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Do Betta Fish Need an Air Pump? Aeration in Betta Tanks

Although I thought that the filter was all I needed for my betta fish, I quickly discovered that an air pump might be required as well.

Quick Answer

Depending on a variety of factors, a betta fish may very well need an air pump and even an air stone to receive enough oxygen. This depends on how much dissolved oxygen is currently present in the water. However, betta fish also have a special organ that allows them to breathe oxygen from the air.

Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about how much dissolved oxygen a betta fish needs, what factors contribute to oxygen levels in an aquarium, and if an air pump is required.

Is an Air Pump Necessary for Bettas?

Strictly speaking, all types of fish require a certain level of dissolved oxygen to be present in the water. 

Water can hold on to a certain amount of oxygen, and fish require a bare minimum to survive. For a betta fish, somewhere between 5 and 7 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter should be more than enough.

betta fish at the surface with air bubble

If you maintain a minimum of four milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter of water, this should allow a betta fish to survive just fine.  However, technically speaking, the good news here is that a betta fish will not necessarily suffocate if there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water.

This is because a betta fish is extremely special and unique when compared to the vast majority of other fish species out there. A betta fish has a special type of organ that allows it to breathe oxygen from the air, as opposed to most other fish that just have gills to absorb oxygen from the water.

Betta Fish and The Labyrinth Organ

Betta fish have something known as a labyrinth organ. In simplest terms, this is more or less like a set of lungs, just like us human beings have. It doesn’t have quite the same structure, but it performs the same function. The vast majority of fish in the world respirate through their gills.

This means that their gills take in and absorb oxygen that is dissolved in the water. This is why it is so important for most fish to have a certain level of dissolved oxygen in the water. 

However, because that betta fish has this labyrinth organ, it’s not quite as important. The labyrinth organ of a betta fish allows it to breathe air just like us human beings.

Therefore, if you see your betta fish often swimming to the surface and gasping for air, it is likely breathing, probably because the water itself doesn’t have enough dissolved oxygen in it. This labyrinth organ is thought to have developed as a survival mechanism due to the natural environment in which betta fish live.

Betta fish often live in very harsh conditions in the wild, usually in very muddy puddles and in rice paddies that have thick water with low oxygen contents. Over centuries or even millennia, this has caused betta fish to develop this labyrinth organ, so they can breathe oxygen from the air and still survive in these harsh environments.

Do Betta Fish Need an Air Pump In Spite of the Labyrinth Organ?

What you might be thinking now is that seeing as a betta fish has this labyrinth organ that allows it to breathe oxygen right from the air,  it doesn’t need any kind of air pump. 

Many people will assume that the labyrinth organ means that there doesn’t need to be enough dissolved oxygen in the water, such as for other fish.

The reality here is that using this labyrinth organ to breathe is more of a last resort than it is a natural respiration mechanism. Only when a betta fish is not getting enough dissolved oxygen in the water will it start swimming to the surface to breathe with its labyrinth organ.

It’s far more natural for the betta fish to use its gills to breathe underwater just like other fish. Therefore, if your betta fish constantly has to swim to the surface to breathe, it is likely being stressed out.

As you probably know, if a fish is stressed out, it becomes far more susceptible to disease and death. Therefore, although the labyrinth organ serves as a good last resort in case there isn’t enough dissolved oxygen in the water, the best course of action is to maintain ideal dissolved oxygen levels within the tank.

Maintaining Ideal Dissolved Oxygen Levels in Your Betta Fish Tank

Now that we know that it’s important for your betta fish to have enough dissolved oxygen in the aquarium, let’s go over some valuable tips on how to make this happen.

Use an Aquarium Test Kit

Before we can talk about how to maintain ideal dissolved oxygen levels in the tank, it’s always a good idea for you to know what the current levels are.

Therefore, I strongly recommend purchasing an affordable aquarium test kit to see just how much dissolved oxygen is currently present in the water.

Once you know how much dissolved oxygen is present, you can go from there. It might be the case that your aquarium has more than enough dissolved oxygen, in which case you don’t need to take any action at all.

Don’t Overstock the Tank

One of the biggest contributing factors that may lead to a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water is if there are too many fish in the tank. The more fish there are present in the same space, the less dissolved oxygen there will be present.

As a rule of thumb, you should have around 2 gallons of tank space for every inch of fish present. When it comes to keeping betta fish with other fish, due to aggression and territoriality issues, even more space per fish is recommended.

Provide Good Surface Agitation

A great idea to maintain a proper dissolved oxygen level in any fish tank is to provide good surface agitation.

Surface agitation means that there is movement at the surface, or in other words, oxygen being forced down into the water. 

This can easily be accomplished through something like a cascading waterfall filter or of course with an air stone or air pump.

The Right Aquarium Shape

On that note, what the shape of your aquarium is also determines how much dissolved oxygen is in the water.

The more surface area there is, or in other words the more area of the water comes into contact with the air above, the more oxygen exchange there will be.

Therefore, if you want to avoid having an air pump or air stone, having a wide and long tank as opposed to a deep one is recommended.

Maintaining the Ideal Temperature

Something else to consider here is that colder water holds on to more dissolved oxygen than warm water.

Betta fish require the water to be a minimum of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and this is the temperature I recommend maintaining for maximum dissolved oxygen levels.

Anything warmer than that, and the water will start to lose its capability to hold on to dissolved oxygen. However, remember that betta fish are tropical, so there is only so far that you can go here.

Maintain the Tank

Debris and waste within the fish tank, if left to accumulate, can contribute to oxygen depletion. Therefore, it is best if you maintain a clean tank with a well-functioning filter.

As long as you have a good filter to remove all sorts of physical and biological waste from the water, it should be much easier to maintain higher dissolved oxygen levels.

Live Plants Help

Another great thing to do for your aquarium is to add some live plants into the mix. Live plants produce oxygen.

Therefore, the more live plants you have in your fish tank, the more dissolved oxygen will be present in the water. Besides that, betta fish like having real plants around, mimicking a natural environment.


At the end of the day, while a betta fish does not need an air pump to survive, strictly speaking, forcing it to rely on its labyrinth organ to breathe oxygen from the air above will stress fish out and may eventually kill it. Therefore, the best course of action is to maintain ideal dissolved oxygen levels in the aquarium.

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