Betta Fish Behavior Before Death + What To Do

Betta fish live between 2 and 5 years if healthy. If not, they may exhibit signs of death before this time lapses. You could save them from death if you intervene early enough. Otherwise, they will die soon after these signs emerge.

You know when and if a betta is almost dying by the change in its physical behavior and characteristics. A betta fish that is sick and nearing death may rest or hide more often, lose appetite, lose color, relax at the tank’s bottom, and show unusual swimming movements. 

Betta fish that is not dying or dead and floating unnaturally on the tank’s surface can indicate it has a swim bladder issue. Also, some bettas like to play dead. The typical behavior comes in handy, especially to sleep, grab your attention, or scare you a little.

Betta Fish Gasping for Air

How bettas behave before death

It is not easy to spot the change in behavior of bettas before their death if you are a fish keeper without enough experience. Luckily, identifying some behaviors before the death of bettas can be possible as long as you pay closer attention.

Below are some of the signs in behaviors to look out for before the death of betta fish:

1. Lack of energy (lethargy)

Bettas are energetic and highly responsive fish. For instance, you will see them responding immediately when you approach or make noise near the aquarium. Additionally, they run around a lot during the day in the tank.

Being high-energy fish, they need lots of rest as well. They’ll thus stay suspended when resting. However, betta fish that are older or almost reaching the end of their lifespan also experience a decrease in levels of activity naturally.

Their activity level can get even lower if the fish is sick. An illness of your fish can be due to unfavorable tank conditions, such as when there is a spike in ammonia levels.

At times, the betta fish will spring back to life when it’s almost dying. This can either be recovery from an illness or the fish fighting for its life.

2. Change in eye color

Like the rest of the body, eye color changes can tell you about your betta’s emotions and health status. A betta dealing with a health issue and is almost dying has cloudy eyes and pale color on the skin surrounding the eyes.

3. Scale discoloration 

Always pay close attention to the appearance of the scales of your bettas because they can be a vital sign of stress and sickness. The scales of healthy bettas are brighter and more vibrant in color, while an ill fish may have pale skin or white patches on the skin.

The discoloration of the skin or scales can result from poor diet, infections, unfavorable water parameters, inadequate oxygen levels, old age, and reaching the end of their lives. 

Scale discoloration of betta fish can also be due to gene changes. The Marble Betta is a unique fish capable of changing its scales and skin to be lighter or darker depending on its current situation.

4. Stress

A gradual buildup of stress causes the sickness or death of your pet in the tank. Bad water conditions, caused by a spike in toxic gasses in the tank, are a potential cause of anxiety, depression, and despair for bettas.

Other sources of stress include a poor diet, changing environmental conditions, glass tapping, bullying, overcrowding, frequent water changes, and diseases.

Stress causes bettas to have a damaged nervous system, leading to a sense of smell and hearing loss. As a result, bettas become less responsive or non-responsive. Stressed and depressed fish also have immune systems prone to attack by diseases. 

5. Unusual swimming patterns

Some swimming patterns you may see your bettas displaying are signs that they are in trouble and close to dying. Swimming oddly includes swimming in circles, floating and swimming close to the tank’s water surface, upside-down swimming, and banging into the tank or other items inside the tank.

The causes of unusual swimming patterns of your betta fish may vary. The common causes are swim bladder disease, nervous system issues, parasite attacks, inadequate oxygen, poor nutrition, wrong water parameters, and poor vision.

6. Gasping at the water surface

Bettas have gills for breathing and absorbing oxygen from the water. However, you may notice your aquatic friends gasping or gulping for air at the water’s surface. That may be because the gills of the bettas are not functioning correctly or the tank environment’s oxygen level is insufficient. 

You will see older bettas gulping or gasping for air as they wait to die since their gills have a reduced ability to absorb enough oxygen from the water.

7. Loss or decrease in appetite

Pay attention to the healthy amount of food your aquatic friends eat. A healthy, safe betta should eat about 5 pellets of approved food daily. When a betta fish is dying, it will show less interest in food, spit out eaten food or simply not bother to look for food.

Appetite loss can also be observed in older bettas, which is a sign that they have slower processes in their bodies and require less energy to operate. In addition, older betta’s appetite can decrease because the senses of smell and taste are negatively affected. Consequently, a fish that is about to die will stop eating and show dislike even if you provide its favorite meals.

8. Self-isolation 

Unlike other fish species kept in the aquarium or tank, bettas get along well with other species that are not highly aggressive and do not like claiming territory. The betta-friendly fish shouldn’t have bright colors and/or be fin nippers. 

Tank mates for bettas are female Guppies, Harlequin Rasboras, and Pygmy Corydoras. If you start noticing that your betta fish prefers to remain isolated, away from tank mates, and unresponsive, that should worry you. Sickness, appetite loss, and stress may cause your bettas to isolate themselves in the tank.

How to help a betta fish before it dies

Help a betta fish before it dies with the tips highlighted below:

  1. Quickly understand and recognize signs of illness like loss of vibrant color, reduced or loss of appetite, protruding eyes, tiredness, and clamped fins. Periodic observations of the fish should enable you to notice any anomalies in their behavior.
  2. Improve and maintain safe, healthy water parameters. Water parameters like temperature, hardness, and pH should be conducive for betta fish to thrive and avoid illnesses. Have a way of measuring the water temperature and purchasing a water test kit to determine the levels of toxic gasses in the tank.
  3. Buy a fungus eliminator in your local store for treating fungal infections. Before treating a fungal infection, make sure affected fish are separated from the healthy stock. Fungal diseases are highly infectious. 
  4. Provide your bettas with clean water without toxic metals and chemicals like chlorine.
  5. Avoid overcrowding bettas by providing a spacious tank or keeping a small population of bettas.
  6. Provide excellent food that is rich in proteins, such as bloodworms.
  7. Control algae in the pond at all times. Some fish species feed on algae and, in such a case, they’ll deal with it. However, betta fish need clear water free from algae. Like in a koi pond, algae control in a betta’s tank is vital.

As a rule of thumb, always provide clean water for your aquatic pets, whether in an aquarium or pond.

Treating most causes of illness in bettas is possible. So, do not give up if they are not doing well. However, it becomes difficult to treat older and mature bettas and get their health back since they have almost reached the end of their lifespan.


While you can always rely on the tips provided above to save your bettas from certain death, it is much better to consult experts if you have noticed signs of ill health. 

If you are sure you cannot save your aquatic pets from death, consider killing them humanely, and painlessly. A common technique you can rely on is adding a few clove oil drops in the aquarium or tank.

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