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QUESTION: I cannot figure out what is wrong with my betta fish. I have been a betta fish owner for about 4 years now.  I have had my current fish for about a year and he is not showing any usual signs of diseases that I am familiar with.  He is usually deep red in color, but has been pale for a week or two now. He looks like he is having a hard time swimming, but having no trouble staying upright.  I am pretty sure when I watched him eat his daily meal of BettaMin flakes this morning and I think little pieces came out of his gills... His gills are not red or inflamed, he isn't abnormally swollen, and his fins are whole and in good condition.  I don't think they are clamped.  Water conditions tested to be normal and safe.  I am so confused and concerned... Any ideas?  Again, symptoms are: pale in color, seems to be having a hard time swimming, and I think I saw food come through his gills when eating.  Additionally, I think his upper lip is cut somehow and he seems to only be using the little fins on the sides not his tail fin.  Also, he isn't making any bubbles.  

If you are able to help, I would be very grateful.

ANSWER: Hello,

In a situation like this, the first thing to look for are environmental issues. The symptoms match those of low dissolved oxygen content, especially if the fish spends a lot of time on the bottom or at the surface, but not in the water column.

Chlorine/other halogen poisoning is also possible.

Finally, I'd guess Nitrite, but if you've tested for that and it's below 5ppm or Nitrate bellow 200ppm, then that probably isn't it.

For all of these, and a few other possibilities, I recommend you do a 50% water change, add a bubbler and airstone on light as to keep the surface disturbance to a minimum, and hit the tank with a dose of dechlorinator, even if you use it regularly or have well water. If the problem persists, it could be a metal issue, in which case the cures are a little more invasive, but easily doable nonetheless.

Let me know every 24 hours or so how things are going, if you can.

Also on a semi-unrelated note: I'm doing a study on the South Platte river in colorado on water quality and fish populations. The river is extremely polluted and very poor habitat until you get to the whitewater kayak park. The study is demonstrating that simply the flow and aeration from the kayak park naturally removes harmful ions and oxygenates that water, making it excellent habitat. This knowledge is applicable to every aquarium setup, especially yours!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hey thanks for your help earlier.  I put in an air stone, but that seemed to really stress him out and he has a hard time swimming with the stone in the water.  He seems abnormally weak.  Upon further examination, it seems as though his fins may have shrunk.  But it doesn't look like any kind of fin rot I have ever seen. His dorsal fin and tail fin in particular look smaller.  Also, I have him in a large fish bowl.  I was under the impression that betta fish did not need an aeration or filter system since they come up to breath and as long as I do regular water changes.  Also, the chlorine, nitrite and nitrate levels are safe based on the testing strips I used earlier.  Any further recommendations? Could it be old age? He is about a year old.  I have heard everything under the sun though about betta life spans.  I have heard 9 months-2 years and I have heard up to 10 years.  I am not sure what to think.  Thanks again.  I found your first response to be reassuring.

Answer
Hello,
I'm glad you were able to try this, even though it didn't work.

What do you feed him? Sometimes malnutrition can cause symptoms like this in fish. If you only feed some kind of prepared food, try mixing it up.

The example I always give people is this: yes, you could survive eating only cornflakes, but I don't recommend it for obvious reasons.

I recommend frozen bloodworms. They're kind of expensive, but they're about the most nutritious thing you can feed a betta. They're also a good source of vitamin C, which is known for restoring color and fins.

If the fish still isn't enthusiastic about eating, brine shrimp always seem to do the trick even though they are of lower nutritional value than bloodworms.

As for the life spans: I have found it depends on gender and lifestyle of the fish. I have had a betta live about 5 years, but that was a non-breeding, hand raised female living in the best, low stress setup possible. I have also had perfectly healthy breeding males only live about 10 months just because of the stress they went through as a result. For your fish, I would guess another year or slightly more is likely if this works.

I am going to be out of touch for the next week. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience, but you should be able to find further assistance in your local pet store or among others on this site. I'll be back a week from today.

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Will

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I can answer questions relating to the scientific aspect of the hobby (fish ecology, biology, genetics, etc. ), aquacultural and breeding aspects, and have experience with nearly all "brackish" fish in the trade. I also have lots of experience breeding fish, like angelfish, tetras, cichlids, and various livebearers. I also have lots of experience with many freshwater fish, especially "monster" fish, like stingrays, arowana and Saratoga, cichlids, catfish, etc. Please ask questions about anything except for true saltwater (reef) tanks.

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Too much to fully list, but I will never have never enough to satisfy myself.

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River Watch of Colorado Monster Fish Keepers USA Canoe/Kayak

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Student, but I've been involved in many projects involving aquaculture and fish biology. I'm currently helping design a massive stream improvement project on the St. Vrain river. I am studying fisheries ecology, techniques, hatcheries, and management practices for north american freshwater systems.

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