Is a Betta Fish Right for You?

So you are thinking about buying a Betta fish! Congratulations! The world of betta keeping is fun and fascinating. From the bright colors to the feisty personalities, these fish are distinct and iconic. Owning a Betta fish, commonly the Betta splendens species found in pet stores, is a rewarding experience that every bit therapeutic as it is educational. They are a good choice for pet ownership. But what does it take to care for these creatures? How do you know if one is suited for your home or family?

First consider why you want a Betta fish. People often purchase these pets for younger family members or friends who have limited experience caring for animals. In fact, stores often encourage Betta fish as the perfect “starter pet,” pushing the idea that they are easy, inexpensive, and low-maintenance. That certainly does make them sound like the perfect pet! But there is one problem with this concept—there is no such thing as a starter pet.

A starter pet is a myth. There are no starter pets, only animals that have specific needs and cares but can suffer just as greatly if neglected. Some animals are easier to care for than others but many mistake less difficulty with being easy. The truth is, Betta fish are no easier than any other animal to care for. They are not low cost, do not require less work, and certainly not consequence free. Like any living creature, Betta fish can feel pain caused from neglectful actions. They can suffer and become depressed, some even resorting to self-harm from the stress or turn lethargic (lacking energy to move or interact) in dire circumstances. The idea that Betta fish are consequence free starter pets for those just learning how to care for animals is cruel.

A child and her Betta fish. Photo by brandijeter via her blog mamaknowsitall.com

A child and her Betta fish. Photo by brandijeter via her blog mamaknowsitall.com

The truth is, Betta fish are neither inexpensive nor low-maintenance as people often imagine. Before making an impulsive purchase, ask yourself how much you know about this species. It is always important to do research before welcoming an animal into your home, no matter the size or cost of that living creature. Yes, the common veiltail Betta fish may cost under five dollars in most stores. What pet stores neglect to tell first-time buyers is that Betta fish do need special equipment and this can be costly. Many stores locally owned and chains alike spread misinformation about the needs of these fish in order to sell targeted products that are often more harmful than they are beneficial to these fish. If you are only looking to buy a cheap bowl or vase with only some gravel and a plastic plant, then a Betta fish may not be for you.

An ideal Betta fish home. Photo by zidanmahardika via his website bettafishzidan.wordpress.com

An ideal Betta fish home. Photo by zidanmahardika via his website bettafishzidan.wordpress.com

A proper Betta fish set up can cost anywhere from $50 to $120, depending on what kind of set up you desire and what equipment you already own. This cost is often not associated with fish and can appear steep but in comparison to dog or cat ownership this initial cost is actually much cheaper in terms of pet care. This is where that misconception comes from. Just because animal is cheaper than another animal it does not mean is inexpensive. This cost is estimate based off the price of average fish tanks, heaters, water conditioners, filters, decorations, food, and water test kits. It is not taking into account any medications, lighting, plants, or other extras associated with Betta fish care. Take a look at this article to learn about Betta fish tank needs and  this article to learn about water conditions and why filtration if a good idea for Betta fish.

Purchasing an animal is like a contract stating that you promise to care for its basic needs and nourish it in times of ill health. This of course applies to Betta fish as well, so if this price range sounds like it cannot fit into your budget then this pet is not right for you, especially as inevitable added costs will add on.

A Hydor 25 watt submersible aquarium heater, a reliable heater for a Betta fish tank. Photo by Amazon.com

A Hydor 25 watt submersible aquarium heater, a reliable heater for a Betta fish tank. Photo by Amazon.com

Another consideration to make before purchasing a Betta fish how much space you have and where you have it in your house. Aquariums do not generally do well in direct sunlight or in areas that are not often visited. You may find a tank that fits into a space in your home but that space must accommodate the needs of the fish. Ideally, a Betta fish tank is kept in a well-lit area but not directly in front of windows. Keeping one in a room that is rarely visited may result in forgetting to feed the fish or change its water. You will also need access to outlets because heaters are a must for this tropical species. Crowded locations like kitchen counter-tops may also prove hazardous to Betta fish because of cleaning or cooking sprays that may enter the air and contaminate their water.

Finally, the most important thing to consider before you start Betta fish ownership is how much time you have daily and weekly to care for your fish. Are you or your family the sort to take long vacations throughout the year? Do you have a hectic schedule that leaves you with little breathing time during the week? How frequently can you take time to care for animals and how long can this care time be? While Betta fish do not require daily walks, trips to the vet, or grooming sessions, they do have needs that take time to attend to. Depending on whether or not you cycle your fish tank and how large of a fish tank you select, Betta fish may need anywhere from every other day care to weekly care. Keeping in mind that water quality is the most significant factor in your Betta fish’s health, you must be prepared to detoxify your pet’s living environment regularly to meet his or her needs.

An aquarium being vacuumed with a siphon for a water change. Photo by backtotropical via photobucket.com

An aquarium being vacuumed with a siphon for a water change. Photo by backtotropical via photobucket.com

Learning about how often your fish will need your dedication and what is involved is critical in before purchase consideration. Changing water can take time and monitoring water conditions with a test kit will be needed in between water changes. A flexible schedule is usually needed in fish care, meaning Betta fish can take as much time to care for as a dog or a cat depending on your individual set up.

Research the needs of the species before asking yourself if Betta fish are right for you. While they may be cheaper in the long run for ownership, they certainly do demand a significant amount of love, attention, and dedication. Just because an animal is small and relatively inexpensive it doesn’t mean that it is any less deserving of a quality life. Taking on the responsibility of Betta fish ownership is fulfilling and worthwhile but only if you are ready for reasonable commitment.