How To Humanely Euthanize A Betta Fish

How To Humanely Euthanize A Betta Fish


Not more than a few days ago, my moral compass was assigning me the very difficult task of having to make an even more difficult decision. You see, I had a crown tail betta fish who had been my closest friend for the last six years. This little crown tail betta had been fighting several cases of dropsy over the last nine months. It would get sick, I would be able to treat and fix the condition, a few months later it would get sick again and just wash rinse and repeat this for a total of three bouts of the illness. His most recent fight against dropsy affected him so much that he quite simply had no fight left in him. I could tell that he was suffering and new that there was nothing I could do to help him recover this time. That’s where the hard decision comes in. You either let your animal friend continue suffering for days, maybe weeks when there is no hope of recovery, or you gently help them move on and give them the gift of no more pain (even though it will almost always cause you a great deal).


If you ever ever find yourself in a similar situation where it’s your turn to figure out when to euthanize your betta fish, know that for you and everyone else put in this position, this is not a decision that should be made lightly at all. You have many different things to consider, many different choices you can make before you end up having to make that final decision. This is not a very “fun” article for me to write, but seeing as I, myself, have just gone through this, this is information that every betta fish hobbyist really should know. Believe it or not, there are “kind” ways of putting your betta fish down, and there are “not so kind” ways that you might not know to avoid unless you read about it before hand.



Determining If It’s Time to Euthanize


As home betta fish enthusiasts, we don’t have the luxury of having convenient access to all of the latest scientific gizmos and gadgets to help us accurately diagnose the illness of our betta fish. Often times we do not have even the most basic of laboratory equipment such as a microscope that would help us identify if our betta fish’s suffering was brought on by a parasitic infection, or bacteria, or what have you. We do the best we can. As terrible and unprofessional as it sounds, nine times out of 10 we just “wing it” with the knowledge that we have gained through asking questions and reading informative articles. That’s the best we can do. And that’s actually not too bad of a thing either as, thankfully, there does in fact exist the information that we need to help our sick betta fish. It doesn’t really hurt our odd of helping them recover when betta fish are kind of built like tanks too…


In the case of the betta fish that I mentioned above, that betta was dealing with dropsy. Dropsy is a condition most notable for exhibiting protruding scales on the body and a swollen abdomen of the fish. In that case, right from the onset of that diagnosis I knew that the odds didn’t look good. The odds didn’t look good for many reasons, most notable of them though were taking into consideration the betta’s age. Old age and illness are never a good combo for any living thing. For that particular fish, the very last straw forcing me to make my decision to euthanize was when I noticed him lying flat at the bottom of his aquarium, desperately gasping for air. Mind you, that was his third run in with this disease in the last nine months, and he was six years old.



Is There Anything You Can Still Try?


Having a six-year-old betta fish with dropsy is a fairly extreme condition. There are so many other betta diseases that are incredibly easy to treat with inexpensive home remedies as simple as good clean warm water and off the shelf betta medicine. If you own a betta fish, ultimately it is your responsibility to identify and treat your ill betta in the appropriate manner. After you have made a rational determination of what is ailing your betta, simple treatment consists of two parts.


Initially you should be focused on finding out what caused the condition in the first place, and do what you can to correct it. After that has been done, your attention should be focused towards treating the betta fish’s ailment itself. Just as an example, there are many different types of remedies for treating illnesses and betta fish: anti-parasitic treatments, antibiotics, aquarium temperature control and even simply good clean warm water. I can’t count how many sickly betta fish I have nurtured back to perfect health by using simple ingredients like aquarium salt and clean, warm water. Everybody that takes care of a betta fish should have some “fix-all” aquarium salt on hand. The stuff is cheap, and could save your betta’s life if you have it on hand to quickly use if your betta needs it.


When treating a sick betta fish, don’t expect results immediately.Treating ailments can, and most likely will, be a lengthy process and will take patience on both your part and your betta fish’s part. It’s also important that you don’t forget that you are not alone in fighting whatever disease your betta fish has. Betta fish have immune systems just like you do and their bodies are working tirelessly to fight against disease with you. If you have a sick betta fish, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you need to put it down. The vast majority of betta fish illnesses are relatively easy to treat and almost all are curable.



Does Your Betta Still Have Its Fighting Spirit?


Admittedly, this next part is going to come down to personal opinion and judgment on your part. What you’re going to try to do is determine whether you think your fish actually has the “will to live” or not. The hardest thing to do in determining this is being honest with yourself and trying not to let your own personal emotions sway your opinion. You need to look at your betta fish objectively and always try to keep its best interests in mind. There’s no real surefire way of determining for absolute certainty whether your fish still has its fighting spirit or not. All I’m going to try to do is give you an idea of what may be a sign or indication that your fish has truly nothing left to give.


Betta fish are built like tanks in general. They have an incredible fighting spirit to go along with their amazing individual personalities. Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to see whether your betta fish is sick or not just by the behavior he exhibits. Bettas typically like fluttering around and flaring their fins and gills when you approach. Sick betta fish have a more subdued behavior and often clamp their fins while remaining fairly sedentary in the aquarium. Direly ill bettas generally offer no movement at all and are often found lying at an off-angle at the bottom of the aquarium. Sometimes you would see them gasping for air as they lie in their suffering. Very bad stuff to witness that’s hard to write about.


As with the betta that was mentioned previously in this article, one of the ways that I can tell he no longer had any fight left in him, and which also further pointed me in the direction of humane euthanasia, was that he was gasping for air lying motionless at the bottom of the aquarium. He also allowed me to simply and gently reach down and scooped him up as if he really didn’t notice I was doing that at all. Now, I’m not saying that if you can reach down and grab your betta fish, that it is a surefire method of determining whether to put down your betta fish or not. My betta’s indifference on whether I reach down and scooped him up or not was just one more indication out of many that I used in determining what it was that I should do next.


To further explain the point that you should not rely on the scooping method to determine whether or not to put your betta fish down, many times when betta fish are ill with a curable disease they will allow you to scoop them up. This particular betta fish that I was just talking about had fought the illness “dropsy” twice before, and each time would allow me to scoop him up. He recovered the other two times after treatment. Generally speaking though, when you can simply scoop up your betta fish, the outcome is not looking that great. As was said many times before, ultimately the final decision rests with your understanding of your particular betta fish and when you believe that it’s the “right” time to make the call in your betta’s best interest.


Another point to remember is that you really should take into consideration the age of your betta fish. Oftentimes it’s not very easy to know exactly how old he may be, but for the most part you can narrow the age down to a year or so, if not within the six month range. Younger betta fish will naturally have more “fight” in them than older fish do. Like any living thing, the younger generation will have younger bodies that are more capable of fighting whatever disease or illness that is affecting them. The betta fish written about in this article was six years old. Six years is a pretty good run for any betta fish. That betta fish had also been sick two other times in the last 365 days with the same illness. In my experience, older fish tend to never really fully recover after fighting off such a bad disease. These older generation betta fish are also far more prone to have it recur in a short period of time. In any case, the five and six year mark for betta fish are typically the last years for any betta fish in general. Some do make it longer than that, but it’s rare.



Ways to Humanely Euthanize a Betta Fish


As I’m sure you can imagine, there are many different methods that people employ to euthanize a betta fish. So many of them are absolutely and completely inhumane. More often than not the person who’s decided to put down there betta fish truly doesn’t know how inhumane their chosen method of aquarium fish euthanasia is. I’m not putting fault on anyone or judging any action that may have occurred in the past. But what I do want to do however, is go over the humane options a person in this terrible position of putting down their betta may have. What follows are four humane methods of betta euthanasia that are set in no particular order of their humaneness. The first three methods listed will be the easiest to perform at home without any second or third parties involved. The last method will require you to visit a local veterinary office.




Humane Betta Fish Euthanasia Methods


 – Clove Oil (Eugenol)

Clove oil has an active ingredient inside called “Eugenol” that serves as a sedative for betta fish. When clove oil is administered in very high doses, however, this sedative is considered safe to be used in betta fish euthanasia. You should know that this particular method of betta euthanasia is not officially approved by the American veterinary medical Association. It is however generally accepted and considered safe and completely humane by most experienced betta fish keepers and enthusiasts.


Clove oil can easily found and purchased at most local health food stores, supermarkets and pharmacies as well as online. Keep in mind that clove oil is, in fact, an oil and as such will not dissolve in your betta fish’s water. Also, now would be a good time to point out that if you choose to employ clove oil as the method of euthanasia for your betta fish, you should remove the betta fish from the aquarium and place him in a much smaller container filled with some of the aquarium water. The smaller container full of water will allow for much higher concentrations of the clove oil which will allow you to speed up the process and ensure that the procedure is performed correctly and as humanely as possible.


You want to fill up the smaller container with some of the betta’s existing aquarium water before you place the betta fish inside. You also want to add the clove oil before you place the betta fish inside. Once you add the clove oil to the small container of water, provided you have a lid for the container, you should shake the water/clove oil mixture aggressively in attempt to mix as thoroughly as possible the clove oil and water. If you do not have a container with a watertight lid, you may choose to use a small whisk to rapidly stir up the mixture. Honestly you can use whatever tool you find available to stir up this clove oil/water mixture; keep in mind that you want to mix it as thoroughly as possible though.


You do not need to use very much clove oil at all for this mixture to effectively work. Traditionally, 3-4 drops per cup of water is the rule of thumb. Have your betta nearby and ready to be placed quickly inside of the thoroughly mixed container of clove oil/water as soon as you’re done mixing the oil/water combination. You want to try and place your betta fish in the mixture as soon as possible, not letting the oil and water any time to separate. Oil separates from water very, very quickly so, as soon as you’re done mixing up this concoction, place your betta fish inside.


Once you have placed the betta fish in the container with the solution consisting of 3 to 4 drops of clove oil per cup of water (you really only have to use one cup of water for the whole procedure, but you may choose to use more if you prefer), the betta will quickly fall asleep through the anesthesia like effects of the clove oil. If done correctly, the entire procedure from start to finish should cause no pain to your betta fish. You should begin to see that his breathing slows down almost in an instant. You may also notice that his breathing may stop completely. If you are followed along with this guide correctly, there should be no flailing about more than a hardly noticeable flinch or two. While your betta falls under anesthesia of the clove oil he should be falling to the bottom of the container as well.


The anesthesia part of the procedure happens very quickly. As soon as you are completely sure that your betta is under, it is time to add the final (lethal) dose of clove oil. Make sure that the betta appears completely motionless and that his breathing has either all but stopped or stopped completely before you at the next and final dose of clove oil. At this time, some people prefer to stay nearby for a few minutes and wait just to make sure the betta is completely asleep. I recommend that you move along with this procedure in a timely fashion, but if you must, you may wait for a minute or two. This is an incredibly difficult time for a betta owner. I completely understand wanting to wait just a little bit longer. Understand though, that it may be in the bettas best interest if you hurry things along.


Finally, dose the container your anesthetized betta is in with 1 tablespoon of clove oil per cup of water. This is the lethal dose. In full disclosure, the lethal dose is less than 1 tablespoon of clove oil per cup of water. Considering that it is the “lethal” and final dose, and that the betta fish is already fully under the effects of anesthesia and won’t feel a thing, 1 tablespoon or more of clove oil per cup of water can be used without affecting anything but your need to replenish your stock of clove oil sooner rather than later. This final dose will kill the betta fish almost in an instant without causing pain or suffering if done correctly. You should leave the betta in the clove oil bath for at least 10 minutes to ensure euthanasia.




 – Decapitation

I have a pretty good feeling that as soon as you read the headline to this next part, actually, you probably didn’t even get far enough to read what I’m writing right now after reading that heading. Oh geez, there’s a really “in poor taste” pun in there that I didn’t mean… moving on.


Out of all the ways to euthanize a betta fish, this particular method can be the hardest both mentally and emotionally for the betta fish owner to perform. It is, however, one of the most humane ways of putting down a betta. It is also an incredibly quick and painless form of euthanasia if done perfectly. The procedure is as follows: use a very sharp knife to detach the head from the body of the betta. If you read any of the clove oil procedure above, you will see that this procedure, although grotesque, is much faster and leaves little room for error. However, the emotional scars, night terrors and subsequent trips to your therapist afterwards… I understand if this procedure is not for you.


To further clarify the procedure should you choose this particular method of putting down a betta fish, make sure that knife that you use is very, very sharp. Betta fish are not large creatures and do not require meet cleavers for this procedure to be performed correctly. Using an adequately long razor blade with a sturdy handle would work very well. What you are trying to make happen as quickly as possible is the removal of the head from the spinal cord. Locating and quickly cutting directly behind the gills of the fish will achieve quick and painless betta euthanasia.



 – Blunt Force Trauma

Last in the list of quick, effective and humane methods of putting down a dying betta fish without visiting a veterinarian is blunt force trauma. Now, this is last because the kind of “blunt force trauma” I’m referring to is not something I even know how to carefully describe in a “kid friendly” way. It may also cause the same amount of mental and emotional scarring as the active decapitation. If done correctly, using blunt force to euthanize a betta fish can be incredibly quick and painless. You just have to make sure that you perform this operation in such a way that you do not accidentally “miss”. I don’t want you to get turned off by the information in this article by what I’m about to say next, as the method of blunt force trauma is in fact a very viable way to humanely put down a betta. Basically, blunt force trauma means to do something along the lines of hitting your betta’s head with a hammer. The point in doing this is to fatally damage the central nervous system. Ethics may be called into question with the blunt force trauma method, but if don correctly this is a very humane way (betta feels no pain) to euthanize a dying betta fish.



 – MS 222 (Vet Required)

MS 222 (Tricaine Methanesulfonate) is a veterinary grade sedative and anesthetic commonly used for treating fish. Similar to clove oil, a small dosage will put your betta under through its anesthetic properties, while a large dosage will be lethal to the betta. This is a veterinary grade, FDA approved substance. Depending on where you live, this product is fairly easy to acquire by way of a simple trip to your veterinary office. You should call ahead first and tell your vet why you need it. Usually, again depending on where you live, your vet will either ask you to bring your betta at in to the office, or simply have the MS 222 waiting for you at the front desk.


If you want to go the route of using Tricaine Methanesulfonate, and gone to the trouble of visiting your veterinary office to pick some up, odds are good that your vet has told you how to use the product. If by some chance you have picked up MS 222 by some other means and do not know how much to use to properly euthanize a betta, quick instructions are as follows:


You want to prepare a bath for your betta containing the MS 222. The water/MS 222 solution should consists of 250 mg of MS 222 for every liter of water. After the solution is thoroughly mixed, you would place your betta fish inside the container containing the mixture. Your betta should appear to very quickly fall asleep and have his breathing slowed if not stopped almost immediately. To ensure effective euthanasia, you should leave the betta in the mixture for 8 to 12 minutes.



Unacceptable methods to put down a betta fish



 – Flushing

It amazes me how many people think flushing their betta fish to end their suffering is an acceptable and humane thing to do. On top of flushing a betta down the toilet being incredibly inhumane and outright cruel to the fish, it is also an illegal thing to do. Did you know that bettas can survive up to several days after being flushed down the toilet? You can imagine that the living conditions they are subject to once they’ve finished spiraling down the porcelain throne are less than ideal. Depending on the illness that the fish is suffering from, flushing your betta down the toilet could end up spreading the disease throughout your local water shed. Do not flush your betta fish down the toilet.



 – Alcohol

There are several different methods by which alcohol is used to euthanize betta fish. None of which are humane in even the slightest. The use of rubbing alcohol or vodka after administering a small dose of clove oil is the most popular. Clove oil has anesthetic properties and it is thought that fish feel no physical pain when under its effects. While using clove oil in small doses and then followed by a larger lethal dose is considered humane, using small amounts of clove oil and then rubbing alcohol or vodka (any distilled spirit) as the lethal ingredient could result in your betta feeling extreme amounts of pain at the very end. Please do not use any form of alcohol to euthanize your betta fish.



 – Freezing

One form of euthanasia that people sometimes employ when putting down there betta relies on hypothermia. It is common to hear that people will place their sick and dying betta fish into a container of ice water. Sometimes people will stick their betta fish straight into a freezer to put the betta down. The thought is that the fish will slowly succumb to the effects of hypothermia and feel no pain in the process. The active freezing your dying betta fish will not humanely put your fish to sleep. As the fish slowly freezes to death, it is thought that ice crystals begin to form in the tissue of the betta and, as a result, cause extreme pain during the process. This process results in slow death and torture.



 – Boiling

There have been cases where people will start a pot of water to boil when they notice that their betta fish is on its way out. People’s thought process must be something along the lines of “the water is so hot that the fish will die instantly”. This is not the case. Drop a lukewarm piece of raw chicken into a pot of rapidly boiling water and then quickly pull it out. You don’t even have to quickly pull it out. You can let it sit in the boiling water for 30 seconds. When you pull out the piece of raw chicken and slice it open, you will see that the chicken is not thoroughly cooked. The bettas experience in the boiling water would be similar except filled with extreme pain. Dropping your betta fish into a pot full of boiling water is not a humane or recommended method of euthanasia.



 – Alka-Seltzer

The use of Alka-Seltzer for the purpose of betta fish euthanasia is, at least in my experience, not often considered or talked about. It has on occasion been brought up though, and there are people that swear by it. In this author’s opinion I believe that the use of Alka-Seltzer tablets in water to put down a dying betta fish is questionable at best. Out of the various ways described above that you can choose to humanely euthanize a betta fish, I wouldn’t be so quick to employ this particular method. If you were to put a few Alka-Seltzer tablets in a cup of water with a dying betta fish, your betta fish will be euthanized. However, your betta fish may experience pain and suffering throughout the process. I use the words “may experience” because it is really not known if the betta fish will in fact feel pain during Alka-Seltzer provoked euthanasia. I personally would skip this method.



Good Grief


This has been one of the most difficult articles I have ever written. Before I finish up, I wanted to touch a bit on the topic of grieving. One thing that I often forget is that everybody deals with the loss of a pet in his or her own way. It’s a very individual and personal experience. Some people experience the grieving process through intense feelings as depression, guilt, denial, anger and so on. Eventually what all of these terrible feelings culminate into for some people is a sense of resolution and finally acceptance. I have found that there are other people that deal with their grief in a way that impacts them as waves or repetitive highs and lows. For those that experience their grief in that way, their intense feelings tend to subdue over time. Regardless of what kind of feelings you may experience in dealing with your own sense of grief over the loss of your betta fish, it’s common that something as simple as a site or sound can bring memories to the surface of your lost betta and trigger that sense of grief again.


In trying to help you, the reader, to better cope with the loss of your dearly loved betta fish, I would like to share with you my own personal experience of the grieving process. There are no magical words of wisdom that can make bad feelings simply disappear. But maybe in understanding from someone else’s experience, somehow maybe you will feel better sooner rather than later.


The entire process of grieving over the loss of your pet can happen only incrementally over time. There is no way I have found to hurry the process along or force it. Being that the grieving process affects everybody individually in a different way, there is no “standard” timetable involved for grieving. For some it can take many weeks or even months to start the emotional healing process and feel better. Exhausting as it may sound, for other people the entire grieving process and stretch out into years.


The most important thing to remember when dealing with whatever level of grief you are feeling is that you have to let the process unfold on its own. Be patient with yourself, never telling yourself that you are strange for not “feeling better yet”. It takes time.


During this hard time, you should be honest with yourself about how you feel and never try to ignore the pain you feel for the loss of your pet. If you do that, try to ignore your feelings and tell yourself that you are “all better” when you really are not, in the long run you will only make things worse and harder for yourself. Healing takes time and a lot of patience. Being able to actively deal with your grief by being honest with yourself and expressing your feelings will allow you to heal more fully and in less time. Try not to bottle up your feelings. Personally, I find that writing about how I feel in my journal helps me quite a bit. Some people prefer to talk about what they’re going through with their friends or family.


If you decide to go the route of talking to others about the loss of your pet and how you feel it is affecting you, sometimes you may run into a person who just doesn’t understand. There may be people who you confide in that might tell you things like “it’s just a pet!” Or “so what?”. There are people that I have run into that do not share the same bond with their pets that I do with my own. Some people feel that the loss of a pet is insignificant compared to the loss of a close friend or family member. Often times I found that people who do not share the same understanding about the relationship between pets and their owners more often than not have never had a pet of their own.


If you confide in someone about what you are going through after you have lost your pet, it is wise that you do not create an argument with them. The helpful piece of advice that I can give you out of my own personal experiences that often times the best support I have found from others comes from people that I am not closely related to. Even close friends might not be the best place for you to share your feelings of grief. That’s not to say that your close friends and family won’t support you at all, it’s just food for thought you should make sure you consider for your own personal situation. People that can often support you through your emotionally challenging times are typically others that had and shared a similar bond with their lost pets. These people can be great sources of information to help you get through your own process of grieving.



Moving On After Pet Loss


After the grieving process is finally over (and yes, it will end) you may start thinking about starting over. There are more incredibly good reasons to get a new pet (including a new betta fish) then there are not too. The timing of when to do so, and the reason for that decision, is entirely up to you. Some people like to start over as soon as possible and had to the pet store to bring home a new pet immediately after the loss of one. In general, it’s a pretty good idea to give yourself time to mourn first. Waiting until you are ready, mentally and emotionally, before bringing home a new fishy friend might allow you to develop a stronger bond with that pet in the long run. It might not also. It really depends on the person. You know you better than I know you. Just remember to listen to your feelings and your heart. You’ll know when the time is right. You will know, because you’ll start feeling… Betta.