Doing Better for Bettas: College's Favorite Pet Needs More TLC

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, March 24th, 2016 at 7:34 AM
Doing Better for Bettas: College's Favorite Pet Needs More TLC by Melanie Overturf

When we come to college, a lot of us leave our pets behind, due to the university’s no pet policy. I understand wanting to have a pet in your dorm, but campus makes it very clear the only pets we’re allowed to keep in our room are fish.

I love fish. My boyfriend and I recently rescued a gorgeous male crowntail betta from Wal-Mart. We’ve named him Ziggy, after the late David Bowie. When we got Ziggy, we brought him home in a (much too) small container. The water was murky, and we weren’t sure whether or not Ziggy was going to survive. He had been one of the healthier looking fish in those little death traps. Some of the others had fin rot or fin melt, while others still sat on the bottom of their containers, unable to move due to swim bladder.

We brought Ziggy home, and set him up in a five gallon tank, and let me tell you, I have never seen such a happy little fish. He was so feisty, too. Tried to fight everything. We spent a ton of money on Ziggy that first week. Upwards of $300. I know, that’s a crazy amount of money to spend on a fish. But consider that we needed a large tank, a heater, decorations, medicine in case he got sick, water conditioner, food. We were going to be getting a pet, and we were going to take good care of him.

Most pet stores advertise bettas as being very low maintenance and cheap. Right next to the tiny containers holding large fish, you’ll find one gallon bowls and travel containers for fish. These are the containers employees will try to sell you to hold your new betta. In reality, these small containers are no good for your fish.

Bettas are a common fish on campus, due to their flashy figures. Bettas do best in 2.5 gallons of water or more, which means you could get a comfortable three to four gallon tank and still be within the campus guidelines of no tanks five gallons or over. Sure, your fish can survive in a gallon of water, but surviving is not thriving. We’ve all seen the gallon fish bowls. To be completely honest with you, the only thing I use gallon fish bowls for is drinking alcohol. The reason these bowls are so problematic for housing bettas is this: bettas are tropical fish. Their water needs to be between 75-80 degrees to help prevent illness. These small bowls have no room for a heater, no flat walls to attach it to. The most I would recommend these bowls for is maybe storing your fishy friend during water changes.

On the subject of water changes, did you know betta fish (and some other fish, too) require at least a 25 percent water change once a week, with a higher frequency and sometimes up to 100 percent depending on whether or not the fish is sick? Fish can get sick, too, with a myriad of illness that come from a wide range of causes. The swim bladder I mentioned earlier is the result of eating too much. However, this isn’t anything your run-of-themill pet store employee is going to tell you. In fact, if I hadn’t spent three days obsessively researching betta care, I wouldn’t even know. Did you know putting a fish into direct tap water can kill them? Did you know you’re supposed to check the water parameters once a week (pH, alkaline levels, water hardness, etc.)?

“But Melanie, it’s just a fish,” I can hear you saying. The thing is, it isn’t just a fish. It is a living thing that has to rely on you to take care of it. You become this creature’s sole source of survival. They need you, to keep them safe, clean, fed, and healthy, just as any furry pet would. So why would you feel you had to do less for it?

You wouldn’t keep a cat locked in a single room just because it could survive there, so why would you keep a fish in less-thanprime living conditions? It is cruelty, but I would not go so far as to say that it is cruelty for the sake of cruelty. I think this has more to do with lack of education when it comes to fish. We’re under the impression that fish are cheap and easy to take care of, and so we don’t go out of our way to do any research to make sure we’re taking care of them correctly; we simply go by what other people tell us.

If you insist on owning a fish and if you can afford to take care of it the way it deserves, go for it. If you’re unsure about whether or not you can take care of any pet at all, please, do your research first. Remember, you’re going to be responsible for another living thing.

Melanie Overturf is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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