Is My Betta Fish Dying? (Typical Signs & Solutions)

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When I first saw my betta fish struggling and gasping for air, I panicked. Knowing that this could be a sign of a dying betta fish, I quickly searched for what I could do to save my pet. Luckily, as time passed, I learned what dying bettas look like and how to treat them properly.

You can tell that your betta is dying by observing its behavior and general appearance. Dying bettas typically present signs like labored breathing, weight loss, lethargy, raised scales, glassy eyes, and discoloration. These are usually secondary to inappropriate water parameters and infections.

As we move forward, I will show you what steps you should take to save your dying betta fish. For those in a rush, the most crucial step would be to test the water pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, using the well-known API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT (link to Amazon).

Also Read: Stress In Betta Fish

How To Tell If Your Betta Fish Is Dying?

How can you tell that a fish is dying? This question matters because fish cannot speak. As such, the only way to gauge their health is to study them. Dying fish manifest symptoms that are easy enough to identify if you know what to look for. They include:

1. Labored Breathing

Labored breathing is one of the most common signs of ill health in a tank. If your bettas are gasping because the oxygen is low, you don’t have as much to worry about. This is because you can improve their situation by simply raising the oxygen levels in the tank.

Labored breathing only becomes a problem when the tank has plenty of oxygen. In other words, the betta cannot breathe because of an internal problem, possibly even a complication with the creature’s gills.

If the betta is gasping for breath, and its gills are not only inflamed but moving rapidly,[1] and yet the environmental conditions are perfectly adequate, the creature is fast approaching its final days.

In fact, I’ve written a whole article on why betta fish breathe rapidly and heavily. So if that is the situation in your tank, I highly recommend checking that out. The article will help you distinguish between environmental and internal reasons for the phenomenon.

Also Read: Why Is My Betta Gasping For Air?

2. Weight Loss

Weight loss, on its own, isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. This is because bettas can lose weight for many reasons, including stress which can lead to a loss of appetite.

Weight loss only becomes a serious concern when the bettas in question continually shrink even though you are feeding them every day. The development tends to cause panic in beginners that have actually seen their fish eat the food they add to the tank.

In other words, the fish’s weight loss makes no sense. This sign is normally accompanied by lethargy. The fish will get weaker and weaker as they lose weight until they die. The issue is typically associated with parasites inside the fish.

3. Lethargy

Sluggish movements in betta fish are concerning. But even more problematic are bettas that have stopped moving altogether, especially if the creatures have started manifesting additional symptoms of distress.

Bettas may stay still because they want to rest. They can also stop swimming because of stress or as a means of avoiding aggressive fish, which is why some aquarists will ignore Bettas that are immobile. They know that it isn’t always a life-threatening situation.

Immobile bettas only become a problem when their lethargy is prolonged. In other words, they won’t even get up to eat or to chase female bettas. In some cases, you may notice that their fins are clamped, and the movement of their gills has increased.

In such a situation, you can conclude that your fish is on the verge of dying. At the very least, you can trust that the longer it remains at the bottom, neither moving nor eating, the closer the creature will get to death.

Also Read: Why Is My Betta Not Moving?

4. Raised Scales & Curled Fins

Are the scales on your betta raised? If the answer is Yes, your betta has probably contracted Dropsy. You cannot cure Dropsy, but you can take steps to keep the betta comfortable. However, many aquarists prefer to euthanize the infected fish. 

The illness causes your betta’s kidney to fail. It also produces swelling as fluids accumulate in the creature’s body. For that reason, if you have observed signs of Dropsy in your betta, the fish will die shortly.

Another issue is a betta fish that presents curled and clamped fins, as I discussed here. That could indicate that your fish is suffering from inadequate water conditions, such as elevated ammonia, or possibly an underlying infection.

5. Discoloration & Black Shades

Fish can lose their colors because of stress. However, if the discoloration has affected the entire body, they probably suffer from a more severe illness, one that could claim their lives if left untreated.[2]

You can say the same for bettas whose colors have changed suddenly rather than gradually. In some cases, you may notice that your betta is actually turning black, as I discussed in this article. Luckily, as I explained there, that issue can be reversed by taking the proper steps.

6. Glassy Eyes

Naturally, bulging eyes are a problem. They signify the presence of bacterial infections. But even more concerning are glassy eyes. Dead bettas have glassy eyes, but so do bettas that are struggling with intense pain or discomfort. If you do not alleviate their discomfort in time, they will perish.

7. Curved Spine

Has your betta developed a curved spine? How about the skin? Does it have lesions? If both symptoms are present, the betta has most likely contracted TB.[3] Fish TB doesn’t attack the lungs as one might expect. However, it is still dangerous. In fact, it is incurable, which is why aquarists are encouraged to euthanize any fish that have shown signs of TB.

How Do You Revive A Dying Betta Fish?

Once a fish is dead, the chances of bringing it back to life are meager. You are better off catching it before it dies and taking steps to revive it. The following techniques have been known to produce positive results:

1. Isolating Your Dying Betta

Whether or not the betta fish moves to quarantine will depend on how sick it is. You are generally encouraged to separate the dying fish from its tankmates. It isn’t simply a question of protecting your healthy fish from infection.

A sick fish is vulnerable. Other creatures are more likely to attack it because it doesn’t have the strength to fight back. The energetic swimming of a sick betta’s neighbors can also exacerbate its condition. Placing the betta in a separate tank allows the fish to recover in a safe and quiet environment.

2. First Aid Kits & Aquarium Salt

Everyone says that prevention is better than cure, and they are not wrong. You should acquire a first aid kit before your fish falls sick. They typically contain Tetracycline, Bettazing, Maracyn, and other essential drugs that can be used to treat sick fish.[4] 

If you can identify the disease, a vet will recommend an effective treatment. For instance, ich requires formalin. Fungal infections, on the other hand, can be treated with BettaZing. With fin rot, you need tetracyclines. If you cannot identify the disease, take the fish to a vet. They will interpret the symptoms.

Sometimes, you don’t have the time to call a vet. Your fish might not make it. But if you have a first aid kit on hand, you can keep the creature alive until the vet arrives. Another viable option is using the API Aquarium Salt (link to Amazon).

Put your dying betta in a quarantine tank. Then, add one rounded tablespoon for every five gallons. Bear in mind that salt doesn’t evaporate, while water does. For that reason, I suggest using that technique only during water changes.

3. Performing Proper Water Changes

Some fish are simply too sick for you to transport. If the betta cannot leave the old tank, perform a water change. This will eliminate any foreign and potentially toxic agents in the water. 

In some cases, the water change can bring such relief that a lethargic betta will start moving immediately. But I highly suggest keeping the water changes small; they shouldn’t exceed 30 percent. Use conditioned water with the right parameters.

4. Water Conditioners & Testing Kits

Speaking of conditioners, if you can’t move the bettas and the toxins in the water are burning their gills, you can keep the fish alive by applying conditioners. The best conditioners will neutralize toxins like ammonia in mere minutes. 

Conditioners will also give the aquarist an opportunity to identify and eliminate the factors that have caused the concentration of toxins to spike. I personally use the Seachem Prime Fresh and Saltwater Conditioner (link to Amazon) in my tank.

However, before considering water conditioners, you should first estimate the situation in your tank. That is where I usually recommend getting the API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT (link to Amazon). That bundle will accurately measure the pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites in your tank. It also lasts for 800 measures, turning it highly cost-effective.

These are the water parameters you should aim for when it comes to betta fish:[5]

  • Temperature: 75°-81°F (23.8°-27.2°C)
  • Nitrates: Below 20 ppm.
  • Ammonia and nitrates: 0 ppm.
  • Water pH: between 6.5 and 7.5.

5. Cleaning Your Betta Fish

Clean the fish. This sounds like a drastic measure, but it is essential, especially if your fish is covered with dirt and debris.[6] Pay close attention to the gills. If they are covered, stroke them gently to remove the obstructions. Once the gills are unclogged, the betta’s breathing will improve.

6. Improving Oxygen Levels

A fish whose gills were previously obstructed should be kept in richly oxygenated water. But even if your betta was entirely clean, elevating the oxygen in your tank will assist the creature in dealing with other underlying issues.

That is why I suggest adding an air stone to the tank. I personally use the Hygger Aquarium Air Stone Kit (link to Amazon), but frankly, every device that creates aeration will do the trick. All you need is to place it in the middle of your tank, and the air stone will take care of the rest.

7. Adjusting The Water Level

If the drying fish is struggling to reach the surface, but it keeps sinking to the bottom, and it has started showing signs of exhaustion, you can help the creature by lowering the water level so that the fish doesn’t have to go far to reach the surface.[7]

You can also obstruct the output of the filter to lower the rate at which the water flows. This will allow the fish to swim without expending so much energy. If you got multiple filters at your disposal, install the most gentle one.

What Does A Stressed Betta Look Like?

Stressed bettas are not that difficult to identify. You will observe symptoms such as:

  1. Your betta would stop eating and lose weight.
  2. Stressed bettas tend to swim erratically. You may also notice shimmying and glass surfing.
  3. The fish will gradually lose their color and become pale.
  4. Stressed bettas tend to develop clamped or curled fins.
  5. The betta will become lethargic and spend more time hovering in place or lying at the bottom.
  6. Stressed betta fish may become more aggressive towards other fish.

If you noticed these signs in your betta fish, it requires your immediate attention. Start by checking the water parameters. Quite often, parameters like pH or temperature are wrong. You should also test for toxins, such as ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites.


Dying bettas can be diagnosed and treated. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating the problem. Before taking action, it is vital to identify the root cause of the issue and take the appropriate measures.

If you follow the tips mentioned above, you might be able to keep your betta fish alive for a long time. But if you have any questions or feel that the information above doesn’t apply to your fish, I highly suggest consulting a vet.