Why Your Betta Fish Is Laying On The Bottom Of The Tank

So, one day, you look into your beautiful Betta tank and see that he’s laying on the bottom of the tank, maybe even leaning over on his side.

And you think, “Oh no!! Is he dead, what’s going on?!”

Don’t panic. 

A Betta laying on the bottom of the tank doesn’t automatically mean there’s a problem.

Here’s a list of things to consider if you see your Betta laying along the bottom of the aquarium.

Identify If Other Signs Of Stress Are Present

Often, if a Betta is laying at the bottom because it’s sick, there are other signs of stress. Look for things like:

  • Rapid or labored gill movement
  • Refuses to eat
  • Stays at the bottom constantly
  • White patches on body
  • White streaks on fins

These are all signs that your Betta has some sort of underlying condition. You should immediately perform a water change and consult a veterinarian who specializes in fish or some other reputable medical expert.

Poor Tank Conditions 

If you’re not seeing other signs of stress, a Betta may be listless and laying at the bottom all the time because it lives in too small of an aquarium and/or is being kept in poor water conditions.

Tank Size

Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, don’t keep a Betta in anything smaller than a 5 gallon (19 liter) tank.

Yes, I know you see them in the little cups.

Yes, I know that you see tiny Betta tanks sold everywhere.

But that does not mean that this is what you should keep your Betta in.

Bettas are very tough little fish, so they can survive for a while in a smaller container. 

Think about it this way: technically, you could survive for the rest of your life in a tiny 5’x5’ jail cell. 

You could totally survive, and you would also be absolutely stressed out and miserable the entire time.

That really isn’t the life you want to give to your pet.

Just like you’d want more room than a tiny jail cell, Bettas are much, much happier in a larger living space.

The absolute minimum tank size for a Betta is 5 gallons (19 liters). This gives them plenty of room to move around and provides enough of a water volume that waste levels are  manageable.

Pro Tip: The larger the volume of water in a tank, the easier it is to maintain healthy water parameters. Smaller tanks are more prone to dramatic parameter swings because it only takes a small amount of waste to foul the water.

Temperature Control

If your Betta seems sluggish and lazy, it might be that he’s too cold to be truly comfortable.

Bettas originate from the tropics and so require very warm water. They need temperatures between 75°F and 82°F (24°-28°C).

Average room temperatures run between 68°F and 72°F (20°-22°C). 

This is much, much too cold for a Betta. So, it’s imperative that you add a heater to your Betta tank.

If you don’t have a heater in your Betta tank, please add one!

Filtration

Again, I know that you commonly see Bettas in tanks without filters. But this is NOT healthy for them at all.

The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

Fish constantly excrete waste (urine and feces) into the water around them. This waste quickly starts to break down which creates deadly ammonia (NH3). especially in a tiny, unfiltered plastic cup.

Ammonia is so toxic that it only takes 1 part per million to stress and kill many kinds of fish.

Bettas are really tough little creatures so they can survive much higher ammonia levels than other fish. But it still puts them under constant stress.

Some people think that filters just keep the tank water moving. While this is really helpful, filters do far more than just pumping water around the tank.

There are beneficial bacteria that live in aquarium filters that help to break down fish wastes in the tank.

The bacteria break down the ammonia into something called nitrite (NO2 -1) and then into a substance called nitrate (NO3-).

Nitrate is much less toxic and can be allowed to build up between weekly/biweekly water changes.

But, in unfiltered Betta tanks, the poor fish are constantly swimming around in water full of ammonia.

This is highly stressful for Bettas and often leads to serious health problems and a much shorter lifespan.

Adding filtration to your tank is crucial if you want a happy, healthy Betta.

Pro Tip: The beneficial bacteria that process ammonia don’t show up instantly. There is a process to get them established in the filter. Click here for more information about the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle.

Water Parameters

Checking your water parameters is an important part of keeping fish, especially if the tank was set up recently.

In nature, Bettas live in soft, slightly acidic water. But, they have been tank bred for so long that they can easily be acclimated to a wide variety of tank conditions as far as hardness and pH are concerned.

But, it’s important to monitor levels of waste byproducts in the water.

Ideal parameters for betta fish are:

  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: >20 ppm 

If you test your water and find that waste levels are higher than these guidelines, immediately perform a 50% water change and recheck the levels.

Keep doing daily water changes until levels in the tank are healthy and then figure out a maintenance schedule that will keep the water relatively clean.

Pro Tip: Excess wastes can do more than just cause your Betta to be sluggish. They can also cause health problems like fin rot, dropsy and or pop eye. Performing regular water changes is essential to keeping healthy fish.

Sleeping Betta Fish

So, you’ve gone down this entire list and found that you’ve got everything pretty well in hand.

Your tank is large enough, it has a filter and heater and the water parameters are acceptable.

Awesome! You totally rock!

But then, why is your Betta laying on the bottom?

He’s probably just taking a nap. 

Yep, a nap.

Bettas are a fairly low energy fish and they like to take little catnaps…or fish-naps? I’m not sure of the proper grammar on this one.

But seriously, it’s common for bettas to sleep on the bottom of the tank. They may lay on a plant leaf, inside a hollow log or may just bunk down right on the substrate.

I’ve seen them even lay on their sides or point their heads straight down.

These little naps are an important part of a Betta’s life. So, please, if you see your Betta napping along the bottom, don’t try to wake him up by tapping on the glass or something like that.

You’ll startle the Betta awake which can be very stressful.

If you’re concerned, just be patient and check back later. He’ll usually start swimming around again after an hour or so.

I know it can be nerve-racking to have to wait and see, but just imagine how stressful it would be for you if someone shook you awake every time you tried to get some sleep! 

Sleeping Arrangements For Betta Fish

There are actually some nifty products that can help your Betta sleep better!

Betta Hammock

A Betta hammock is a little plastic leaf that you can suction cup to the side of the tank. Try to put it near the surface in an area of the tank where there is very little water flow. That makes it easier for the Betta to just rest on the leaf without having to swim at all.

Betta Log

Betta logs are floating hollow logs. The idea is that the Betta will swim inside the log and take a little snooze. The inside of the log provides shelter from water flow. The log is a great little hiding spot that can make the Betta feel more secure and therefore more likely to take a little nap.

Zoo Med Betta Bed Leaf Hammock
Zoo Med Betta Bed Leaf Hammock
    Zoo Med Floating Betta Log
    Zoo Med Floating Betta Log

      Last update on 2021-04-16 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      Is Your Betta Just Sleeping?

      Seeing your Betta laying on the bottom can really scare you.

      But it doesn’t necessarily mean that your Betta is sick or dying. They might just be napping.

      I know that pet stores often keep Bettas in poor conditions and perpetuate the idea that you can keep these fish in tiny, unheated, unfiltered tanks.

      However, the truth is that keeping a Betta under these conditions is cruel.

      These fish do so much better when they’re kept under the right conditions. They’ll be more active and colorful when they’re kept in a healthy environment.

      Keeping up with water changes and routine maintenance is essential if you want a happy, beautiful Betta.

      If your tank is up to snuff, there is likely nothing wrong and your Betta is just taking a little snooze.

      You might even want to add a nice little sleeping spot for your fish to enjoy.

      I hope you find this information helpful.

      I wish you and your Betta the very best!

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      Katherine Morgan
      Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. A nunchuck specialist, I've kept aquariums for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast. If You'd like to see more of my tanks, check out my Instagram

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