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Why (and How) to Play With Your Betta Fish

While you might not take your betta fish for a walk or out to the park for a game of fetch, that doesn’t mean they don’t need regular exercise and play or that the two of you can’t form a unique bond.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of exercise and play for your betta, as well as creative options for engaging in activity together.

The Benefits of Exercise and Play for Bettas

Bettas are bright fish who can learn to recognize their pet parents and benefit from your exercise and play sessions.

Exercise and play contribute to their mental wellbeing, helping to keep their mind stimulated and reducing boredom. Activity contributes to their social wellbeing as well by allowing them to engage with you and become more confident and less stressed. Additionally, since male bettas are a solitary fish, their pet parents become their only social interaction.

While male bettas must be kept separately, females can sometimes live together in large aquariums, or sorority tanks, with plenty of décor and hiding places. Talk to an aquatic specialist to confirm that your aquarium can comfortably contain the number of female bettas you’re considering adding and ask about signs of aggression in fish. You’ll need to closely monitor your fish in the first few days they’re together and be prepared to separate them immediately if needed. Although less common than in males, female bettas can become aggressive and injure or even kill their aquarium mates.

Exercise and play also contribute to your betta’s physical wellbeing, helping to ensure they move enough to stay healthy and strong.

Don't forget that your fish's physical health is closely tied to the quality of their aquatic environment. If you're not already well versed in fish care, talk to an aquatic specialist for tips on maintaining water quality and building an aquarium that provides its inhabitants with plenty of room to swim and hide.

How to Add Exercise and Play Into Your Fish's Day

Exercise and play can include different activities depending on your betta. After all, not all bettas are the same. The key is to ensure that you are engaging your fish in ample activity.

Exercise includes more physical exertion, while play focuses more on social and object engagement. While fish need both, exercise is more crucial. 

Exercise can involve any of the following activities:

  • Implement new décor into their aquarium to encourage daily swimming. Plants—live or artificial—give your betta new things to explore and swish through.
  • Offer varied food and treat options to tap into your fish’s natural hunting instincts. Drop food or a new treat across the tank from your fish, encouraging them to swim toward the treat. (Be careful not to overfeed, as excess food in the aquarium can lead to unwanted weight gain as well as poor water quality).

In addition to daily exercise, be sure to engage in playtime with your fish, too. Play can include some of the following bonding activities:

  • Teach your betta to follow your finger. After getting the attention of your fish, draw your finger slowly forward. When your fish follows, feed them a treat. Over time, your fish can learn to follow your finger back and forth.
  • Add logs and other hiding areas to the aquarium so your fish can engage in hide-and-seek.

Extra Tips for Creating an Active Lifestyle for Your Fish

Engaging in activity and playtime can be rewarding for both you and your fish. Just be sure to always wash your hands before and after touching their water. 

In addition to ensuring that your aquarium is large enough to offer your fish plenty of room for swimming, you’ll need to be careful to choose décor that won’t damage fins. You might want to consider adding a betta hammock where your fish can rest after periods of activity.

Keep their aquarium clean and their water’s pH balanced to help your betta remain healthy, enjoy their environment and encourage natural activity. And remember, a single betta needs at least a one-gallon tank. 

When in doubt about your fish’s care, talk to an aquatic specialist.

Want to learn more about how you can best set up your fish’s space for optimal exercise and play? Check out this helpful guide on setting up an aquatic habitat.