How to Help Your Scared Betta Fish: play Nice!

Betta fish are notoriously aggressive and territorial. But just like you and me, they come with all kinds of personalities and preferences.

If your betta fish seems skittish or you think they’re scared of you, fear not!

This is not as uncommon as you might think.

Betta fish become scared or skittish when they feel threatened by a new or aggressive tank mate. Changes to their tank environment and overcrowding cause stress too. If your betta is specifically scared of you, they will need time to trust and feel safe with you. This is common with new fish.

scared betta fish atf

Scared Betta Fish: Understanding Stress

Being in a state of constant anxiety is hard on your pet fish!

Lots of stress leaves an otherwise healthy fish vulnerable to infection and disease.

But even without causing other illnesses, the stress in fish can turn dangerous. A very long stressful period may shorten your betta’s lifespan.

Here are some signs of stress to watch out for:

  • Dulled colors
  • Stress stripes
  • Lethargy
  • Appetite changes
  • Hiding
  • Darting away
  • Skittish behavior

Fearful fish usually show signs before long. Many aquarists say they see signs of stress at betta fish pet stores.

Some betta owners consider their pet fish to be rescues. This is because they got the fish healthy after it was poorly cared for in a pet store.

The signature of stress-sick fish is dull coloration. Bettas are known for their bold, beautiful colors and patterns.

But they lose color and energy when they are not well cared for.

Environmental Factors Can Make Betta Scared

tank betta afraid

Keeping a healthy tank for your betta is the key to avoiding fear and nervousness. 

This means using a tank with a filter and including lots of aquarium plants and hiding places.

They know when they are not safe. Plus, they notice all the little changes you make to their home.

Sometimes it takes very little to set them off.

Sudden loud noises might cause fear if your fish is not used to them.

Say you listen to Set It Off with headphones on most of the time, then play it out loud one day.

Your betta would not be a happy camper.

This is also true when you add objects to the tank. A new floating log, cave, or plant could startle your betta.

If I came home one day to see all my furniture rearranged, I would be confused too!

Here’s some aquarium advice from us:

Make changes slowly, and start small.

Consider this advice when you add new tank mates, even if they’re just snails or shrimp.

Your betta needs time to acclimate. Let them see their new friend before making them share their space.

Water Quality

Water quality is one of the biggest influences on your betta’s health and happiness.

They can tell when something is wrong with the water because it makes them feel poorly.

Never put your betta in a saltwater tank. They are freshwater fish.

Here is a complete set of water parameters for betta fish:

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

Your betta will notice any one of these parameters getting out of a safe range.

Some of the more common mistakes include ammonia spikes and temperature fluctuations.

Ammonia levels rise when you have a lot of waste build-up in the aquarium.

Use a heater to regulate the temperature in the tank and a thermometer to monitor any changes.

Overcrowding and Tank Size

Overcrowding and using a small tank are two of the most common causes of stress in betta fish.

When your betta has no room, it can’t swim around as they need to.

They need at least a 5-gallon tank per fish. Using anything smaller causes water quality to plummet quickly.

This is often how ammonia levels get out of control and is one of the most common mistakes betta owners make.

The problem worsens when you put too many fish in one tank. Even smaller tank mates like snails and shrimp add significantly to the bio-load.

You need to upgrade your tank to make room for new additions.

Remember, too, aggressive tank mates add to your betta’s stress and fear. Never house them with potential predators or big fish.

Even tank mates who don’t appear threatening might freak them out.

Some betta fish are actually stressed out by their own reflection in the aquarium glass!

Help your fish by getting an opaque aquarium or using dry-erase markers on the tank’s exterior.

Calm Lighting

lighting for scared betta

Lighting is crucial to your betta’s environment and is often overlooked.

For starters, the aquarium light you use helps determine your betta’s sleep-wake cycle. But it also helps them predict changes to their environment.

They learn roughly when the light will turn on and off, so sudden brightness doesn’t scare them.

It’s essential not to use a very bright light or keep it on for too long.

We recommend using something like this, which has a timer and allows you to adjust the brightness.

Safe Feeding Keep Bettas Calm

How much and how often you feed your betta plays a big role in their health.

We recommend feeding twice a day and using a combination of live and dry foods.

Some betta owners fast their pets one day a week. This is not always necessary but is helpful for some fish.

Feeding too much causes digestive issues like constipation, which are very dangerous for betta fish.

Read more about best feeding practices here.

The content of your betta’s food is essential too!

Feeding high-protein foods exclusively may stress out their body. Your betta needs some fiber and other nutrients as well.

Be Non-Threatening for Your Betta

Your betta’s stress comes primarily from their environment.

Harsh lighting, aggressive tank mates, and poor water quality are bound to scare your pet!

Make yourself a safe person by staying calm around the tank and not making loud noises.

Predictability is key to keeping a happy betta.

Stay aware of how they’re behaving and feeling, and you’re sure to do a great job!

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Jacinta was raised on a dairy farm in Vermont where they worked extensively with cows, chickens, pigs, goats, and other animals. They have a background in writing both creatively and professionally.

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