People buy bettas because they’re cheap, beautiful and have a reputation as easy to care for. One reason bettas for that reputation, National Geographic explains, is that betta fish have an organ that allows them to take oxygen from the air above the surface of water. That means they can live in water with less oxygen than other fish.
However, all fish require more work than many people realize and should not be taken as pets without careful consideration, National Geographic shows based on science — and many people, including me, can tell you anecedotally. My husband and I had goldfish for years, and they required a fair bit of work, including a lot more space than those cartoonish goldfish bowls indicate and water that gets dirty quickly and therefore needs to be changed frequently. Even with our hard work and good intentions, one of our fish died from a bacterial infection that, we later learned, he probably would have survived if we’d gotten better advice. Google was not a big help, and neither were people at the pet stores we consulted. Pancho was more than 10 years old, and it broke our hearts to see him go the way he did.
As National Geographic explains, betta fish also require more time and care than many people realize — so be aware in advance of what any fish you take in will need and have resources available before you need them, so you can act quickly if your fish gets sick.
Just because some animals can live in harsh conditions for a while — for example, with small tanks and dirty water — that doesn’t mean they should. Similarly, just because people know how to breed animals to be pets doesn’t mean we should (although breeding is better than capturing fish in the wild, as most pet fish are).
Petco and other stores have shown they don’t know how to properly care for the betta fish they sell. They often stack bettas near each other in a way that stokes their anxiety, and as PETA recently documented, betta fish often suffer and die from cold temperatures, dirty water and being shipped in too-large containers that put dangerous pressure on their bodies.
If you or your child would like a betta fish, ask around at work and school. Chances are you’ll find someone with a betta sitting in a corner whom they’d like to rehome with someone who has more space and more time, so the fish can thrive rather than just sit there and look pretty.
Please consider tweeting @Petco and/or emailing email@example.com to ask the company not to carry betta fish anymore. It’s too complicated a process for a company that hasn’t handled that responsibility well.