Betta fish are beautiful to look at, but no one can spend all day just watching their fishy friend swim around. This is boring for both you and your betta! Luckily, there are things that you can use to bond with your betta in a way that you will both enjoy: toys!
Playing with Betta Fish
Not everyone realizes that bettas like to play with toys, and this is a shame. Betta fish are very smart and love to have their minds stimulated. They also like to do things that encourage them to be active. Here is a look at a few ways to play with your betta, as well as why you should want to.
Do Betta Fish Get Bored?
Although you might not often think about fish getting bored, bettas do! While it doesn’t happen as often as some of the more “overprotective” betta owners might think (see the Tips section for more on this), it does happen.
Bettas don’t get bored the way humans do, meaning that they don’t feel the need to watch t.v. or leave the tank to take a walk. But they do get bored if they feel like they don’t have a purpose or anything stimulating to look at or explore.
In the wild, bettas spend their days looking for food and female companionship and fighting other bettas for dominance. In captivity, there isn’t much call for this. Food is delivered at the same time every day, there are no ladies around to impress (unless you’re breeding bettas), and there shouldn’t be more than one male a tank, so there is no one to challenge him to sharpen his fighting skills.
Add to this a dull tank with few to no decorations, and of course, your betta is going to get bored!
How Can You Tell if Your Betta Is Bored?
Now that we know that bettas do, in fact, get bored, how do you know when it’s happening? Here are some of the most common signs your betta is bored:
- Change in appetite – Is your betta eating less or getting slower and slower to come grab the food? This could be because he knows that every day he is going to get the same food at the same time, so he doesn’t think there is any point in working for it.
- Lethargy and Listlessness – In one way, a betta who is bored is like a human who is bored: he has no energy or will to do anything, so he just sits there in the tank. Non-bored bettas will swim around and patrol their territory. Bored bettas… not so much.
- Tail Nipping – Usually tail nipping is something other fish do to bettas, but if a betta is bored, he may do it to himself. Bettas have teeth, and they can use them to take out their frustrations by biting their own tails.
Do Bettas Need Toys?
Toys are a fantastic way to keep your betta from getting bored. While having decorations in the tank that give him something to swim around or through is a great start, toys are really the best way to keep your betta active and alert. So yes, they do need toys!
What Kind of Toys do Betta Fish Like Best?
Just like people, bettas each have their own personality. The toys they like vary from fish to fish, so you should try all kinds of different betta fish accessories to see which one is most appealing to yours.
That being said, bettas aren’t too hard to please in the toy department. They like store-bought toys, but they are also just as happy with homemade betta fish toys or things you may have around the house, like ping pong balls.
Finding out which toy your betta likes best is a good way to make him happy and to exercise your own creativity!
How Do I Play with My Betta Fish?
Playing with a betta is obviously different than playing with your dog or cat. You can’t exactly get in the tank with him and throw a ball around! Luckily, though, there are lots of ways you can play with a betta, and most of them take little to no effort on your part.
One of the simplest things you can do is hold up a mirror or your finger to the side of the tank and let your betta flare and attack it (just don’t let him get too wound up and hurt himself!). You can also add floating decorations, hoops, or toys to the tank, or even write on the side with dry erase markers to give him something new to look at!
Playing with your betta is a bonding experience, so try a lot of different things and find out how your betta likes to play with you.
Betta Fish Toy Ideas
To give you a better idea of how to play with your betta fish, I have put together a list of the best betta fish toy ideas to start with. There are both store-bought toys and DIY betta toys on the list, so there is something for everyone!
Of all the toys I have used with my bettas over the years, a simple hand mirror has been the best-loved by far. All you have to do is get a small mirror like the one in a makeup compact and hold it up to the tank.The betta sees himself in the glass and thinks that it is another betta, so he flares up and prepares to fight. Since fighting is a betta’s favorite thing, everyone has a good time! Plus this is a great way to see your betta in full “Siamese fighting mode” with his gills and fins flared. It is beautiful to watch.
2. Ping Pong Ball
Continuing our list with things you probably already have at home, you can also play ball with your betta! Put a (clean) ping pong ball into the tank, letting it float on the surface of the water. The betta will then follow the ball around as it moves on the water, and he might even start hitting it with his nose to make it move himself.
This toy activates the betta’s natural hunting instinct, so it helps to keep his mind alert and makes him feel like he is doing something productive with his day.
3. Leaf Hammock
Another toy my bettas have really loved is the betta leaf hammock. Zoo Med makes a great one for a good price, although there are surely other options out there as well. The idea of the betta hammock is that you use a suction cup to stick the plastic leaf to the side of the tank near the top, just a bit below the surface.The betta can then either swim around it, or even lay on it like a real hammock. This seems like an odd idea to most people, but this is one of the most popular betta fish accessories out there — and for good reason. While it may not be a “toy-toy,” it is definitely something that bettas enjoy (Plus it is hilarious to see your betta lounging around!).
4. Betta Log
Bettas love swimming through logs. Logs are great places to explore and/or hide. The best thing about the logs, though, is that you can still usually see the betta when he’s inside. He feels secure but you know exactly where he is at all times.There are tons of options when it comes to betta logs. There are floating betta logs, realistic betta logs, and even ceramic betta logs that sit on the bottom of the tank above the substrate as a part of the overall decoration scheme. Which one you choose is up to you and your betta, but in my experience, all three types are very interesting to the betta and do a great job of stimulating his mind.
While your betta may not leap out of the water to jump through hoops like dolphins do, they actually do enjoy swimming through hoops. Adding different sizes and types of (clean) hoops to your betta’s tank keeps him physically active, and it keeps you physically involved.While you can possibly set up a whole obstacle course for your betta made out of officially licensed betta hoops or even household items (like plastic bracelets or similar objects), the best and simplest way to play with your betta is to just hold the loop yourself and have him swim through it, then move it to another place.This way you both get to be part of the game! Just make sure that you are keeping an eye on your betta, and that the hoops are safe and not splintery, sharp, or too small.
6. Moss Ball
A ball of moss as a toy? Really? Yes, really! This particular toy actually serves two completely distinct purposes. The first purpose is (obviously) to entertain your betta fish. Whenever bettas see something new in the tank, they just have to check it out and give it a poke. The moss mimics the plants it would see in the wild, so it feels more like an “outdoor” fish.
The second purpose of the moss ball (my top pick is the Fluval Moss Ball, but there are many brands available) is to trap the phosphate in your betta’s tank, giving him a much cleaner, healthier home to live in. These moss balls should be replaced every two months if you want to get the full effect, though.
7. Laser Pointer
I have to admit, this one is new to me, but people are raving about it on all the betta care websites and forums! Apparently bettas enjoy chasing a laser pointers just like a cat or dog would. Just make sure to get one that is safe, and to not use it for extended periods of time so you don’t tire your betta out to much, or overload him with stress. Toys should be fun, not overwhelming!
Betta Toy Tips
Always Clean Your Betta Toys Before Using
Just as you should clean every decoration, filter, or heater you put in your betta tank, you should also clean any toy you want to add. Rinse it with tap water (or even dunk it in some water treated with betta water conditioner) to make sure you aren’t adding any dirt or germs to the tank. Also check the label to be sure it isn’t made of something that could be toxic to bettas!
Make Sure the Toy is Safe
This point piggybacks on the last one, but is still very important. Never put anything in your betta’s tank that has sharp edges or could otherwise hurt your betta. Also, don’t use things that could fall apart in the water and cause splinters, dust, or other debris, as this could be hard to clean and could seriously injure your fish.
Don’t Go Overboard With Playing
As betta owners, we want to create the best life possible for our little fishy friends. This is wonderful and sweet, but unfortunately, some people go a bit overboard.Sometimes people think that their fish is bored when he is just being calm or relaxing, so they end up playing with him too much: for hours and hours or multiple times a day (or they crowd the tank with too many toys and decorations). While bettas do enjoy playing and you should definitely play with them often, they are not like dogs and cats that need near-constant stimulation to be happy. Bettas do get bored sometimes, but for the most part, they are fine to hang around on their own. Your betta will let you know when he needs more stimulation, so take a deep breath, relax, and limit your playtime so you don’t cause a bigger problem than the one you were trying to fix!
The main takeaway from this article should be that no matter how much time or money you have, there are lots of great ways to play with your betta. Whether you want to make a toy, buy a toy, or invent a toy, bettas always appreciate playtime. It creates a bond between you both that will last the betta’s lifetime, and will be one you won’t forget.