The vertical death hang is one of the most critical things nobody tells you about when you buy a betta fish.
It is easy to recognize once you know what it is, but fixing it is much more complicated.
Hence the name, the vertical death hang is when you find your betta hanging vertically in the tank with their face up. This unnatural position means your fish is either sick or injured. Fixing poor water conditions or treating infections may help get your betta out of the vertical position.
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What Is a Vertical Death Hang?
The vertical death hang happens when your betta fish cannot swim or float properly.
Instead of roaming the tank in their usual horizontal position, they get stuck with their head up.
It looks very unnatural.
So, you’ll be sure to recognize it if you ever see your fish hanging like this.
Remember, a betta in the death hang might still swim around the tank.
But the vertical death hang is extremely dangerous and needs to be taken care of as quickly as possible.
As the name implies, this symptom sometimes leads to death in betta fish.
It’s essentially your final warning to help your pet before it’s too late. So, act fast.
What Causes the Death Hang?
Pinning down what’s behind your fish’s behavior is the first step to fixing it.
But there are many reasons a betta fish might get sick or even die, like poor water quality or diet.
They’re a lot more fragile than many people give them credit for.
Or rather, they have more needs than most people realize and want to satisfy.
Here are some of the leading reasons for the vertical death hang:
- Swim Bladder Disease (SBD)
- High ammonia levels
- Poor filtration
- Temperature changes
- Small or crowded tank
- Low or high pH
- Waste build-up
Swim Bladder Disease
Chances are good you’ve already heard of SBD at some point if you own a betta fish.
It is one of the more common ways betta fish die in captivity.
This disease tends to happen when you overfeed a fish or when they get constipated for another reason.
The blockage in their small bodies puts too much pressure on the swim bladder.
The swim bladder is your betta’s internal gas-filled organ. It helps them swim and float.
Occasionally, SBD originates from problems with water conditions.
Regardless of the cause, this disease makes it impossible for your fish to swim correctly.
Usually, this makes your betta float near the top or bottom of the tank or have trouble swimming in their usual pattern.
If your betta has SBD and winds up in the vertical death hang, their condition is severe.
Talk to a fish-savvy veterinarian if there is one in your area.
Otherwise, practice home remedies for SBD.
Epsom salt baths are beneficial for some betta fish.
Others need a couple of days without food so they can pass waste.
Keeping ammonia levels in the tank as low as possible is one of the most important things we do for our fish!
Ammonia in a betta tank should always stay at 0 ppm.
I know this probably sounds like it would be difficult to maintain. But it’s very doable.
You need at least five gallons of aquarium space allotted to each betta fish you own.
Do partial water changes every week, and ammonia levels will likely stay under control.
Sometimes snails or other fish in the tank will produce extra ammonia.
To combat rising ammonia levels, make water changes more frequent until the problem passes.
Ammonia problems are one possible cause of vertical death hang.
But truthfully, you would get a lot of other warning signs before your betta fish started the death hang.
Ammonia causes fin rot, discoloration, stress stripes, and other sickness symptoms in bettas.
Poor Water Filtration
The little glass fish bowls we see on Sesame Street do not cut it for fish in real life.
Not only do fish need a lot more space to swim around, but they also need filtered and treated water.
If you haven’t already, invest in a good aquarium filter for your betta tank.
A proper filter helps control chemical levels, which is crucial to keeping a healthy betta fish.
Low-flow filters are great for the betta because they don’t create too much of a current in the tank.
This is why sponge filters are so popular among betta keepers.
Unfiltered water is more likely to have low oxygen and higher ammonia and nitrate levels.
This is a recipe for SBD and sometimes leads to the vertical death hang.
The ideal water temperature for a betta fish is 78-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
While they can tolerate temperatures slightly outside this range, keeping the water in the sweet spot is best.
Going too far outside the ideal temperature leads to problems like lethargy, discoloration, oxygen deprivation, and sometimes vertical death hang.
A panting and racing betta’s water is probably too hot.
A lethargic betta hanging out at the top of the tank is likely too cold.
Adjust the heater as needed or do a partial water change to get the temperature back to normal.
It’s essential to make sure the temperature isn’t fluctuating constantly, though.
Changing by even a couple of degrees is hard on a betta fish’s body and makes them more susceptible to sickness.
Start by checking the thermometer in your tank and act fast if the temperature is the problem.
Small or Crowded Tank
The minimum size for a betta fish tank is 5 gallons.
If you add other fish, even small ones like tetras, you have to compensate with a bigger tank.
When your fish tank is too small, you run the risk of waste build-up, high ammonia levels, and other problems.
For betta fish, it’s also a source of stress when their tank is too small or crowded.
Stress kills fish if it gets bad enough.
Fortunately, you will get plenty of warnings before your fish enters the death hang.
Some signs of stress to look out for are as follows.
- Stress stripes
- Discoloration or faded colors
- Lethargic behavior
The good news is this problem is relatively easy to solve.
Your betta is in need of a larger space, so you need to get a bigger tank as soon as possible.
If you have the funds, get one right away. Remember, the minimum size for a betta fish tank is 5 gallons.
Low or High pH
All fish are picky about the pH in their living space. But most can tolerate a fairly wide range.
To keep your betta comfortable, ensure the pH in their tank is at 6.5 – 7.0 and doesn’t fluctuate too much.
While they tolerate slightly higher or lower, aim for the given range.
It takes a lot to trigger the vertical position in bettas, so the pH would have to be out of whack for a while.
When you see your betta in this position, one of the first things you need to do is use a water testing strip.
Fixing a pH imbalance is sometimes as simple as doing a couple of extra partial water changes.
Other times, it takes quite a while to do frequent water changes before the water gets back to normal.
An excellent way to prevent this before it reaches the point of a death hang is to test the water in your fish tank regularly.
Whenever the pH starts to change, you’ll know and be able to combat the changes before they get worse.
The overfeeding of betta pellets is a prevalent mistake, especially for new fish owners.
Dry pellets are the better choice for a healthy diet because they contain more nutrients and protein than other betta feeds.
But it is imperative to pick a food with a high enough fiber content.
Fiber helps your betta digest their food and avoid problems like constipation and bloating.
As you might remember, constipation and bloating are the most common causes of Swim Bladder Disease.
If you need help getting your fish on a healthy diet, read our best betta fish foods article.
There, you will learn more about the most natural diet for betta fish and why they need specific kinds of food.
Overfeeding impacts your betta’s ability to swim in the correct position.
When you notice abnormal behavior in your pet, especially when they have trouble swimming, overfeeding is a likely cause.
If this is the problem, start by giving them less at meal times.
Then, if the problem continues or worsens, stop feeding them for a day or two.
Once your betta has successfully passed waste, it’s safe to feed them again.
By the time they’re in the vertical death hang, you must stop feeding them altogether and watch to see if they pass waste.
Likely, they have already contracted SBD by this point. So consider using a home remedy to fight the disease.
Waste build-up in an aquarium has similar consequences to high ammonia levels.
Waste comes from several sources. Of course, there’s the waste your fish passes after digesting their food.
But there are other kinds of waste as well.
Uneaten food pellets in the tank will eventually break down and pollute the water.
Dead snails, fish, or shrimp are another aquarium waste source.
These things alter chemical levels, often lowering water quality and leading to poor health for your fishies.
Excess waste in your betta’s tank causes health issues like fin rot, stress stripes, and sometimes SBD.
A fish left for too long in waste-filled water may even go on to experience organ failure and death.
The vertical death hang is a sign the situation is dire.
To avoid this problem, clean out uneaten food right after mealtimes.
Also, make it a habit to remove any dead snails or fish from the tank.
If the waste build-up is the problem causing your betta to do the death hang, you need to do a partial water change as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to check for any visible waste in the tank.
Remove whatever possible to stop the water from getting any worse.
Make sure to test the water too!
Waste build-up comes with other water quality issues a lot of the time.
What to Do About the Vertical Death Hang
Gaining as much knowledge on betta health as possible is the first step to preventing death hang.
Then you need to take good care of your fish’s environment.
By doing regular water changes and being careful about good feeding, you help your fish avoid serious health issues.
Even if your betta doesn’t do the death hang, it could contract bacterial infections, experience organ failure, or be overly stressed out.
This is no way for a betta to live.
The vertical position in bettas is always a symptom of a bigger problem.
Before solving it, you have to identify the root cause.
Testing the water in the tank, maintaining good feeding habits for your betta, and keeping up with water changes are good ways to stay on top.
You’ll know as soon as things go wrong and, hopefully, will never see your betta in the vertical position.
Deadly Consequences for Betta Fish
The vertical death hang is a terrifying sight even to the experienced fishkeeper.
But truthfully, all you need to do to prevent it is keep up with all your betta’s care.
Most of the time, the death hang is solved by a couple of extra water changes or a remedy for Swim Bladder Disease.
If you need more information on taking good care of your betta, check out our care guide!
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