It is important to know what you should look for when buying a Betta from the pet store. The fish should be a healthy specimen from the outset, thus how you can tell if a betta fish is healthy or not is important. If you end up buying an unhealthy Betta, it is an almost certain recipe for disaster. You could end up spending many distressing hours trying to improve its looks, color, and general health to no avail. These fragile fish do not recover easily from malnourishment or maltreatment and you would be heartbroken if it died in your care.
It is always a good starting point to make sure that the Betta fish was well-cared-for during its stay at the pet store. In fact, make sure that it is actually alive while you are in the store. Sometimes Betta fish lie dead in plastic bags or glass bowls, something that could go completely unnoticed. Often, the Betta fish in the stores are already sick because of the less-than-healthy conditions in which they may have been kept. By going to an obscure pet store, you could be doing yourself a disservice. Stick to those that enjoy a good reputation.
Just to note, the factors listed below are mainly for those purchasing a betta at a pet store, but also serve as a general guide for determining the health of any fish.
There are many different colors and variations of bettas. When choosing a betta, if the fish is pale or light in color it may be his or her natural coloring or it may be a sign of stress and/or poor health at the moment. People are often surprised when they bring home what appears to be a gorgeous white betta that after a few months develops a red wash or another coloring after being kept in a poor environment. Some signs of poor health are faded or dull coloration, but it is important to consider other factors of health as well.
A betta’s body should be streamlined and full, looking proportionate from head to tail. It should not have any noticeable lumps, bumps, or growths.
The scales on a healthy betta should all be flat and smooth against the body with no loose scales protruding or missing. Examine the betta from all sides and from above to make sure none of the scales are pulling away from the body giving the effect of an open pinecone.
The betta’s fins should be full and free of holes, rips, tears, and rough or raw edges. He or she should be able to spread them out fully and they should not be clamped together.
The gills on a healthy betta should be smooth in appearance and not swollen, red, or stringy looking. If you can get a male betta to flare at you in the store it can be a good way to further examine the gills and make sure they retract simultaneously in a smooth and quick manner.
A betta’s eyes should be dark in appearance and look clear. The eyes should not be hazy or protrude too far out from the head in a bug-eye-type fashion. At the same time, the eyes should not look as though they are sunken into the betta’s head.
If the betta’s cup has been recently cleaned, you may not find any feces at the bottom, but it is something to look for. Make sure it does not appear whitish or stringy. If you do not see any, check the betta to see if he or she is swollen at all in the stomach region which may be a sign of constipation.
Betta fish are usually active and float upright unless they are sleeping. Bring your hand close to the Betta fish to make sure that it is alert. Don’t end up startling it by jabbing a finger into the bag in which it is stored, or by tapping against its bowl. Rather move your hand gently toward the Betta and gauge its reaction. Be subtle and gentle so as not to traumatize the fish. A healthy Betta is very alert and will always react in one way or the other to the movement it detects, though it may not always respond by flaring.
The water and other things to watch for
If you see white cottony patches in the betta’s cup or on his or her body, skip over this betta as you may be dealing with a case of fungus. This is often seen when the water is not changed enough and the fish is stressed and can be a hard illness to combat especially not knowing how long the betta has been ill. For that matter, if something just doesn’t look quite right about the water or the betta, it’s better to pass that one up.
Good luck on the hunt to find your new betta!