Just as a bird builds a nest before laying an egg, you must prepare a betta fish’s home before buying one.
So many people eye a betta fish for its fancy fins. Sadly, new fish keepers often end up with unhealthy, unhappy, or dead betta fish due to poor tank setup. To name a few, betta fish fall victim to:
Wrong tank sizes
Poor water parameters
Suboptimal water temperature
Luckily, you can prevent poor outcomes by knowing what you'll need for your betta fish tank setup.
In this article, I’ll walk you through 10 items to create a safe aquatic environment for your betta before buying one. Let's learn how to create an environment where they can thrive, be healthy, and happy right from the get-go.
Successful fishkeeping starts with knowledge. Note that this list will only be the bare bones needed to help you get started.
So what do betta fish need in their tank?
#1: A Betta Fish Tank
So the first item, of course, is the tank.
With regard to the tank, there are some guidelines that I think are more beneficial for betta fish.
A. Go for 5 Gallons Or More
I recommend that you go for a tank that is at least 5 gallons, but even larger would be ideal.
You’ll see a lot of people recommend at least a 2.5-gallon tank. But I challenge you to look at the actual cost difference--or lack thereof--between 5-gallon and 2.5-gallon tanks. The cost savings are minimal at best.
From a space perspective, a 5-gallon betta tank doesn’t take much more space than a 2.5-gallon tank. Especially if you go for a vertical tank. The footprint is pretty minimal.
In conclusion, if conflicted between a 2.5 versus a 5-gallon tank, go for the 5 gallons. If you're in the market for something smaller than 2.5 gallons... you might want to reevaluate your betta fish-keeping decisions (only half-joking).
There are plenty of benefits of having a bigger tank compared to a smaller tank. Whether it’s from a maintenance perspective or the added margin for error with water parameters.
The bigger, the better.
B. Opt for Horizontal over Vertical Tanks
The second guideline is that betta fish generally prefer horizontal swimming space over vertical swimming space. This is not a full-stop, non-negotiable parameter for your tanks, but it is a good one to have.
With all other things constant, if you could pick a longer tank over a taller tank, that would be ideal.
Long-term, optimal swimming space can contribute to the enrichment and livelihood of your betta fish.
C. Go for 10 Gallon Tanks for Giant Betta Fish
Are you thinking of getting a king or a giant betta fish instead of a normal-sized betta fish? Since these specific types of bettas are often double the size of your everyday betta fish, their baseline swimming space needs should also be higher.
In this case, I suggest your target tank size should be 10 gallons or more.
#2: A Tank Lid
Item number 2 on the list would be a lid for your tank.
A lid is essential because betta fish are known to be jumpers.
I have witnessed my passed betta fish jumping. The lid prevents them from accidentally jumping out of the tank. Accidents happen; expect the worst, and take preventative measures.
The last thing you want to do is come home from a nice dinner. Only to see your shriveled-up, dried betta fish on that carpeted floor, all because you didn’t want to invest in a lid.
If you’re a cheapskate like me, there are many ways to make your DIY lids. If you get either of the 2 starter kit tanks I recommended earlier, they automatically come with a lid, so that's one less thing to worry about.
#3 & 4: a Thermometer and Heater
Items number 3 and 4 sort of come in a pair: a thermometer and a heater.
The temperature at which you keep your tank is important for a betta fish. They thrive best in conditions ranging from 78-80 °F (25.6-26.7 °C) as they derive from warm waters.
The heater I recommend would be the FreeSea heater. I use the 50-watt version, but you could go down to the 25-watt version to save. The good thing about this heater is that it comes with a digital thermometer.
I have a number of these heaters, and none of them have failed me. You also can adjust the temperature at which you want it to keep the tank.
Just set it, forget it, and your tank will maintain a consistent temperature.
#5: A Low-Flow Filter
Item number 5 is a low-flow filter.
It is vital that you need a filter that can maintain a low flow within the tank with regard to betta fish. Betta fish do not like fast currents. They prefer relatively still water.
Many fish keepers prefer sponge filters because the flow that comes from those kinds of filters is very minimal. They're often very affordable, so you can't go wrong with this option.
You can also consider hang-on-back (HOB) filters. They provide biological filtration like sponge filters, and it also does wonders in terms of mechanical filtration.
I like the AquaClear HOB filters because you can increase and decrease the filter flow rate.
Regardless of what filter you decide to use, there are several hacks that you can do to minimize and mitigate filter currents.
Item number 6 would be dechlorinator.
Purchasing dechlorinator goes without saying. Regardless of what kind of fish you’re looking to keep, it's necessary.
The one thing I would say with dechlorinator is that not all are made equally.
Make sure you get one that not only removes chlorine but also:
Removes chloramine, which is just as toxic
I prefer Seachem Prime because it accomplishes all these things.
#7: High-Quality Fish Food
Item number 7 would be high-quality food.
About picking the right feeding regimen for your betta fish, there are several tips and guidelines that I can recommend.
Make sure you try different types of foods and other forms of nourishment. You also want to keep in mind that betta fish are naturally carnivorous. The food that you pick should have a majority of high-quality protein.
The number one food I recommend for betta fish is Fluval Bug Bites.
#8: Places to hIDE
Item number 8 would be hiding spots in your tank consisting of different things.
You may have seen my video where I changed the lights for my Marineland Portrait 5-gallon tank. I switched from the stock light, which was relatively weak, to a brighter light with a higher output.
One of the things I noticed from my betta fish was that he became more skittish than usual. I anecdotally attribute this behavioral change to the brighter light that I put in the tank.
Always decorate your tank in a way that creates places for your betta fish to hide from the light when needed.
When aqua scaping your betta fish’s tank, there are 4 things you want to keep in mind:
Break the fish’s line of sight throughout the tank
Provide places for the betta fish to hide from the light when it needs to
Make sure that anything you put in that tank is not jagged, sharp, or could potentially harm your betta fish
Provide places at which the betta fish can rest
This is discussed further in another video.
If you want to leverage fake plants, by all means, go ahead. Just make sure you use silk plants. Though, real plants are always most ideal.
In terms of hardscape, dragon stone is a great option that is relatively smooth and non-jacketed.
#9: A tANK LIGHT
The ninth item would be the lighting.
We alluded to this in the previous section, but lighting is important for your betta fish because it’ll help maintain their circadian rhythm. And yes, maintaining circadian rhythm is essential for your fish, especially in minimizing stress levels.
Having lighting that is regularly on at certain intervals of the day is important, mainly if your tank does not get any ambient light from the windows.
Not only is lighting vital if you decide to put plants in your tank, but it’s always a good practice to feed your betta fish when the lights are on.
Fluval also makes some great lights, but they are a little more expensive compared to the ones that I listed prior.
#10: A Water Test Kit
And last but not least, item number 10... a water test kit. Arguably the most important item to get once you decide to get a betta fish or any fish.
The appropriate water parameters in your tank, whether ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, pH levels, or hardness, are all critical to your betta fish's livelihood, well-being, and wellness.
I would say that betta fish are one of the hardiest fishes that I’ve personally kept. But it is always good practice to make sure that you’re aware of the water parameters in your tank.
The API Water Test Kit is the holy grail of all water test kits. You can also go the more convenient route by purchasing the test strips made by Tetra. Many hobbyists have supported and backed the accuracy of these Tetra test strips. You can't go wrong with either one.
While testing your water is not the sexiest or the most fun part of the hobby, it is essential. Just get a test kit.
And there you have it. Those were the 10 essential items you need to get yourself started keeping a betta fish.
In a Nutshell: What Do Betta Fish Need in their Tank
For a healthy and happy betta fish, make sure their tanks are spacious and have a lid for safety purposes. Water parameters must be optimal, with low currents and the right temperature.
Get the 10 items above, and you've covered your bases for a successful betta fish tank setup.