Constipation Information and Symptoms
By Rachel Hunt (Mushi)
Photo © R. Hunt
Constipation, although terribly embarrassing, is a
very common Betta ailment. Constipation is normally caused by the Betta
being fed too many rich foods (such as bloodworms) and not enough fiber.
Constipation can also become a recurring problem in elderly Bettas (sort
of like people!).
Constipation is fairly easy to diagnose if you
know what to look for. The most obvious sign that a Betta is constipated
is the lack of any bowel movements, or very small bowel movements that
don't match up to the amount of food the Betta has been eating. Since it
can be quite difficult to catch a Betta in "the act," it may be necessary
to diagnose constipation from secondary symptoms. These can include: a
swollen tummy (the area right behind the ventral fins and right in front
of the anal fin), loss of appetite (although some Bettas are such pigs
that they will eat until they explode, it's a good indicator but not
necessarily accurate), and, in later stages, fading color. Constipation
will often go hand in hand with Swim Bladder
Disease, as the intestinal blockages caused by being constipated can
interfere with the operation of the swim bladder. If your Betta is showing
Swim Bladder Disease-like symptoms, often the first thing to do is to make
sure he's not constipated.
upside is that constipation is generally very easy to diagnose and treat,
the downside is that, if left untreated, constipation can easily lead to
The first thing to do if constipation is suspected is to
isolate the Betta if he isn't already. The reason you want to Isolate the
Betta is not because constipation is contagious (it isn't), it's because
you want to be able to monitor his food intake and feces output. Before
treatment begins, give him a nice water change. It is also helpful to
leave the container bare-bottomed as it allows you to watch for any fecal
matter he may be passing. If the Betta is showing signs of Swim Bladder
Disease as well, you may want to leave the water level fairly low (4-5")
so that he doesn't have to struggle to the top for air. Right, on to
Number one, stop feeding him. I know he looks pathetic
and he thinks he's starving to death, but Bettas can live for a very long
time without food and it's dangerous to just let the food keep backing up
inside him with no way to escape. The first remedy I like to try with
constipated bettas is called "the Pea Trick." Take a frozen or fresh pea
(you can used canned peas if you don't have access to fresh or frozen, but
they do contain a lot of salt and the others are really preferable), and
cook it until it's squishy. Peel the skin away, and break the "meat" into
small, Betta-bite-size pieces. Do your best to tempt your Betta into
eating some of them - tips on doing this include:
Drag your finger
over the water surface to evoke their hunting instincts, and then drop the
pea bit in one at a time.
Poke the pea bits onto the end of a
toothpick and move it about like it's live food (be careful you don't poke
the betta if you use this method).
Basically do anything you can to
get that Betta interested in the pea.
Make sure you remove any pea
bits that don't get eaten so they don't dissolve and foul the water (icky
water = bad). Hopefully your Betta was interested in the pea, if he ate
some of it just sit back and watch for a bowel movement in the next day or
so. You can repeat "the Pea Trick" as often as he'll consume them (just
don't go overboard with it).
If you can't get him to eat any pea or
he doesn't seem to be passing anything after eating it, you can give an
Epsom salt bath a shot. You may have noticed that I didn't advocate adding
aquarium/rock salt this time, and there's a reason for this. Regular salt
will cause fish to absorb more water. When you've got a bloated fish, you
want them to excrete, not absorb. Epsom salt will get this done for
Setting up an Epsom Salt bath:
Add 1 Tbsp per gallon of
Epsom Salt to some aged, temperature-adjusted (same temperature as the
water the betta is already in) water.
Pour Epsom Salt solution into
Place the Betta in the Epsom Salt bath for 15-20
minutes. While the Betta is having a bath, change the water in his tank so
that he has nice, clean water to go back to afterwards. Make SURE that the
water in all of these containers is the same temperature, we don't need
the Betta getting another disease right now.
Hopefully the Epsom
Salt bath will help to loosen the blockage, just sit back and watch. The
Epsom Salt bath can be repeated up to two times a day - just be aware that
it is stressful to the fish, so if you can get him to eat the pea, give
the pea a shot first.
keep Bettas for any length of time, odds are you're going to have to deal
with constipation at least once in your career. The best way to prevent
constipation is to feed a well-balanced diet, and keep the rich, fatty
foods (bloodworms - number one culprit) as treats rather than as staple
foods. If you feed a lot of frozen/freeze-dried foods rather than pellets,
make sure you put some roughage in the diet as well. Peas, prepared as
explained above, can be fed once a week instead of a regular meal as a
preventative. You can also have one day a week of "fasting" (not feeding
at all for a day) in which the Bettas can clean out their systems.
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