Betta Fish Behavior Before Death (Signs And Symptoms Of Your Fish Dying)

Has your betta fish been acting off, and you’re afraid something’s wrong? Are they getting old? Or maybe, you’re ready to buy a betta but want to know everything you can before you jump in.

It’s important to know betta fish behavior before death, so it’s good you’re here. If you know what to look out for, you can prevent catastrophes before they happen. If you catch an illness soon enough, you can treat it and prevent your scaly friend from dying.

What Are The Signs Your Betta Is Dying?

Betta Behavior That Could Indicate A Near Death

Everyone wants their betta fish to live to old age, but sometimes, that doesn’t happen. Whatever is causing your betta fish to go downhill, there are a few things in the way they behave to look out for.

Common signs of a sick betta include lethargy and color loss. Your betta fish may also experience labored breathing and decreased appetite, among others.

Many of these symptoms appear gradually, so you can catch your betta’s illness before it’s too late. Here are the signs to watch out for:


Bettas are generally active critters. So, if you notice that your betta has less energy than normal, it may be a sign that they’re sick.

How do you know if they’re lethargic or just resting? A lethargic betta will frequently hang out at the bottom of the tank. They will rarely swim, and may not come up when offered food.

Lethargy is common with ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate poisoning. It’s also common with illness and old age.

Loss Of Color

Bettas will begin to lose their coloration when they’re sick. If the color loss is rapid, it likely means that your betta is very ill.

If your betta only loses a little bit of color, it could be that they’re getting old.

But, some bettas have the “marble gene”. This causes their scales to change coloration at any point throughout their life.

A change of color isn’t usually a problem. What is a problem, is the dulling of their color.

Hunched Back

When a betta becomes old, you’re likely to notice a hunched back. This is normal for old age, and there’s nothing you can do.

But, if your betta develops a hunched back and becomes very skinny, it’s more likely that they’re ill. This combination of symptoms is usually indicative of parasites or fish tuberculosis (TB).

Laying Against Substrate

You shouldn’t panic every time your betta lays down — they love to rest. It’s not necessarily a sign of a dying fish.

Still, there are times when laying down isn’t normal.

A betta laying on the substrate at the bottom of its tank is likely sick. There is a distinction here: if the betta is laying upright on the substrate, it’s probably resting. But, if it’s laying on its side against the substrate, it’s probably sick.

Unfortunately, once you notice your betta acting this way, it’s usually too late to save them.

If this behavior is a result of an illness, parasite, or disease, they’ve likely reached the end of their life. Yet, if this behavior is a result of poor water parameters, you may be able to save your betta fish.

Rapid Breathing

Rapid breathing is usually an early sign that something is wrong. So, it’s important to catch it early.

The bad news is that rapid breathing can be a result of many things. Old age, poor water quality, and sickness can all cause rapid breathing.

Poor water quality will usually cause rapid breathing in as little as a few hours to 3 days. Yet, if you test your water and it is within a good range, you might not have enough oxygen in the tank. You can try adding live plants or a bubbler to add reoxygenate the water.

Decreased Appetite

Once again, decreased appetite can be a symptom of many things. As bettas age, they lose their appetite and eat less. But, poor water quality and sickness can also cause a loss of appetite.

But, an older betta fish will gradually decrease the amount it’s eating. A sick betta will rapidly lose its appetite.

Decreased Reaction Times

Bettas are active little creatures who enjoy interacting with their owners.

Delayed reaction time is not typically a symptom of a sick betta fish. Instead, a slow-moving betta is usually an old one. Their metabolism begins to slow, and they may begin to lose their eyesight.

Clamped Fins

Clamped fins are easy to spot on a betta because of their long, flowy fins. Rather than flowing as they normally would, the betta fins will be stuck tight against its body. This condition usually begins with the betta’s dorsal fin and works its way to its tail.

Clamped fins are treatable. They are usually a sign of poor water quality, a betta fish tank that is too small, or other stress.


Betta fish will isolate themselves when they are sick and vulnerable. You might have a difficult time locating your fish when it hides. If this goes on for several days, your fish is likely sick.

Why Does My Betta Fish Look Like He’s Dying? What Causes These Behaviors?

betta fish

There are many reasons why your betta fish may look like it’s dying, although some are more common than others.

Poor Water Conditions

The most common reason that bettas die is that the water quality in their tank is poor.

Many people don’t realize that betta fish need at least a 5-gallon aquarium tank with a heater and filter. Many new fish owners will simply buy a betta and house it in a small bowl. This leads to the build-up of waste, causing a spike in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Poor water quality can lead to a host of problems in your betta. Ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate poisoning are common with a poor tank. Dropsy, popeye, swim bladder disease, and clamped fins are other common problems.

Nitrite & Ammonia Poisoning

Nitrite and ammonia are dangerous substances that can cause the death of your betta. Poisoning will cause labored breathing, leaving bettas gasping for air. Their gills will be red and burned, and they will dart around their tank.

Most often, high levels of ammonia and nitrite occur when a tank is new. You have to allow your tank to complete the nitrogen cycle before adding fish, or they may die.

Still, the nitrites in your tank can spike at any time.

In an established tank, good bacteria will live within the filter and in the gravel. You should never remove all the gravel or filter media at once. Doing so removes the good bacteria. This may crash your cycle, causing a spike in ammonia or nitrite which could kill your fish.

High levels of nitrite can also be due to large amounts of waste in the tank. So, you can solve the problem by completing a large water change.

Common Fish Diseases

Water issues are the most common cause of death among bettas. But, they can also develop diseases. Here are some of the most common betta diseases:

Bacterial Infection

Bacterial infections can occur for many reasons, but they are always contagious. Your fish will develop red sores, loss of color, and clamped fins. You are also likely to notice them sitting at the bottom of the tank, and they will lose their appetite.


fish dying


Constipation is common among bettas who receive too much food, or the wrong kind of food. It’s easy to notice because their bellies will become swollen, and they are unable to poop. If left untreated, it can lead to death.


Dropsy is near always fatal. It is a sign of kidney failure.

You can recognize dropsy by the way your fish’s body swells and “pine cones”. “Pine coning” is a condition where your betta’s scales will begin to point outward. They look like the prickles of a pine cone.

External Parasitesdying fish with parasite

src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/buymelunch/4324457736

External parasites, like anchor worms, live on the outside of your betta fish’s body. Your betta will scratch itself against decor and will dart around the tank. This may be fatal but is usually treatable.

Fin Rot

This disease results from a bacterial or fungal infection. It causes your betta’s fins to rot away. Their fins will usually appear ragged and discolored.

This disease is not usually fatal. Yet, if left untreated, the rotting can reach your fish’s body which is almost always fatal.

Fish Tuberculosis

Fish tuberculosis is not the same in humans as in fish, although humans can catch it from their fish. It is very contagious and is almost always fatal. Your fish will experience wounds, scale loss, weight loss, and deformation.


Ich, otherwise known as “white spot disease”, appears as white spots all over your fish’s body. Many people confuse ich for a fungal infection. But, ich is actually the result of parasites.

Internal Parasites

Nematodes are one of many examples of internal parasites. The infection is almost always fatal when left untreated. Your betta will rapidly lose weight as the parasite steals all the betta’s nutrients.


Popeye is easy to spot because your fish’s eye will become enlarged. It will look like the eye is popping out of your betta’s head. This can happen to one or both eyes and is the result of a viral infection or tumor.

Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease is one of the most common problems among bettas. Usually, the fish will float to the surface and will be unable to swim downwards. Some fish may begin swimming sideways or upside-down.


Betta tumors are the result of genetic mutations or viral infections. They usually appear in the gills, tail, abdomen, and reproductive organs. The tumors may sometimes be cancerous, but they may also be minor growths or cysts.


This condition is also referred to as “gold dust disease” and it causes loss of color. Your fish will also have trouble breathing, and their fins will become clamped.

What Do You Do If You Find Your Betta Fish Dying? Betta Fish Care Guide

You need to narrow down what your fish is suffering from to determine how to treat it. Do they have a parasitic, fungal, or bacterial infection? Is your water quality off? Have they developed a disease? Once you’ve figured this out, there are some steps you can take:

Check Your Water & Clean Your Tank

A dirty tank and bad water quality is the most common reason that bettas get sick. Before you do anything else, you should check your water parameters.

For a betta fish, your water parameters should look like this:

If your water parameters differ from this, then your betta is suffering. You need to take steps to correct it.

If your tank is cycled, then a spike in ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates is likely due to a dirty tank. You should immediately do a 50% water change and add fresh water.

You may perform a 50% water change up to 3 times a day until the levels have stabilized. Changing large amounts of water won’t crash your cycle. The beneficial bacteria live in the substrate and filter media.

You should also add beneficial bacteria to the aquarium. This will help break down the ammonia and nitrites.

Another option is to add live plants. Live plants remove ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates from the water and add oxygen.

If your tank is very dirty, be sure to use a gravel vacuum to suck up the detritus hiding within the gravel.

If only the nitrates are high, it may be that your filter media is old and needs to be replaced. Or, it could be that your filter can’t keep up with the waste. You can try a larger filter.

If your pH is off, there are products you can buy to artificially lower or raise your pH to the proper level. There are similar products that can alter your hardness.

To regulate your temperature, be sure to buy a heater. Bettas are tropical and need warm water. We recommend buying an adjustable heater. Make sure to have a thermometer to watch the temperature.

If your water quality is not to blame, then your betta likely has a disease, infection, or parasite. Below, we’ll cover how to treat the most common betta fish problems.

When treating your betta with medication, NEVER use a product that ends in a “fix” (e.g. Melafix or Bettafix). These products contain tea tree oil. This coats the betta’s labyrinth organ and suffocates them.

Bacterial Infection

To treat a bacterial infection, you’ll need to use medication like Tetra Lifeguard.


Swim bladder disease can often be a result of overfeeding your fish. Fast your betta for a day and switch from flakes or pellets to frozen daphnia.

NEVER feed your betta frozen peas. This is a common treatment recommended for bloated bettas. But, bettas cannot digest plant matter.


The best way to treat dropsy is with Kanaplex and unscented Epsom salts.

First, do a 50% water change on your tank. Then, add 1 tbsp of Epsom salt per 5 gallons of water. Then, follow the dosing instructions on the bottle of Kanaplex.

External Parasites

You must treat external parasites with a copper-based medication like Betta Revive. You should also do a large water change before treatment.


Make sure to keep your aquarium very clean, and treat the tank with a medication like Aquari-Sol.

Fish TB

You will need to use a strong antibiotic to treat Fish TB. Just keep in mind that this disease is almost always fatal, and only about 10% of affected fish will recover.


Ich is usually easy to treat, and you can use a medication like Seachem ParaGuard.

Internal Parasites

You must treat internal parasites with medication like ParaCleanse.


To treat bacterial popeye, you should use an antibacterial like KanaPlex. As your fish is healing, do a 100% water change every 2-3 days.

If the popeye is only affecting one eye, it may be due to an injury. In this case, you should treat your betta to an Epsom Salt bath.

In a separate container, make a salt bath with 1 tbsp Epsom salt for every 1 gallon of water. Allow your fish to sit in the bath for about 10-minutes before acclimating it back to its aquarium.

Swim Bladder Disease

Usually, swim bladder disease is a result of poor water quality, so be sure to keep your tank clean. You can also add some aquarium salt to the water.

Sometimes, swim bladder disease is a result of a bacterial infection. In this case, you should use a medication like KanaPlex to treat it.


There is no effective treatment for betta tumors.


Velvet hates the heat, salt, and darkness, so these are the three things you need to kill it.

First, slowly raise the temperature to 82-85°F. Only raise the temperature about 1°F once a day.

Next, keep the lights off in the aquarium, and wrap the aquarium in a blanket if you can.

Lastly, add aquarium salt to the tank: about 1 tbsp per gallon of water. You’ll want to do this gradually over 3-4 hours.

Conclusion On Betta Fish Death

There are almost always signs and behavior to watch out for before your betta dies. If they appears sick, it’s important to act quickly to treat them before it’s too late, and you can prolong the betta fish lifespan.

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