Why Does My Betta Fish Stay at The Top of The Tank?

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It’s easy to think of fish behavior as odd, especially if they’re so different from how other animals would react. Bettas are one of the most popular and recognizable fishes in an aquarium because of their eccentric colors, personalities, and ease of care. However, people often misunderstand bettas, and one of the challenges their owners have had is their betta fishes staying at the top of the tank.

If you’ve noticed them staying at the top of your tank, there could be many reasons why this is happening and easy ways to fix it.

Check the article below for some reasons why your betta fish is staying at the top of the tank and how you can stop it.

What Does it Mean When Fish Stay at the Top of the Tank?

Fishes staying at the top means they are swimming close to the top of your aquarium. If your fishes are staying at the top of your tank, it means they spend the most time playing and swimming there.

Different fishes naturally have other areas of the aquarium that they’re most comfortable with.

Killifish are known as top-dwellers. Seeing top-dwelling fishes at the top of your betta tank shouldn’t alarm you. Examples of these fishes are:

  • Guppy
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • Golden Warrior

However, Betta fish generally spend most of their time in the middle of the tank. Sometimes they swim to the upper and lower sections, but they spend most of their time in the middle area.

If your betta fish is staying at the top of your aquarium, it is not normal, and the following could be some of the reasons why.

Why Does My Betta Fish Stay at The Top of The Tank?

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Low Oxygen Concentrations

Fishes generally have gills for extracting oxygen from the water, but betta fish have a slight modification from other fishes. Apart from the gills, just like regular fishes, they also have a labyrinth organ that works just like a lung in humans. (*)

What does it do?

It allows them to breathe in air and survive outside the water but only for a short time. During this period, the fishes must also be moist to survive.

Why are they now staying at the top?

There’s a good chance that your fish is swimming near the top of the tank because there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water. Your bettas might be trying to swim to the top and get air from above the surface of the water to make up for the oxygen they need. Another factor is that the top of your aquarium water generally has more dissolved oxygen than the water at the bottom.

Here’s the deal:

So, if you notice your bettas spending more time than usual at the top of the aquarium, it might be due to a deficiency. Sometimes, the fishes might stick their mouth to the water, often to breathe from the air.

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Insufficient Water Parameters

There are specific water parameters for keeping bettas healthy in a tank. Standard conditions are a water temperature of 75-80oF and pH levels of 6-8. Ammonia and nitrites levels should also be zero at all times and ensure the nitrate levels stays below 20.


If the tank has a poor water quality that doesn’t correspond with the requirements of your fishes, it could affect their health.

Betta fishes are normally hardy, but exposing them to unhealthy concentrations of toxins or wrong pH levels could compromise their health. This could especially be devastating if it’s for long periods.

Your fishes could become distressed and might start moving to the top in a bid to escape the struggles below.

It gets worse:

Some fishes are even more extreme and try jumping out of the tank to escape.

If your fishes are swimming at the top it might be poor water quality; your water may be too cold, so they’re staying on top where conditions are generally warmer. This is common in large aquariums during summer.


If your water is too warm, oxygen levels in the middle and bottom of the tank will reduce, forcing them to the top where oxygen is available.

image of Crowded Conditions for Betta fish

Crowded Conditions

Betta fish need aquariums that are 3 gallons and above for optimum growth and survivability. You can always go bigger but never go below 3 gallons as this could greatly harm your fish.

You might be wondering why:

If your fishes do not have enough space to swim around and play, they might float to the top of the aquarium or even go out in a bid to find a bigger space.

Your bettas could also fight with other fishes when there is crowding. If there are more aggressive fishes, your bettas might retreat to the top to avoid danger.

It gets worse:

If you have rocks, plants, or other decorations in your aquarium, there is a good chance that this will happen. All of this competition stresses out your fishes and causes strain.

What’s the bottom line?

If you’re getting multiple bettas, you can use the simple calculation of getting one-gallon tank of water for one inch of an adult fish. So, if you’re getting three betta fishes that are usually 3 inches in length, you would need at least 9 gallons of water to contain them. Get appropriate information while setting up your aquarium. (*)

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Lack of Food

When you feed your fishes, it usually comes from the top, so bettas are quick to catch up on that because they are very intelligent. If the fishes are hungry for whatever reason, they may swim to the top, waiting for food and searching for it.


Bettas will typically swim around waiting for you to pour food or eat any items they find resembling food at the top.

This is crazy:

Sometimes, after they have checked the corners and bottom of the aquarium for food, they also move to the top, searching for food. If your bettas go to the middle of your tank after you have fed them, there’s a good chance they were only on top looking for food.

Swim Bladder Challenges in Betta Fish

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Swim bladder issues occur when your fish shifts on only one side and cannot swim straight as a result. The fish would float to the top of the tank and move around rather than swimming.


The main cause of swim bladder issue is overfeeding, which leads to constipation. If you notice your fish isn’t swimming but rather floating in the top of your tank, then this could be why.

Here’s the deal:

If a Betta is constipated, it will also swell up and become noticeable in the tank.

Feces from the fish will also be stringy and hang from the back instead of falling to the floor in healthy fishes. If you notice these signs and your fish is swimming close to the top of the tank, there’s a very good chance it’s overfeeding.

How To Stop Your Betta Fish from Swimming Near the top of The Tank

Whatever the reason your beta is swimming to the top of the tank, the following solutions should help you take care of the challenges.

Increase Oxygen Concentration

If your bettas are on the surface of the water to gasp for air, it is because they don’t have enough oxygen in the water. You can rectify this and increase oxygen concentration in your betta tank by adding air stones.

What are they?

They are small port objects that increase surface agitation in your aquarium and allows more oxygen to enter the water while CO2 escapes.

Air stones connect to your air pump to create small bubbles and saturate your water. A good filtration unit for pumping oxygenated water through the tank can help.

If the water in your tank is warm, it will generally have less dissolved oxygen than colder water. (*)

You could also try to make your water cooler as long as it is still in the acceptable temperature range for Betta fish.


You can also put powerheads in your tank to produce stronger currents and distribute oxygen evenly throughout the tank. If your tank has a high volume, this is the most practical solution.

Adjust the Temperature and Use the Right Tank Size

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If your bettas swim at the top because of high or low temperatures, the first thing you need in your aquarium is a thermometer. Check the water temperature and ensure it is between 75 – 80oF.


If the tank water is colder than you want, a heater can help increase it. Sometimes, the ambient temperature is not enough, and you need heaters strong enough to keep the aquarium temperature at an acceptable range.

Bettas need about 10 gallons of water for ample space to play around and do what they want. If you have more fishes, you will also need more space. Ensure your aquarium size corresponds to the needs of your fish.

If you cannot buy a new aquarium to accommodate your extra fish, you can decrease their numbers. Give your bettas as much space as possible; the more, the better.

Keep a High-Water Quality

An integral part of aquarium maintenance is testing the water to keep the nitrogen cycle parameters in an acceptable range(*). You can purchase a test kit from your fish store to use for this purpose and keep track of your measurements. Some of the parameters to test are:

  • Nitrite
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrate

A regular 5 minutes on the testing bundle could save many fishes from dying and turn around the poor water quality.

Good filters can also help to keep your water clean. In addition to that, you should change the water regularly to remove toxins and waste. A good balance is changing a third of your aquarium weekly.

If you have plants in your aquarium, keep an eye out for when any of them die so you can remove them and they don’t decompose in the water, adding to the nitrites.

Here’s the deal:

During your regular cleaning, remove the decorations and wash them. Soaking them in bleach and then using a brush to scrape off the algae then rinsing should eliminate all the impurities.

A vacuum siphon pump could also help with cleaning. It will help you clean the gravel in your aquarium so you can quickly remove any waste and uneaten food.

Bettas do not like dirty or cloudy water, especially for a long time. The most guaranteed way of making sure they don’t escape to the top is keeping the aquarium clean at all times.

Give Betta Fish Hiding Places

image of give Betta fish hiding places

Bettas aren’t best in a bare tank that doesn’t have anything. You should add decorations like rocks, plants, or any other safe materials you fancy in the aquarium.

Hiding places are much more important for aquariums that have more aggressive fish than bettas. The items you keep in your aquarium could serve as hiding places, so if your bettas need to run away from other fishes, they won’t go to the top.

However, it would be best if you were careful while selecting decorations for your aquarium. Avoid putting anything that has sharp edges. The sharp corners can hold on to your bettas’ fins and rip them, inadvertently exposing them to diseases and parasites.

Feed Your Betta Fish Promptly

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Do not starve the bettas in your tank, and make sure they are always properly fed. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to provide for them on time, you should get an automatic feeder for your aquarium.

It will feed your bettas at the right time and with the right amounts. If you set and use it correctly, your bettas will not be constipated or have swim bladder issues.

Only give your bettas food twice daily if you can’t get an automatic feeder to prevent them from getting overfed. A good way to know if you’re overfeeding your fishes if you see uneaten leftovers floating in the aquarium.

Take Note:

If you notice your fishes are already constipated and floating on top, you should avoid feeding them for about two or three days.

Once you resume feeding them, only give them boiled peas – it will help force the waste out of their body. Peas are the best way to get your bettas to recover from constipation.


Some fishes die naturally from natural causes like old age, and some die from diseases. Bettas generally do not tend to die abruptly.

You should see some signs that tell you when it is about to happen. You should be concerned if you start seeing the following signs:

  • Inactivity
  • faded colors
  • lack of appetite
  • scratching
  • dropsy
  • air gasping
  • weight loss
  • misplaced fins

 All of these mean your betta is at risk and probably infected with a disease.

Is It Normal for Betta Fish To Stay Still?

Your bettas staying still might not necessarily be anything bad. However, you might need to pay more attention and find out why it is still.

Sometimes your fish might just be resting or sleeping, and in such a case, there’s no need for alarm. Normally when you expose them to external stimuli like light, they should get moving.

Other dire issues when your fish still includes a swim bladder issue, temperature shock, or death.

Up Next: Why Is My Betta Fish Not Eating? (All Reasons & Solutions)


Betta fish are highly sensitive fishes, and to accurately predict why they’re staying at the top of your tank, you should pay attention to details. Sometimes, your fish could also decide to stay at the top of the tank because they want to.

Just keep an eye out for the warning signs of each reason why your fish might be at the top, so if something is wrong, you can step in and proffer solutions. If your fish is still, it could be swim bladder issues, overfeeding, constipation, or any diseases that need attention.

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