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Why Is My Betta Fish Breathing Hard?

Betta Fish Breathing Hard

Betta fish are wonderful creatures and one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish out there. They have wonderfully colored fins and a showy appearance. However, it is not all suitable for a betta fish as sometimes it is seen betta fish breathing hard.

So why does a betta fish breathe hard or heavy? There might be several reasons behind betta fish breathing hard. Among the various causes for such heavy breathing, the low oxygen concentration in the tank is the most common cause behind betta fish breathing hard. Besides low oxygen, inadequate tank conditions and specific medical ailments can also cause such behavior by the betta fish.

Reasons Behind Betta Fish Breathing Hard

As stated earlier, there can be several reasons behind heavy breathing by a betta fish. Betta fish generally swim at the middle level of the tank. While they may start swimming at the bottom level of the tank during their nap time, it is uncommon for them to swim close to the surface for more extended periods of time.

As we all know, betta fish has an organ called the Labyrinth that allows it to breathe atmospheric air for a short period. Thus, if your betta fish swims to the surface just for a little while, then you need not worry.

But in case your betta fish stays near the water surface for a considerable amount of time and is seen gasping for air, then it is a definite sign of betta fish breathing hard. There can be several factors that force a betta fish to swim closer to the water’s surface and breathe heavily.

The nature of the treatment depends upon the cause. Therefore, it is vital to figure out the root cause for such heavy breathing by the betta fish as the mode of treatment depends on it. Here are some of the reasons for betta fish breathing hard.

Low Oxygen Concentration

Low oxygen level in the tank is one of the most common causes for betta fish breathing hard. Betta fish need an optimum level of oxygen to survive. If your tank water does not have the right amount of oxygen concentration in it, it can cause a shortening of breath in your betta fish.

If you see your betta fish breathing heavily at top of the tank, you should consider checking the oxygen level in the tank. Make sure the filter is working appropriately and add a sufficient amount of aquatic plants in the tank for your betta fish.

Sometimes, betta fish breathing hard after a water change is also seen. This may happen if you change too much water in one instance. Changing too much water at once can disrupt the tank equilibrium and can stress out your fish.

Disease Or Sickness

Besides the low oxygen concentration, certain types of diseases and illnesses can also be the reason behind your betta fish breathing hard. Thus, you should also look for signs of diseases and infections in your betta fish if you see them gasping for air near the water surface.

While low oxygen concentration is hard to keep a track of, diseases like the slime disease and the velvet infection are relatively easy to identify. For instance, discoloration and lethargy are also some of the symptoms of illness in a betta fish.

The only thing to remember is that you should identify these symptoms as soon as possible. Thus, regularly check your betta fish for any signs of illness. The sooner you spot the disease, the higher the chance of treating your betta fish successfully.

Ammonia Poisoning

A higher concentration of ammonia in the tank is the last thing your betta fish needs. Ammonia in the tank is like a death warrant of your betta fish. It is really harmful to your betta fish and in the majority of cases, it proves to be fatal for your betta fish.

You may feed your betta a protein-rich diet filled with betta pellets and flakes. It may so happen that these pellets sink to the bottom of the tank and are left uneaten by your betta fish. This food leftover later breakdown to eventually give rise to ammonia.

If you allow such leftovers to accumulate over a period of time, it can cause a sudden and unwanted spike in the ammonia level in the tank. This can cause ammonia poisoning, which in turn causes ammonia burns near the gills. This makes it hard for the betta fish to breathe properly.

If you see your betta fish breathing hard at bottom of the tank then it is likely due to ammonia poisoning.


There are a variety of things that can cause stress to your betta fish. Among them, improper tank conditions are the most common ones. By improper tank conditions, we mean inadequate water temperature, water pH level, water quality, and other factors.

Betta fish like slow water currents, a water temperature between 76 and 82 degrees F, a water pH between 6 and 8, and a low level of nitrates, nitrites, and chlorine. A betta tank also needs periodical water changes to keep up with the water quality in the tank.

Solutions For Betta Fish Breathing Hard

Depending upon the cause here are some of the best ways to treat breathing difficulties in your betta fish.

Efficient Filtration System

Use an efficient sponge water filter for your betta tank. This will not only ensure that the water current in the tank is low but also ensure that the water quality does not decline over time. Proper oxygen distribution is key in treating breathing difficulties in betta fish.

Proper Tank Setup

Add tank decors like plants and caves for your betta fish. This ensures that your betta fish gets a sufficient amount of hiding spots in the tank. This is an effective way o reduce stress in your betta fish and provide them with a habitable environment.

Periodical Water Changes

To eradicate the unwanted ammonia from your tank, you should conduct periodical water changes and do a thorough cleaning of your betta tank. This ensures that the water hardness is at its minimum and the leftovers are removed properly.

FAQs Related to Betta Fish Breathing Hard?

Why is my betta laying at the bottom of the tank?

A strong water current may force your betta fish to stay at the bottom of the tank. Thus make sure that you use a proper filtration system with an optimum water flow.

Why is my betta fish breathing hard?

Low oxygen concentration, diseases like slime and velvet, ammonia poisoning, and stressful conditions can cause betta fish to breathe hard.

How to fix low oxygen concentration?

Increase the surface area of the aquarium and add an air stone. This causes more oxygen to be dissolved in the tank water for your betta fish and treat betta fish breathing hard.

Final Thoughts

If you are wondering why is my betta fish breathing hard then the first thing to do is to check your tank and see whether or not it satisfies all the requirements of a betta fish. In the case of diseases, the sooner you identify the symptoms the better.