Betta Fish Behavior Before Death – 12 Signs You Need To Watch For

The last thing any fishkeeper wants is to deal with a dying betta fish. Sadly, it will happen to them all because these adorable fish only have a lifespan of 2-5 years. Depending on how well you take care of them, of course.

However, when they come to the end of their life, there are signs and changes in betta fish behavior that you will notice. Knowing what to expect during this challenging time is essential so you can comfort them during their last days.

This article breaks down some common betta fish behaviors before their death, some possible causes, and what you can do to put them at ease before their last day.

Betta Fish Behavior Before Death You Need To Watch For

Recognizing a change in your fish’s behavior isn’t easy, especially if you’re a first-time fishkeeper. Luckily, we have a list of some betta fish behaviors before death you should look out for:

1. Appetite loss

A significant sign of something wrong with your Betta fish is if they start eating less food. While there are other reasons your betta isn’t eating, one of the main reasons why you’re betta could be eating less is because they’re getting old and may be close to the end of their natural lifespan. That’s why it’s essential to keep an eye on how much food your betta fish is eating and how much leftovers you clean from the tank. A sick or old fish won’t eat as much as a healthy betta fish.

Betta fish can survive on 3-4 pellets a day. But it’s essential to create a feeding schedule to know the portions you’re giving your betta as they grow. If you want to know how often and how much to feed your betta fish, check out this betta fish feeding guide. 

If you observe your betta and see they aren’t eating despite swimming to the water surface for food, something could be wrong. While healthy betta fish can survive without food for a week, you shouldn’t fast them for this long. A loss of appetite, combined with other symptoms on this list, could lead to betta fish death. Most betta fish will lose their appetite when they are about to die, but if that’s not the case, it could still be a sign that there is something wrong with your betta fish.

2. Lethargy

If your betta fish is unresponsive to external stimuli and they are constantly immobile, this could signal that they are close to the end of their life. Healthy betta fish are usually very energetic, so if you realize their energy levels have gone down and don’t respond to you tapping the tank or throwing food in the water, something is wrong. If your betta is spending lots of time in a suspended state, they’re lethargic and something could be wrong.

Signs of lethargy are commonly due to poor water quality, depression and stress. While this can be cured by turning on the tank’s water filter or changing the water quality parameters, if it’s combined with the other signs on the list, they could be close to the end of their life.

3. Difficulty Breathing

If your Betta fish is gasping for air at the water’s surface, something is wrong. One of the primary reasons your Betta fish is gasping at the surface could be because there isn’t enough oxygen in the tank. When your Betta fish is doing this, you should take action immediately because this could be fatal to your pet.

As they grow older, a betta fish’s ability to obtain more oxygen reduces. Their gills also don’t absorb as much oxygen as they used to. Because of this, they can start breathing rapidly, signaling that they are about to die. If your betta fish is young and they have breathing problems, the water quality could be the problem. That’s why bettas need a filter in their freshwater aquarium.

One of the best ways to take care of this immediately is to turn on the tank’s filter, which should help keep the water clean and add more oxygen to the water. If your Betta fish is still very young and this happens, it could also be that you introduced new fish to the tank that is taking up more oxygen than before.

4. Swollen eyes

It’s not rare to find your betta fish with swollen eyes because they are sometimes prone to infections and inflammation. Your betta fish having swollen eyes is likely due to a bacterial or viral infection. If their eyes are swelling, your betta has likely been dealing with it for a long time, and they could be on the verge of dying. 

5. Dropsy

Dropsy refers to a build-up of fluid in a fish’s body. The fluid accumulates in their cavities, interstitial spaces, and tissues. If your older Betta fish suffers from dropsy, they could have immune or kidney problems. Poor water conditions cause dropsy and other diseases like swim bladder disorder. Luckily you can cure swim bladder disease in bettas if you catch the symptoms early enough.

With a condition as serious as dropsy, drastic changes in the water parameters can be fatal. If you notice your fish has dropsy, you should take them to the vet first. A sick betta fish isn’t good for any freshwater fish tank.

6. Constant Hiding

Hiding is a common betta fish behavior. If your Betta fish is in a tank with other betta-friendly fish and hides out more frequently than usual, then something must be wrong. They could be avoiding other fish because of stress or fighting, but that is unlikely if they’ve lived peacefully for a long time.

While hiding could signify your betta fish’s death, it shouldn’t be your first conclusion. There are several reasons your betta fish is hiding, some of which can be easily solved.

If their interactions have decreased drastically, you should look for other signs and symptoms to rule out anything serious. If they are more isolated and you notice other signs on this list, then you could have a dying betta fish.

7. Weakness

An aging betta fish won’t be as active as they were when they were juvenile. This could also be because they eat less than before and don’t have much energy to swim around the tank. When your betta fish isn’t eating and shows signs of lethargy, it could have reached the end of its life.

8. Color Fading

Bettas are known for their beautiful colors and large fins. You should know that something is wrong when their body color starts changing. It could be they are stressed, aging, or sick. Their bright colors can be a significant indicator of a betta’s health and/or age.

Don’t panic if the betta fish’s skin color starts to fade as they grow older. Color fading is entirely normal because as they grow older, their scales aren’t as bright as they were younger. Their skin can become transparent, and you might even start seeing their organs. White patches on their body can also be a sign of aging or illness. Stripes running down their body could mean they are stressed or suffering from a more serious condition. 

9. Changes in Behavior 

How is your Betta fish acting? If you’ve been monitoring your betta for a couple of years, you’ve noticed that they’re very active fish and love to swim and showcase their beautiful fins. As they grow older, however, you will see some changes in their behavior, such as a change in their swimming pattern.

Other behavioral changes include loss of appetite, constantly resting at the bottom of the tank, slower movements, hiding more than usual, and less responsive to external stimuli. But not all these changes mean you’re betta fish dying. Like for example, there are several reasons your betta fish is hiding, and some have nothing to do with death.

10. Fish Tuberculosis 

Tuberculosis is a severe disease, but fish also gets something similar known as fish tuberculosis or fish TB. While most fish can live without getting this disease, if you’re bettas immune system is compromised, they’re more likely to get fish tuberculosis than other fish. It’s caused by mycobacterium, which you can find in most freshwater aquariums.

The thing about this disease is it affects mostly weak and old betta fish. If your Betta fish is old, it’ll be harder for them to recover from this disease, leading to death. You should immediately get vet help if you think your betta has fish TB because this disease is contagious and can spread to other fish, even humans (yikes).

11. Depression and Stress

All betta fish are susceptible to extreme stress and depression when the water parameters in the tank aren’t right. But poor water quality can also cause depression to your betta because they aren’t happy. Poor water conditions are one of the most common causes of betta fish death.

Stress can be caused by several factors, including a small tank, unfriendly fish, high ammonia and nitrate levels, or low oxygen levels in the tank. Because of all this stress, your betta fish’s immune system will be affected, putting them at a higher risk of getting sick with health issues like a bloated betta belly and popeye. This could easily result in sudden death.

12. Clamped Fins

If your Betta fishes fins are clamped, meaning the fins are very close to their body, that’s one of the usual signs that they are stressed. The fins might also curl on themselves, which is very different from a healthy betta fish’s typical behavior, where they like to spread their fins while swimming in the tank. A lot of factors could be causing clamped fins, like poor water quality or a small tank which can affect these fish to the point that it will also lead to death. Here are other reasons why your betta’s fins are curling.

How to Comfort a Dying Betta Fish

Sadly, if your Betta fish is dying, the only thing you can do is ensure that they’re relaxed and comfortable in their last days. Most fish keepers struggle to watch their betta fish dying. Here are a few things you can do to help comfort a dying betta fish:

  • Constantly check the water parameters to prevent adding any more stress to your Betta fish.
  • Clean the tank and remove any leftover food to prevent increasing ammonia increasing and further stressing your fish.
  • A consultation with a veterinarian is always a good thing because they’ll give you more tips on what you have to do to keep your Betta fish comfortable.

How to Increase The Lifespan of a Betta Fish

These fish are susceptible to their environment, so giving them a comfortable place to live is essential if you want them to live longer than 2 to 5 years. This includes everything from the size of their tank to friendly tank mates and filling the tank with plants and decorations for their entertainment.

You can avoid an early betta fish death by maintaining the right water parameters and making them comfortable in their freshwater tank. Check out this article for more tips on how to increase a betta fish’s lifespan

Signs and Behaviors of a Healthy Betta Fish

You’ll know a healthy fish by how they behave. This betta fish care guide can help you take good care of your Siamese fighting fish and prevent sudden death. If you’re wondering whether or not your betta is okay, here are some common behaviors of a healthy fish:

  • They are active and full of life especially when around their human and fish companions.
  • Brightly colored scales all over their body including their fins.
  • Great fin movement when they are swimming.
  • A strong appetite is a sign of a healthy betta fish. If they are eating their pellets quickly it’s a sign that they’re satisfied.
  • Interacting with other tank mates and hiding frequently are also signs that you have a healthy fish.
  • Natural aging and fading of their vibrant colors is normal when they are close to death.

Betta Fish Behavior Before Death

Identifying some of the signs mentioned in this list is crucial, especially if your Betta shares a tank with other freshwater fish. A dying betta fish will be poisonous to fellow tank mates, so if you notice these signs you should separate them immediately.

If your betta fish shows signs like difficulty breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, and is constantly hiding, they could be about to die.

Identifying these signs is essential so that you can take care of your Betta fish at the end of their life. Your Betta could also just be suffering from poor water conditions in the tank, so it’s better to know what’s going on with their health before making any assumptions.


Do betta fish play dead? 

Yes, they can play dead. That is a very common behavior among Betta fish is clear they have a sense of humor. They might do this often, but it shouldn’t alarm you.

Do betta fish die easily?

No. Betta fish only die quickly if you keep them in a poor environment with poor-quality water and an unhealthy diet, or if you bought them already sick from a bad breeder/pet store.

Can betta fish die suddenly?

Yes, if you come home and find a dead betta fish, it could be that they have been sick for a while. Likely, the water conditions weren’t optimal to begin with or they had some underlying condition or genetic defect.

Can betta fish fight to the death?

It’s unlikely that betta fish fight to the death but they can injure each other in the process.

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