Why Bigger Is Better For A Betta

Everyone always wants more space. A bigger apartment or bigger house is considered better. Personally, I have fond memories of my veterinary medical school days when I lived in a cramped studio apartment. One bed, one desk, two cans of tuna, one quart of milk and a frozen bag of hash browns were my only possessions. Those were simpler days.

But is simple always good? Should you aspire for meager accommodations?

Frank walked in with Moe, his pet Siamese fighting fish, also known as a betta. According to Frank, Moe didn’t seem to have the “pep” that he used to and his appetite was a little down.

“Moe’s very handsome,” I commented. “Has he entered any competitions?”

“Doc, I care for Moe too much to subject him to the brutality of the tank arena,” replied Frank. “I’m actually shocked that you even brought it up.”

“I was actually referring to show competitions, not fighting.”

With a relieved look on his face, Frank said, beaming, “Oops, sorry about that. No, I’m not into the show world. He’s just a companion that happens to be super cute.”

Doing a physical exam on fish is difficult even when they are big enough to hold onto. Moe measured a whopping 2 1/2 inches in length, which made things even more challenging. Besides close observation of Moe’s movements and physical condition, the most important thing I could do was go over husbandry issues.

After discussing diet, I said, “Describe Moe’s living accommodations. What does his aquarium look like?”

With a quizzical look on his face, Frank replied “What do you mean, Doc? You’re looking at it.”

On the exam table was a medium-sized mayonnaise jar. There was one aquarium plant that adorned Moe’s habitat and a small amount of blue-colored gravel sprinkled on the bottom. Frank bought Moe from a pet store that kept their bettas in 12-ounce cups. This is done to prevent the fish from fighting one another as their name implies.

I explained to Frank that the reason why fighting fish can survive in small cups at the pet store is because they have a labyrinth gland that helps them live in environments with low oxygen. That being said, just because bettas can survive in small spaces doesn’t mean that they should. Many times water quality becomes an issue when fish are kept in an aquarium that is too small for them.

“Ideally, each inch of fish should be kept in 1 gallon of water. Since Moe is about 2 1/2 inches long, he should be in an aquarium that contains at least 3 gallons of water. If you give him more space I think his health will improve,” I explained.

Frank rushed to a nearby pet store after our appointment. Although it’s been more than a year, when last I checked, Moe was doing just fine in his brand-new 20-gallon tank. Frank insisted that his little buddy deserved a decked-out bachelor pad.

For some reason, I don’t think Moe is fondly remembering his days at the pet store in a cramped cup.

Do I miss my small studio apartment? I guess I do. For me, more bigger is not necessarily “mo bettah.”

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital