Why does my Betta Fish keep swimming to the top?

Are you wondering why your Betta is staying at the top of the tank? Does this unusual movement scare you too? Then don’t worry as I have got you covered! By the end of this article, you will get to know the reasons why your betta fish stays at the top of your fish tank and you will also get solutions to get rid of this problem.

If Betta fish is staying at the top of the tank there must be something wrong in the tank. For example Lack of oxygenation, temperature fluctuations, excessive ammonia, overcrowded tanks, swim bladder disease, and lastly, Betta needs more food.

Why Does My Betta Fish Keep Swimming To The Top?

Betta fish staying at the top of the tank or even at the bottom is not normal behavior, they should stay in the middle region of the tank which is the ideal place for them.

Breathing Mechanism Of Betta

Before discussing why the fish is at the top of the tank we will discuss the basic breathing mechanism of Betta. Betta fish have a supplementary lung-like organ in addition to their normal gills. This means that they can breathe directly from the air too when required and can even survive in the open air for a short amount of time. However, they breathe from their gills in the same manner as any other fish i.e. they breathe in the dissolved oxygen from the water.

The above discussion clearly points toward one reason why your betta stays at the top of the tank and that reason is the lack of dissolved oxygen in the tank. We will discuss the oxygenation problem and its remedies in detail now.

1. Lack Of Dissolved Oxygen

When the oxygen levels in the water are low then the betta moves to the top of the tank for two reasons.

  1. To get oxygen directly from the surface or air.
  2. Dissolved oxygen at the top is in greater amounts as compared to the bottom.
Lack Of Dissolved Oxygen

A portable dissolved oxygen meter or a chemical test can be used to confirm the oxygen levels in your tank too however this is not necessary. Once you think that the cause of betta coming to the top of the tank is lack of oxygen then there are a few things that you can do in order to counter this problem, I will discuss them below one by one.

Addition of Plants to the Tank

This is by far the easiest way to increase the oxygen level in your fish tank. Plants not only give out oxygen but also absorb Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Ammonia (NH3) which are generated by the Betta. Apart from maintaining oxygen levels, plants also give a good look to the fish tank and are also breeding spots for the fish. Given below is a list of the best plants which can be used in a fish tank.

  1. Moneywort
  2. Hornwort
  3. Java fern
  4. Duckweed
  5. Tiger Lotus

This will help in increasing the dissolved oxygen in the tank and the betta will not have to go to the top for getting oxygen.

Getting a Tank with Greater Surface Area

If the surface area of the tank is greater, then this means that more of the water surface is in direct contact with the air. If more of the water comes in contact with the air then naturally more amount of oxygen will dissolve in the water thereby keeping oxygen levels higher as compared to a tank with a lower surface area. So if there are two tanks having the same volume but the surface area of one is greater than the other then the tank with a larger surface area will be more suitable for the Betta.

So in simple words, we can say that your tank should be more in length and width instead of depth.

Air Bubbler

The use of an air bubbler or an Air pump is the simplest yet very effective way to counter the problem of lack of oxygen, the air bubbler makes thousands of oxygen bubbles which directly increase the amount of dissolved oxygen in the fish tank hence making it easier for the Betta to breathe and preventing them from going to the top in order to do so.

Breaking The Water Surface

As the oxygen exchange with the air happens at the surface of the water so breaking the surface greatly helps with better oxygenation of the water. This can simply be done by changing the current direction of the filter in the tank. By doing so regularly the water surface is disturbed and more oxygen is dissolved as a result.

2. Overcrowded Tank

Betta might be staying at the top of the tank simply because the tank is overcrowded. Just like humans, fish require their personal space. Therefore, an overcrowded tank may make the Betta uncomfortable and force them to go to the top for some alone time. Given below are a few tips to deal with an overcrowded fish tank.

overcrowded betta fish

Get a Bigger Tank

The simplest solution! Get a bigger tank if your betta seems uncomfortable with the crowd. It may cost you some money but your Betta’s comfort is priceless.

Move Trouble Causing Fish to other Tanks

Bullies exist in fish too so keep an eye on your Betta. Does another fish seem to bother it? Does your betta hide from any specific fish? If yes then you have got yourself a bullying problem, get rid of the bully as soon as possible for your Betta’s sake, the Betta will definitely not linger on the top once the threatening fish is gone.

Divide the Crowd

If you have a spare tank then you could simply divide the crowd by moving a few of the fish to the spare tank, why waste a tank when it could be used to make your Betta more comfortable and peaceful?

Add Plants and Hiding Spots

Plants are a great place for the Betta to relax without the fear of any other betta getting in their way. Stones and artificial decoration pieces can also be a great hiding spot for your betta. Despite being crowded, such spots give the betta an illusion of being alone so they feel more comfortable in this way.

Related Post: Can You Keep Betta Fish In A Bowl?

3. Unsuitable Temperature

Another reason why your Betta is staying at the top of the tank might be that the temperature in the middle portion of the tank is not suitable for it. As hot water rises so the temperature at the top of the tank is naturally warmer than the rest of the tank so the Betta likes to stay there. But don’t worry; this problem can be solved just like any other problem in this world. Some of the solutions are listed below.

unsuitable temperature betta fish

Water Heater

The use of a water heater in a fish tank is the simplest way to counter this problem. If there is a heater present already then you could add another one to the tank to make the temperature better. You can set the temperature according to your betta’s comfort by controlling the thermostat of your tank heater. By using an extra heater the fish tank remains warm throughout and the Betta does not have to go to the top in search of warmth.

Place the Tank in Sunlight

The physical position of the fish tank plays a key role in its water temperature too. If the tank is placed in a naturally sunlit area then it will have warmer water in it. This could be a very easy way to make your tank more comfortable for your Betta.

Keep the Heater Moving

Sometimes the problem could be that the heater only heats a certain part of the fish tank and not the complete fish tank. Therefore, one can shift the heater to different positions in order to make sure that the entire fish tank is uniformly heated. Thus, the Betta is comfortable in all places within the tank.

Make Use of the Filter

If the heater is placed behind the filter then it would be a great help in circulating heat throughout the tank. As a result, the heater will heat up the water going through the filter and it will then spread throughout the fish tank uniformly.

4. Unsuitable Water Conditions

The water quality of the tank might be compromised due to many factors and this could make the fish tank an uncomfortable place for the Betta. A few parameters that need to be checked are stated below:

Unsuitable Water Conditions

PH Level

The PH level of the fish tank should be between 6 to 8, out of range PH is not suitable for the betta. One sign of a low PH level is a sudden algae growth in the fish tank, another sign that you can notice is that the betta gasps for air if the PH level is low. This is because the acid damages the gills of the Betta, so maintaining the PH within range is necessary to avoid this problem.

Temperature and the pH scale

So you can check the pH of the tank by using pH test strips, digital tests, or any other suitable mechanism and then raise or lower the pH level depending on the results. A few ways to maintain the pH of the tank are stated below;

  1. Cleaning the tank regularly.
  2. Make sure that the filter is clean.
  3. Remove dead fish and plants as soon as you notice the,
  4. Invest in a reverse osmosis filter, this is an expensive option but it is the best one as it removes all the pollutants from the water.
  5. Maintain oxygen levels by aerating the tank more through air bubbles.

You have to ensure a gradual change in pH levels to save the Betta from pH shock.

Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate Levels

The chemical levels must be kept in check, these levels should not be above 0 ppm. Nitrite levels should be under 0.5 ppm and Nitrate levels should be kept under 20 ppm. Too much Ammonia in the tank can cause Ammonia poisoning and it must be avoided at all costs. You can notice Ammonia poisoning in your Betta, a few clear indicators of ammonia poisoning are given below;

  1. Betta is less active.
  2. They are not eating properly.
  3. They gasp for Air and their gill color changes.
  4. Red streaks on the body and fins.
  5. Inflammation on body parts like eyes and anus.

Once you identify Ammonia poisoning the first thing that you need to do is to bring the Ammonia levels down in the fish tank. There are various ways to bring the Ammonia levels down in your fish tank, a few of them are listed below;

  • Add fresh water to the tank and change almost half of the water with fresh water, by doing so a huge portion of Ammonia will be removed from the water.
  • If water changing does not do the trick then you can use any available Ammonia neutralizer and add it to your tank, the neutralizer is supposed to bring down the ammonia levels.
  • Sometimes Ammonia levels increase because the size of the tank is small and not sufficient for the Betta. So using a bigger tank will help in this as it will have more space for the waste material.

Water Temperature

Water temperature must be kept between 76-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water can simply be monitored using thermometers and the temperature can be adjusted using heaters.


Water should not be saline i.e. it should not contain salt as betta are freshwater fish and cannot survive in saline conditions. The salinity of the fish tank can be checked using hydrometers, if the water turns out to be saline then you simply have to change the water to freshwater as Betta can live only in freshwater.

5. Food Hunt

Sometimes the reason for your Betta coming to the top of the tank could be simply because they are hungry and looking for food. The best way to avoid this problem is to feed the Betta in breaks rather than feeding them at once. This will keep them satisfied for a longer period of time.

Betta Fish Food Hunt

6. Swim Bladder Disease

If your betta floats to the top of the tank without its own choice then this could be an indication of swim bladder disease. Betta can be treated from this disease very easily, and two ways to treat them are;

  1. Fasting, keep your Betta hungry for a couple of days, this would empty their system completely and they would hopefully get rid of the swim bladder disease.
  2. Give them an Epsom salt bath.
Betta Swim Bladder Disease

The Bottom Line on Why does my Betta Fish keep swimming to the top?

Bettas are amazing creatures and must be taken care of at all times. I hope that you get to understand through this article why your Betta is staying at the top of the tank and you might have also found the solution to the problem. Take care of yourself and your Betta, till next time, happy fishkeeping!

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