To be honest, this is the topic I’ve been most worried about writing on, for a very simple reason. In my experience this is one of the single most debated and heated topics on the internet, in terms of betta fish care and keeping. When I was first starting out in the hobby and trying to do some research, I came across opinion pieces that made me feel personally attacked for wondering what my options were.
After a couple years experience, with putting into practice different betta keeping methods for myself, I have finally drawn a loose conclusion for my opinion on tank sizes.
It depends on how well you’re going to take care of said tank.
I do not say this lightly. I know its easy to start off excited about a new pet and ready to give it the best care, and then slowly grow tired of a pet that can’t communicate its feelings very well to you and get more and more lazy with upkeep. Some say that betta fish only live a max of 2-3 years in captivity. Some say with proper care they should live 8-10 years. Seeing as my betta now was quite large and mature when I got him, potentially somewhere around 2 years of age and I’ve had him for almost 3 years, which would make him a total of 5 and he’s not slowing down very much, I lean more toward the mind that they can live a decade or more.
There was a time when I got very busy with other things and I learned firsthand that I had to stay diligent in my betta’s care if I wanted a healthy, happy fish. In this series of posts I will give a brief overview of how I have come to understand tank sizes.
To start I must begin with how I started in the hobby, and that is with a 1 gallon.
The first tank I bought meant purely for keeping betta was a 1 gallon, or it was supposed to be. It said it was a 1 gallon on the box, but ended up holding more like 75% of a gallon (always measure a tank’s compacity for yourself after purchase). A large portion of the fish keeping community seems to settle on this size as the minimum size for betta. I reserve judgement on this as I have heard many stories of people keeping bettas successfully in 1 gallons for years. These could have been hardier tail types, perhaps veil tails that were kept with frequent water changes, I don’t know. All I know it that with my double tail half-moon male betta it was a fine size- for a period of time. After about a year it became apparent that I would need a larger tank.
Anything smaller than a gallon I have to say, I believe to affect the quality of life quite negatively. Simply put, a tank is a fish’s entire world. If they can barely turn around in it, think of standing in a single room your whole life almost touching the walls. It would be very sad. Also to keep water quality in a tiny tank is far, far more trouble than a larger tank.
Why? Fish excrete ammonia in their waste. Now, betta have a very low bio load, they had a small stomach and don’t produce as much poop as say a goldfish, which doesn’t really have a stomach so they are constantly pooping and excreting a lot of ammonia for a large bio load as they graze throughout the day.
Water quality is the key to healthy fish, period. Ask any experienced hobbyist. Fish are pooping in the same water they’re breathing in. It has to be kept clean somehow or they will be very sick.
Under the right circumstance with the right resources, time and effort do I believe a 1 gallon is alright for keeping a single betta (not a giant, a regular size betta), short answer: yes. In Thailand where betta originate and in some mass producing breeders they are kept this way and seem to do fine. However, they are not typically focused on keeping the fish that way their whole lives, they want to sell them.
So, do I also think that there are better ways to keep betta, absolutely. I would say a 1 gallon is a bare minimum IF you are devoting a lot of time to their care consistently for the next decade or so.
My experience with keeping a betta in a 1 gallon went something like this. I got my first betta when I got serious into fish keeping and did research. Simply put, I was in a college dorm and had to have a tank I could physically pick up and move to dump and clean the water back and forth from the communal bathroom. Being fairly weak, I felt I had to choose a plastic 1 gallon.
Some people on the internet said 1 gallon was better than a lot of betta bowl choices out there. Some people, condemned 1 gallons. I saw a lot of negativity saying “go shoot yourself”, “animal cruelty” etc. They said to keep a single betta in a 1 gallon you would have to do a 100% water change EVERY DAY or they would suffer and die breathing their own ammonia. So I did.
My betta died within 7 days.
Here is what I now know happened. My betta came from very bad conditions, in a dirty small cup and one strong possibility is that so much change and new water sent him into stress and shock that killed him.
The other possibility is that not being able to match water temperature well enough and pH and all the other parameters caused him to stress and go into shock that killed him.
Long story short, in my experiences don’t do 100% water changes every day. Some people say don’t ever do 100% changes. In larger tanks I agree. What I ended up doing with my second betta, that I now have had for three years, is a 100% water change once a week while he was in the 1 gallon. (He’s been upgraded from that tank now). As I said that worked alright for me for about a year.
In summary, if you are going to chance a 1 gallon, this strict plan was how I got it to work and my fish not just die.
- A 100% water change EVERY week
- during said water changes match the temperature, pH and other parameters as closely as possible before putting the fish back in and let him acclimate slowly each time. I let the water sit over night before putting it in to minimize the wait time as much as possible.
- Put live plants in if you can keep them alive. I used marimo moss (it was the only plant I found that would live in such conditions) Healthy plants eat some of the ammonia. Dying plants produce more bad things in the water, so be very careful!
- If you try and use a heater rather than warm ambient room temperature, keep a thermometer in at all times. Only cheap, crappy heaters are made for small tanks. While I’ve heard that some work, it is very easy to overheat and cook your fishy in small amounts of water. Watch it CONSTANTLY for over 24 hours before deciding its alright. Always keep an eye on it.
- Always dechlorinate water – but that’s the case in all tanks
- if you use a filter, find one that won’t be too strong a current in such a small space, not all bettas are strong swimmers with the way breeders modify them to have long fins. It won’t be easy. Filters are rarely made for bettas. You may have to modify any filter you do get. Often times even with guards, long, delicate betta fins will get sucked inside the intake.
- Don’t overfeed. I fed three pellets in the morning and two at night. They have a stomach about the size of their eyes. They can go up to two weeks without food, so skipping one day or feeding small amounts won’t make them starve. Excess food will rot and ruin your water quality.
- Deep clean your tank at least once a month, meaning take a paper towel or something and rub off the sides and bottom where any gunk builds up. Never use any kind of soap.
If you want the truth, I kept my betta in an advertised 1 gallon, with no heater and no filter for a year, keeping up with cleaning and low feeding. I tried a heater once and it got too hot and almost killed him. I skipped a deep clean for two months and he got very sick and almost died. He did survive fairly healthy for most of that year but I did end up moving him to a 2.5 gallon where he did much much better. Then I moved him even bigger and so on. More specifics on that later.
I will talk later on about the other tank sizes in my experiences, diseases, heaters and filters and so on. Until then, do your research.
The bigger the tank the better. A proper filter and heater if you know what you’re doing, is for the better as well. If circumstance forces you into a smaller tank size, the absolute lowest I would go is a 1 gallon (remember tanks are often smaller than advertised- I haven’t gotten one that held what it said it did yet). Keep up with water changes and feed low.
As you will see some bigger tanks can be much easier to care for. No seriously, I’m not just saying that.
No matter what a person chooses to do in regards to keeping their fish, don’t spread hate and violence. Always encourage people to do better and provide knowledge and experience when you can. If you feel something is truly cruel, think first if you are a qualified source with facts to back up your opinion and go about making change in a careful and positive way with help from an authority figure if you aren’t one. Never tell someone they are a bad person or should kill themselves, etc. if they simple hold a different opinion than you or act out of ignorance. Nothing is worth hate to your fellow man, and fellow fish lover.
I’ll say it a hundred times- this is not a cheap hobby no matter the set up. If you stay in it, eventually costs will build up. BUT I think it’s totally worth it. This is a small hobby in America that needs to be spread and encouraged, not made judgmental and hard to approach. Proper aquarium keeping needs to have more awareness.
Although I don’t condemn 1 gallons, and think they can potentially be suitable, I don’t think they are for everyone, and not for the novice or un-serious fish keeper. Trust me there are way better, easier set ups that will have better results and aren’t too much more expensive.
Personally I no longer use 1 gallons. While I admit that they have their place in the hobby and can be alright for quarantine tanks or small amounts of time, I do not use them if I can help it anymore. In most cases I don’t think a fish can live their full life or reach their full potential in a 1 gallon, and problems and disease are much more likely.
For any other aspects you’d like me to cover, let me know! Until then I’m going to keep on this series of breaking down the intricacies of tank size for bettas and why it matters.
Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)