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Old 07-02-2012, 12:36 PM   #1 
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: New York City
Betta likely dying.. please help!


I have a pretty sick Betta, who is likely on his last legs.. and I'm no expert and that's why I'm seeking out help here.. thank you all in advance!

Back story:

So, I inherited a seemingly healthy Betta back in late March. Staying with us was only supposed to be temporary, but we got very attached, and the owner gifted him to us. Since then he's been part of the family. He was even my best man at my civil wedding ceremony. As you can imagine his health is very important to me.

So here is the state of things:

Buster was originally brought in as a low-maintenance pet. His original owner said all she did was fill up the tiny bowl he was in regularly as water evaporated.. a full cleaning was done very infrequently. She only used distilled water too and nothing else.

When he arrived to us 6 months ago.. he was healthy and energetic. We thought since we were putting him in a much larger unfiltered/unheated gallon bowl he would be even better off (we've learned that's obviously incorrect now.. he should have a proper tank with heat/filtration). We also changed his water more often than before. We also switched to using tap with a water conditioner (Nutrafin Betta somethin'). We always prepare the water the night before and let rest overnight before changing the next eve.

prior to changing we verify the water temps (bowl vs fresh water) and will proceed only if the difference is less than 2 degrees.

all was fine up until a month ago. One of his pectoral fins started losing tissue.. My wife looked up the cause and said fin rot.. she got some aquarium salts and swapped out his water 50%.. His energy level was the same (good).

The fin rot started to progress more despite the water change with salts.. and that's when I started researching conviction to solve his ailments.. I then realized from wonderful groups like this that a one gallon unfiltered/unheated bowl was no place for him. I immediately started researching a proper home for him. I've since purchased a 5 gallon tank with a heater/filter/plants/light.. its been seeded from a healthy tank and is just waiting for a full cycle before we introduce him.

Unfortunately I don't think the little guy is gonna make it to his new home. Here is the course of events for the past week.

Saturday before last
: 50% water change. Holes in dorsal fin growing fast. We keep reading that 100% water changes will stress a sick fish out so we don't do. Regular behavior... energy good.

Tuesday: 50% water change. Holes keep growing. ugh. wish the new tank was ready!

Wednesday: received API test kit. Tested for ammonia.. 4-5ppm!!!! Did a 75% water change with a gravel vac. down to about 1-2ppm. Didn't do a 100% change for fear of trauma.

Thursday: Added 2 anubias to help with ammonia reduction and give him a hiding place. LFS said don't feed him. Ammonia at .5-1ppm.. Did another 75% water change.. still at .5ppm.

Friday: Decided since everyone says ammonia should be 0 to do a full water change and wash the bowl and gravel. I washed with regular tap.. while he was in cup. Added 1/4 dose of BettaFix for the first time. We also noticed he coughed up a piece of white mtl. My wife thinks it might be a bit of paper that fell into the bowl. The bottom of his face is pale in comparison to the rest of his body. Ammonia is now 0

Saturday: add full dose of BettaFix directly into bowl (instructions say treat on unchanged water for 7 days). He starts being lethargic. Still would eat but needed to be coaxed. Then read a ton of conflicting info about Bettafix and decided it was no good for him. Did a 50% water change (to not traumatize him). He then just stayed at the top of the tank with very little movement. Concerned that I may have shocked him with the Bettafix which has reports of damaging the labyrinth organ.. If figured it wouldn't hurt to put a small air stone in there to maybe give some more aeration.
Ammonia is 0. I briefly held up a mirror to get him to flare which he did, but then took it away.. He swam normally for a minute or two and he went back to just floating still. Dorsal fine unclamped a bit which was nice to see. (its always has been clamped)

100% water change (to get rid of Bettafix), removed plastic hammock at top of bowl. Pulled the air stone as the bubbles may be agitating him. Good news: His fins are actually healing.. 1.5 mm holes on his dorsal fin are filled actually, and can see growth on his pectoral fins! but he's totally catatonic. Fed him to test response.. would eat, but only if placed directly in front of him. He is either at the bottom completely still (sometimes with labored breathing), or at the top completely still. In a rush of energy he will then get to the top for air, swim around normally for a bit then got back to complete stillness.. with just the occasional flutter of his pectoral fins.

I put a dry pellet so it could float if he doesn't eat it I could remove it. (I normally moisten the pellets a bit). He did not eat.
He has no interest in my hand or any other interaction.

Monday: totally lethargic. did not feed. thinking maybe its constipation? Will wait a few days without feeding and then try the pea treatment. Bottom of face very pale.

That's a lot of info for you all to digest..

  • I've done a ridiculous amount of reading/research and so much of its conflicting.. is this a short term ailment? shock? is he dying?
  • did frequent water changes put him in shock? (despite close water temps?)
  • since his fins are healing, does that mean he is just recovering?
  • did the Bettafix hurt him? Could putting drops directly into the bowl caused this?
  • should his temp be warmer than 76-78?
  • should I abort the tank cycling and just put him in there? (I don't think this would help much as his bowl is at proper temp already)
  • what is my course of action? Just give it time?

Please hit me up if you have any questions... again.. thank you for your help.



What size is your tank? 1 gal
What temperature is your tank? 76-78
Does your tank have a filter? No
Does your tank have an air stone or other type of aeration? Did for a day or two but pulled it when I read that it doesn't do much since the bettas have labyrinth organs.. didn't want to stress him with the bubbles either.
Is your tank heated? No, but temp is stable.. keeping it directly adjacent to a heated tank
What tank mates does your betta fish live with? None

What type of food do you feed your betta fish? Hikari betta bio
How often do you feed your betta fish? usually 6 days a week in the morning 3 pellets.. no food in the last 24 hours.


How often do you perform a water change? before 2 weeks ago, a 100% water change every 2-3 weeks.. and 30% water changes every 4-5 days.. I know this is incorrect now.

What type of additives do you add to the water when you perform a water change? Nutrafin betta conditioner (proper dosage). Recently AQ salt and a few days ago BettaFix.

Water Parameters:
Have you tested your water? If so, what are the following parameters?

Ammonia: 0 (a few days ago it was 4-5ppm)
Nitrite: 0
pH: 6.7
Hardness: NA
Alkalinity: NA

Symptoms and Treatment
How has your betta fish's appearance changed? Yes. paler.
How has your betta fish's behavior changed? Incredibly lethargic, does not respond to interaction. Only moves when he needs air.
When did you start noticing the symptoms? 3 days ago
Have you started treating your fish? If so, how? Aq salt and a start and stop of Bettafix
Does your fish have any history of being ill? No.
How old is your fish (approximately)? at least a year.
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Old 07-02-2012, 01:31 PM   #2 
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3l1zabeth's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2012
It could be that he is just tired. My betta got fin rot with the same symptoms that your has and i gave him maracyn-oxy and aquarium salt. once he got better he would go in the betta log i have. 2 things that you might want to purchase
*betta log(sold at petsmart)
*live bloodworms
or you could wait till he gets better but definintly buy
*aquarium salt

Hopefully your little guy gets better soon and i hope i helped.
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Old 07-02-2012, 03:21 PM   #3 
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: New York City
Thanks Elizabeth..

I hope that he's just tired too.. my question is how can you tell?

I will try the bloodworms..

and since his fin rot seems to be healing (despite his extreme lethargy).. I'm assuming its best to stay away from more meds until I can better ascertain what's wrong with Buster.

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Old 07-02-2012, 03:55 PM   #4 
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Newfoundland
it sounds like he's been through quite the time of it. I'd suggest giving him a week of just clean water, with 100% daily changes. Give him some time to recover from the medications.

Fin rot can be sneak and persistant, to put it mildly. Clean water and aquarium salt are usually all that is needed. 76-78 should be okay if it's not changing more than that. According to the board expert (OFL), bettas can normally handle the temperature changes of day and night, assuming of course it is not too drastic.

High protein food is the other thing you should try, look for 42% protein content or better. Frozen bloodworms are also a popular choice. The extra protein will help him regrow his fins.

When he gets better, you want to change your maintenance schedule, to 1 100% and one 50% change a week. To maintain water quality (and keep ammonia down).
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Old 07-02-2012, 03:56 PM   #5 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Welcome to the forum and sorry you are having problems...

Have you had him for a year or is he a year old, where did your friend get shop, breeder...if you know.....How long was he kept in the distilled water. just trying to get a better idea on history....To understand you have had him since March and all has been well until 2 weeks ago and the only thing wrong was fin issues you treated with water changes...correct......

Then one week ago you started Bettafix and water changes and this is when he started to have behavior changes, more lethargic, stop eating.....correct.....

Sorry, just trying to get the time-lines straight......

Current Signs/symptoms?

Have you check the source water for ammonia as well as the dechlorinator-some dechlorinator products can cause false readings.

Your pH is 6.7 out of the tap...correct.....and temp is 76-78F checked with an independent thermometer....

How are you acclimating back to the water after the water changes if you are removing him from the tank.

Right now-what I would recommend-double check the temp with independent thermometer, place him in a small container or lower the water level in the 1gal so he doesn't have to struggle to reach the surface. If you have a tannin source-either IAL or naturally dried and fallen from the tree Oak leaf...add this to the water to steep and release tannins. If he is having buoyancy problems I would start Epsom salt (Not aquarium salt) 2tsp/gal...Hold food for now, dim lit quiet location.

If you have access to mosquito larva-offer some rinsed and see if he will eat...Sometimes live food will stimulate the feeding response.

Can you post a pic.....
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Old 07-02-2012, 05:01 PM   #6 
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: New York City
@ Silverfang:

you recommend 100% water changes daily.. so 100% daily water changes are okay for what is a potentially a stressed fish? I'm getting conflicting info. Should I only do it if water conditions are poor? (there is no ammonia or nitrite right now)

maybe you didn't catch it in my long post, but his fin rot has been improving while his behavior has gotten totally lethargic.

I will get him some bloodworms if he doesn't eat after a few days of no eating.

@ OldFishLady:

He is at least a year old.. he was purchased at korean supermarket in NYC.

up until April of this year, he was strictly living in distilled water (with his previous owner).. we have made the switch to conditioned tap water since then. We have only had him for about 3 months (sorry I incorrectly stated 6 months before).

He has had fin rot for about a month.. very slow progression and then rapid over the previous week.. but only dorsal and pectoral fins.. no body rot.

we had only treated him with water changes and AQ salt for the past few weeks.. but almost never a 100% water change (we read that it traumatizes the fish). We did our first 100% water change in a month or so when we applied Bettafix 3 days ago (friday) when we couldn't get our ammonia levels down. The bettafix was a quarter dose on friday, then a full dose on Saturday. Since then his behavior has been EXTREMELY lethargic. Ammonia has been 0 since then.


very lethargic, does not react to visual stimuli (a hand over the tank used to make him go crazy in a good way.. a finger saying hello would always get a commanding fin flutter). Occasionally breathes heavy.. Always either at the top or bottom of the tank completely still, with the occasional pectoral fin flutter. Once every 5 min he darts for some air and then swims normally for about 10 sec then returns to either the top or bottom. On the plus side, his fin rot is getting better.. no more holes in his dorsal fin, and pec fins are starting to gain tissue.

I have not checked the unconditioned source water for ammonia.. I did not know that the conditioner could provide false numbers. I will do that tonight when I get home from work.

Yes ph is 6.7... and I read the temp with an infrared thermometer gun.. its accurate to .1 degree and reads the same as the tank thermometer in my 5 gallon tank which is cycling right now (he will go into this when finished cycling)

Water change process.

this is probably where I'm at fault. His gallon bowl is tall. I get a cup fill it with his current bowl water. I start tilting the bowl, and allow the water to flow out, then when he gets close to the lip, I give the bowl a nudge and he goes right into the cup. I figure this is easier on him than netting him. I then fill up the bowl with 24 hour old conditioned tap water.. since there is no temp differential of more than a degree.. I just dump him right in. Is there a better way? I here of floating the cup, but if there is virtually no temp difference.. what does it matter? Am I being short sighted?

I will lower his water level so he doesn't have to swim that much vertically to get to the surface.

I will seek out a tannin source (never heard of using them before).. but coming across clean oak or IAL seems difficult without ordering online.. (LFS's don't carry do they?).

Anything else?

Did I do some sort of irreparable damage to the poor guy? Is he on his deathbed or just in some sort of shock?

I will post a pic and movie shortly..

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Old 07-02-2012, 06:25 PM   #7 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Personally, I don't like to make 100% water changes on a sick/compromised fish...healthy fish generally can tolerate it without issue.......

What I recommend is 50% with like temp premixed treatment water

Its hard to say what is going on....but I have found over medication/treatment can sometimes make them toxic and water changes and use of Epsom salt and tannins along with time is what will help.

If your house has cool/dry air....covering the top of the container with plastic veggie wrap to retain heat/humidity for the labyrinth organ can be helpful.....Sometime if the air over the water is too cool and dry-especially with a compromised fish-it can cause problems.

The tannin source I use are the naturally dried and fallen from the tree Oak leaf from my oak trees in my yard
If you use a tannin source-add to the tank and use some in the replacement water used for water changes...The longer they steep the more tannin released the darker the water the better it is for the Betta.

When I premix the treatment water I use a 1gal jug of dechlorinated water-add the Epsom salt 2tsp/gal and the tannin source to use for my 50% water changes daily...
But first I will do 25% water changes every 15min for 1 hour to get them acclimated to the new chemistry.
The Betta needs to stay in the premixed treatment water for the duration of the treatment period of 10-14 days. Either in a small QT container or in a small tank with a low water level covered with the plastic veggie wrap.

Both the tannins and Epsom salt are safe to use long term if needed....

Good luck

Last edited by Oldfishlady; 07-02-2012 at 06:27 PM.
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Old 07-02-2012, 06:30 PM   #8 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Going back to your source water....does it go though a water softening unit on the house or is it naturally low pH.....If you do have a water softening unit and it uses my need to bypass it for the fish.....
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Old 07-02-2012, 11:36 PM   #9 
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: New York City

thank you very much for your reply.. I will only do 50% water changes and get some Epsom salts in there asap.. I will also prescribe to the intro regimen of 25% every 15min.

as for the saran wrap on the top of the bowl.. won't that deprive him of oxygen since no fresh air can circulate (wouldn't there be co2 build up)? should I punch a few holes?

I will hit the park for some oak leaves tomorrow.. I'm assuming that a well washed and rinsed fallen/dried NYC oak leaf would be okay as long as it is clean?

Here is a video shot tonight showing the level of lethargy from the past few days:

I did come home today to this though.. this lasted for about a minute or two when I came home:

here are a few close up images:

here is an image of him from a few months ago healthy (apologies for the sub par photos:

thank you very much for taking the time to help Buster..

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Old 07-03-2012, 01:55 AM   #10 
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Join Date: May 2012
Location: formerly SF, then Tucson AZ, now central New Jersey
Aw, hope he gets better. Keep us posted.
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