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 Preventing deadly disease outbreaks  

                                                                                     author: Faith
                                                                                                                 date: 03/09/03


A betta is a betta hobbyist’s best friend. A betta disease is a betta hobbyist’s worst nightmare. Just like bettas, betta diseases come in every shape and color, but one thing all betta diseases do have in common: They just want to kill your bettas. 

WHAT?? Kill my poor little bettas? Never! I shall stand watch over them every minute of the day and protect them with my very own life. 

And that you will my friend, that you will. Or you will lose many a fine lad. 

He who has a fishroom knows what I am talking about. Diseases are hidden in the room’s corners, quietly lurking in the dark, waiting for an opportunity to lunge forward into the light and exterminate, exterminate, exterminate. Darn. That sounded pretty bad. I aimed it to sound pretty bad. Cause pretty bad it is.  

If betta diseases come with the territory, and if there is no way to avoid them (unless you want you and your bettas to live in a bubble that is LOL) then what is one to do to fend them off? 

Well, one is simply to log on to www.bettatalk.com and read this article (note: shameless plugging ;) hehehehehe  ). Here I hope to give you enough ammunition to win this ruthless war and force the enemy back into the dark corners where it should forever stay. So read, learn and battle wisely. 

Consider your fishroom a battlefield, and the diseases an enemy who constantly tries to infiltrate your lines. The purpose of this fine article ;) is to inspect your lines, determine where the weak points are and reinforce them. These weak points will be the ‘entry’ point the enemy will use to penetrate your lines and invade you.  

Here are some of the main entry points the enemy will aim for:

  1. ENTRY POINT #1: You purchase Mr. Betta. Starting with a healthy betta is a must. If you must fight diseases later on than at least get a clean start. Never purchase or bring home a betta that is not healthy (unless, that is, you are a betta rescuer). Sign of unhealthiness would be a betta lying motionless at the top or bottom, uneaten food in the jar, any outside sign of disease (red spots, fungus, swelling, rot etc…). Be especially picky when buying from a pet shop. They are notorious for putting on their shelves half dead fish and for keeping them in less than healthy water. I personally would never buy bettas from a fish store unless I have absolutely, positively no other choice. If getting your stock from a betta breeder, make sure to only deal with the reputable, experienced breeders. Many beginners cannot spot early signs of diseases and may inadvertently sell you infected stock. That infected stock will proceed to spread disease and mayhem in your fishroom! So once again be very picky as to whom you buy from.
  2. ENTRY POINT #2: You bring Mr. Betta home. Stress lowers betta’s immune system and diseases are once again waiting for that opportunity to strike. This is the second chance a disease has to get your fish. When leaving the fish store with a betta, make sure to take the short way home. Do not make stops along the way. Keep your betta away from A/C vents, direct sun. Make sure it is secured in a small box or cooler, so that it doesn’t go rolling around on the floor while you drive and so that it doesn't see what is going on (especially if you are a bad driver LOL). Keep shocks and vibrations to a minimum. This will greatly reduce the stress. If your betta is being shipped by a breeder, but the breeder does not know how to properly pack and ship, you will undoubtedly run into major problems. Bettas who have had a rough trip will often die en route or shortly thereafter. In truth you are better off buying a marginally healthy betta from a local store than a healthy one from a breeder that doesn’t know what they are doing. I have heard many horror stories, bettas arriving in the winter without a proper heat pack, bettas in punctured bags that leaked, even (my favorite) bettas in sandwich bags! I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. So once again only buy from an experienced breeder who knows what they are doing (and there are quite a few to pick from out there - so do your homework!). Once home, it is vital you take your time to acclimate your fish to your water, and that you do not stress him unnecessarily by moving him from tank to tank etc… Have his ‘home’ ready before hand and once he is in there don’t change your mind and move him to another jar or tank. LEAVE HIM THE HECK ALONE. Watch over him, but from a distance.
  3. ENTRY POINT #3: Mr. Betta joins your happy betta family. If you already have bettas, and are adding new stock, you must be very careful. Diseases love piggyback riding and if at all possible would love to come into your fishroom riding a semi healthy new betta, and then hop off to your other existing fish. To fence the invaders off, make sure to ALWAYS quarantine any new betta you bring home. I don’t care who you bought it from, it must be quarantined. The best way to do this is to jar new bettas and add some Bettamax to their water ‘prophylaxis’ for the next three weeks. By then any hidden disease will probably come out of the closet, and either be eradicated by the Bettamax or (if more serious) start showing. (For ex: bacterial disease will start causing visible signs such as fin rotting, red spots on body, etc…). It is often very tempting to add a female to a female tank. Of course, it is one less jar to worry about, clean etc… You MUST resist the temptation to cut corners and jar the female to quarantine it before adding her to the tank. Otherwise you might become a very sorry betta hobbyist!
  4. ENTRY POINT #4: Your water. Well if I had to sort entry point by level of importance (as opposed to chronologically), this would be my first choice. WATER is the most important factor in a betta’s health. As my good friend Patrick always says: “Clean water, clean water AND clean water are the 3 secrets to a healthy betta!” ;). The cleaner your betta water, the less the chance for disease. Bacteria love love love dirty water, decaying food and fecal matter. Take that away and they will not come around. Bacteria love to party. Cancel the free food and drinks and they are gone elsewhere ;). Keeping the water clean is especially vital when your betta lives in a jar without filter. A full water change once a week is a must. If using jars smaller than ½ gal, then one full water change every 4 days is recommended. For bettas in tanks, the filter will do most of the job but it is still necessary for you to do water changes once a month (some say once a week, but few hobbyist have that kind of free time on hand! Once a month is a more realistic, and still very effective way to go) and replace the filter media which overtime loses its efficiency. Start slacking off and you will see many a sick betta in your fishroom
  5. ENTRY POINT #5: The food. You will probably not encounter too many problems if using freeze dried food (unless you overfeed and let uneaten food decay in your tanks/jars that is), but most breeders have to use some live food to prep up bettas for spawning. Many breeders also use frozen foods on a regular basis. So here is the deal with frozen food: Think it is sterile and harmless? Think again! Although some bacteria and parasites may die when frozen, many don’t. So frozen food is not 100% safe, having said that it is much safer than live foods. We all know how much bettas love live worms, and guess what? So do bacteria and parasites. Guess live worms are very popular and in demand LOL. This is the second easiest way for diseases to penetrate your lines and invade you. Live worms that are not fresh, half dead, or kept in unsanitary conditions will cause many trouble, especially dropsy and bacterial diseases (not so much rot, which is related to water quality). Also live worms bring internal parasites to the picture and you have never seen such an elusive and deadly enemy. Sorta like the movie “Predator”, where the enemy invades by being invisible. Internal parasites are impossible to see, and it takes a while before you finally figure out that your bettas are dropping dead one by one because of them. So what is one to do you ask? Never feed live food? No, but feed sparingly and when you feed it make sure it comes from the best, cleanest store in town. Also make sure to keep it clean, refrigerated, and rinse it daily. Last but not least, stop being cheap and when the worms no longer are in tip top shape, toss them out and buy new ones. Tip: ask your LPS which days and what time their live worms are delivered to them and purchase your worms only on those days. This way you always get fresh worms from the new arrival. Geese, I really should charge you for this advice LOL! Because I have real trouble killing any live thing (except maybe fleas and morons who cut me off on the freeway LOL), I dispose of my worms by rinsing them and then dumping them in a pond near by. I suppose the healthy ones find a way to survive in there.
  6. ENTRY POINT #6: Fish nets. How much does a fish net cost? $1? So go ahead and splurge about $25 and buy 25 nets. Not 1, but 25. When fishing bettas, or during water changes, if you use the same nasty, bacteria infected net over and over again, you are spreading the love around (if you know what I mean!). Anytime you net a suspicious fish, retire the now possibly infected net (to be sterilized) and grab a new, fresh sterile one to continue your fish chores of the day. I put all my ‘used’ nets in a 2 gal critter keeper and sterilize them. Meanwhile I use nets from the “fresh & sterile’ pile. Since I have about 80 nets, I have a way to go before I run out (hehehehehehehe)
  7. ENTRY POINT #7: Your hands. Yes, those very loving hands that KILL. Whenever I touch a sick fish jar, or dip my hands in a tank, or use my hands anywhere near a suspicious fish I WASH MY HANDS THOROUGHLY WITH ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP. Oh, and let it lather for a while. When I do water changes, I wash my hands after handling any fish that looks less than super healthy. In doing this, I break the chain and create “Fire roads” as I call them. Meaning I stop the bacteria from burning through the whole fishroom. 
  8. ENTRY POINT #8: Fish supplies. This includes all the supplies you use over and over again, such as tanks, jars, heaters, filters, plastic plants, etc… Everything must be sanitized before you use it again. I don’t care how healthy your last betta “looked”, it might have carried something that didn’t bother it but will kill another more fragile betta. So don’t be lazy, roll up your sleeves and get to work soldier! Bleach away!!! LOL For details on how to safely and properly sanitize, click here.
  9. ENTRY POINT #9: Too many bettas. Don’t bite more can you can really chew. Bettas are addictive. One can never get enough (it seems). As much as I would love to sell each one of you 357,835,500 bettas (che-ching!! LOL), the bottom line is, only buy as many bettas as you can really properly care for. And don’t do more spawns than you can properly house. Raising 200 fry in a 10 gal tank is the best way to have major disease outbreaks, so if you only have one 50 gal grow out tank, then only tackle one spawn at a time.
  10. ENTRY POINT #10: Too close for comfort. Make it a habit to spot a sick betta and move it away from the rest right away. If it is in a community tank, remove it immediately and jar it. If it is jarred, move it AWAY from the other jars. Feed sick fish last (so you don’t handle them and then feed other healthy bettas). Create a “hospital wing’ in your fishroom. I call it my “sick bay”. The bettas in the sick bay are kept away from my other bettas, they are fed last and always handled last during water changes. They also oftentimes get a water change twice as often as the others, and their jars are changed every water change. But this will be the topic of yet another fine e-magazine article.


In closing I would like to say that I know many betta breeders who occasionally (or sometimes periodically) lose just about ALL their stock because of an outbreak. I am proud to say that this has never been the case with me. Not even once. Although I do get sick bettas now and then like everyone else, they remain isolated cases. Why? Because I keep vigilant watch on all above 10 entry points. 

Well soldier, This resumes our troops briefing. By now I have handed you weapons of mass destruction ;) to fight off diseases. Keep watch, stay armed and battle courageously. I drink to your victory my betta friend!

A footnote from Faith:

Sorry it took so long to complete and publish this article. The evil forces of the bacterial world had found ways to sidetrack me and delay the Truth from reaching the four corners of the betta world. Thank God for bleached hair, and spending an hour under the dryer each time I go to my hairdresser, and thanks to the wonders of technology my laptop is, I was able, in 3 bleach sessions to finish it hehehehehe. Some read Vogue while at the hairdresser, I write betta articles on my laptop. Yes, I know, I am a FREAK :). But in a way it was very appropriate: My brains were getting bleached, and at the very same time I was typing about bleaching tanks. So there you go, I was in prefect osmosis with my article. Let's hope I don't go bald anytime soon, otherwise you guys will be getting betta articles no more ;).