Should a Betta fish live in a bowl? 

Bettas are beautiful fish with their colors and finage. They’re really one of a kind. When we have a betta or any type of animal for that matter, we must research about it so we know its needs and to give the best environment and quality of life for our new friend.

One very delicate issue that betta lovers can come to an agreement on is regarding the betta’s ‘house’. Can a betta live in a bowl?

Should a Betta fish live in a bowl? 

Yes, they can.

But the point to be taken is not whether a betta can live in a bowl or not. The right question is: Should bettas live in a box?

And the answer is as short as the one above. No, they should not.

In this post, we are going to discuss the issues around having a betta in small bowls that can be very pleasing to the eye, but not necessarily good for them. We’re also going to propose a better living arrangement for your betta, so it can be free and happy.

What is animal welfare and why is it important?

Animal welfare concerns the living conditions of animals kept in captivity. It attempts to give animals, including your betta, minimum standard of living conditions and treatment.

Although there are regulations regarding animal welfare that can be applied to laboratories, farms, pet stores, among others, we should extend it to our own pets too. However, some laws and regulations leave plenty of room for interpretation.

You must be asking why we’re talking about animal welfare over a fishbowl. Some people might not have heard of it at all. Sharing correct information is the first step towards making an informed choice.

You can extrapolate this to us, humans. Think about those teeny tiny apartments of 40 sq. ft. (3.7 sq. m) around the world. Can a person or even a family live in those conditions? Yes, they can. Should they live in those conditions? Absolutely not! I hope you can see my point here. Bettas need more space so they can be happy!

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

According to the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979, the following represents the minimum of living standards that captive animals should have:

  • Freedom from thirst and hunger;
  • Freedom from discomfort by providing adequate shelter;
  • Freedom from disease, pain, or injury;
  • Freedom from distress and fear;
  • Freedom to engage in natural behaviors.

How can I apply these to my betta? You can see that these freedoms are somehow interconnected. We will try to relate all of them with keeping your betta in a bowl.

Freedom from thirst and hunger

Bettas are carnivores. That means that they need to eat a diet rich in fish protein and live, frozen or freeze-dried foods that can be composed of brine shrimps, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae for example.

Some bettas are either sold on bowls or even vases accompanied by plants. There is the misconception that bettas can feed on their roots, which is not the case. If your bowl or vase is planted with a large semi-aquatic plant that produces a lot of roots, it might be difficult for your betta to have access to food.

How about thirst? Do fish drink water?

Fishes need food but they also need water, which works as a solvent for the various chemical reactions that happen so they can have their normal functions. But they do not ‘drink’ water.

They use their skin and gills to absorb water by osmosis. During osmosis, the water flows from areas of low concentration solutes to areas where these solutes are highly concentrated, balancing the whole system.

While freshwater fish need to absorb fresh water to balance their blood and bodily fluids which are saltier than the water, saltwater fish must do the opposite.

So, as much as your betta needs to have access to proper food, they also need to have access to clean water.

 Freedom from discomfort by providing adequate shelter

The size of the tank

That’s where the fishbowl enters. There’s no discussion that keeping a betta in a bowl or even in a vase can be beautiful. So, it can be a tank. But why not a bowl?

Bowls are often small and vases can be even smaller. Bettas need space to swim freely. Most bowls are between 2.5 and 3 gallons (9.5 and 11.4 L). These fish need a minimum of 5 gallons (18.9 L) to swim freely, as they’re very active fish.

Unlike many people might think, bettas don’t live in small puddles. They can live in rice paddies, streams, and marshalls, which are far bigger than a bowl or even a 5-gallon (18.9 L) tank.

Filtration system

Bettas also need to have a filtration system in their ‘house’. This system will help to keep the water clean and aerated. A bubbler could also help. However, because bowls are round it is difficult to add a filtration system to them. Hence, you’ll have to do weekly water changes of 30 to 50% of water volume, which is very stressful to your betta.

Hydroponics and even semi-aquatic plants can filter the water removing ammonia and nitrates to a certain extent, but can’t filter the water to the level that a betta requires. Semi-aquatic plants that have a lot of roots, can also hinder your betta to the surface. Having the ability to reach the water surface is fundamental for the betta to feed, breathe, and even spawn.

Water parameters

Bettas are tropical fish and demand certain water parameters. The water temperature must be 75 to 80 F (23.9 to 26.7 °C) where 78 F (25.6 °C) is the ideal temperature. So, a heater is needed to keep the temperature constant, especially if you don’t live in places that are warm all year round.

In lower temperatures, Bettas become lethargic, their immune system gets weaker, and depending on the temperature they can even die. When a betta lives in a bowl, it’s very difficult to add a heater to the small space. Also, the water pH should be close to 7.0.

Having a lid

Bettas can jump out of their enclosures when the level of the water is low. Thus, having a lid is essential. Besides, most bowls do not have lids and their top is narrow, which limits the water to get oxygenated. So, the betta will surface to breathe atmospheric air. If there‘s not enough space for a betta to surface because of the plant’s roots, they can even get suffocated. 

Freedom from disease, pain, or injury

As we mentioned above, a filter is necessary to prevent ammonia and nitrite levels from increasing, which can be lethal to your fish. And bowls aren’t designed to support a filter system. Additionally, the lack of space for a heater leads to inconsistent water temperature which can make your fish very stressed

Stress weakens the immune system. Despite bettas being a hardy fish that can initially adapt to fluctuating temperatures, the lack of a constant temperature can eventually lead to diseases like fin rot, parasites, fungus, and internal bacterial infections like popeye that injures the betta. Although some diseases can all be treated, they can also be fatal to your betta. 

Lastly, fish can feel pain. It’s not the same type of pain that we experience but it is pain nevertheless. Fish have nociceptors, which is a type of neuron that can detect potential harm, such as high or low temperatures, intense pressure, and caustic chemicals. Fish produce the same opioids, our natural painkillers, the same way we do. 

Freedom from distress and fear

A bowl is small to be fully decorated with  plants, hiding spots and doesn’t offer plenty of space for your betta to swim. Such an environment doesn’t stimulate your fish mentally or physically. A bored fish can get sad, struggle to swim around its bowl, maybe lose its appetite, and get stressed. The latter can affect their immune system and even shorten their lifespan.

Also, if the bowl is anywhere near a window or a source of light that causes the bowl to reflect the betta, it will get threatened and fight its reflection, which can also injure it.

Freedom to engage in natural behaviors

Betta fish are active explorers. They’re intelligent and can even engage with humans. In their natural habitat, they’re surrounded by plants, driftwoods, and pebbles. These give them plenty to explore, but also offer bettas some hiding and resting spots, not to mention a place where they can build their bubble nest.

Hence, their ‘house’ must replicate as much as their natural environment. Given that most bowls are 2.5 to 3 gallons (9.5 and 11.4 L), there’s not much space to replicate their natural environment. Mental distress can lead to your betta losing its vibrating colors and showing stress stripes. They may also lose their appetite.

Conclusion

Betta fish can live in a bowl but that doesn’t mean that they should. When we have a betta, we must give it the best place to live possible. We must research their requirements such as water parameters, temperature, habitat, and behavior so we can replicate them.

Keeping a betta in a small bowl or even a vase, it’s not really providing the best environment for your betta. We’ve discussed the importance of animal welfare for your betta. 

We have correlated all five freedoms necessary in animal welfare (i.e., Freedoms from thirst and hunger, discomfort by providing adequate shelter, disease, pain, or injury, distress and fear, and engaging in natural behaviors) to keeping a betta in a bowl and why it’s not recommended.

Although there’re a lot of loopholes in laws and regulations around the globe, most of them don’t cover fish (let alone pet fish), that doesn’t mean we can’t apply the concept of animal welfare to our lives and to our pets.  When we have access to information, it’s easier for us to make better and more informed choices.

Bettas must live in a controlled environment with clean water, constant temperature, and monitored levels of ammonia and nitrates to avoid them getting sick.  Their environment also must be enriched so they can maintain a stress-free, healthy, and active environment with lots of space so they can have a happy life and a longer lifespan. And a bowl can’t provide that. An aquarium is more suitable for that and there’s a whole variety to choose from that will meet your and your betta’s needs. 

What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you keep your fish in an aquarium or in a bowl? We’d like to read your opinions on that. Please, feel free to leave us a message below.

Reference

Barrington, K. n.d. The right way to care for Betta fish. Talkfishy.com. 45 p.

https://thehumaneleague.org/article/animal-welfare

http://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/do-fish-drink#:~:text=Fish %20do%20 absorb%20water%20through,in%20a%20process%20called%20osmosis.&text=The%20opposite%20is%20true%20for,get%20enough%20into%20their%20systems.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/fish-feel-pain-180967764/#:~: text=%E2%80%9CFish%20do%20feel%20pain.,intense%20pressure%2C%20and%20caustic%20chemicals.

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