Meet Bub: The Little Betta That Could

Over three grueling months in a tiny cup, toxins in the water causing more and more damage by the day, a little Betta, lived to fight another day. This is the story of Bub. This little guy is far from out of the woods, but he already looks much better than the day I found him lying motionless in his cup on the top shelf of a local PetSmart.

Bub in his tiny cup just minutes after we left the store.

I went into PetSmart “to look around” because my girlfriend had a job interview close by and I needed to pick her up. We all know that “looking around” almost always turns into “but honey, I just couldn’t say no”. Anyways, back to the story, I was sifting through the Bettas on the shelf and I noticed that some of them were in really bad shape. I found at least two dead and countless more on the way out but one in particular caught my eye on the top shelf. He was in a cup with a silver top and I noticed he was $30 which I found unusual for one of the big box stores like PetSmart. A crazy person like myself might drop $30 on a fish but the average person wouldn’t so I was surprised to see they carried bettas with such high price tags. There was only two of them there but the one I paid closest attention to looked very ill. At first I thought maybe he was dead but as I picked up the cup I saw him wiggle and after a few moments of watching him struggle to breathe I placed him back on the shelf.

Immediately I thought to myself that I couldn’t get him, I didn’t have the space, there was no way my girlfriend would be okay with me buying a $30 fish that might not even survive but in the back of my head there was that little voice going “Remember that extra tank you have? You have a spare heater! This could work! Come on, you’re his only hope…”

I then decided to walk over, rather nervously, to the fish lady who I thought would be the most understanding and tried my very best not to sound like an ass. “Honestly, I’m not trying to be ‘that guy’,” I began “but I was looking at the bettas and I see that quite a few are sick and some have even passed away. Recently I’ve seen people online posting that they’ve adopted sick fish from stores and are trying to save them. Is there anyway you could do something similar?”

“I’m not sure, I’d have to ask my manager, but let me take a look,” she replied.

Apparently “premium” means $30!!!!!

I walked over towards the shelf full of Bettas and showed her the ones that had passed away and then I showed her which ones I could tell were sick. Some had various stages of fin rot, others had ich and she took those out back and told me they would be treated. I then asked her if I could adopt the one on the top shelf who looked very, very weak. There was no way he would survive much longer in the shop, even if they took him out back to be treated. Just by looking at the poor guy I could tell he was malnourished, had inflamed gills and fin rot. He laid on his side in a pile of uneaten food and poop. She told me that she would try but not to get my hopes up because he was one of the expensive fish. In my sarcastic manner I replied, “I know but honestly nobody is going to pay $30 for a betta who looks like that so in reality there’s no way the store makes any money anyway.”

The date that Bub was placed on the shelf

She agreed with me and came back a few moments later and said the manager said that I would be able to adopt a betta who looked really, really sick and had been there for at least three months. How do you know how long they’ve been there? Well, at this Petsmart anyway, they write dates on the bottom of the cups. To my amazement, the black/white and blue guy I had been looking had been there since December 30th, 2015! To put that into perspective, I adopted him on March 13th, 2016. If we want to be dramatic, he had been in that cup since last year! I have no idea how he survived that long in those conditions but I’m glad he did. I didn’t place him back on that shelf, off to the car we went.

I placed him in the trunk of my car which is taken up almost entirely by a Styrofoam box that I always keep on hand if I need to bring fish home. Since he was in a cup, I used some boxed oil filters and microfiber detailing towels to wedge him into a corner of the box so he wouldn’t slide around on the ride home.

I picked up my girlfriend, explained the story to her and after I got the obligatory “Where are you going to put him? You already have too many fish tanks!” speech all was once again, good in paradise.

I got home and placed him on my “betta bookshelf” in his little cup which is an old bookshelf that now houses some of my betta tanks. I cleaned up the 1.5G Tetra cube that I had laying around with extremely hot water and hydrogen peroxide and then stole a plant from my Figure Eight Puffer and a rock and put them in the cube along with the black sand that was previously in it. I grabbed a spare heater that I had laying around, a nano bag of Chemi-Pure Blue and some filter floss to put in the Tetra Whisper filter that came with the tank. I knew the tank wasn’t going to be cycled so I dosed the tank with Seachem Prime to detoxify any toxins that would build up and placed my little guy in the tank with the lights off, of course.

While I know a 1.5G isn’t ideal for a betta, it was worlds better than his death-cup and I have the experience required to care for him in the cube until I upgrade his tank sometime in the future.

Bub’s first night in his new home

At first he sank straight to the bottom and did a nose-stand for awhile, as hard as it was, I left him alone and eventually within a few hours he was in the corner of the tank laying at the bottom. Bub was still breathing very heavily but I was glad he wasn’t doing a face-plant any longer. At this point I was able to begin to assess what I was going up against.

I could tell his gills were very inflamed, probably from ammonia poisoning as the water in his cup tested at about 4ppm ammonia. His fins were shredded and clamped up against him and he looked malnourished. I was also worried that he seemed unable to swim, the few times I saw him moving he was clearly struggling and had little control over where he was going. Despite all of this, I decided to drop a small flake and some pellets in the water to see if I could get him to eat because I wanted to strengthen him before I dosed the tank with anything. I made the call that if he hadn’t already died in that cup full of poison the best course of action was to give him warm, clean water and time to adjust before I start throwing chemicals at him. Unfortunately, he didn’t even so much as move his head when I dropped the food right in front of him. I went to slept and the next morning I jumped out of bed and to my relief, he was still alive.

In basically the same condition as his first day with me I sat next to his tank and pondered what I should do, despite the fact that I really wanted to medicate the tank I told myself I wouldn’t do that until I strengthened him back up. I tried once more to feed him with pellets but again he didn’t budge. Underneath my desk there’s a small red bucket that caught my eye. I hadn’t thought about using it for Bub but it’s filled with live brine shrimp which I mainly feed to my Dwarf Puffer who’s extremely picky. I decided that I would drop a few brine shrimp in the Betta’s tank to see if that would peek his interest. Sure enough, it did! Brine shrimp are far from the most nutritious meal, I do gut-load them prior to feeding with vitamin C, B12 and fatty acids so they provide some nutritional value. I was a little worried the shrimp would be too fast for him because of how weak he was but I decided that it was worth a chance.


Excuse the horrible video quality. P.S: Sound makes the video better 🙂

As you can see, he did struggle to swim but I was ecstatic that he ate. Later that day I came home to find him sort of floating near the surface so I decided to try to get him to eat one New Life Spectrum Betta Formula pellet because they’re much more nutritious than brine shrimp. At first he didn’t seem interested but within about 30 seconds to my amazement, he ate the pellet. He struggled to chew it because he was so weak but didn’t spit it out and I was once again, pleased with his progress. After realizing he had nothing to rest on near the surface, I took the Betta leaf from one of my other Bettas who is a brat and never uses it anyway and gave it to Bub. I haven’t seen him use it yet, but I feel better knowing he has a place near the surface to rest.

While he still has a long road to recovery ahead, Bub seems to be doing okay. His breathing his still labored but the redness of his gills has decreased ever so slightly and he still struggles to swim but at least now he is moving from time to time. Now, heading into his second night with me Bub continues to fight!

What Bub looks like heading into night #2

I will continue to monitor his progress and keep you guys posted with blog posts similar to this one. Be sure to like us on Facebook so you don’t miss anything!