If you’ve been following the guidelines on our website, you’ll know that betta fish should never be kept in a tank smaller than 5 gallons.
Then why on earth are betta fish being sold in cups in the pet store?
This treatment is indeed inhumane and dangerous to a betta’s health, and education on this topic is key to putting an end to this cruel practice.
Top 3 Reasons That Bettas Are Kept in Cups in Pet Stores
Betta Fish Are Aggressive
One of the biggest reasons that male bettas are sold in cups is that they’re incredibly aggressive fish toward one another.
It’s impossible to keep more than one male betta in the same tank without them ripping each other’s fins apart. They don’t call them the Siamese fighting fish for nothing!
It Saves Space in the Pet Store
Because bettas can’t be kept together, pet store owners may think that they don’t have enough space to host one betta in each tank. Betta fish are one of the very most popular aquarium fish, so pet stores need to stock many of them to keep up with the demand from customers.
That’s understandable, but there are some much better solutions to keeping many betta fish in a small pet store that we’ll explore in a moment.
Ignorance and Lack of Knowledge
A final reason that pet store owners may keep betta fish in tiny cups is simply a lack of knowledge and understanding of the proper care a betta needs.
There are many myths about betta fish being invincible fish that can live in almost any poor water conditions. There are still people who keep bettas in cramped fish bowls without a filter or heater. Needless to say, they don’t live long!
Sadly, pet store owners and employees are not always experts on tropical fish keeping and are notorious for offering incorrect advice.
Alternatives To Selling Bettas in Cups
The good news is there are practical and humane alternatives to selling betta fish in cups, some of which perhaps the pet stores didn’t think of.
Because a betta fish will lead a healthy and happy life in a larger space with good aquarium water conditions, these methods should also prove more profitable to the stores, too.
Keeping Betta Fish in Divided Tanks
There is a way of keeping more than one betta in the same tank, and that’s to divide one tank into smaller compartments. Thankfully, many pet stores already use this method.
Although I would never keep a male betta fish in less than a 5-gallon compartment at home, the temporary situation of the pet store permits slightly tighter living conditions.
As long as tanks are filtered properly and cleaned regularly, I’d say a 2 or 3-gallon compartment should suffice for each betta fish that is expected to be sold within 2-3 weeks.
For longer periods, each betta needs a 5-gallon tank.
Keeping Betta Fish With Other Fish
Now just because male betta fish can’t live with other bettas, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be kept with other species of fish.
Aquarists all over the world have had success keeping bettas with other community tank fish and invertebrates such as Corydoras catfish, rasboras, freshwater shrimp, and snails.
These species would be the most reliable to keep alongside a betta fish in a pet store tank for short periods.
Fish That Shouldn’t be Kept With Bettas in Pet Stores
It must be said that trying to keep bettas with tank mates in the cramped conditions of a pet store tank won’t necessarily be as easy as it is in a spacious home aquarium.
To live peacefully with other fish, betta fish prefer to have lots of room to swim freely without being bothered by other lively fish.
For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend keeping bettas with tetras in pet store tanks. Although peaceful tetras such as Neon tetras and Cardinal tetras can be kept with bettas in larger home aquariums, tetras are renowned for nipping a betta’s fins when they’re stressed.
Additionally, it would be ill-advised to keep a betta alongside fish with long, colorful fins in a small tank. While guppies can sometimes be kept with a peaceful betta in a large aquarium, I certainly wouldn’t try this in a densely stocked tank!
How Long Can a Betta Fish Live in a Cup?
Since I would never dream of keeping a betta fish in a cup, I’ve no idea for exactly how long they could live in such conditions.
I imagine that pet store owners will at least change their water daily to replenish oxygen levels and prevent ammonia poisoning, but even in the best case, I wouldn’t expect most bettas to live for more than a couple of weeks when kept in cups.
Sadly, I’m sure this method of selling bettas has seen its fair share of casualties.
What To Do if You See Betta Fish Being Sold in Cups
Now that you know how inhumane it is to keep betta fish in cups, you may want to do something about it!
The next time you’re in a pet store and witness this treatment, you could consider asking to speak to the store’s manager.
Give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to remember that the manager may be innocent and just be doing what she or he has seen in other stores without realizing how cruel it is.
Offer them the suggestion that I’ve outlined here for alternative ways to keep bettas that will prove more profitable to them in the long run, as well as giving the store a much better reputation.
If pet stores continue to treat their fish badly, reach out to the nearest relevant animal welfare authorities.
Can You Keep a Betta Fish in a Cup Permanently?
If you’ve followed the advice in this article, you’ll know by now that betta fish should never be kept in cups, not even for short periods of time!
What Is the Minimum Tank Size for Betta Fish?
If you want to keep a male betta fish alongside schooling fish like tetras and rasboras, I’d recommend 20 gallons as the smallest tank size.
20 gallons is also the minimum size tank for a female betta sorority tank – a setup that I’d only recommend for experts.
Can You Keep a Betta Fish Without a Filter?
Not only do betta fish need a large enough tank, but they also need a good aquarium filter.
Just because bettas have the remarkable ability to breathe atmospheric oxygen from the water’s surface, it doesn’t mean they should be kept in low-oxygen environments.
Additionally, a betta fish kept without a filter will quickly die of ammonia poisoning if the tank’s water isn’t changed every day.
Sponge filters are cheap, effective, and ideal for betta tanks up to 15 gallons.
Can You Keep a Betta Fish Without a Heater?
Bettas are equatorial, tropical fish that need warm water to survive. The optimum water temperature range for betta fish is 78-80°F and these fish are prone to temperature shock if the water temperature changes by more than 3°F over an hour period.
Pet shops trying to keep bettas in cups must have to be very careful to control the ambient temperature of the store to prevent overheating, chilling or thermal shock in the betta fish.
How Old Are Betta Fish When They’re Sold in Pet Stores?
To be attractive to prospective buyers, betta fish need to have already developed the long fins and bright colors that make these beautiful fish so popular.
This means that male bettas are usually at least 6 months old when they’re sold. But male bettas can keep growing for their entire first year, and can also be sold at more than a year old.
Female bettas don’t develop such long fins and are often sold slightly younger than males.
Betta fish are intelligent fish that need plenty of swimming space. Even in the temporary setting of a pet store, betta fish should never be kept in cups.
Sometimes selling fish in cups is an attempt to squeeze more fish into a small space, and other times it’s an innocent mistake made by a misinformed pet store owner.
If you see bettas being sold in cups in your local pet store, consider consulting the store’s management and referring them to this article.