Once you have assessed your fish's symptoms and determined that s/he is unwell, the first step to recovery is assessing and optimizing the fish's environment to allow him/her to heal.

1. Run some lab tests - check your betta's water

In much the same way that a human doctor will perform blood tests to check for toxins, problems and imbalances, you will want to check your fish's water for the same things. 


Check all of the parameters listed below. If any of them fall into the "action required" range, you will need to take steps to improve them.


Ammonia 0 PPM Anything above 0 PPM
Nitrite 0 PPM Anything above 0 PPM
Nitrate Less than 20 PPM     Above 20 PPM
pH 6.5 - 7.5
  • Less than 6 (very acidic)
  • Sudden change of 0.5 or more
Temperature 76-82 F
  • Less than 76 F
  • More than 82 F


If you discover problems with any of the above parameters, immediate steps should be taken to remedy them. The following are examples of solutions:


Ammonia, Nitrite or Nitrate too high
  • Several partial water changes (better than one, extremely large change, as it is more gradual)
  • The higher the levels, the larger the water changes should be (as the danger of toxicity outweighs the danger of sudden adjustment to new water)
  • 50% is a good starting point, 75-100% changes can be used in emergencies
  • Check to make sure that your filter is working properly
    • If using zeolite media, consider replacing it
    • Remove the filter, take it apart and thoroughly rinse all parts, including the impeller
pH outside of range
  • First, you should test the pH of your tap water to see if you are able to alter tank pH using water changes
    • It is also helpful if you have previously tested and recorded the pH of your tank - has it changed since then?
  • If the pH has not changed over time, it is less likely to be a cause of disease, and it is best not to try to alter it
  • If the pH has changed and/or the pH of your tap water is closer to the ideal range, small (25%), frequent water changes can be used to restore an appropriate pH
Temperature too low
  • Purchase and install an aquarium heater
Temperature too high
  • Do you have an aquarium heater in the tank? If so, it may be malfunctioning or set to too high of a temperature. Try turning it down.
  • If you are not using a heater, consider if factors such as prolonged exposure to sunlight, proximity to a heating vent, etc., are affecting tank temperature. If so, move the tank to a more appropriate location
    • Then consider installing a heater to prevent the temperature from dropping too low, and to keep it constant


Make the patient comfortable - alter the aquarium to suit the needs of a sick fish

Like all animals, when a fish is unwell, it may lack energy and have a reduced ability to care for itself. Consider taking the following steps to help your fish during his/her illness and recovery:


Lower the water level in the tank
  • In addition to breathing through their gills, bettas (and other labyrinth fish) MUST be able to reach the surface in order to breathe
    • If they are unable to reach the surface, they will drown.
  • If your betta is lethargic or struggling to swim, consider lowering the water level to reduce the distance the fish must travel to get air
    • Filtration should be continued to maintain water quality. If lowering the water level would interfere with the filter, consider an alternate, such as below
Capture the betta in a breeding cup (like this or this) and float/secure this at the surface of  your fish's tank
  • As stated above, betta's must be able to reach the surface to breathe, and a breeding cup reduces the distance the fish must travel
  • Also, you will be able to observe you betta well and tempt him more easily with food if he is contained within this cup
Reduce/baffle flow from the filter
  • A betta who is ill/lethargic may not be able to cope with water currents very well.
  • To allow the fish to rest and not expend unnecessary energy battling current, consider baffling the outflow of your fish's filter
    • This can be done by wedging a small piece of filter foam loosely into the filter's output spout (not too firmly, as this will back up flow)
    • The filter foam will break up and disperse the outflow