It’s never fun to watch your pets go through something you don’t understand and seems dangerous.
If your betta fish shakes, you’ll quickly wonder what’s going wrong. I get it; I’ve been there before.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Can betta fish have seizures?
Betta fish can have seizures and be epileptic. When this condition occurs, there’s not much to do other than cover the tank and wait for it to pass. Seizures are typically caused by flashing lights, loud sounds, temperature shock, or infection. Proper tank setup and care are key to prevention.
Table of Contents
Betta Fish And Epilepsy
I remember getting a betta a few years ago and watching it go through a seizure. It’s no fun.
My mind went right to epilepsy. In my research, I learned it’s possible but not likely.
Like in humans, betta can have chemical imbalances in their brain and even tumors.
These may cause epileptic seizures in fish, as with many other animals and us.
If this is the case, there’s not much to do. Calling a vet might help if they can diagnose and prescribe chemical medicine.
But this is unlikely and expensive.
In any case, your betta is most likely having a seizure due to environmental concerns.
Or it may not be having a seizure at all! Some behaviors look like seizures to us but are a normal part of the fish’s personality.
3 Signs Of Seizures In Betta Fish
Before you panic about a seizure with your betta, take the time to notice the behavior and actions of your pet.
If you see all three of these issues, it’s safe to confirm a seizure has happened or is happening.
Bettas are known to twitch and move quickly as signs of aggression and stress. So twitching on its own isn’t enough to decide on seizures.
But if you look at the erratic movements, you may be able to tell when it’s more than normal behavior.
Aggressive twitching needs something to be aggressive against. If there are no other fish, it probably isn’t this.
Also, the stress twitching comes in spurts. They’ll twitch a few times, go back to normal, and then twitch again.
Or, if you pay attention, the twitching specifically occurs from stress in response to some stimuli.
Examples would be noise, tapping, or movement.
Seizure shaking and twitching may look similar, but it happens for a longer period and doesn’t stop to take breaks.
They’re truly uncontrollable movements.
The fish also won’t swim much during this shaking.
It may move around quite a bit but won’t be directed swimming.
Betta fish use a labyrinth organ to absorb oxygen through their gills and the air at the top of the tank.
During a seizure, they’ll have trouble breathing and become short of breath.
This doesn’t happen when the twitching is related to aggression or stress.
To combat this, bettas will swim and float near the top of the tank and gulp in the open air.
It’s not unusual for bettas to regularly swim to the top for a breath.
But something is wrong if they stay there or keep going back every few minutes or seconds.
If there’s no shaking or twitching, it probably has something to do with an infection or a lack of oxygen in the aquarium’s water.
But combine this with the twitching and shaking, and you’ve got a good clue that seizures are the problem.
Check out this list of other reasons your betta is hanging out at the top of the tank and what you need to do about it.
Lack Of Appetite
Bettas don’t need much food to survive or even be healthy.
But if they show zero interest in food, there’s a problem.
At the least, they should notice the food and nibble at it before turning it away.
When you feed them, and they don’t even react, something’s up.
Combine this symptom with the other two, and you’ve got yourself a strong diagnosis of seizure problems.
What Causes Betta Fish Seizures?
If you’ve determined your betta is having seizures, don’t panic.
The main reasons for it may be curable and are usually easily prevented.
We all want our bettas to live long and healthy lives, so we must check the caring process to protect our fishy friends.
Infection (Fungal, Viral, Parasite)
Some kind of infection is the top cause of seizures when the environment is stable.
Infections in fish manifest themselves in different ways. Unlike humans, one of the most common is seizures.
You need to take action immediately, whether bacterial infection or viral infection (even parasites, too).
First, you must remove the betta and isolate it from the rest of the fish (if you have any).
This limits the exposure and spreading of the infection, which is dangerous to your entire tank.
If you have to put them in a fish bowl (which we do NOT normally recommend), do it. Prevention is key here.
But it’s best to go and get a smaller aquarium with a filter and thermometer for this purpose.
Second, I recommend talking to a vet if you suspect an infection.
They’ll know more about prescribing the proper course of action, which often includes medication.
This is especially true in cases of parasitical infection or fungal infection.
If you have a natural antibiotic medication for your betta, it’s most likely safe to administer it to your betta at this point.
Many experienced owners know when to give them meds and when to call a vet.
If you don’t know for sure, please call your fish veterinarian. At the very least, do it to get advice.
Some artificial medicines like Oxytetracycline and Tetracycline will work.
But you may accidentally poison them if you don’t know how much to give.
Rapid Temperature Changes
One of the most common ways new fish owners (or careless ones) put their betta into a seizure is through rapid temperature changes, called temperature shock.
As cold-blooded creatures, you wouldn’t think temperature changes would affect them so dramatically.
But truth be told, rapid changes affect them worse than warm-blooded ones like us.
Keep changes less than 4° degrees if possible. Less than 2° degrees is ideal.
On top of this, temperature shock will occur if the temperature gets too high or too low, even if it’s gradual.
Remember, betta fish do best in 78-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) water.
On the high and low end, they’ll survive in temps down to 74° degrees Fahrenheit (23° C) and up to 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C).
Outside of these ranges temperature shock sets in, often with seizures.
Remember, betta are tropical fish in the wild. They’re used to pretty stable and warm water temperatures.
This was hard for me to wrap my mind around at first.
Being from Michigan, I assumed all fish could survive our drastic temperature changes.
This is NOT the case.
Warning! While your betta may survive these temps for a short time, it’s not ideal. They’ll have stress on their bodies!
Keep it between the narrower amount mentioned above, and they’ll be fine.
Too Many Lights (Or Rapidly Changing Lights)
In my past experience as a teacher, I had many students prone to seizures.
Our first line of defense was to limit the number of bright lights and flashes of light they saw.
The same holds true with betta fish.
Bright lights and changing lights can cause a fish prone to seizures to have them more often.
Don’t assume your purchased tank from a pet store uses the right kind of light, either.
I had a friend who bought a nice aquarium with built-in lights. They naturally changed colors and flashed.
But his fish kept spasming and dying early from it. It took him a while to figure out why.
Why do some companies make their tanks this way? I’m not sure.
Use your best judgment in the lights around your tank.
Loud noises are less likely to be the sole cause of seizures. But in combination with some of these other causes, a loud sound may trigger the start of one.
Betta fish are prey for a lot of other fish and animals in the wild.
As such, running is their best defense.
A loud sound will raise their stress level and convince them to flee.
But if their stress level is already too high, it may put them over the edge.
Warning! A very loud sound may scare them enough to cause a heart attack!
How Do You Help Your Betta During A Seizure?
If you’re convinced your betta fish is in the midst of a seizure, sadly, there isn’t much to do about it.
For those who have medication from a vet, add some medicine to the tank if they recommend it.
For the rest of us, all we can do is wait.
Turn the lights off on the tank (if you have them on), and cover the aquarium with a blanket.
The lower lights may help them sometimes, but it certainly won’t hurt.
Then, just wait. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the most we can do for the safest recovery.
4 Tips For Preventing Seizures In Betta Fish
Keep Lights Low
Direct sunlight is bad for your bettas.
For one, it raises the temperature.
It also encourages the growth of algae and bacteria!
So from too much light, we get three of the causes of seizures:
- Bright lights
- Temperature shock
Don’t leave your tank in direct sunlight. Use mellow colors from LED lights set on a timer to provide a day-night cycle.
Soft white or blue aquarium lights are the way to go if you use them at all.
Bright lights also cast a reflection in the aquarium glass. This may confuse your betta into thinking another fish is in the tank.
Read more about lights in our guide on how to set up a betta fish tank.
Keep The Tank Away From A Lot Of Movement And Sound
Think about where you’ll place your aquarium.
Movement and sound raise stress levels and may trigger a seizure.
My grandma (yes, I come from a long line of fishkeepers) learned this mistake the hard way.
She wanted to display her fishy friends right where everyone could see them.
But the middle of her most trafficked area was too much for the fish.
The sound and movement freaked them out quite a bit.
Even a low, constant level of external vibrations may be too much for them.
Put your tank where it’s visible, sure. After all, you want to see them!
But keep them tucked away from where most people walk or play loudly.
When we got a betta fish, my kids wanted it in their toy/playroom. This wasn’t a good idea, and I shot it down.
Change Water Temperature Gradually
Proper temperature is critical for bettas. This is truer for them than most other pet fish you may have.
Bettas are quite hardy, but this is one area where you don’t want to mess around.
First, keep temperatures between 78-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
Use a heater programmed to keep it in this range automatically.
Then, track the temperature with a clear and high-quality thermometer.
Limit changes in water temp if at all possible. Power outages are dangerous for fish if your area is cold during the winter.
When changing some of the water in your tank, use a small amount. Keep the temp of the new water as close to the tank water as possible.
If you are adding a new betta, keep the fish in its original container and place it in your tank’s water.
This will help the water gradually adjust to match the tank water.
If you need to remove your betta from its tank, use water from the tank to fill up the new space.
A consistent temperature in the right range is the top way to prevent seizures.
Test The Water Parameters And Keep It Stable
The water of tanks needs to be stable overall for the best betta health.
Poor water conditions add stress on your fish, raise the chance of infection, and may even poison them.
Ideal Water Parameters for a Betta Fish Tank Include the following:
- Temperature: 78-80° degrees Fahrenheit (25.5-27° C)
- pH: 6.5-7.5
- Ammonia and Nitrite: 0 ppm
- Nitrate: < 40 ppm
- gH: 3-4 dGH (50-66.7 ppm)
- kH: 3-5 dKH (53.6-89.4 ppm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 5 Gallons
Read more about water parameters for betta fish in our guide at the link.
A good aquarium filter goes a long way in helping with this.
Watch those ammonia levels in particular.
Keep Those Seizures At Bay!
Seizures in betta fish aren’t fun. But most cases are preventable with proper care.
Keep temperatures stable, limit lights, and keep the tank away from traffic and sound.
This will help your bettas live a long and healthy life!
Read more about betta fish care and keep your fishy friends living their best lives!
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?