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.
2. Nitrate poisoning
Long-term exposure to Nitrate is one of the if not, the most common reason behind a betta that’s lethargically lying on the bottom of its aquarium.
Does your fish also progressively lose its coloration and begins to look pale?
Is it lacking appetite?
Do its gills move rapidly as if the fish is out of breath?
If you notice a combination of these signs then it’s very likely that your Betta is being poisoned by the Nitrate content in its aquarium water.
If you click the link you’ll learn everything about that condition and how to immediately treat it, but I’ll give you a quick rundown.
You’ll hear most aquarists say that anything between 20 and 40 ppm is safe to have in a freshwater aquarium.
This, however, is a common misunderstanding that originated from the fact that nitrate is relatively less harmful when compared to nitrite and ammonia.
Both ammonia and nitrite are extremely toxic to aquarium fish, where nitrate is more of a silent slow killer.
Arm yourself with a reliable liquid water test kit and perform a water test. Test strips can only give a rough estimation of the situation but are nowhere near accurate.
In the cause of poisoning, you’d need to know exactly how much Nitrate is there in the Betta fish tank.
This is so because you’ll need to calculate how much water you’ll need to remove.
A good water test to precisely measure the Nitrate in an aquarium would be the API Master test kit (this link leads to Amazon.com).
You’ll now need to physically remove the Nitrate through water changes, but do so in slow and controlled manner in order to avoid causing osmotic shock to your betta fish.
3. It’s lazy.
Sometimes, it’s not a lack of sleep but rather a 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.
4. 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.
5. Filter current is too fast
Some may argue that bettas don’t really need a filter because the fish can get tired quickly if the output current is too strong for its oversized fins.
Though the part about not needing a filter is wrong, it’s definitely recommended to go for a sponge filtration in smaller fish tanks of 5 or fewer gallons. That’s unless your aquarium kit comes with a built-in filter, which are usually not strong.
Most selectively bred bettas 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.
6. 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.
7. 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:
- 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).
- 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Stress or Disease
There are a number of diseases that put a fish on the bottom.
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. One quick yet absurdly efficient way to reduce stress levels in betta tanks is by adding up some live plants.
These will artificially recreate the betta’s natural environment which can help significantly in keeping stress at bay.
I recommend the addition of surface water plants that remain afloat if you think your betta may be stressed out. They filter the aquarium water from excessive organics, provide interesting surroundings for exploration and also get as close to the betta’s native rice paddies as possible. Oh, and they look great.
11. 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-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.
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.