Here’s why you shouldn’t give someone a betta fish as a gift this holiday season

Betta fish cannot thrive in a fishbowl

A male Crowntail Betta swims peacefully inside a 20-gallon aquarium tank. (KPRC)

Betta fish are known for their beautiful fins and are a common household pet, but they make terrible gifts for someone who is unprepared to care for them.

There are plenty of fishbowls and tiny tanks for sale that are marketed to keep betta fish in, but many of them just aren’t big enough. While the fish may survive in a small bowl, they certainly won’t thrive.

“Betta fish are often seen living in bowls that are too small to allow for normal swimming and hiding behavior,” Dr. Krista Keller, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said. “They should not live in bowls. Instead, they should ideally be in a 5-gallon glass or plastic tank or larger.”

What do you need to keep a betta fish?

Betta fish are a territorial species that need at least 5 gallons of water in a tank that has been properly cycled and includes a filter and heater.

They are tropical fish and need a range between 76 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Tap water can contain harmful chemicals like chlorine and chloramine so a dechlorinator is necessary to make the water safe.

If you don’t know much about the nitrogen cycle, you can learn more here about how to prepare your tank or (if you already have the fish) learn how to do a fish-in cycle from the Aquarium Co-Op.

Decorations that have sharp edges or a rough quality can continuously damage the betta’s fins, which is why real plants or silk plants are recommended by many enthusiasts.

Betta fish are smarter than most people think, and after they become confident in their home they will start to appear to recognize their owner and come to the glass when it’s time to eat. They can be fed pelleted, flaked or even frozen fish food. In my experience, betta fish are not picky eaters.


  • Fish tank 5+ gallons
  • Heater
  • Filter that will not injure their fins (sponge filter or a modified filter)
  • Dechlorinator (Seachem Prime is an example)
  • Live plants and/or silk plants, and hiding spaces like caves

Can betta fish live with other fish?

Betta fish should not be placed in the same tank as other betta fish.

There are some peaceful community fish that people have had luck with. Some have been able to keep betta fish with fish like cory catfish, kuhli loaches or a small fast-moving fish like a tetra.

Of course, those other fish also have their own needs and if you want a community tank a 20+ gallon is usually recommended.

Other options to keep with betta fish are snails and shrimp. There is always a chance your betta fish will attack and eat a snail or shrimp, it really depends on their personality.

If you are looking to get into fishkeeping and want to learn more, the Betta Fish subreddit is a good place to find information. People there are extremely passionate about their fish.

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.