much force 10 gallons of water has when shifting from one side of an aquarium to the other. Please be careful. Don’t transport a full aquarium.

That said, there are a couple of different things you can use to safely contain and transport your betta fish. The main rule of thumb is to go for something plastic that holds around a half-gallon of water.

Option number one is an unused or fish-only half-gallon Tupperware or other plastic container. (We don’t want any soap or food scraps in there). Screw-on tops are best because they help prevent leakage. With these, you can either poke a few holes in the top to let in the fresh air. Or, you can occasionally stop and remove the lid to accomplish the same thing.

Option number two, a thick zip-locked plastic baggie, is best for very short trips (only a couple of hours). You will still need to use the half-gallon size, and you must double-bag them. If you choose this option, make sure the bag is placed inside of a more stable, rigid container and surrounded by towels. You will still need to make sure it has a bit of air and open up the baggie every hour or so to aerate the water.

Options one and two should be left empty aside from water and your fish. Any decorations may get moved around and pin or crush your fish.

The third option is best suited for those taking slightly longer trips and is also our recommendation for multi-day trips: a travel tank. These generally have clasps to keep the top on securely, along with some holes to help with aeration. Still go for something that’s about a half gallon. Tanks that are too large are messy and dangerous for your fish. Too small and your tank will dirty too rapidly and your fish may become stressed or sick

If you will be going for multiple days, you may want to add a plant (live or silk–not plastic). We recommend using a plant and NOT a normal hide when traveling because it allows your fish to rest and get some cover (reducing stress) while also not putting them in danger of being crushed. Please do keep an eye on things and check on your fish periodically to ensure things haven’t shifted too much or endangered your friend in any way.

Preparing for betta fish travel

You don’t want to be caught having to prep everything the day of your trip. Please try to prepare as much as you can, if not everything, at least the day before. The most stressful part of any travel adventure happens on the day of your trip. You want to have your head screwed on straight when getting ready to take your betta out into the world. The only thing that should be left for you to remember on the day of your trip is the betta itself.

To feed or not to feed?

Some people prefer to skip a betta feeding the day before the traveling begins. I think that opinion is subjective and really depends on what your existing routine is. Also, bettas are creatures of habit. They really like their routines and can over stress if something is “different”. If you have an already established feeding routine, I’d suggest sticking to it.

That said, you should have at least one fasting day for you betta in a week anyway to prevent bloating and constipation. So if you are just going for a one-day trip, you can probably safely make the fasting day the one before you travel. That way you save you and your fish a bit of messiness during your travels.

When the sun finally rises on the day of the traveling starts, you are going to want to feed your betta fish as you normally would.

The Water

Everybody seems to have a different way of prepping the water their betta will swim in. Whatever your chosen method of doing betta water prep is, do it the day before. If you have a specific routine for changing out and adding in water to the betta’s tank, you can stick to it. What you do want to pay attention to though is that you don’t make the betta’s travel water too much different than the water he/she is used to normally.

Our recommendation would be to do a partial water change a day or two before you travel. That way, your fish should have relatively clean but still familiar water. Also, do not put your fish into brand new water when you put it into its travel container. The travel water should be at least half tank water, which is why it’s important to do a partial change a few days before (keep things clean and ammonia-free). This is to prevent shocking or stressing your betta.

The day before traveling, we pre-condition some water (described below) and mix that with our tank water. That way, we are able to have pretty pristine water without much risk of stressing our fish when we transfer it.

Conditioning

We do prep some conditioned water in our travel container. Here’s how:

Make sure your travel container is clean. And by clean, I mean really clean. Don’t just blow it out and call it good. Really clean it well by hand. This will be the container that you prep the new tank water in so, you don’t want anything thing that would cause contamination.

Fill that clean container with water from the tap.

Use a good, betta approved water conditioner. We use Seachem.  Add this to the tap water in the clean container. Follow the directions on the label of the water conditioner, please!

Let the newly conditioned tap water in the clean container sit overnight. If you do ever find yourself in a pinch for time though, you can let it sit for about half an hour. The longer you let it sit though, the better the conditioner will work. The water conditioner is neutralizing the poisonous stuff in the tap water that will harm your betta fish.

Another step we take to help our fish is adding Aquarium Salt. Aquarium salt has many uses, but in this particular case, we are looking to use it for its de-stressing abilities. You are going to want to add one teaspoon of aquarium salt per gallon of water.

You’ll need to add the correct amount of aquarium salt to the volume of water you will be using and mix it very thoroughly. DO NOT add this directly to the tank your fish is in and DO NOT put your fish in it immediately after adding it. If you add aquarium salt straight to the tank your betta is swimming in, it will cause burns on the betta. If you pre-mixed it the night before, you will be fine.

The day of the betta trip

Transferring the betta

As described above, the travel tank or container should have some pre-conditioned tap+ tank water in it already. If you are using a baggie, go ahead and pour your water into that now. Both sets of water should be around the same temperature; use a thermometer to check this. Next, use a net and a small cup to capture your betta from their current container. Hold the cup in the new container and WAIT for the betta to move into it on its own. (This should sound familiar. Its what you should be doing any time you are changing your betta’s water or transferring containers).

The goal here is to place as little stress on your betta as possible. Using a cup of the water they were already in allows them to adjust to any remaining temperature and condition differences. Once the betta leaves the cup, they may jet around the container a little bit. If they do, watch until they are done to make sure there are no swimming irregularities. Chances are, there won’t be if you have followed the previous steps, but in the off chance something does go wrong, you’ll want to take immediate action.

Transporting the Tank

Now that your betta is safe (albeit a bit confused) in the traveling container, you will next tackle the chore of getting the betta’s normal tank ready for transport. You are bringing it with you to set up wherever it is you are going right?

You are going to want to drain the water from the betta’s normal aquarium and remove any tank accessories. Having them roll around in an empty aquarium during transport is a bad idea. More things breaking and clanking while you travel that you don’t need to think about.

Betta learn to siphon water

For the water removal part, you can do this however you wish. Some people scoop out the water a few cups at a time, others try and tip the tank. Tank tipping may end up being a dangerous venture though, so I don’t really advise it. My preferred method is to siphon the water out of the aquarium. It’s easy once you get the hang of it and will save you a good amount of time and stress in the long run.

To siphon the water out of an aquarium, you need to find a hose of sorts. Using an old or new aquarium hose that may be nearby is fine. Keep in mind that the narrower the hose, the longer the water emptying process will be.

You start by taking the hose or tubing and inserting one end far below the surface of the water in the tank. You will also want a bucket to catch the water once it starts flowing. The top of the bucket should be placed below the bottom of the betta’s aquarium. Now the fun part. With one end of the hose in the water, start sucking on the other end of the hose. If you have chosen a see-through hose or piece of tubing, you can watch the water come closer and closer to you as you suck.

When you see the water in the tube crest over and below the top of the aquarium, you can stop sucking and quickly place your side of the hose in the bucket. If done quickly and correctly, the water should start to flow from the aquarium and into the bucket. I hope you chose a big enough bucket. It may be a good idea to have a second bucket nearby. Try to let as much water drain from the tank as you can. You are trying to make the aquarium as light and empty as possible for the transport. Tanks are heavy even when empty, so don’t hurt yourself.

Quick clean and tie-down

With the betta’s standard aquarium empty at this point, you have two options. The first would be that you take this time to give your take a good cleaning before traveling. The second being that you hold off cleaning the tank until you get to where you’re going. I leave this hard life decision solely up to you.

If, in the event, you do decide to take this time to give your betta’s aquarium a good cleaning, hit it with some good, clean water. Just a simple rinse is what you want to do right now. I’d actually advise taking the time to clean the tank before you head out as it makes one less chore to do once you arrive at your destination all wore out from traveling. Plus, you’ll be able to put your fish back in it sooner.

You are going to want to rinse out the accessories and the substrate as well. Cleaning the substrate can be kinda tricky sometimes. Some people rinse out the substrate in the tank and empty out the tank after every rinse. Some take the substrate out and rinse it in a separate, more manageable container.

If you have a cycled betta aquarium, you should leave the substrate wet with some of the original tank water. Same goes for the filters of a cycled tank. The reason being is that the original tank water has with it beneficial bacteria that you want to try and save. When you go to set up your cycled betta tank after your travel, it will be easier for you to get things running cycled like they were before. With that in mind, you should think about finding a water tight container for the substrate and the filter to travel in.

As for the walls of the betta tank and the accessories, after rinsing everything off, take a towel and give every surface a good wipe. Some people have a hard time with their water’s residue more than others. Just do the best you can.

You are going to probably want to wrap up your betta’s aquarium accessories and decorations in paper towels or cloths so as not to damage them during transport. Of course, you can really use anything to wrap up your decor, I generally use cloth towels though to save on waste. After wrapping them all up, I’ll place them in a plastic shopping bag for easier, leak resistant (they can be wet still) transport. Also, take the time to wipe up any remaining water drips lingering on the walls of your aquarium. No one likes water spots.

Generally speaking, what I am left with is a completely empty and clean aquarium with containers of substrate and accessories surrounding. Substrate, even when dry, can be pretty heavy, but I normally place all of the clean accessories back into the aquarium. I use the aquarium as a transport container if I can. But I leave the substrate out. If you are transporting a really large aquarium, you may opt to keep it as empty as possible. That choice is also ultimately up to you as well.

Securing the Betta

So now, take stock of what you are left with. At this point you should be left with:

● A very clean, and spotlessly dried off, empty betta aquarium.
● An almost forgotten about mellow betta fish

If this is what you have at this point, you are doing good. Next up is the traveling part of this adventure!

At this point you should have your betta and equipment sitting in the car. Do your best to strap everything down nice and tight. Seat belts aren’t just for humans. It may take some finagling, but try and use the car’s seat belts to your advantage. If needed, bungee-cords and/or tie-downs can possibly be used. Feel free to get creative in securing your fishy cargo, but make sure to double-check your work before heading down the highway.

Often times the floor of the car can secure a betta better than the seat can. Also less prone to bumps down there on many cars as well. Use your best judgment with your particular car holding your particular cargo. Just make sure you don’t have the A/C blowing on it. This is where having your container in another box, surrounded by towels and old t-shirts can come in handy. It helps regulate temperature and minimize movement.

Regardless, wherever they are kept in the car, be mindful of the heat or air-conditioning setting in the car. Betta fish are adaptable up to a point. They can survive temperature ranges from the low 70°s to the high 80°s. You have to be careful, though, about how fast the temperature changes between highs and lows. Dramatic shifts in temperature can cause a lot of stress to a betta. Heat things up slow and cool things down slow.

Use common sense when it comes to traveling through different climates. If the temperature is going to be briefly cold and you are concerned for your fish, you can use things like jackets or towels as insulation. Water retains heat fairly well, but does a better job if even only slightly insulated. Also, obviously, don’t forget about your betta fish when leaving the car while it’s hotter than the sun outside. People worry about dogs being left in parked cars more than fish because… when was the last time you saw a fish in a car? Keep your betta fish out of direct sunlight when at all possible as well.

Upon Arrival

Well now, that was fun… right? After your traveling betta has arrived at the destination, now it’s time to set everything back up. You want to have your tank full with a new batch of pre-conditioned water. Follow the steps outlined above as nothing will change for this part. Oh, you should of course clean the tank before you fill it with pre-treated water if you skipped that part before you left home.

Set up for the tank should be the same as the reverse of taking everything apart. Well, with the exception that you should probably treat the aquarium with aquarium salt. The transition from the betta’s traveling aquarium back into the original tank may prove to be stressful. Adding that aquarium salt to the main tank will help your betta ease into his new, old, tank. Make sure that you premix the aquarium salt thoroughly inside of a separate container. Again, never add aquarium salt directly into an aquarium that a betta fish is currently swimming in. You don’t want to hurt your fish by burning him/her with undissolved aquarium salt.

You are going to want to perform a cycle, of course, if your aquarium is a cycled one. Having your betta stay an extra night or two in the fun adventure container while you get this done will be fine. Just remember that he is in there and keep doing normal betta husbandry things like keeping the tank warm. It should go without saying that you’ll need to continue watching your betta for any behavior that seems off.

When you actually go to transition the betta from the trip tank to another, please make sure that the water temperatures are the same. Again, temperature shock is a real thing and you don’t want your betta to go through that.

When it comes time to do the big transfer, be very gentle with your little traveling betta. Carefully scoop out your betta from the travel tank and gently place him into his newly refurbished home. Use a cup and let him adjust as we explained before. If you took the time to add a bit of aquarium salt to the main aquarium, the betta’s transition shouldn’t be as stressful. Also, make sure that you dump the rest of the travel water out.  You do not want to use this in your main aquarium.

Once you finally have your betta swimming in the new tank, watch for any abnormal behavior. If things seem on the up and up, you can feed your betta a snack at this time. Not only will your betta probably be a bit hungry after this little betta vacation, giving your fish something to eat will help lower the stress experienced from the whole trip ordeal.

The last step of this process is to start planning your next trip! Safe travels!

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