In the early days of fishkeeping, I noticed that the betta fish I grew was always hungry. For example, each time I approached the tank, my fish went to the top, anticipating its next meal. That got me thinking, why is my betta fish always hungry? Am I feeding it properly? To make sure my betta remains healthy, I began researching the topic extensively.
Even though betta fish keep eating in enthusiasm, it does not mean that they are always hungry. As a survival instinct, bettas will carry on eating even though their stomach is full. However, obeying their demands may be risky since overfed bettas present significant health issues.
As we move forward in this article, I will show you what signs indicate that your betta fish is indeed hungry. Also, to ensure that you won’t overfeed your fish or corrupt the water, I will elaborate on the right amounts and frequencies that bettas should be fed.
Why is my Betta Eating so Much?
Betta fish are carnivorous. They are also very active. As such, their feeding habits are crucial. You should feed them on a strict schedule to keep them happy and healthy. But that is easier said than done, especially for those who are new to this hobby.
If you are utterly new to fish, you probably have noticed that your betta fish are always hungry. Or at the very least, they act like they are always yearning for more food. But why is this? Is it normal behavior? These questions sound complicated, but where fish are concerned, they have simple, straight forward answers.
Is this normal behavior? Unfortunately, this behavior is typical not just for bettas but also for most other aquarium fish. Fish have no self-control where food is concerned. Food isn’t always readily available in the wild, and fish do not always eat as routinely as they do in a tank.
However, a fish that has grown accustomed to a tank will eventually learn to associate your presence with food, and they will act accordingly. For instance, betta fish eat from the surface. And because they know that you always sprinkle their food on the surface, they will rush to the top once they see you (regardless of whether or not your bettas are hungry).
Are your betta fish actually hungry? No, they are not necessarily hungry. You should stick to this assumption until you find additional evidence proving otherwise. This question probably sounds redundant, especially since the first question already established that it is normal for aquarium fish to act like they are always hungry even when full.
But it is imperative because this behavior in betta fish tends to attract negative consequences. Experienced aquarists avoid asking questions like this because they already know that betta fish that act hungry are not necessarily hungry.
Yet, there are fish owners who find it hard to comprehend this. And unfortunately, they typically react to such behavior by feeding their bettas. Many of them will keep feeding their bettas for as long as they keep acting hungry. And if you know anything about bettas, you already realize that such a pattern can’t end well.
Beginners that encounter this situation will eventually overfeed their betta, potentially killing it in the process. This is why they need to realize that a betta fish that acts hungry isn’t necessarily hungry. Overfeeding could be just as dangerous as malnutrition.
How do You Know When Your Betta Fish is Hungry?
Now that you understand that a betta fish that acts hungry isn’t necessarily hungry, how can you determine whether your betta is genuinely starving? Well, there are a few signs you should remove from your list.
These signs will indicate that your betta fish is hungry:
- Your betta will lose weight, becoming thin and skinny.
- It will present lethargic behavior and be less active.
- The betta will scavenge for food, digging holes through the substrate.
- Your betta may become aggressive, particularly towards its tankmates.
- Starved bettas will rush to the top, anticipating food.
- Bettas that haven’t eaten for days are hungry by default, regardless of their behavior.
1. Weight Loss
Like humans, betta fish will lose weight if they are not adequately fed. However, this cannot happen suddenly. You shouldn’t expect your fish to shed all its fat only because it hasn’t eaten for a few hours or even a day or two. It could take up to a week or more for the betta to lose enough weight for your eyes to take notice.
But once your betta becomes skinny, you should worry because this is a sign that it is clearly underfed. Either that or it is simply refusing to eat for one or more reasons. The aquarist isn’t always the cause of underfeeding in fish. An infection, for example, could be the underlying cause.
2. Lack of Activity
Bettas are active creatures that react to things they observe. But that only applies to healthy, well-fed bettas. Hungry bettas are quite sluggish. They spend a lot of time hovering in place because they are too tired to exert themselves.
That is also a survival instinct. If your betta fish is malnourished, it will do everything in its power to save energy. Hovering in place is the only way to go in this case. If your betta appears lethargic, it should raise your suspicions that it is suffering.
Bettas that are starving spend a lot of time swimming in places they usually ignore. They will dig through the substrate, poke in and around decorations, and even trespass on neighboring fish territories. They do this when they are scavenging for food.
If your bettas are searching for food, you can take that as a sign that they are hungry. You should also look for evidence, since catching your betta in action is sometimes challenging. However, holes in your substate or bitten leaves should be quite apparent.
Regarding that topic, it is crucial to distinguish between anticipation and ailment. If your betta is swimming in the upper sections, it may be sick. If that is your case, I highly suggest reading an article I’ve written, where I explained why betta fish sit at the top of the tank. I mentioned there all the possible causes, followed by the necessary solutions.
4. Aggressive Behavior
Hunger will incite aggression even among the most peaceful of fish. Some bettas will simply attack the food you add more ferociously than usual. Others will attack their tankmates to prevent them from eating because they want to keep all the food to themselves.
If the absence of food persists, your fish might resort to seemingly senseless violence as a reaction to the distress they have experienced because of the scarcity. It isn’t that uncommon for fish to eliminate their tankmates because they do not want to share the limited resources in the tank.
If your bettas are acting unnaturally aggressive and have eliminated all other potential causes, such as high ammonia concentrations, starvation is probably the culprit. However, to make sure that toxins aren’t responsible for the aggression, I highly suggest getting the API Reef Master Test Kit (link to Amazon). It will show you the water conditions within minutes.
As was noted above, bettas will react enthusiastically to your appearance once they learn to associate your presence with food. But if they are hungry, they will also rush to the top with more excitement than usual whenever they see you.
Some of them will simply wait at the top during meal times because they expect to be fed. However, if you feed your bettas appropriately and they are not lethargic, aggressive, or have shown any signs of weight loss, you can dismiss it.
Don’t automatically presume that they are hungry. As was mentioned above, bettas may get to the top for other reasons. For instance, they are used to being fed from this area. Yet, if you have noted other signs of starvation, you can probably conclude that any bettas that keep waiting at the top are hungry.
6. Food Deficiency
You don’t have to question whether your betta is hungry if you haven’t fed it in a few days. Some people will tell you that a betta fish can survive without food for three days without suffering irreversible harm. Others will tell you that the creature can survive for two weeks without food before it dies.
Ultimately, if your betta hasn’t been fed in days, you can attribute its behavior to hunger. As we move forward, I will show you the right way to feed your betta, including the precise amounts and frequencies.
Will Betta Fish Stop Eating When They Are Full?
Betta fish have tiny stomachs. This is why you are encouraged to only feed them for a few minutes at a time. It does not take much to fill them. The average betta fish has a stomach the size of its eyeball.
It also has stretch receptors that alert the brain once the stomach is filled to capacity. In other words, the betta can probably tell that it’s full. However, that won’t stop it from eating. This is the problem with most aquarium fish. They will keep eating if you keep feeding them, even if they are full. This is why it is so easy to overfeed them.
It is also why you can’t keep feeding a betta merely because it is acting hungry. The creature won’t say no to food, so you have to follow strict guidelines where the betta’s eating habits are concerned. You have to feed your fish according to what the professionals say, not what the betta seemingly wants.
How Much Should Betta Fish Eat Per Day?
A betta’s feeding habits are not that complicated. In most cases, a betta should eat every day. Yes, it can survive for a day or two without food, and without suffering any adverse side effects. But if you want to protect your fish from diseases and stress, feed it every day. Some people will even encourage you to set one day aside for fasting.
You can feed it once or twice a day depending on the betta. Some people let their bettas go without food over the weekend. Many aquarists will tell you that this pattern is perfectly acceptable if your bettas ate consistently during the first five days of the week. Either way, you should feed them once or twice a day.
You need to give your betta as much food as it can eat within two minutes. As you now know, bettas will keep eating if you keep feeding them. As an aquarist, it is your job to set limits. The food that bettas consume in two minutes is enough to satisfy them.
Also, the meals you feed your betta should match the size of its stomach. For instance, it can consume three pellets in each feeding. If you know that a betta’s stomach is the size of its eyeball, then it won’t take you long to prepare food in the right quantities and sizes for your bettas to consume. If any of the food items are dry, you should soak them before the betta eats them.
Otherwise, they will expand in the fish’s stomach, and you don’t want that. You should experiment with your betta’s meal plan until you find a diet that works. For instance, if you keep noticing leftovers in your tank after the two minutes, you are probably providing too much food.
You should also avoid leaving uneaten food in the tank. Scoop it out the moment you notice it. Otherwise, it will corrupt your tank’s chemistry, compromising your bettas’ health in the long run. Leftovers have a direct effect on ammonia, nitrates, and inappropriate pH levels.
Betta fish, like many other species, are not likely to say no to food. As a survival instinct, they will continue eating as long as you feed them. However, that shouldn’t mislead you into thinking that your betta is always hungry. Overfeeding your betta could be dangerous, perhaps ending with its death.
To avoid that, feed your betta once to two times a day, and no more than three pellets for each meal. In case your fish is malnourished, you will see a few warning signs (besides enthusiasm for food). These typically include scavenging, lethargic behavior, and aggressiveness.