10 Reasons (+ Tips) Why Your Betta Fish Lays at the Bottom of the Tank

Betta fish owners will witness all kinds of weird behavior.

Still, a betta that’s laying on the bottom of the tank does sound alarming.

Is it turned on one side or are its fins supporting its body?

Is that a symptom for a serious illness or just another odd trait of character?

Will it be okay eventually or is that the final straw?

Why does it look as if your betta is breathing heavily?

Is it suffocating?

Let me explain.

A healthy betta needs its personal space, frequent water changes, and a properly diversified diet.

For the fish to prefer to stand still in an unnatural pose could mean a number of things.

Let me expand on those.

Figuring out why your betta fish lays on its side at the base of the aquarium

I can’t help but find bettas one of the most weirdly-mannered fish I have ever kept. As they enjoy having privacy, In many cases a simple decor upgrade will take care of the issue, but not always. Here’s why a betta may lay on its side at the fish tank’s bottom:

1. It Sleeps.

Bettas, like most other animals, do need rest and will sleep.

The fish will often find a comfortable place on the bottom of the aquarium where it will lay and take a nap.

Sometimes a betta will snooze on a big leaf, closer to the top of the tank, as that’s where they do it in the wild.

Bettas are not nocturnal, so their sleeping habits dictate being active during daytime and going to sleep at night, or when the room gets dark.

They will sleep in portions of about 1 hour at a time, multiple times a night.

Bettas like to sleep laying on their side. It’s an interesting trait of theirs adding to their popularity among fishkeepers.

If your pet friend appears otherwise healthy and active, it is probably just taking a nap.

Fun fact: There are even “betta beds” that represent artificial leaves, large enough to support a resting betta. Amazon has them in under 5 bucks.

If you’re like me (amused at how absurd it looks) then you’d be happy to give your pet a comfy bed.

The leaf should be mounted at the top of the tank.

Closer to the surface is where bettas spend their time in the wild.

Caution: Don’t mistake sleep with exhaustion. A betta will go to sleep whenever the lights are off.

Keeping them on constantly can confuse the fish. It will swim around until it’s exhausted and then have a prolonged rest somewhere in the tank.

Exhaustion can weaken your betta’s immune system.

2. It’s lazy.

Sometimes, however, it’s not lack of sleep but rather lack of motivation.

If the front pelvic fins are moving and supporting your betta, while sitting on the bottom, then the fish is just lazy.

Being lazy is a common trait of bettas.

Having huge fins is not always fun for swimming, so the fish eventually develops a habit of chilling at random places in the aquarium.

Monitor the behavior of yours.

If it moves around and feeds normally in-between “rests” then there’s nothing you should worry about.

3. Swim bladder disorder

Another reason for your betta to lay or even swim sideways may be the swim bladder disorder (click the link to check the extensive guide I wrote on that).

Its swim bladder is narrowed due to overfeeding or constipation.

The stomach swells, hindering the bladder’s proper functioning.

The condition is not lethal in its nature but it makes swimming really hard for the fish.

Sometimes this malfunction causes bettas to spend lots of their time laying around, as they find it difficult to move.

They may also float uncontrollably to the top, but still sideways or even turned upside-down.

The disease can be treated by fasting and foods that contain more fiber.

An approach I find extremely effective is to feed the betta a crushed pea.

Peel the pea and boil it before the offering. You should fast the fish for at least 1 day (24+ hours) after that.

Be sure to clean the tank of leftovers, as cooked peas can make a mess.

To avoid constipation I can recommend feeding a pea per week.

To avoid overfeeding I soak any pellets for 2 to 3 minutes or so before feeding them to my betta. This allows them to swell outside of my fish’s stomach.

Don’t forget you need to soak them in aquarium water, or at least one that has been dechlorinated.

For extra constipation-prevention diversify the betta’s menu by feeding it bloodworm occasionally.

4. Filter current is too fast

Bettas can get tired quickly if the filter current is too strong.

They have massive fins that make swimming in more turbulent water difficult.

So if your betta seems less active and prefers to lay around, try lowering the filter’s power.

Not every filter has a flow-controlling valve, but many do.

My success for a 10-gallon single betta tank has been with this such one filter (link to view it on Amazon) which has the adjustable flow feature.

Being able to control the flow in a small tank has made my pet friend twice as active.

For my larger tanks that include a betta or other slow-swimming fish, however, I am quite satisfied with using the AquaClear Power Filter 70. Amazon has those as well.

In my opinion, that last one crushes the competition on price tags that come with the same functionalities.

You can skim through its reviews for the super inexpensive poly-fil hack, by the way (link goes to my article on that).

Anyway, if you can’t get a filter with an adjustable flow rate right now, there are several DIY approaches you can try:

  • Strap a bio bag or any other kind of filter media on your filter’s water outlet. You can use a rubber band, fishing line or a cable zip tie to secure its placement.
  • Disperse the flow from the filter. Although you can get awfully creative here, I can confirm two easy and efficient ways to do that:

    – Tank divider kits are super cheap and will provide you with the perfect flow baffle and the means to attach it. Mount the mesh in front of the flow outlet.

    – Use a brand new plastic soap dish. Soap can be toxic to fish, so go and get a new cheap one from Walmart. They usually come with holes that are perfect for spreading the flow of your filter. Of course, go for the ones with suction cups.

  • Block the flow with plants or decoration. A well-planted tank will provide a safe place for your betta, away from the mean filter flow. You can also block the current with rockwork or artificial caves.
  • Drill holes in the intake pipe of your filter. This is simple physics. More holes or a larger intake pipe will reduce the pressure and therefore slow down the flow current.

Note: It has been the case that I get asked if bettas need a filtering system quite often (more than I would like to admit). Bettas produce waste and do need filtration.

Canister filters still hold the #1 place when it comes to maintaining decent water conditions.

If you’re planning on getting one, use a spray-bar as an outlet.

These filters provide a strong flow rate, which needs to be spread out when dealing with long-finned fish.

Browse some options here.

5. Water is too cold

Naturally, as with any other cold-blooded creature bettas won’t tolerate cold water.

They are tropical and thrive in waters with a temperature of 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 28 in Celcius).

If the water is too cold, your betta’s metabolism will gradually slow down.

This will cause the fish to become lethargic and spend a lot of time at the bottom of your aquarium.

Cold water also tends to absorb oxygen slower, which can cause issues for bettas.

Slowly raise the temperature if this is your problem.

6. Water too hot

In summer an aquarium can get really hot.

Warm water releases oxygen too quickly which may leave your betta gasping on the bottom.

Though bettas posses a special organ called labyrinth, allowing them to breathe atmospheric air, they still may die if the water is poorly oxygenated.

In this case, you have to lower the temperature and add some extra oxygen to the tank:

  1. Lowering the temperature – DON’T use ice packs or ice cubes in the water.

    The sudden temperature change will stress your beneficial bacteria and, perhaps, even kill it. What you can do is place a fan to blow directly on your aquarium’s water surface.

    Another (obvious) solution would be air-conditioning the room. Eliminate any direct sunlight to the aquarium.

    Don’t keep the fish tank lights on for over 6 hours, which should be more than enough for your plants. Note that LED lights emit little to no heat, so get one of those if you have the chance (hint: the link will help you with that).

  2. Oxygenating – It pains me to point this out but… use a filter.

    A filter will supply additional oxygen to your tank.

    There are also other methods for oxygenating a tank such as air stones.

7. Old Age

Bettas can live a happy and healthy life for about 4 to 5 years with good care.

Some may live even longer, but after hitting the 5-year mark they will become lethargic and more susceptible to disease.

Simply put, older bettas won’t have that youngster energy to explore.

They will prefer laying around on leaves or the bottom of your fish tank.

Leave the elderly to peacefully reflect on their past.

8. High ammonia levels

If your betta seems as if it’s gulping intensively while laying on the bottom you may have an ammonia issue.

Confirming this is really simple – test your water.

Finding the roots of the problem, however, can be more complex. A couple of reasons for high ammonia may be:

  • An overstocked tank – the fish produce too much waste for your beneficial bacteria to handle.
  • Overfeeding – again, food waste turns into ammonia.

    Monitor how much your betta actually consumes.

    Good prevention to overfeeding is getting an automatic feeder.

    It will feed the fish just the right amount, even when you’re out of town.

    I can recommend this one on Amazon, as it’s an Eheim and works consistently.

  • Incomplete tank cycling – you’ve added the fish before the tank was ready.

    Full natural cycling takes no less than a month.

    You can speed that process up to just about 2 weeks if you’re using bottled bacteria (learn more about that by clicking the link to see the guide I wrote).

The good news here is that you can almost always fix high ammonia levels by water changes.

Your initial water change should be no more than 50%.

Dechlorinate the water that you use and perform a 20% water change every week.

In extreme cases, you can use a commercially available ammonia neutralizer, but I wouldn’t recommend that.

9. Disease

There are a number of diseases that put a fish on the bottom.

Due to the way bettas are bred their immune systems are weaker than most fishes’ by definition.

If you haven’t found the solution to your problem above in this article then I have bad news for you.

If hanging out at the bottom is combined with atypical behavior, loss of coloration, cloudy eyes, inflamed fin patches, etc. then your betta is probably sick and you should definitely be concerned.

All of these symptoms alert something more than a lazy personality.

If it’s a female betta with a swollen belly and you’ve concluded it’s not constipation then it may mean that the fish is eggbound.

Sometimes this condition sorts itself out, but not every time. If that’s the case, then little can be done.

If you suspect an infection then treating with Epsom salts can be beneficial.

You can also let some Indian Almond leaves sit in the water.

They will release tannins, which help with infections and strengthen the immune system of your fish.

Make sure your water parameters are in check. A stress-free environment for your betta can also make the difference.

10. Its Aquarium is too small and the fish feels confined

If you’re keeping your betta in anything under a 3-gallon tank, then it may be time for a change.

A 3-gallon tank is a BARE MINIMUM for bettas. Ideally, you’d have yours in a 10 or 20-gallon tank.

The larger ones also give the opportunity to house more than just a betta.

As mentioned above – these fish are curious, and also like their private space.

When the aquarium is too small and there’s no space to explore or retreat to the stress may start to show.

Your betta will lose its life spark and prefer to do nothing at all.

Remember that in their natural habitat bettas have a tonne of vertical space to swim in.

They are found in rice paddies and though shallow, these always provide more room to discover or a good hideout.

So, in case your betta tank is no more than 2-gallons in volume I would strongly suggest that you consider getting it a larger home.

Make sure the new place has LOTS of plants as well.

I can help with choosing the right aquarium with this guide.

Good luck.

Conclusion

To witness a betta peacefully laying at a fish tank’s bottom is not uncommon.

It’s all about knowing your fish and its habits.

Carefully monitor its behavior and conclude whether it’s just a way of living or an issue in disguise.

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Marble
Guest

My Betta must be really lazy.
He has two fins a centimeter underneath his head that are curled up and he doesnt use them. Im a bit concerned, but just got him yesterday and he might need a larger tank. FYI he is in the cup, Im transfering him today.

Marble
Guest

Ok transfered him and he just didnt have enough space, but found hims sleeping this morning, He was hovering a centimeter up from a flower decoration! ^^

Sam
Guest
Sam

My beta has been sitting on the bottom of the tank for a while. I think it was because my original fish tank was quite small, so I properly moved him to a bigger tank with a filter, heater, and just the right amount of decorations. But after over a week, my beta is still panting on the bottom and still moving very little. What does this mean? I’ve tried many things to get my beta back to moving again, but nothing seems to be working. He does not seem to have any of the diseases you listed, so what… Read more »

Jennifer
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Jennifer

Thanks for the informative post – I lost my first male betta due to ammonia poisoning (big rookie mistake but I’ve learned a lot since then). I now have 2 male bettas (each in a 10g tank of their own, with an abundance of live plants, filter, heater, ornaments to rest on etc.) and I’ve kept them going strong for over a year. However, I am now having issues with both of them, and I really can’t figure out why… The first is Mr Bubbles, he’s on his own with a couple of nerite snails because he’s ultra grumpy and… Read more »

Marion Clark
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Marion Clark

Hi. My son’s fish was fine unril we recently added a bloodworm to his diet. He is at the bottom on his side. Samuel Finn has been with us for 8 months. We love his friendly little personality. He comes to the top happily at feeding time and when we speak to him. He has a 10 gal tank with a heater and filter. He will swim around if he is touched with the net but then returns to the bottom. He’s a little better today since we did a partial water change. He was uniterested in eating last night… Read more »

Rosa
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Rosa

My betta has just recently started lying on the bottom of the tank and his fins are vey clamped and he seems to be struggling when he swims. And he seems to have these white dots on him. We don’t have a filter in my tank maybe that’s why? But other than that I don’t know what I’m doing wrong

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

Hello, my Betta fish has been happy and healthy since we got him up until a week ago where he’s been laying on the bottom of his tank flat or on his side and going up for air every now and then, he won’t eat and I’m very concerned. His belly seemed bloated and he’s very inactive and advice on what to do??

Kim and Mark
Guest
Kim and Mark

My husband and I have gone betta crazy. We have bought “rescued” 20 betta in the last year or so. We received 5 new wal Mart bettas this weekend there are 3 who lay at the bottom of their tanks. (2 5 gallon tanks with dividers and a 20 gallon with dividers.) They have been fed frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms which they happily accept. I have not encountered this before. Should I be worried about them, could it be swimbladder issues? Any helpful info would be much appreciated.

Apple
Guest
Apple

My betta dosen’t sit at the bottem but rather in/under plants or behind his filter. He swims around when I walk in or interact with him and feeding time but I usually see him laying or leaning on things like hes dead. When hes not doing that he acts like a normal fish would but he does this LITERALLY 90 percent of the time 🙁

Apple
Guest
Apple

Now I notice him floating to the top and having a hard time swimming

Owen
Guest
Owen

My Betta is at the bottom of tank moving around for a little then stops for a bit then moves around more, only stops moving behind a plant

Brock
Guest
Brock

What happens when your betta can’t swim up to the food and it’s a one gallon tank

Macayla L Gordon
Guest
Macayla L Gordon

My beta fish is laying on his side and if i move the tank he like freaks out in little spins and then just stops suddenly and lays bck to the bottom what is wrong with him!?