6 Steps to a Happier Betta Fish: Your Comprehensive Guide to Enrichment

betta fish clean tank

Do you find yourself asking, “What can I do to make my betta fish happier?” If so, then look no further! This comprehensive guide will explore the steps that you can take to provide enrichment for your betta fish.

Bettas (betta splendens) are beautiful and unique fish. They’re also a lot of fun to keep as pets, but most people don’t know what to do with them.

This is because bettas are often kept in small cups or bowls that aren’t suitable for their needs. 

The solution is simple – you need to buy your betta a tank and decorate it properly so he can thrive in a natural habitat!

To ensure that this is a worthwhile endeavour for all parties involved, we’ll also discuss how important enrichment is and what it does for your Betta. So without any further ado, let’s get started with step one!

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What are betta fish?

Betta fish are also known as siamese fighting fish. They are curious, intelligent and inquisitive creatures who like to play with toys, and hide behind plants and logs. They are easily identified because of their bright, beautiful colouration and elaborate fin displays. 

Bettas are labyrinth fish. This means they have a special organ, known as the labyrinth, which allows them to breathe air from the surface of the water.

Often considered as starter pets, bettas do require proper care and maintenance to thrive and live healthy, enriched lives. 

Betta fish need their water quality and temperature maintained, they need plenty of room, they need to have a proper diet, and they should not be kept with other fish (including their own species) because of their territorial nature.

Male bettas are very popular because of their magnificent fins, but a female betta is just as pretty and sometimes females can live together as a sorority in the right environment.

Environmental Enrichment – The Right Aquarium Set Up For Your Betta

When you first purchase your betta fish, it probably came in a small fishbowl, or worse, a plastic pot. Betta fish need more than a fish bowl to live in. A betta bowl is just too small for them to live in for proper enrichment. Betta fish like to swim around an adequate space and hide under logs and behind plants and play with fish toys. 

Betta fish need to be able to be able to express natural behaviours and activities that require more room and larger aquariums. These activities include:

  • Swimming
  • Hunting
  • Hiding
  • Playing
  • Resting

Your betta fish will appreciate an aquascaped fish tank that is at least 5 gallons (22 litres) in capacity.

Betta fish are naturally curious creatures who love to swim and explore their surroundings. In the wild they live in slow moving shallow water that is densely packed with vegetation so you can do the same for them in your aquarium to mimic their natural environment.

A larger tank will also help keep the water quality stable with regular water changes and less chance for ammonia to build up and poison your fish. 

Proper Water Quality and Temperature Are Vital for a Happy Betta

Proper water quality is essential for the health and well-being of your betta fish. There are numerous toxins that can build up in your betta fish’s tank, of which you need to be aware: 

  • Uneaten food that falls to the bottom of the tank and is left to rot in the water
  • Urine from your fish
  • Faeces that may be left or unseen 

The best way to keep your betta fish tank fresh and clean from the toxins (like ammonia) is to purchase a low-flow filtration system. They are pretty inexpensive and will help keep your fish tank’s environment toxin-free and clean for your betta fish to enjoy. However, most pumps on aquariums are pretty aggressive so will need slowing down. You can slow the flow by adding a spray bar or sponge in front of the filter outlet to diffuse the current. 

Do not use tap water to fill up your betta fish’s tank because it could contain dangerous chemicals such as heavy metals, chloramine, and chlorine. 

These chemicals and others can make your betta fish sick or even cause immunosuppression, which means their little body’s immune system has a difficult time fighting off infections and diseases. 

Change the water regularly in your betta tank. At least 25% once a week. And don’t forget to clean the filter too.

Make sure your tank has cycled properly before adding your betta so that there are enough beneficial bacteria in the system to keep the tank clean and in balance. 

What Type of Water and Water Temperature is Best for a Betta?

Distilled or bottled water is recommended for the longevity and health of your betta fish because they are both free of harmful chemicals, minerals, and toxins. If you have to use tap water, then you should invest in a dechlorinating product and consistently test the fish tank’s water for heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. 

You may not have realised this when you first purchased your betta fish, but it is a tropical fish. Therefore, a betta tankshould be kept at a certain temperature, between 76 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If your home usually is kept below 76 degrees Fahrenheit (most homes are kept between 68 and 71 degrees Fahrenheit), then a submersible aquarium heater may be needed to maintain the proper temperature of your fish tank. That way, you can set the temperature and feel comfortable knowing your betta is warm enough in his tropical environment. 

Structural Enrichment – How to Decorate Your Betta Fish’s Home Properly

One of the main ways to make sure your betta fish has an enriched life is to use structural enrichment. Since bettas are territorial and do not play friendly with other similar types of fish, you can help entertain your betta fish with toys, plants, and other aquarium-friendly items. 

Bettas love lounging on leaves, hiding behind logs, and even playing with balls! One of my bettas favourite things is a little hammock shaped like a leaf, yes, that’s right your betta likes to chill on a hammock. How cool is that?

The following items are great for decorating your betta fish to provide enrichment and stimulation:

As long as your fish tank is big enough, you can design an underwater jungle that will give your betta fish the opportunity to explore and serve its inquisitive nature. You just want to make sure you do not purchase any toys, plants, or decorations that have sharp or rough edges that can seriously scratch or damage your betta’s fins and skin. 

Triton, my betta, with his coconut shell cave an moss balls.
Triton, my betta, with his coconut shell cave an moss balls.

Best Aquarium Plants for Bettas

Aquarium plants can give your betta fish hours of fun because they are literally like an aquatic jungle gym for your curious creature. Your betta can hide behind them or lounge on the leaves. If you use live aquatic plants, they also help produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide and ammonia inside the aquarium. Dried Indian almond leaves (catappa) are also an excellent addition to the tank as they release tannins into the water. Tannins have mild antibiotic and anti fungal properties, they will also tint the water brown creating a more natural environment.

Live plants work best because they release oxygen within 15 to 30 minutes of being added to the fish tank. In addition to the oxygen, tannins, and mineral benefits, foliage and other leaves from the wild are suitable for resting and recharging your betta’s energy. 

  • Anubias plants come in different sizes and can act as resting hammocks.
  • Christmas moss bridge can provide shelter.
  • Tall background plants can be fun to swim through.
  • Java ferns have long, thick leaves.
  • Indian almond leaves are easy to manage and have tannin, antifungal, and antibiotic properties.
  • Water sprite is a floating plant your betta can investigate.
  • Marimo moss balls are one of the easiest aquarium “plants” (although it is actually a type of algae).
  • Vallisneria is tall and grass-like and can act as a territorial barrier.
  • Cryptocoryne plants are perfect resting places.
  • Betta bulbs are fun to swim between.
  • For larger aquariums, sword plants provide both resting and hiding spots for your betta.
  • Pogostemon stellatus “Octopus” is a unique plant that can work as a background plant in larger tanks.

If you do choose fake plants, make sure they do not have any sharp edges that could damage your betta’s delicate fins. Silk plants are a good choice to avoid damaging your betta fish’s delicate exterior. 

Real plants, however, will help reduce the stress of your betta fish because they recreate your creature’s natural habitat. 

Betta Hammocks Are Great For Chilling Out

Betta hammocks are leaves that are made precisely for some much-needed resting and allow your fish to rest near the water’s surface. 

Usually they are attached to the wall of the aquarium using a suction cup to give your betta fish a familiar place to chill or sleep. 

These leaves are usually made with non-toxic materials so that your betta fish will not be harmed while sleeping on its surface or playing with it during the day. 

Why are betta hammocks so enriching to your fish’s life? If your betta fish was living in the wild, it would be living in shallow waters and looking for a place near the water’s surface to rest. 

Using a Mirror for Stimulation

Your betta fish is territorial, and it is also known as a “Siamese fighting fish” because of its defensive and territorial nature. These instincts can actually be used to their advantage by incorporating a small mirror into the fish tank. This will create an illusion that there is another fish in the tank without your betta getting injured. 

The illusion of having another fish in the tank will give your betta some good exercise because it will try to protect its territory for a few minutes a day. When it sees its reflection, your beta will go into fight mode by flaring its gills, flaring and stretching out its fins, and actually making its body look larger and tougher for the impending fight. 

  • Note that a mirror should only be used sparingly for exercise, a few minutes each day.
  • That way, your betta fish will get exercise by protecting its territory but will not get overly stressed because of the illusion of a fight with the “intruder.”
  • After a short period of having your fish move back and forth, you can remove the mirror, so your betta can retreat and regain peace.

Small mirrors are sold in pet stores and work well, but you can even use a small makeup mirror as long as it stays open and does not close on your betta fish. Using a small mirror for a few minutes each day can help reduce your betta fish’s boredom, give it proper exercise, and help him “flare” sporadically, just like living in nature. 

‘Flare’ is where your betta will expand all his fins and gills to look as big as possible to intimidate potential predators.

Floating or Sinking Logs Are Perfect for Hiding

Since your betta fish will probably move from a small fishbowl to a large tank, it may feel a little intimidated in its new home and will want to hide in its new setting. Introducing floating or sinking logs is the perfect way to give your betta a hiding spot so that it can take its time getting familiar with its new surroundings and can be easily added to the tank. 

Betta fish hide in the wild, so why not give it a floating log that allows your betta to spend time on the surface while also hiding in the hole of the log. Betta fish enjoy swimming near the surface, so a floating log can work well here. Your bettafish can swim through it or sleep in the floating log while also inhabiting its natural environment. 

  • A ceramic sinking log can also be a great compliment to help get your betta fish acclimated to its new environment.
  • These toys sit at the bottom of the tank and give your betta fish some really good shelter, a hideout, or another playful item in which it can dart in and out throughout the day.
  • You will also see it relaxing in the sinking log when tired. 

Make sure both the floating and sinking logs are 100 percent natural and free from harmful chemicals so that it does not distress your fish tank’s mineral balance. Also, make sure the logs have a hole that is big enough for your betta fish to play and rest in since it will be spending so much time in there. You do not want it to get stuck. 

Playing with Ping-Pong Balls

Do you have ping pong balls lying around your house? A simple ping pong ball can be the perfect toy for your curious and inquisitive betta fish because the floating balls mimic surface prey. This will help your betta fish practice its natural hunting skills within the contrived environment of a fish tank. 

Ping pong balls can be an inexpensive toy that helps your betta naturally hunt prey. 

Ping pong balls have benefits beyond allowing your betta fish to practice their hunting skills. 

  • Because bettas are quite smart, they can even learn tricks with ping pong balls.
  • Your betta can get valuable exercise and stimulation throughout the day.
  • Ping pong balls will also keep your betta fish entertained, which improves its well-being and gives it an enriched life. 

If you do not have ping pong balls sitting around the house, you can purchase Fluval moss balls or other live-shaped bettaballs from your local pet store. Moss balls have a double purpose, squeeze them and they’ll float before sinking and they help maintain the water’s conditions for longer periods. How is this done? 

Moss balls absorb and entrap nitrates and phosphates that are in your tank for up to two months. So, they are the perfect play toy and also keep your betta fish’s water clean by preventing the growth of unpleasant organic matter that may be growing in the fish tank. After two months, just replace it with a new one. 

Caves and Shipwrecks Can Let Your Betta Explore

Other safe items that can help de-stress your betta fish are caves and shipwrecks that can be placed at the bottom of your fish tank. 

A basic-looking cave will work fine as long as it is made of non-toxic materials and is large enough for your betta to hide away from the world if need be. However, it does not need to look like a cave. There are other cave-like options available to help your betta hide when it is stressed and needs a place to cope with its new surroundings: 

  • Ceramic jars
  • Coconut shell huts
  • Tree-trunk log caves 

In the real world, betta fish would find rocks, holes, tree roots, logs, and plants to hide in or under while also taking shelter to escape from natural predators. Although your fish tank will be free of predatory species, your betta fish will still need some items at the bottom of the tank to help live this natural part of its life. 

As long as your tank is big enough, your betta fish would probably really enjoy swimming in and out of a shipwreck toy. These non-toxic items add décor to the aquarium while also giving your betta fish a fun place to hide and calm themselves when needed. There are enough nooks and corners in which to choose for relaxation time. 

Mental Enrichment – Train Your Betta Fish To Do Tricks

It was mentioned earlier that your betta fish is intelligent and can even be trained to do tricks. If a ping pong ball does not do the trick, you can purchase a fish training kit. Yes, this is a real thing! This will give your  betta fish some great exercise while also entertaining you with its new tricks. Many fish training kits come with a variety of fun tools to encourage your fish to move: 

  • Hoops
  • Balls
  • Tunnels
  • Bars to swim over or under

Believe it or not, your betta fish may be able to learn how to play fetch, dance the limbo, shoot hoops, or even swim the slalom. It is almost like training a dog in which you can offer your betta fish treats for learning a new trick and performing it correctly. 

These kits usually come with manuals that explain training tips for your betta fish and can offer your beta hours of fun. Betta fish are quick learners, and they enjoy being active. A betta fish that is entertained will be a betta fish that is living a more enriched life by getting proper exercise and reducing stress over time. 

Although betta fish can be naturally aggressive with other fish that look similar to them, they are not aggressive with their human owners. Therefore, they will be more than happy to learn tricks from you, play with their new toys, and be rewarded for a job well done with snacks. They are the dogs of the water when it comes to intelligence! 

Food Enrichment for Your Betta Fish

Bettas love live food. It’s all very well having their pellets floating on the water, but it’s not much of a challenge and mealtimes can get boring. So, stimulate their natural hunting and scavenging abilities by using live foods such as daphnia and bloodworms. 

Remember though, they only have a tiny belly so only need very small amounts of food. Overfeeding your betta fish can lead to numerous health issues, including obesity or even death.

You should try feeding your betta fish at the same time every day. Feed your fish an amount of food it can eat in the span of three to five minutes without having any food leftover. 

That way, leftover food will not sink to the bottom to rot and affect the quality of the water. 

Betta fish are carnivores and they can be given treats in moderation. Betta fish love to snack on high-protein substances that are either served live or freeze-dried, such as: 

  • Brine shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Mysis
  • Daphnia 

Any of the above items can be great snacks for your betta fish. They can even be used when training your fish to do tricks.

Social Enrichment for Betta Fish – Finding Tank Mates

You may wonder if your betta fish would benefit from a betta friend since you see so many fish tanks with lots of fishswimming around happily. Unfortunately betta fish are instinctively territorial; therefore, they can’t live together. They will kill each other. But can anything live with a betta?

There are potentially some companions that could live with your betta fish as long as the home is large enough to share. If you have a tank that is 10 gallons or more you can find some suitable tank mates for your betta: 

  • Snails, such as the Malaysian trumpet snail
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Kuhli loaches
  • African dwarf frogs
  • Harlequin rasboras
  • Ember tetras
  • Cory catfish 

A lot will depend on the character of your betta. My first betta, Triton, would attack anything in his tank. Whereas Spike was as chilled as they come and lived happily with his shrimp friends.

My beautiful dumbo betta, Triton.
My beautiful dumbo betta, Triton.

So How Will You Stop Your Betta Getting Bored?

This simple guide is a great start to providing your betta fish with the proper enrichment throughout its life. Betta fish are not naturally meant to live in a fish tank, but the tank can be designed to mimic the wild so that your pet can live a stress-free, enriched life full of exercise and entertainment. Have fun!

Betta Fish Behaviour FAQs

Why Do Betta Fish Play Dead?

This is a natural response for them, but it can also be an indication of other problems. Bettas will flip over on their side and lie motionless when they are stressed out or frightened by prey in the tank.

Can you put anything with a betta fish?

Suitable tank mates for a betta include:
Malaysian trumpet snail
Ghost shrimp
Kuhli loaches
African dwarf frogs
Harlequin rasboras
Ember tetras
Cory catfish 

Do betta fish need toys?

Betta fish do like to explore and interact with toys in their environment. Bettas can be taught tricks using toys such as ping pong balls and hoops or a using a fish training kit.

How do you know a betta fish is happy?

Bettas should appear bright and strong in colour with fins that are open but relaxed, allowing them to move fluidly in the water. They should have a healthy appetite for their food and exhibit curious behaviour of their tank environment.

Recommended Enrichment Toys for Betta Fish

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