How to Care for Blind Betta Fish?
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Bettas are gorgeous and hardy fish that showcase an astounding variety of colors and patterns. It’s no wonder that they rank as some of the most popular freshwater fish species in the aquarium trade.
But, as hardy, as they are, bettas are also vulnerable to some rather unexpected health problems.
The most notorious one is blindness which can confuse a lot of inexperienced betta lovers at first. That’s because this condition is difficult to diagnose and usually uncurable.
This means that you need to adapt to it and provide your fish with personalized care to improve its quality of life.
But let’s start with the beginning.
Reasons Betta Fish Go Blind
Several factors can be responsible for your fish’s blindness. These include:
This is a particularly dangerous one, considering how toxic ammonia is to fish. Any concentration above 0 has the potential to send more sensitive fish into shock and deliver a swift and painful death.
Fortunately, ammonia burns are more prevalent in cases of extreme toxicity, which only occur in specific cases.
The burn effect occurs when the fish is subjected to sudden and higher ammonia concentrations, which can occur under the following circumstances:
- New Tank Syndrome – This condition occurs when placing bettas in an uncycled or only partially cycled tank. This means that the ammonia and nitrite levels are still high and tend to grow exponentially higher in short periods of time. Your bettas will be exposed to life-threatening levels of ammonia which can cause suffocation, blindness, comma, and death.
- Bursting anaerobic pockets – Anaerobic pockets are prevalent in tanks with sand for substrate. Sand is particularly compact due to the small size of its particles. This causes the substrate to prevent natural water flow through the particles, which leads to dead zones underneath it. Simply put, these areas are empty pockets of bacteria, dead matter, and ammonia which turn them into hazardous and potentially deadly zones. Bottom dwellers like catfish can pop them during their many burrowing incursions, which can release deadly quantities of ammonia in the water column. The ammonia shock that follows can leave bettas blind or even kill them in a matter of hours or minutes.
- Gradual ammonia contamination – This is probably the most prevalent situation to consider. Gradual ammonia contamination is related to poor tank maintenance and low-frequency water changes. As a result, the accumulated dead matter and other organic residues (food leftovers, fish poop, dead plants, dead fish) cause ammonia levels to spike over time. Your fish will show gradual ammonia poisoning symptoms, which can worsen with time. Blindness is just one of the long-term effects of ammonia exposure.
It goes without saying that ammonia burns are number one on this list due to the sheer hazard and life-threatening effects they produce.
Bacterial and fungal infections are common in poor water conditions. While bettas are biologically fit to survive even in subpar water conditions thanks to their labyrinth organ, they’re not equipped to thrive in such a habitat long-term.
Stressed or weak fish can easily fall prey to bacterial infections due to a less effective immune system.
Fortunately, bacterial infections are gradual conditions, allowing you to detect and treat them in time. If you know what you’re looking for, that is.
Bacterial infections generally have multiple symptoms, including white, cotton-like patches on the body and mouth, cloudy eyes, and even open sores on the skin. Your betta will display signs of stress, rub against rocks and other hard surfaces, and refuse to eat.
If that’s the case, you need to provide your betta with immediate treatment to prevent the disease from aggravating.
Quarantine is also necessary to contain the spread, given that most bacterial infections are highly contagious.
Plus, you will use antibiotics during the treatment, which can affect healthy fish and plants.
These are also common in bettas, and there are 2 accepted triggers to consider:
- Improper setup – Bettas are long-finned fish that require plenty of open space. You can use some decorations in their habitat but stay away from sharp or rugged elements that could cut, puncture, or scratch your bettas’ skin or eyes. Such elements can cause blindness and open wounds prone to bacteria and parasites. It’s not uncommon for bettas to go blind or even succumb to infections from otherwise minor scratches.
- Aggressive tankmates – Bettas are generally peaceful and have no means of defending themselves from aggressive tankmates. Pairing them with such species will place your bettas at a disadvantage, forcing them to flee from their aggressors constantly. This may cause them to run into rocks or other hard surfaces, which can result in accidental blindness and other injuries. In some cases, the bettas’ tankmates will inflict the damage themselves. Catfish are some of the culprits in many cases due to their sharp fin spines.
It always pays to set up your bettas’ habitat carefully to prevent accidental injuries, which can have lasting and even life-threatening consequences.
A cataract is difficult to diagnose in bettas due to its many similarities with cloudy eye syndrome and other eye-related infections.
The disorder is different, though, and requires a different approach. The disease itself is the result of proteins and fibers breaking down in the eye, causing impaired vision and a cloudy aspect.
The disorder is progressive and will advance with time, leading to partial and even complete blindness.
How fast the disease will progress depends on what triggered it. The Cataract is often the result of eye injuries, normal aging, infections, and even genetic predispositions.
Unfortunately, there’s no known treatment for fish cataracts. You can only take measures to assist your fish during its last years of life, knowing that its condition will progressively worsen.
Unfortunately, aging is a natural cause of blindness which has no cure. Old bettas may gradually lose their vision over time, and some can experience complete blindness during their final years or months.
Since bettas can live between 2 and 5 years, the point at which the condition may be set differs.
It’s worth noting that not all bettas will become blind with age, while others may experience it sooner than most.
It all depends on the fish’s genetic makeup and environmental conditions, among other factors.
Dragon’s Eye Disease
This is the rarest instance of blindness in bettas, especially since it’s only specific to one betta breed in particular.
We’re talking about the Dragon scale betta, a gorgeous specimen with a thick layer of scales covering the entire body. And herein, the problem lies.
These bettas are genetically predisposed to an unusual condition that causes their scales to grow even in areas where they’re not supposed to. The eyes are the most obvious area in this sense.
It’s common for Dragon bettas to have their eyes partially or even completely covered by scales, often resulting into blindness over time.
The scales will grow from where the eyelids are supposed to be and can cover the entire retina.
Some Dragon bettas experience complete blindness as juveniles, while others can go as much as 2-3 years without any issues. It all comes down to your particular specimen and luck, I guess.
Can You Cure a Blind Betta?
To put it simply, no, you can’t. Once your betta has turned blind, you’ve already run out of options.
You can only provide your betta with personalized care and try to minimize the stress caused by vision loss. We’ll get into more details regarding this matter shortly.
What to do with a Blind Betta?
The answer is it depends. If your betta is blind but has no other health issues, you can adapt to its condition and care for it accordingly.
A blind betta isn’t much more difficult to maintain than one with full vision. If your betta’s blindness relates to more extensive health issues and there’s no hope for redemption in sight, I recommend euthanasia.
It’s always better to end your fish’s suffering than have it live a miserable and pointless existence.
How to Feed a Blind Betta?
This is naturally the first thing to be concerned about. Blind bettas still need to eat, but how can they do that without seeing?
Here are some tips to consider:
- Create a pattern – Understand that all bettas are prone to eye problems and may become blind with time. For that reason, always feed bettas around the same time of day and in the same area of the tank. This way, the betta’s biological rhythm will inform it when meal time has arrived and where to swim to get the food. The betta won’t have problems navigating its environment after years of exploring it.
- Place the food near its resting area – Bettas always have designated resting areas where they feel safe and comfy when tired. If your betta hasn’t eaten yet, place its food near that area so that it can find it easier. Your betta should detect the food immediately via smell.
- Force-feeding – This is a more extreme measure in case the previous tactics don’t work. You use a pair of tweezers to place the food directly into the fish’s mouth. If the fish won’t take the food by itself, and most likely won’t due to not being used to the feeding procedure, grab the fish and force feed it. The betta should eventually become more accustomed to the feeding method with time.
Fortunately, bettas also rely on their smell to detect food, an ability that they will use exclusively when blind.
So, you only need to place their food in their near vicinity, and they will usually detect it quite fast. Especially if they’re really hungry.
How Long Can a Blind Betta Fish Live?
It depends on why it turned blind to begin with. If the underlying cause is an infection, the fish may deal with some additional problems that could turn deadly along the way.
If the betta lost its vision due to cataracts or old age, it should be fine.
The fish’s lifespan post-blindness also depends on the quality of care you’re providing.
Remove all dangerous decorations that the fish can no longer avoid and feed it properly to keep it healthy and happy. There’s no reason why bettas can’t live long and happy lives even without their vision.
How to Prevent Betta Fish from Going Blind?
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent blindness in bettas up to a point.
Some of the preventive methods to consider include:
- Create an ammonia-free environment – Perform weekly water changes, stir your sand substrate every several days to prevent anaerobic pockets, and clean residues and dead matter. Good tank hygiene is necessary to prevent ammonia burns and symptoms of ammonia toxicity which can contribute to and even cause blindness in bettas.
- Safe decorations only – Skip rugged, broken, sharp, or rusty decorations that can turn into environmental hazards. These can slash and cut your bettas as the fish may accidentally run or rub against them. Also, avoid aquatic decorations that aren’t made for that purpose. These can contain paints or chemical additives that can transfer into the water column with potentially devastating consequences for your fish. In that case, blindness will be the least of your concerns.
- Viable tankmates – Don’t house bettas with aggressive or bullying tankmates like African cichlids, pufferfish, red-tail sharks, aggressive gouramis, etc. Only pair them with docile and peaceful tankmates that won’t bother or stress your bettas. And increase the tank size according to your fish’s needs to prevent your betta from feeling claustrophobic and stressing it out.
- Be ready for it – Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to prevent your betta from going blind. Especially if the fish is genetically predisposed to the condition. In that case, all you can do is adapt and provide your afflicted betta with the care it needs along the way.
Betta blindness is a scary disorder, but it tends to be scarier for you than the fish. The fish will adapt quite fast, although it needs some assistance along the way.
If your betta showcases cloudy eyes and seems unable to avoid obstacles in its path, don’t freak out.
Follow my guide, secure the betta’s habitat by removing hazardous elements, and find the ideal feeding tactic that works for your fish.
Most importantly, don’t despair; your bettas will adapt to their new condition just fine.