Dear Kate: I just got a Betta fish and have no idea how to care for it. Can you help?!

Dear-Kate-column-identityBy Katharine Luckinbill

Dear Kate,

Every time I read your column your advice is chock full of resources and references to help people get what they need. So I am coming to you with a bit of a crazy one. I recently adopted a Betta fish (“Siamese Fighting Fish”) at my office and I am getting extremely conflicting answers as to how to care for this little guy. I know you usually talk about boys and love and bra straps…but do you know anything about fish?

Swimming in circles,



Dear Nora,

Well I gotta say – you are definitely asking me to dive into a pond I’m not familiar with! *chuckle, chuckle* I mean…I am really swimming in unfamiliar waters here!! *ROFL* (Do people still use ROFL…did I unwittingly just date myself?)

Okay no seriously…I’m serious now…I promise…

So here’s the thing…you’re right!! I’ve been doing my research and there are a lot of conflicting ideas about how to care for a Betta Fish. And these little guys aren’t low maintenance either – they are quite the tiny little divas (divos?) There seem to be a lot of schemes and scams about proper Betta Fish care. But after doing my due diligence and comparing not only websites – that could be for-profit – but also Betta owner blogs and threads…here is what I came up with:

What you need to own a THRIVING (not just surviving) Betta fish:

  • BPA-Free Plastic, or Glass, tank – at least ½ gallon
  • Silk Plants
  • Glass Marbles or Soft Stones
  • Net
  • Thermometer*
  • Food pellets with at least 40% crude protein as the first ingredient
  • Water Conditioner
  • Smaller bowl, container for water and sm/med plastic bag

Most important rules for owning a Betta fish –

  1. Keep it in the tank alone! When Betta fish – especially males – are in a tank together, they will fight to the death and rip each other to shreds…yuck! And oh no! :(
  2. Do not use bottled water for the tank, but rather room temp tap water and then use a very good water “conditioner.” Just as our hair would get dry, brittle, fragile, and break off if we didn’t use conditioner once in a while – so would a Betta’s fins. Try one like this NutraFin Betta+Plus. Not only does it dechlorinate the water, but it adds “Tropical Almond Leaf Extract,” which is conducive to their natural habitat of Thai rice paddies and will help their fins and scales to be shiny and healthy and strong!
  3. Use glass marbles or soft edged stones instead of gravel or those “aquarium gems” that are sold in pet stores. Betta fins are extremely delicate (which is why they’re so beautiful when spread out), but while swimming around in their little home, they can rip their fins on the gemstones, and may even try to eat the gravel which could kill them! *sad face*
  4. Use a silk plant instead of a plastic plant. Like the gems and gravel, plastic plants can also get caught on a Betta’s fins and rip them. If you really want to get creative, Betta’s especially love to have a real, live plant in the tank with them. Look at this website for some helpful hints.
  5. Change the tank’s water often enough to keep it very clean, but no so often that your little guy will go into shock – what they call “New Tank Syndrome”.
    1. Weekly: Change just 50% of your tank’s water. Remove half the water, keeping the Betta in the tank. Fill a separate, clean container with warm (72-82 degrees – test with thermometer) water. Add water conditioner. Give it a few minutes to fully blend into the water and then slowly add this water to the tank.
    2. Monthly: You should change all of the water in the tank once a month or so. Remove your Betta with a net and put him in a separate bowl. Then rinse the marbles and plants completely. Wipe the inside of the tank with a clean cloth. Replace all decor, then add room temperature water to the tank – to about an inch below the top of the tank. Add water dechlorinator. THEN gently transfer your Betta from its smaller bowl to a small plastic bag and let the Betta inside that bag of water float at the top of the tank. This will acclimate him to the new water and not send him into shock. After about an hour, slowly transfer him into the new, clean and conditioned water!
  6. Don’t tap on the tank to say hi. However, DO move your finger around near the outside of the tank and have your little guy follow you. It’s great for his development.
  7. Then, for exercise – because yes, even little fishies need it – every 6-7 days, place a mirror next to the side of the tank and wait for your Betta to see his own reflection and puff up his gills and fins. Once he is completely expanded, remove the mirror. Too much of this will stress him out, but every once in a while it’s good exercise and ignites their developmental survival skills. Plus, it’s super cool to see!
  8. Enjoy him.
  9. Talk to him, tell him stories…
  10. Good luck!!

PS – Hope this helps and your Betta lives a long, healthy life.


Dear Kate is a column that runs on every Thursday at noon. It is written by the wise Katharine Luckinbill, who you should follow on Twitter. Got a life, friendship, family, dating, or relationship question that you’d like Dear Kate to answer? Send it to and she will help you out.

3 thoughts on “Dear Kate: I just got a Betta fish and have no idea how to care for it. Can you help?!

  1. Kate Schneider says:

    Bettas like friends, too. You can buy a double tank ( at any pet store, and then put another betta in the other side. They’ll “fight” with each other — it’s fun to watch. Just don’t remove the divider. ;)

    I had bettas all through college; with care they’ll live a few years! Enjoy!

  2. Kaitlin Marie says:

    Awww!!! This post makes me want a Beta fish! :)

  3. Kate S. says:

    Beta fish are beautiful! It was so sad this summer tho. My friend’s Beta got so happy with the heat wave that he made an enthusiastic leap out of the water… But he landed on the table instead of back in his tank. No one was home at the time of his temperature related elation and subsequent unfortunate landing. We miss him, he was a good and sturdy fish, oddly requiring little maintenance. :(

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