I have two questions that I just can't seem to figure out the answers to and really need some help from people who know Bettas. Below is a bit of my betta's history followed by 2 questions and lastly the required details of his environment and care.
I picked up my Betta, Umi, about a month ago because I felt bad that he was living in a cup. The store clerk assured me that he could live happily in a bowl with minimal care and so I thought that was better than a cup and brought him home and this is what happened next:
Week 1 & 2:
I kept him in a 1 gallon fish bowl with aged and conditioned, room temperature water. The bowl contained gravel/pebbles, a marimo ball and a bridge to hide under. I did a partial water change mid week and a full water change at the end of each week. In the 2nd week when I did a full water change I also rinsed out his gravel, bridge and marimo ball (no soap was used). A day or so later I disturbed some gravel in his tank by moving things around and the water turned cloudy. I learned that this was most likely a bacteria bloom and that it would settle and to do nothing so I did nothing. I also learned that Umi deserved a bigger bowl.
Umi got a sparkling new 2.5 gallon bowl and everything seemed to be going okay until a couple of days later when I noticed that his caudal fin seemed a bit ragged. I learned that this might be fin rot and was advised to give him BettaFix. The day after starting him on BettaFix I noticed that his water had become cloudy again and that Umi seemed a little foggy too. He would perk up after a water change but become listless again hours later. I turned to the internet and several local pet stores for help. I learned a lot about Betta fish and fish care in general but I was left utterly confused by conflicting information. About 4-5 days passed as I tried to sort out all of this newly acquired fish knowledge. During this time Umi seemed even more lethargic and would hover/float in his bowl with his head up and tail end down. I read some negative opinions regarding the use of BettaFix and became concerned that it may be making him sick and so I stopped using it and was advised to add aquarium salt instead. I also learned that I may have been feeding him too much so I cut that back as well.
After lots more reading and an unhappy Umi, I bought a 5 gallon tank, a heater, thermometer, bioballs, carbon pouch, a filter, a couple more marimo balls, bloodworms, and a liquid test kit for ammonia and another for nitrates. I had planned on keeping Umi in his bowl until I could cycle his new tank and prayed that he wouldn't pay the price for my ignorance. Since I had purchased an ammonia testing kit for cycling the tank I decided I might as well use it to test the water that Umi was currently living in. I was surprised and alarmed to see that the water in his bowl tested at 1-1.5 ppm as I had recently changed his water. My understanding is that ammonia should be zero and that any amount is harmful. I did a 50% water change right away and Umi immediately perked up as usual. A couple hours later he seemed listless again and so I tested the water for ammonia and it read 1-1.5 ppm. I tested my tap water just to make sure nothing was wonky there and it was ok. Although I planned on cycling the new tank, I decided to move Umi to it right away, uncycled, because at least it was a healthier environment than his bowl. Not sure if that was the right thing to do but it seemed the most logical.
Umi has a good appetite as always and swimming about being his usual flirty self. He has been in his new tank for a week now. I am still concerned about his fins and now this whole business of cycling his tank while he is in it has me really worried.
Question # 1: Is this Fin Rot???
I have posted two pictures of Umi. His fins were kind of ragged when I bought him but I think he has less tissue now at the top part of his caudal fins where you only see five or so strips of tissue. There are also red patches on the end of his caudal fin and red markings that start at the base of his anal fin and taper toward the ends. I'm not sure if this is normal either. I think they were on his anal fins when I bought him but am not sure if the red markings on his caudal fin are new. He recently had a pinhole on the top of his caudal fin but that tore. Not sure how but I've since removed anything from his tank that may have caused it to tear. He also had a pinhole on his dorsal fin but I don't see it anymore. If this is fin rot, how severe is it and what should I do? BTW he has a white patch on top of his head. Is that a normal marking or something else to be concerned about?
Question # 2: Cycling Tank with fish unharmed???
Umi seems to be very sensitive to even low levels of ammonia. Is it possible to cycle the tank without risking even minor harm to him? If so, how do I do this? Do I test his tank once or twice a day and make the necessary water changes or should I move him back to his old bowl and do daily water changes there until his tank cycles?
Two days ago Umi seemed just a little sluggish so I tested his tank water. It had an ammonia reading just over .5 ppm so I did a 20% water change. I tested again the next day and got the same reading of just over .5 ppm and so I did a 40% water change this time. I tested it this morning and it is lower, just above .25 ppm. Even though .25 ppm is low, should I still change the water?
5 Gallon Fluval Spec Tank, heater set to 78 degrees
With foam block filter, carbon and BioMax bio rings/balls
No tank mates other than 3 marimo balls
Only recently started giving 3 pellets twice per day and bloodworms 1x per week. Prior to that I was over feeding at 6-8 pellets 2x per day because I was following the instructions provided on the food container.
Water changes are frequent and all over the place because I am confused. Right now I'm just trying to keep the ammonia levels as low as possible by testing 1-2 times per day and doing whatever water changes are needed to keep ammonia under control. Tap water is aged for at least 24 hours and contains aquarium salt and top fin conditioner.
Ammonia: Currently in tank at .25-.5 ppm. When Umi was in a bowl it went as high as 1-1.5 ppm
Symptoms and Treatment
Fins seem ragged, red patches at ends, had a pinhole that tore
He seems happy, active, interactive and has good appetite. Gets very lethargic as soon as ammonia starts to hit .5 ppm
Not sure if his fins were like this when I brought him home 4-5 weeks ago but they have definitely gotten worse
I started adding aquarium salt to his water and also tried using BettaFix but I think it was making him feel awful so I stopped using it after 4-5 days.
No idea how old he is nor his health history.