How Long Do Betta Fish Live? (9 ways to help them live longer!)

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Betta fish are easily one of the most popular fish in the hobby and for many of us, they become pets. Unlike an individual Neon Tetra or Tiger Barb, we really get to know our Betta’s. We feel they have real personalities.

When any animal becomes a pet we usually want them to live for as long as possible. We enjoy having them in our homes and we want to give them the best, longest life we can.

On average, Betta fish live for between 3 and 5 years. Their exact lifespan depends on numerous factors including diet, water quality, and stress levels in the aquarium. The quality of the Betta in the first place can also have an effect on how long they live.

How Long Do Betta Fish Live In An Aquarium?

It is a sad fact that Betta fish are one of the most mistreated fish in the hobby. Far too many people keep their Betta in tiny volumes of water without proper filtration.

When kept in a proper setup, Betta fish can live for between 3 and 5 years. This estimated lifespan does however largely depend on what conditions they are kept in and what sort of a diet they are fed. Much like us, the better they eat, the healthier they are.

One important aspect to bear in mind is most Betta fish are around 6 months old when you purchase them from your local fish store. Occasionally they may be as old as 12 months. This will of course eat into your time with your Betta, so consider buying them as young as you can (see more below).

How Long Do Betta Fish Live In The Wild?

Betta live in rice fields in Thailand

In the wild, Betta fish do not live as long as they do in an aquarium. It is generally accepted that wild Betta’s live for 1 to 2 years, probably less for males.

In the wild, Betta fish have to cope with predators and their diet lacks the quality of their captive cousins. Wild Betta’s are opportunistic feeders, usually eating whatever flies and bugs land in the water.

Male wild Betta’s also have to cope with other males. As we know, male Betta’s fight to assert their dominance over other males. They used to have the common name Siamese Fighting Fish for a reason.

How Do You Increase A Betta’s Lifespan?

There are a few basic steps we can all take that will hopefully increase the lifespan of our Betta’s. Below I have listed 9 ways I have found to increase the lifespan of my own Betta’s;

  • Feed a quality diet
  • Improve water quality
  • Provide the correct size tank
  • Use a good quality filter
  • Add live plants to the tank
  • Reduce stress in the aquarium
  • Prevent and treat pests and diseases
  • Buy good quality stock
  • Only buy young Betta’s

Feed a quality diet

Providing our Betta’s with a good quality diet is probably the easiest way we can all increase our Betta lifespan. Many Betta keepers feed their Betta’s the cheapest food they can find. Cheap food is full of fillers and these fillers offer the Betta almost no nutritional value.

Over the years I have tried many different Betta foods and I have settled on a food that seems to work really well. Bug Bites which is made by Fluval is an excellent Betta food and is made in a formula specially developed for Betta’s.

Vibra Bites, which is made by Hikari is another food that has good quality ingredients and is certainly loved by all my Betta’s. Vibra Bites has been developed to look like small red worms, which Betta’s seem to go bonkers for.

I have also found that adding either live or frozen Bloodworms, Daphnia, or Mosquito Larvae to a Betta’s diet not only improves a their lifespan but really seems to boost their colors as well.

If you can get hold of them, adding natural, wild bugs and insects to a Betta’s diet will help bring in nutrients they can’t get from commercial fish foods. I often feed my Betta ants, aphids, and mealworms. Just make sure the bugs are free from any pesticides or insecticides before feeding them to your Betta.

Feeding a Betta little and often as well as a varied diet can make a real difference to how healthy they are and therefore how long they live in your aquarium.

Improve water quality

After a good quality diet, water quality is probably the next biggest factor when it comes to Betta’s health and lifespan. As mentioned above, far too many Betta’s are kept in tiny bowls or vases. The smaller the water volume a Betta lives in, the harder it is to maintain the water quality.

When fish go to the bathroom, their waste is very high in ammonia and ammonia is highly toxic to fish. Add to this the fact that uneaten food also breaks down in the aquarium water, increasing the levels of ammonia still further.

Although aquarium filters help improve water quality (see below), regular water changes do even more to protome a healthy environment for our Betta’s. Living in a healthy environment naturally extends a Betta’s lifespan.

It is generally recommended that we change at least 10% of the water in our Betta tanks every week. Some sources even say that as much as 50% a week should be changed. In my experience, the smaller the initial water volume, the greater amount of water you would need to change each week.

For example, in a 5-gallon (22 liters) tank you would probably want to change 50% (2 1/2-gallons) each week. Whereas in a 40-gallon (155 liters) tank, you would probably only need to change 20% (8-gallons) each week.

There are no hard and fast rules about when water should be changed, and how much should go back in, but using a water test kit like the API Master Test Kit (see more about this test kit on Amazon) helps you monitor your water quality and adjust accordingly.

Provide the correct size tank

Far too many Betta keepers house their Betta’s in tanks which are too small. Many people feel it is ok to keep their Betta’s in 1-gallon (3.8 liters) vases. The justification for this is often that in the wild Betta’s live in very shallow bodies of water.

Whilst this may be true, those shallow bodies of water often run long distances, meaning the volume of water is actually large and the Betta has room to swim around.

When Betta’s are kept in very small volumes of water, it is incredibly difficult to keep that water stable. Temperature can swing wildly, as can the pH of the water. The levels of ammonia can shoot through the roof just because the Betta went to the bathroom.

Keeping a Betta in a small volume of water creates a stressful environment for the Betta, and stress is a killer.

The minimum tank size a Betta should ever be kept in is 5-gallon (23 liters). and even then, a 10-gallon (38 liters) would be better.

Use a good quality filter

Filtration is often a major key to why Betta fish don’t live as long as they should. As discussed above, Betta’s are often kept in tiny volumes of water and without any filtration. Filtration helps keep aquarium water free of debris and reduces harmful ammonia.

A good filter draws in the aquarium water and passes it through filter media. The filter media’s job is two-fold.

Firstly the media physically traps dirt and debris and removes them from the water column. This action makes the water look cleaner and clearer and makes a more pleasant environment for the Betta’s to live in.

Secondly, and possibly, more importantly, the filter media provides a home for good bacteria to live on. These bacteria consume the harmful ammonia that fish give off in their waste and convert it to far less harmful nitrate. Betta’s are quickly killed by ammonia but can stand much higher amounts of nitrate.

Betta’s kept in fish tanks without a filter generally do not live as long as those kept with good quality filtration.

I have written extensively about aquarium filtration. See more in this article here.

Add live plants to the aquarium

Adding live plants to an aquarium has two major benefits, both of which help increase a Betta’s life expectancy.

The first benefit is a tangible one. Live plants actually absorb fish waste. They use the ammonia in fish poop as a fertilizer which makes them grow. The more they grow, the more ammonia they remove from the water.

Live plants are one of the easiest ways anyone can improve their Betta tank. If you are new to live plants, take a couple of minutes to read my article titled Best Aquarium Plants for Beginners.

The second benefit to adding live plants is that the plants provide the feeling of security to the Betta. In the wild, Betta’s live in streams that are filled with aquatic plants and have land plants that are overhanging and dipping into the water.

Betta’s have evolved with the feeling of safety and security that vegetation in the water provides them. Without this feeling of security, a Betta’s stress levels can rise, and stress can cause the early demise of a Betta.

The best plants I have found for my Betta tanks are;

To find out more about any of these plants, take a quick look at website.

Reduce stress in the aquarium

Stress is a massive killer of fish. Whether that stress is caused by poor water quality, lack of hiding places, or someone continually banging on the aquarium glass, stress kills.

As fish keepers, we have to identify any sources of stress and eliminate them. By doing so we greatly increase the lifespan of our Betta’s.

Prevent and treat pests and diseases

In the wild, pests and diseases kill lots of Betta’s. In the aquarium, it is no different unless we fish keepers intervene.

Where our captive bred fish have an advantage over their wild cousins is the fact we have the ability to figure out what pest or disease is affecting our Betta and then treat accordingly.

The most common pests and diseases to affect our Betta’s are;

  • Ich (Whitespot)
  • Finrot
  • Internal Parasites

Ich (Whitespot)

Ich is probably the most common pest that affects Betta. Ich is essentially a parasite that burrows under the skin of the host fish where it sits, feeding on the fish’s blood until it is ready to multiply, whereby it drops off the fish and sinks to the aquarium floor.

Ich is prevalent in the hobby and easily introduced to our Betta tanks by the addition of new fish.

Fortunately Ich is both readily identifiable and easily treatable with the correct medication like Ich-X.

Fin rot

Fin rot is a bacterial infection that usually takes advantage of a cut on, or damage to, the fins. Fin rot usually starts with the edges of the tail or fins which becom raggedy. As the infection spreads the tail and fins begin to rot away altogether.

Left untreated fin rot will cause the tail and fins to rot away completely, leaving the Betta to die a slow, painful death.

Fin rot is also easily treatable using medications like Fritz Aquatics Mardel – Maracyn

Internal parasites

As the name suggests, internal parasites live inside the Betta’s body. As such it is much harder to detect their presence.

In my experience the most common internal parasites are tapeworm. Tapeworms live inside the betta’s intestinal system and consume all the goodness from the Betta’s food before the Betta can.

Betta’s that are thin and losing weight even though they eat every day are often suffering from internal parasites. As a matter of caution, I now treat all my new fish with suitable medication. Paracleanse has always worked really well for me and I recommend it to everyone who believes they might have a fish suffering from tapeworms.

Buy Good Quality Stock

Betta genes definitely have an effect on a Betta’s lifespan. Whilst it doesn’t help you to know this if you already have your Betta, if you are thinking of buying one, try and source one from a local breeder or reputable local fish store.

Betta’s are bred in their millions worldwide every year, and the quality ranges from show winning to downright terrible.

Reputable breeders only breed their best, strongest most colorful fish, which leads to bright, strong, and healthy offspring.

Buy Young

Once again, this tip does nothing for you if you already have your Betta, but when you look to buy one, try and buy one as young as possible.

Needless to say, if a Betta might only live 3 years, and it is already 18 months old when you get it, you don’t have as long with your pet fish as you might.

Before buying, talk to the breeder or local fish store and try to determine how old the Betta’s are before you buy them.

In Conclusion

Betta fish don’t live forever, but by taking the utmost care and setting conditions up for success, we greatly increase the lifespan of our Betta’s.

Feed them well, keep them in a good-sized aquarium with clean water and address any pests or diseases as they arrive, and your Betta should give you a good 3 to 5 years of enjoyment.

About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James