Existing and living are two very different concepts but people tend to mix them up quite often. These are ideas to difficult separate, after all. Living is the purpose of every creature, yet it is too easy to simply exist and forget to experience life for all its pleasures at all. We, as humans, tend to be too guilty of this ourselves and sometimes even guiltier with inflicting mere existence onto the animals we intend to love.
While we may have a choice in how we choose to live, our pets do not. They are at the mercy of our spare time, money, and affections. Ownership of any animal, big or small, is a contract of care and dedication during both good and tough times. It is easy enough to understand: our animals should thrive and not just survive. Thriving animals are ones that get to experience life to its fullest and have the best opportunities for health and happiness. Survival is what normally gets associated with the wild; the bare minimum needed to continue existing with no guarantee of ever experiencing all that life has to offer is the very definition what it means to just survive. Society has opened its heart to animals so much that there are hundreds of products being sold to help them joyfully thrive at our sides.
We live in a world full of doggy sweaters, scratch-post castles, plastic tube playgrounds, and self-cleaning litterboxes. There mere thought of keeping a dog in a cage with only a bowl of food, water, and a small enclosed attached exercise area for its entire life echoes on images of abuse. While the dog would be surviving it certainly would not be thriving. Animals need interactive, stimulating environments and love from their owners in order to have a happy and worthwhile life. No caring person denies this. Not all pets are considered equal, however, and there is still one animal that is commonly denied the right to thrive. That pet is the Betta fish.
Bettas are misunderstood. Although most fish are, bettas tend to receive some of the worst treatment of all. People tend to forget the difference between thriving and surviving when it comes to fish. Even large pet stores are guilty of this. Small tanks, cold water, and rare water changes are what Betta fish are commonly given. While they may live in these inappropriate conditions for periods of time, they are certainly not living a quality life.
Bettas deserve the change to thrive like any other pet. Despite the popular myth, fish do not have short-term memories, so any efforts to make their lives happier will not be forgotten. Bettas who are given only the bare minimum needed for them to continue to exist may suffer from the fish equivalent of boredom or depression and may even begin to self-harm or slowly become lethargic (inactive or barely moving) because their home gives them little opportunity to explore or entertain themselves while meeting their basic needs. If human life was limited to being fed three times—or less—a day and living in a single small room with nothing to do, we’d feel the same way most Betta fish do in the tanks we give them!
Animals that thrive rather than just survive make better pets too. When given the best possible opportunity for life, bettas have brighter colors, are more active in swimming, interact with their owners more, and have significantly fewer health problems than Betta fish who are only given what is needed for them to merely remain alive. A thriving betta has tons of personality and tends to be a far more enjoyable pet to have around the house. These fish surprise many people who switch from giving them small, unheated, homes to larger tanks with constantly warm water. It is amazing to see the difference in a fish when it is given every opportunity for happiness.
Helping a Betta fish thrive is not just fun—it’s easy! After learning about and understanding betta basics a betta keeper can help their fish flourish in a few simple ways. First, giving a betta lots of space is best. Not only does more water mean less work (more water dirties slower and can be cycled), it gives fish more space to exercise, play, and explore. Investing in a good filter to cycle an aquarium will create a safer, more natural, living environment for Betta fish, so it is recommended to help them thrive. Adding fabric plants, a floating log, or a cave will not only make a fish tank look fabulous but those items will also stimulate the Betta fish need to hide and explore. Finally—AND MOST IMPORTANTLY—bettas can only thrive in high quality water. This means investing in a good water test kit to regularly check water conditions and keeping a strict water change schedule. Just as air quality is the greatest factor in our health, water quality it the greatest factors in Betta fish health and what is toxic cannot be seen.
It may be considered expensive to create a set-up in which bettas can thrive in, but it is not expensive in comparison to the long-term needs of larger pets. Surviving into the next day is not enough. It is not the goal nor a sign of good care. Unless given the chance to thrive, an animal alive is not living at all. Not truly. We can do better. Help end acceptance of bettas surviving, encourage the opportunity for bettas to be thriving.