Betta Fish Staying At Top Of Tank: Causes and Solutions

Have you noticed your betta fish staying at the top of its tank more often than usual? We know it can be worrying to see them acting out of the ordinary.

Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out why your fish is spending so much time at the top of their tank. We’ll cover the most common reasons that your betta might be doing this so that you can narrow down the problem.

Why Is Your Betta Staying At The Top Of Its Tank?

Bettas tend to prefer swimming in the middle region of their tank. They’ll come up to the surface for a swim, too, but it’s not normal for them to spend extended lengths at the top of the tank.

If you notice them doing this, then something is wrong.

Lack Of Oxygen

Most likely, if your betta is spending a lot of time at the top of their tank, it’s because they’re not getting enough oxygen.

Bettas have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe air. So, they are less bothered by lower levels of oxygen than other fish. Still, it’s not good for them to have to use this organ all the time.

A lack of oxygen can occur because of warmer temperatures and stagnant water.

Bettas usually live in smaller tanks without much flow. They aren’t good swimmers, so they don’t like a lot of flow. But, if there isn’t enough, their water may become oxygen deficient.

If you can, adjust the filter so that it’s putting out a higher rate of flow. If this isn’t possible, you’ll likely need to buy a bubbler.

Buy an air pump that allows you to adjust the flow. You can add enough flow to the tank to aid in gas exchange without stressing your betta.

Swim Bladder Disease

Another reason your betta might be staying at the top of its tank is that it’s suffering from swim bladder disease.

A swim bladder is a buoyancy organ that allows the fish to move up and down. The organ fills with oxygen when the fish wants to rise, and it deflates when the fish wants to swim downward.

When a betta develops swim bladder disease, they’re not able to inflate or deflate its swim bladder. As a result, they’ll be stuck at the top of the tank.

Swim bladder disease often occurs if the fish inhales too much air or if it eats too much. It also occurs because of poor water conditions.

To prevent swim bladder disease, only feed your betta a small pinch of food. Their stomachs are only about the size of their eyes, so they can’t eat much. Also, keep their aquarium in pristine condition so that they don’t get stressed and stay healthy.

The Water Is Too Cold

Bettas are tropical fish that prefer warm water. Their ideal water temperature is 78-80°F (25.5-27.8 ℃). Warm water rises, so cold water will stay near the bottom of the tank. If the tank is too cold, the betta will stay near the top where the water is warmest.

To solve this, provide your betta with a heater. In almost all cases, a betta needs a heater to stay happy and healthy.

The Water Is Toxic

Toxic water conditions are another common problem.

To keep your betta’s tank healthy, their water conditions should look like this:

Ammonia and nitrites are incredibly toxic, so there shouldn’t be any traces of them in your tank. Nitrates aren’t as bad, but if the levels get too high, they can become toxic as well.

The first step to a healthy tank is allowing it to go through the nitrogen cycle. Many people don’t know about the nitrogen cycle, so they’ll buy a betta and a tank on the same day.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t give the tank enough time to build up good bacteria. So, waste can’t be broken down, causing the water to become toxic.

For best results, your tank should cycle for at least a month before adding your betta.

But, what if your tank is cycled and you’re still having spikes? It could be that your tank is simply too dirty and you need to do more water changes. Make sure to use a gravel vacuum to get all the waste and leftover food that sinks to the bottom.

You can also add beneficial bacteria to your tank at any time. Most people do this when first cycling their tank because it makes the process quicker. But, you can add it to your tank as a preventative measure with water changes, or if you’re having dangerous spikes.

They’re Hungry

Bettas may come to the top of the tank if they’re hungry, too. Sometimes, they may actually be hungry, but other times, they merely think they are.

Don’t feed your betta every time it wants food. They can develop bloat, constipation, and swim bladder disease.

Be careful not to underfeed though, either. They should get a tiny pinch of food one to two times a day.

There Are Too Many Fish

Lastly, your betta may be spending a lot of time at the top of their tank if there are too many fish. An overcrowded tank can cause problems with your water parameters. More fish equals more waste.

Plus, an excess of fish may stress out your betta. This is especially true if you get other fish that like to swim in the middle area of the tank, or if you get fin nippers. Fish that bite at your betta can do a lot of damage to their delicate fins.


If your betta is spending a lot of time at the top of its tank, it’s likely because it’s not getting enough oxygen. But, the water conditions might also be off in the tank, or they might have developed swim bladder disease.

To help your fish, try to figure out what’s causing the problem so that you can fix it at its source. Once your betta starts feeling better, you’ll see them spending much less time at the top of their tank.

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