Why Is My Betta Fish Stressed?

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Stress in betta fish can happen due to multiple reasons, and when a betta fish is stressed, it will not show its usual behaviors, such as not eating properly or irregularly or even not eating at all, low energy, and even physical indicators such as rotting fins and more.

What exactly is stress? It happens when betta fish start to release too much of the stress hormone (cortisol) due to stressful situations where the betta might feel threatened or unhappy.

The idea is roughly the same as with human beings. Stress can be long-term and short-term, and both have the same effect on the fish, just at different rates.

Long-term stress can happen constantly, and it is often a process of the betta fish trying to settle in in your tank. It doesn’t cause a lot of stress, but it happens over longer periods of time.

Short-term stress is much more acute, and it can happen due to rapid changes in the environment or only on a short basis. The consequences can be even more serious than in long-term stress.

In this article, we will take a look at why your betta fish might be stressed, and how to solve it. Understanding why is the crucial step to solving the puzzle.

Low Water Temperature

As we know, bettas are tropical fish that strive in waters with high temperatures, and they can be pretty vulnerable when it comes to lower temperatures.

It is actually a common issue that betta fish suffer, as their owners don’t know that betta fish tanks might require a water heater to get the water temperature to at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius).

The temperatures that bettas like to live in vary from 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 30 degrees Celsius); anything under that temperature can have a harmful effect on the betta.

It is one of those long-term factors that can heavily influence your betta – diminish their health due to increased stressed levels, which can cause your bettas to become stressed and even die.

Small or Overcrowded Aquarium

Betta fish are a species that want to have as much freedom as possible. Therefore, placing them in an aquarium that is too small can cause a great deal of long-term stress.

Many people have the idea that bettas are a fishbowl species, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, bettas like to have enough space – 2 gallons of water is the absolute minimum for one betta fish, but 5 gallons might be for the best.

Similarly, an overcrowded tank is not a good thing for betas. They are relatively territorial species, so they might quickly clash with other species, and it can cause stress.

If they are unable to live properly due to too little space, then that can cause a great deal of stress. Make sure that your betta gets enough space in the first place.

Aggressive Tank Mates

Bettas themselves can be aggressive; after all, they are not called the Siamese fighting fish for no reason. But placing them next to other aggressive fish can worsen their health significantly by increasing their stress levels acutely.

If bettas are placed next to peaceful species, and if they get enough space to live, then they can live in a community tank without any problems.

But once you place them next to aggressive species, stress levels will naturally go up, and they might even entangle themselves in a fight with other fish. Making sure that you don’t place aggressive fish next to bettas can be crucial for reducing stress in bettas.

Poor Water Quality

This one should be self-explanatory, but it isn’t for many tank owners. The importance of having a clean tank and clean water is great, especially if you want to keep your fish happy and healthy. Keeping the water quality on a high level is a process that takes time and works over periods of time, but one that has to be done, there are no excuses for that.

Weekly maintenance can do a lot for water quality. However, if your tank is busy and there is a lot of waste material produced, then you should try to do it twice a week. It doesn’t take extraordinary amounts of time; half an hour a day is more than enough for keeping the tank clean.

Poor water quality can have a really bad effect on your bettas, but also on the other species that might be in your tank. At first, you might not notice anything, but after time, if the water quality gets worse, then your bettas will become more and more stressed and that is when they can begin to have health problems.

Too Much Handling or Transport

When we talk about short-term stress, there is no worse thing than not giving your betta peace due to too much handling or transporting them from the tank to tank or from one place to another constantly. It can cause short, but big spikes of stress, and that is when most of that cortisol hormone gets produced.

That means extraordinary amounts of stress, which is a good way to health problems in your betta. And you want to ensure that your betta doesn’t get stressed a lot, as it can cause health problems in the long run.

So, the best thing to do is not to handle the betta fish too much, and try not to transport it too much as well, if you want to keep the stress levels low.

Bettas are, in fact, quite sensitive for handling and don’t really want to be handled too much. Some of it is fine, but too much can harm the fish, which you don’t want to happen.

Identify Stress in a Betta Fish

There are many symptoms that are shown by a stressed betta. Sometimes, some of those symptoms are confused with normal behaviors, which prevents owners from identifying stressed bettas in the first place.

So, how to identify a stressed betta? The most common symptom might be just the general feeling that your fish is not behaving like it normally does. Something just seems off, whether they are not swimming as much, or not interacting with you, or not eating. I know it sounds vague, but any change in behavior can mean something.

Another way to recognize a stressed betta is if they are not eating. It is a worrying symptom that can be connected to other health issues, but a stressed betta will also not eat or eat very little. If you find your betta not eating, then it would be best if you consult your vet about it.

Some bettas might be just more predisposed by nature to stress, which can cause various diseases. To treat these diseases, you might want to find out the source of stress.

Another thing you can observe is their swimming pattern; if your betta is swimming or darting around at an unusually quick pace, it can be a sign of stress. On the other hand, not swimming at all or floating near the bottom can also be a stress sign, but also a sign of other diseases.

A stressed betta can also start to hide a lot, and it might start to lose its color. If you find any of these symptoms in your betta, check for possible things that cause stress, and reduce them. You might find that it helps your betta.

Can Stress Kill Betta Fish?

Like with any other creatures, too much stress can cause health issues. And it is these health issues that can kill a betta, not stress directly. If your betta is exposed to stress for longer periods, then it might cause their health to deteriorate, and, in turn, die.

So yes, stress can kill your betta (or too much of it anyway). Sometimes, it is just a natural thing and we can’t help it; but in the things that we can change to reduce stress, we should do everything we can.

How to Calm Down a Stressed Betta Fish?

The best solution is to get rid of stress in betta fish is to reduce or to get rid of what causes stress in the first place. To calm the betta fish down from stress, there are short-term and long-term solutions. The short-term solution would be to try gently handling your betta for a very short time and see how it reacts.

Long-term solutions are to get rid of what is causing stress in your betta. That might mean regular water changes, temperature checks and water heating, removing aggressive fish or separating them, and to give them as much space as possible. Doing all those things is sure to reduce stress.


Stress in a betta fish can be a very serious thing. Luckily, there are some things we can do to reduce it or to get rid of the source of stress, which can prevent further health problems in your bettas.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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