Just like with humans or other pets, it can be worrying when your betta refuses to eat. While it may just be that your fishy friend isn’t hungry that day, loss of appetite may also be a sign of a bigger issue.
Before you go to the vet to ask why your betta isn’t eating, there are a few things you can try at home to get your fish eating again.
Most of the time, you’ll witness your betta refusing to eat within the first few days or weeks of owning it, and these issues will usually resolve themselves with time.
While there may be a serious issue surrounding it, the reason your betta isn’t eating is usually as simple as needing to adjust to a new food or environment.
What You Should Feed Your Betta
While you may be tempted to just grab the first can of fish flakes you see at the store, you have to remember that not all fish eat the same type of food. In the wild, the ocean has thousands of species that eat different things throughout thousands of cubic miles of water.
Bettas are tropical fish and require a protein-rich diet. In the wild, bettas find this protein in worms, shrimp, and other small insects and crustaceans.
In captivity, bettas have few options for their meals. You can choose to feed your betta live, frozen, or freeze-dried versions of their usual prey or feed them specially-formulated pellets.
For those who are more squeamish or on a tighter budget, the pellets are likely the best option, but may not be your betta’s favorite.
When picking a pellet at the store, make sure you read the label carefully to ensure that it’s made for bettas, not just generic tropical fish. While bettas are tropical fish, they’re a bit pickier than others.
Stress and Illnesses
If your betta is stressed or has come down with an illness, it’s unlikely he’ll want to eat much.
If you notice your betta has a loss of appetite, especially if he was eating just fine before, the first thing you want to do is observe his behavior for signs of stress or illness.
Signs Your Betta Is Stressed
Fish can easily become stressed in situations that are unfamiliar or they’re not comfortable in. If you just brought your betta home a few days ago, he’s likely just getting used to the new environment.
Remember that bettas are very independent and often the lone wolves of the fish community. If you put your betta in a tank with other fish or where he can see other fish, even if he doesn’t attack, he may be uncomfortable with them in his space.
Bettas also like having lots of places to hide and they can call their own. If you don’t have any, try adding a couple of places your new pet can hide in, under, or behind. While he will sometimes be hiding from you, don’t worry, he’ll come out to play once he’s rested.
Signs Your Betta Is Sick
Unfortunately, even in optimal water conditions, you can’t always protect your betta from getting sick.
Some of the biggest signs your betta may be sick are lethargy, white spots, bloating, sores, or tattered fins.
If any of these symptoms are present, you’ll want to check your water conditions and temperature to make sure there aren’t any chemicals present that could be harming your fish.
Next, you’ll want to research your betta’s symptoms to see if there are any good home remedies or if you may need to take your fish to the vet. It’s also an unfortunate possibility that it just may be your fish’s time and the best thing for you to do is make them comfortable.
Betta fish are on the smaller side, and their stomachs are proportional to their size. One of the most common explanations for a fish not eating is that they’re simply not hungry after their last meal. A fish’s stomach is about the size of its eyeball, so keep that in mind when you feed your finned pets.
The best way to tell if you’re overfeeding your betta fish is to observe their behavior and water. When you feed them, they will likely eat all they want immediately.
If there is still food remaining when the fish is done, you’re likely giving them too much. You will probably also notice that there is an increase in waste and grime build-up on the tank from the excess food just floating in the water.
Changes in Water Quality
It’s important to maintain the water quality your fish is living in to make sure it doesn’t become too dirty or even toxic to your betta.
When a betta eats, it may or may not eat all of the food dropped into the tank, and what does get eaten will later come back out as waste. While the waste came from the fish, it isn’t necessarily safe for it to be swimming in indefinitely and can create poor water quality.
You should routinely clean the bottom of your fish tank and do partial water changes every week or two. You’ll want to use a small, tank-safe vacuum and a bucket to remove about the bottom quarter of the water. You can find these vacuums online or at your local pet store.
When you replace the aquarium water, be sure to condition it before adding it to the tank to maintain the levels your betta is used to.
It’s also crucial to have a filter in your tank and replace it regularly. Many tanks come with filters already attached, but most do not. You’ll want to set up your filter without the fish in the tank and allow it to run for 24 hours before adding the fish.
The filter helps keep waste out of the tank and maintains good bacteria to keep the chemical levels balanced. You should also have a water test kit handy to monitor the levels of these chemicals.
You May Just Have a Picky Betta
There are many options when it comes to feeding your betta, and most owners opt for the pellets because they’re rich in nutrients and not alive.
While most bettas just care that they’re getting fed, some may be partial to the worms and larvae they were fed as a baby.
If you’re not a fan of worms, you can opt for freeze-dried or frozen food, but your betta may insist on live ones. Many pet stores will have tweezers or tongs for feeding live prey to reptiles, but you can use these on your betta’s worms, too.
If you can’t afford to buy your betta worms as its regular diet, try adding them in as a treat. While you can’t exactly treat-train a fish as you can dog, your betta will still recognize that sometimes you’ll drop in a yummy treat either with its regular pellets or instead of them. While he may still only nibble at the pellets, at least you’ll know he’s eating.
Your Betta May Not Recognize Its Food
This could go along with your betta being a picky eater, but it’s important to think about where your betta came from and what it may be used to eating.
If you got your betta from a pet store, it’s probably already used to eating pellets, but if you got it from a breeder, it may be used to needing to chase after its food.
Breeders will often raise baby bettas to be big and vibrant. To do this, they pack the betta’s diet with nutrient-rich worms and larvae and usually mix up live, freeze-dried, and frozen meals.
If you’ve ever seen a worm and a betta pellet, you know they look fairly different — and smell different. If your betta isn’t used to eating a bland pellet that was dropped in its water, it may not even consider that it’s their food.
Don’t be too concerned if your betta hasn’t taken a liking to its pellets within the first few days, but it may be a good idea to have some worms on hand so they don’t get too hungry.
Over time, especially if the fish is hungry enough, it will investigate the pellets and realize they’re food. If this process takes too long, you may want to consider sticking to an all-worm diet for your betta.
Could a Problem With Water Temperature Make My Betta Stop Eating?
Yes. Just as humans feel uncomfortable or even sick if they’re too hot or too cold, so do bettas.
Bettas are tropical fish, so their optimal water temperature is between 74 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (23-27 degrees Celsius), with 74 being the absolute minimum.
When setting up your tank, you need to have a tank-safe water heater made for the size of the tank you have. 74 and 82 degrees is a wide range of temperatures, so you’ll want to try to keep the temperature of the water as close to the middle of that range as possible.
While the water temperature isn’t likely to get higher than this unless you set the heater higher, it dipping below this temperature range is possible and dangerous for your bettas. If the fish is too cold, it will slow its digestion, which can cause stress and discomfort.
If you’re concerned about the water temperature, even if you have a heater, you can get a temperature gauge to keep in your tank so you can visually see what the temperature is.
How Long Can a Betta Go Without Eating?
The short answer is up to 10 days without food, but that should not be a common practice. If a betta goes more than a few days without eating, it will starve.
While the fish can survive in this condition for a few days, it will be uncomfortable, in pain, and much weaker. This will make the betta much more susceptible to illness or unable to fend off an attack if there’s another fish present.
Bettas should be fed every day to every other day, depending on their needs and diet.
How Do I Care for My Betta When I’m Out of Town?
The best option for keeping your betta happy and fed while you’re on vacation is to ask a friend or neighbor to check in and feed your pet. The human element makes sure that the right amount of food is given, but they can also check on the filter, water conditions, and fish behavior.
If they see anything fishy, they can let you know so you’re not surprised when you get home or you can tell them what to do. If an emergency comes up or you absolutely can’t find someone to care for your fish while you’re gone for a few days, the maximum amount of time you should ever let your fish go without a meal is 4 days.
If you’re finding that you can’t find a fish-sitter, there are several automatic feeders on the market that start at affordable prices. The biggest issue with automatic feeders is technology.
If you know you’re going to need to depend on one of these machines to feed your fish while you’re away, you should always test it first for at least a few days to make sure it doesn’t break or clog.
Before leaving your fish alone, even if you have a sitter or an automatic feeder, you should make sure that the water conditions are optimal, the filter and water are clear and fresh, and your fish is happy and swimming around like usual.
This will significantly lower the risk of anything going wrong while you’re away and make sure your fish is well-kept in your absence.
If I Forget to Feed My Betta, Should I Feed It Double Next Time?
No. Even if you wake up one day and realize you haven’t fed your betta in three days, only feed it one standard serving. Overfeeding can cause more problems than it solves (which is none).
Your betta will know when it’s full and stop eating, but may sometimes overeat a bit. Anything that he doesn’t eat will be left floating around in the tank, and any extra he ate will be extra waste later.
The risks of overfeeding were discussed above, but it’s worth mentioning again that you should never overfeed your fish on purpose. Fish have very small stomachs, so it’s easy to overestimate how much they need to eat every day.
If you let leftover food and waste build-up, the tank can become a toxic environment for your betta. This can become a vicious cycle of overfeeding and under-eating which can lead to serious health problems.
Be sure to keep your betta’s tank clean and observe the fish when they’re eating so you know if you’re overfeeding.
Being a pet owner can be stressful. Whether this is your first betta or your 50th, new things can always come up, issues you’d never thought of can arise, or your betta may just be a sassy one.
Eating is something that all animals need to do to survive, so it can be scary when one of your pets doesn’t seem to want to.
While most of the time the reason your betta isn’t eating is a simple fix, you should keep an eye on your pet’s behavior even after he starts eating again and know when it’s time to take further action, if needed.