Tragedy struck my home about a month ago. My new little fish, officially named Hei Bai after the black and white spirit from Avatar, got velvet. Since she was from Wal-Mart its likely she had velvet all along. I didn't think she had an illness until things got really bad, and I went online to discover that the symptoms lined up pretty well with velvet. I took steps to treat it and it looks like things are clearing up, but I'm not too sure.
Velvet is a super common fish disease for betta's and other tropical fish to contract. While betta's are very hardy fish, they are prone to a lot of different diseases, typically caused by poor water conditions or widely fluctuating temperatures. Today I'm not going to specifically talk about velvet, but about some common signs that your fish might be sick, and share some good resources for diagnosing and treating your fish. I am in no way a fish expert and am not qualified as a vet or anything like that. All the knowledge I've gained about fish illness has come from the sites I'll link below. My reason for writing this is to make people more aware of signs that their betta might be sick so they can treat them before its too late.
A lot of times your betta fish won't have a life threatening illness that requires medicine to treat. A lot of the times your betta fish will exhibit signs of stress, and the fix for that is simple: change the water, put in a heater, and get a bigger tank. When you pick up your fish from the pet store they might be dull in color, lethargic, and have their fins clamped close to their body. These are all common signs that their tank water is unclean, their habitat is too small, and the water is too cold. So if your fish is sitting at the bottom of its tank, loosing its color, or keeping its fins close to its body, a good first step would be to make a water change and upgrade the tank if it's under 3 gallons. Its always suggested to keep your fish in a large tank with a filter, but if you're keeping your betta in a bowl just know that frequent water changes are necessary and the bowl should still be over 3 gallons.
Clamped fins, loss of color, and lethargy can also be signs of something more serious. If your betta doesn't perk back up after a water change, is refusing to eat, or has ragged looking fins with black edges, those are good signs that your betta might have an illness that needs to be treated. Velvet and ich are very common, and have similar symptoms. If your fin is lethargic, consistently has clamped fins, isn't eating, and is scratching itself on aquarium decor, they could have velvet or ich. The best way to tell is by shining a flashlight on your betta in a dark room and looking to see if they are covered in what looks like a fine gold dust, which means velvet, or white spots, which means ich. Medicines are available for both, and different strategies can be taken to cure and prevent the diseases. Water changes are always good.
Fin rot is when a betta's fins turn black and fall off. This is caused by poor water conditions. If you see this in your fish immediately change the water, and make plans to change the tank's water more frequently than you were before. Medicine is also available to help regrow fins and kill fin rot bacteria.
If a fish is having trouble swimming it is most likely suffering from swim bladder disorder. One of my fish struggled with this constantly, there was hardly a time when he wasn't swimming lopsided. I tried all the common treatments for it, feeding the fish less, giving him a small piece of a frozen pea, and hydrating his fish flakes before giving them to him. They would work for a bit and then he'd be back to laying on his side at the top of his tank. One possible culprit was the filter I had in his tank. He was always getting stuck up against it and pushed around by the current, which isn't good for any fish, but especially not bettas, which are used to slow moving water in the wild. So be sure that if your tank has a filter it is very gentle, and there is no way your fish could be getting sucked into or against it.
Its always sad when fish get illnesses, because its far harder to treat and diagnose them, so once we see they're struggling, it might be too late. The best way to prevent all fish illnesses is to make sure your fish's water is clean. Betta's are characterized as easy pets that can be kept in little jars with minimal care, and while they most definitely will survive, they'll likely be sick and unhappy. It'd be the same as keeping a dog in a kennel its whole life. So its important for all betta owners to understand what they're getting into, and that betta's are very much prone to various diseases, and need good care from their owners.
Another helpful tip I'll share is to be sure to not cross contaminate from one tank to the next. The velvet from Hei Bai spread to my other betta through the cup I put them in while I was changing tanks. Thankfully I caught it early enough to treat it in both of them, but many fish diseases are very contagious, so its good to excersize caution when cleaning tanks. Use separate holding cups, disinfect your net or gravel vacuum if you use one, and never move decorations or rocks from one tank to the other, especially while the disease is still active.
I hope this helped, and I hope you all go check your fish to make sure they're as healthy as possible.
Here's an example of a fish with clamped fins
Here's an article all about velvet
Here's a whole website about betta care and illness that is awesome
Here's an article about fin rot
Here's an article about swim bladder disorder
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