Betta fish attract people to them with more than just their bright colors and feisty personalities—their inexpensive needs tend to be the largest contributor to their popularity. For families and individuals who cannot house a large animal, or afford the lengthy list of costs they come with, they often turn to fish as a cheap alternative. But—buyer beware!—fish are not as cost free as they appear.
In comparison to larger pet ownership, fishkeeping is inexpensive. There are no regular vet bills, no shots or immunizations, no professional grooming, no bulk food bags. Fish have very basic needs and little else. Inexpensive by comparison, however, is not the same as cheap. The truth is, there is no cheap living animal as most people think of cheap. First-timers involved with aquariums tend to have the clichéd image of a small bowl, water, and fish food being the extent of necessary expenditures, perhaps allowing imaginations run as far as adding a colorful plastic plant or humorous “No Fishing” sign into a pit of brightly colored rocks at the bottom of the plastic prison. This image, still pushed as it is by even the largest of retailers, is antiquated—or too outdated for its own good—at best. Not only is it a misleading picture of fish needs, it is actually a harmful and often deadly set up for pets.
Fish need love and care. The love and care that they require varies by species, as all fish are individuals with individual needs, but the same general rules of research apply to all living creatures before ownership. Betta fish tend to be victims of misinformation more so than their other aquatic brethren, perhaps an equal contender right up with goldfish as the most misunderstood—and abused—fish species available to the public. Because their needs often go misunderstood, many would-be owners tend to head into stores with little budget set aside for their scaly new pets. Some people turn away from a purchase when they realise how much money it actually costs to create a basic set-up for bettas, yet others still buy a fish with the dangerous bowl-water-food idea as all a fish needs to thrive. Many Betta fish die because of this simplification of their needs. Most of these deaths are often painful and avoidable.
So how much does it cost, exactly, to own one of these beautiful creatures? Because there are many options in keeping a tank, it is best to keep a range of prices in mind when purchasing for the first time. It also helps to know what is essential to own for basic betta care that allows fish to thrive. Extras can enhance betta keeping but are exactly what they are: extras. Both basic needs and extras can be divided up into the following categories: equipment, water quality and maintenance, and food. Determining the true cost of owning a betta depends on your individual budget, ability to provide, and living circumstances, so this guide will be useful to calculate both minimum and maximum costs in betta ownership.
For the purpose of this article, costs are approximately calculated to account for one Betta fish in a tank with zero to a few plants in order to provide a basic idea of how much betta keeping costs. Prices are estimated and rounded to approximations using the listings provided by US Amazon.com listings at the time this article was written and they do not include shipping or handling fees. Depending on purchasing choices, including but not limited to, choice of store, brand selection, and location, prices may fluctuate. This article should be used as a guide only.
A tank is obviously a required item for betta ownership. Volume, shape, brand, and material are entirely customizable for owners and so costs can fluctuate greatly. Please note that Betta fish should NEVER be kept in a tank less than 1 gallon of water for normal pet ownership due to their basic needs. While professional breeders can keep their stock in smaller tanks, they also have round-the-clock care and specialized techniques that are impossible for regular pet owners to utilize, so anything less than a 1 gallon volume should not be considered and will not be listed here for the sake of humane treatment. To determine what tank size best suits your needs, learn about water conditions and the nitrogen cycle to see what best fits into your lifestyle. Additionally, some of these tanks come as a “complete set up” but such additional equipment is not usually betta friendly and you will most likely have to purchase additional equipment despite what products come with these tanks.
Aqueon Mini-Bow 5 5-gallons ($78) Note: Product listing name is wrong. This is not a 2.5 gallon tank.
Price breakdown for tanks:
Heaters are 100% required for anyone who does not live in a tropical climate that maintains a steady water temperature between 78 degrees (F) and 80 degrees (F) during all hours of the day and night. Betta fish are a tropical fish species and their health greatly depends on their water conditions, temperature being a large player in what diseases and illnesses they are be vulnerable to. A light is not a replacement for a heater. A warm room is not a replacement for a heater. Not all heaters are created equally either, so for the purpose of this list only trusted, reliable, brands are listed. Please not the watts required for your tank size before purchase.
Price breakdown for heaters:
These are required so you can monitor tank temperature and make sure there are no large fluctuations in temperature. Important for treating diseases and illness, as well as for basic everyday care.
Price breakdown for thermometers:
Filters are not always needed, so this may or may not be a requirement for you. A filter does not clean a tank nor is it a replacement for water changes. Filters are used only to house beneficial bacteria during the nitrogen cycle, making water changes easier and overall tank health higher. It is not recommended to establish a cycle in a tank under 5 gallons for beginners and a cycle should never be established in a tank under 5 gallons with a live fish living in it until the cycle is complete. Learn more about the nitrogen cycle in this article and determine if a filter is right for you. Also note that tank size may determine what type of filter can be used and that filters not on this list may be betta unfriendly due to output and filter type.
Price breakdown for filters:
Substrate is any sort of gravel, sand, or marble base to fill in the bottom of a tank. While this is not a required item, it does help with colonies of beneficial bacteria, holding down live and fake plants, and creating an appealing appearance.
Price breakdown for substrate:
Decorative Hiding Places:
Betta fish need stimulation and hiding places give them an environment they can both feel secure in and able to explore. The more coverage the better! These items allow you to customize your tank and create thematic appearances as well. Remember: fake plants must be fabric and openings on decorations must be at least the size of a quarter in order for fish to not get stuck in the opening. These items are just suggestions but do demonstrate the sort of variety available to betta keepers.
Marina Ecoscaper Lobelia Silk Plant Plant, 8-Inch ($7)
Blue Ribbon Pet Products Plant – Soft Foxtail Small Orange ($8)
Uxcell Fabric Aquarium Tank Aquascaping Plant, 8-Inch Height, Green ($10)
Marina Decor Polyresin Cave, Small ($10)
Blue Ribbon Pet Products Resin Aquarium Ornament – Rock Tunnels w/ Silk Plants($14)
Penn-Plax Deco-Replicas 8-Piece Granite Stone Hideaway, Assortment ($54)
Price breakdown for decorative hiding places:
Low: $5 (per item)
High: $54 (per item)
Equipment Category Breakdown:
Minimum Cost: $55
Water Quality and Maintenance
Water test kit:
Water test kits are essential. Whether or not you cycle your aquarium, you can only be sure of how clean your water is by testing it. Because the poisonous chemicals that hurt your fish are naturally present and invisible, the only way to know if they are at dangerous levels is by testing for them. Water-based kits are the best, most accurate, option but are more expensive in short-term than their paper-based counterparts, though water-based kits will be cheaper in the longer term.
Price Breakdown for testing kits:
There is no way around it: water conditioner is one of the most important requirements of betta care. Each water change requires water conditioner and using a few drops in between changes every 48 hours helps maintain a healthy environment for your fish. Because Seachem Prime is the best on the market for fish, it is the only brand listed here in different sizes.
Price Breakdown for conditioners:
Gravel Vacuum and Bucket:
Both are needed for a partial water change and can be useful in a complete water change. Buckets do not have to be aquarium-specific, you just have to exclusively use them for aquarium purposes—no cleaning chemicals such as bleach!
Price Breakdown for vacuums and buckets:
Aquarium salt is needed to help treat many health problems. While it should not be used on a regular basis it is needed on-hand to help fish during health emergencies or issues. Common uses for this item include tail/fin tear repair, lowering stress, and infection prevention for open wounds.
Price breakdown for aquarium salt:
Price Breakdown for Category:
Minimum cost: $36
Maximum cost: $74
Nutrition is essential for pets. Cheap food is made with fillers that lack nutrition and cause bloat and/or constipation in fish. High quality food should have as little gluten, wheat, and non-fish-specific meal as possible (should be specifically krill meal, for example, and not fish meal). Live foods are great for Betta fish but can be expensive and thus are optional. At this time, New Life Spectrum is the highest quality producer for betta food pellets.
New Life Spectrum Floating Betta Pellets 50gm ($7)
San Francisco Bay Brand ASF65110 Frozen Brine Shrimp Cubes for Freshwater and Saltwater Fish, 3.5-Ounce ($33)
Freshwater Multipack-frozen food variety ($38)
Price Breakdown for Category:
Minimum cost: $7
Maximum cost: $38
As you can see, betta ownership is not as cheap as many imagine. There are still plenty of products and options not included on this list that many people would rather not be without, such as Indian almond leaves, tank hoods, lighting, or live plants, but were not included. The items here are only the most common and most needed for betta ownership. Considering these prices, though they do fluctuate over time, it is easy to get a rough idea of a range of costs for an initial set up. SO based on each category’s minimum and maximum prices, this is the real financial cost range to be expected when buying all necessary items for the first time:
Minimum price: $98
Maximum price: $369