I remember how anxious I got when I first saw my betta fish upside down. At that moment, I felt like the worst pet parent in the world. As time passed, I learned how to help my little fish get better. Fortunately, the good news is that there are many ways to treat this issue successfully.
Betta fish typically swim upside down due to a swim bladder disorder, compromising the fish’s buoyancy. That could be secondary to constipation, injuries, inadequate water conditions, disease, stress, and swollen organs. A betta with a swim bladder disorder will also swim upside down when it sleeps.
As we move forward, I will take you step-by-step through how to correct this condition and prevent it from happening again. I will also list some red flags indicating that your betta fish is either sick or dying.
Why Is My Betta Fish Upside Down?
Betta fish are intelligent. Like most fish, they swim right side up. It is by no means normal for a betta fish to swim upside down.
A betta will only assume an upside-down posture when internal or external factors compromise the creature’s swimming ability. People blame this behavior on three major factors, namely:
1. Your Betta Fish Has A Swim Bladder Disorder
Swim bladder disease is the most common cause of erratic swimming in fish. The swim bladder is an organ that controls a betta’s buoyancy. It allows the fish to maintain any depth it chooses without expending energy.
Therefore, whenever this organ’s health is compromised, the betta will develop buoyancy issues. That includes sitting at the bottom, swimming vertically, and floating upside down. The betta doesn’t want to float upside down, but it can’t help it.
Swim bladder disease has numerous causes, including:
A fish can eat so much food that the stomach swells, exerting pressure on the swim bladder. Constipation can occur because of poor water conditions, overfeeding, and a poor diet.
Freeze-dried foods are problematic because they will expand once exposed to water. If this happens inside the fish, the food will create a blockage in the intestinal tract.
Bettas are called fighting fish because they have aggressive tendencies. If you have multiple males, they will fight one another. The injuries they incur are not always superficial.
It is not uncommon for physical trauma to damage the swim bladder because of a fight. Additionally, bettas tend to jump out of the tank. They can easily injure themselves on the way back.
Poor water conditions can compromise the functions of the swim bladder, including extreme temperatures, the wrong pH, and fluctuating parameters. As I discussed here, these may also cause the betta to gasp for air.
Not only do poor conditions debilitate the digestive process, but they expose the fish to diseases that can harm the swim bladder.
The swim bladder is susceptible to parasitic and bacterial infections that cause inflammation.
Stress harms fish, and bettas are no different. Extreme temperatures, fluctuations in the parameters, and ammonia poisoning can expose bettas to dangerous levels of shock and stress.
- Swollen Organs
Cysts, tumors, and diseases can cause the betta’s organs to swell. When the organs swell, they exert pressure on the swim bladder.
2. The Betta Fish Is Sleeping
When a fish assumes an upside-down posture and stops moving, many people will conclude that the creature is sleeping. But that conclusion is not always accurate.
Like most animals, fish sleep. They don’t have eyelids, so you cannot expect them to close their eyes. During this state of rest, they are less active but relatively alert to danger.
Most importantly, healthy fish sleep right side up. The easiest way to determine whether or not your fish is sleeping is to take note of the periods where it is least active.
If the betta stops moving when the lights are off and starts swimming when you turn the lights back on, it was sleeping. If the betta remains in an upside-down position during these periods of rest, it is sick. A healthy betta will stay right side up, even when it sleeps.
3. Your Betta Fish Died
Fish are slightly denser than water because of their bones, protein, and fat. For that reason, you don’t expect them to sink or float. But what happens when they die?
In most cases, the fish has gas in the swim bladder. Because the gas cannot escape, it turns the fish into a balloon, causing the creature to rise to the surface. There, it will continue to float upside down.
If the betta doesn’t have any air in the swim bladder, it will sink to the substrate. But once it decomposes, the gas produced as a consequence will cause the fish to float.
Death is the worst-case scenario. But fish die all the time. If your betta is upside down and won’t respond to stimuli, even when you remove it from the aquarium, the fish has probably died.
What Should I Do If My Betta Fish Is Upside Down?
If the betta is swimming upside down, the fish is either dead or contracted swim bladder disease. If the fish is dead, remove it from the tank. Don’t wait for the scavengers in the aquarium to eat it.
They may choose to ignore the betta’s remains, in which case, the carcass will rot, ruining the chemical balance of your water. From your observations, if the betta only floats upside down when it sleeps, the fish has contracted swim bladder disease.
Healthy fish sleep right side up. If your betta goes belly up whenever it falls asleep, it can no longer control its buoyancy. Swim bladder disease is the cause.
Fortunately, you can reverse the illness. The key is to identify the reasons that attracted the condition in the first place. Try to tailor the solution to the cause:
1. Treat Constipated Betta Fish
You can identify a constipated betta fish by the following symptoms:
- Stringy feces
- Loss of appetite
Most aquarists whose bettas have contracted constipation resolve the issue by feeding the fish peas. If the peas are frozen, thaw and then boil them. Don’t forget to peel the skin off.
Because peas can swell in a betta’s stomach, soak them in the water beforehand. If the betta is too weak to eat, try to feed it by hand. Don’t feed the betta any other food for the next three days.
Observe the betta during this period. If constipation causes the betta to swell, the fish will gradually regain its original shape. For your convenience, here is an illustrated video that will take you throughout the entire process:
2. Feed Your Betta Properly
If the fish developed constipation because of overfeeding, learn from your mistakes. Install an automatic feeder. An automatic feeder prevents the fish from starving if you’re not around to feed them.
It will also add food to the tank at the right time and in the right amounts. I personally like the Zoo Med BettaMatic Feeder (link to Amazon). The device will spin every 24 hours, feeding your betta once daily. Just make sure you’re using thin pellets.
If you wish to avoid an automatic feeder, feed the betta no more than twice a day. Give it the amount of food it can finish in 2-5 minutes. You can keep adjusting until you identify the right quantities.
Underfeeding is just as problematic as overfeeding. If the bettas are fighting for the food, you have to consider the possibility that the quantities you have added are not enough. On the other hand, if the tank has too many leftovers, you are overfeeding the creatures.
3. Adjust The Water Conditions For Bettas
The right conditions in an aquarium can accelerate a betta’s recovery rate, regardless of whether it is sick, constipated, or injured.
These are the ideal water parameters for betta fish:
- Temperature: 76-81 degrees F
- pH: 6.5-7.5
- Hardness: 5–20 DH (70-300 ppm)
- Ammonia: 0 ppm.
- Nitrites: 0 ppm.
- Nitrates: <20 ppm
I personally suggest that you buy a testing kit and check the parameters routinely. You can’t go wrong with the API Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). Lasting for eight hundred measures, this bundle is one of the most cost-effective.
I also recommend that you acclimate new bettas before adding them to the tank. Otherwise, the shock of entering a new environment may produce the same results you want to avoid.
4. Maintain A Clean Environment
I highly suggest that you keep the tank clean. You have to keep the nitrate levels below 20 ppm. On the other hand, the ammonia and nitrite levels should be 0 ppm. Most aquariums have filters because their owners understand the vital role they play.
However, a filter is not enough. You have to change the water every week. If the fish is already upside-down, you should change the water immediately to provide relief to the betta. Don’t allow leftovers and waste to linger in the tank. Vacuum the substrate regularly to prevent organic matter from rotting.
Don’t forget to keep water conditioners on hand, just in case the ammonia concentration spikes unexpectedly. Conditioners can provide relief within minutes by neutralizing toxins like ammonia and chlorine.
I usually use the Seachem Prime Conditioner (link to Amazon). It becomes handy when things go wrong. However, it is also helpful in keeping trouble from occurring. If you are new to water conditioners, here is an article where I discussed how to use them.
5. Treat Potential Diseases
These symptoms usually indicate that your betta fish is carrying an infection:
- Rubbing against objects
- Fading colors
- Swollen eyes
- Reddened gills
- Raised scales
- Open sores
- Clamped fins
- Spots, lumps, and cottony growths
As mentioned earlier, bacterial infections can inflame the swim bladder, making the fish swim upside down. A vet can identify the bacteria responsible for your betta’s illness by pushing a needle into the swim bladder and taking a sample of the fluid inside the organ.
Once they identify the bacteria, they can recommend the appropriate treatment. Don’t respond to swim bladder disease by treating your tank with random antibiotics. You could do more harm than good, especially if bacteria are not responsible for the swim bladder disease in your bettas.
How Do You Know If Your Betta Is Dying?
If your bettas are on the verge of dying, you will observe the following signs:
- Lethargy – Severe illness or stress will make bettas listless. While other fish play, the affected betta will either float at the surface or lie at the bottom. Some bettas become less active when they fall prey to sickness. Others stop moving altogether.
- Food – Dying bettas will stop eating. In some cases, their metabolism is slowing down because of age. If the fish is young, the creature will lose its appetite. Once dying bettas stop eating, their condition will worsen until they pass away.
- Color – Dying bettas are going to lose their colors. Some fish become so pale that they are practically white in the days leading up to their death.
- Breathing – The breathing in dying fish is labored. You will see them gasping for breath because they can’t get enough oxygen. This can happen because their gills are compromised or due to an oxygen deficiency in the tank.
If you notice these symptoms in your betta fish, feel free to check this article, where I discussed how to identify a dying betta fish and how to treat it before it’s too late. I also mentioned there what a stressed betta looks like, so you can prevent relatively healthy betta from deteriorating.
If you found this article helpful, these may also interest you:
- Curled and Clamped Betta Fins: Causes & Treatment
- Betta Fish Turning Red: 5 Simple Steps to Fix the Issue
- Why Does My Betta Fish Stay In One Spot? (With 7 Solutions)
- Can You Have Multiple Female Bettas Together? (Complete Guide)
- Do Bettas Prefer Long Or Tall Tanks? (With Recommendations)
Betta fish typically swim upside down due to a swim bladder disorder, secondary to illness, trauma, constipation, or injury. Since its buoyancy is compromised, the betta will float at the surface, usually upside down.
The first step would be to remove the culprits. Start by checking the water parameters and adjusting them for betta fish. Then, look for symptoms related to constipation or a disease.
Constipation can be quickly treated with peeled peas, as discussed earlier. However, if you suspect that your betta carries an infection, quarantine it and consult an aquatic vet. I suggest that you don’t try antibiotics before knowing what you’re dealing with.