Why Are Betta Fish Sold In Cups?

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Walking into a pet store and seeing row upon row of small cups each housing a betta fish can be upsetting.

Seeing dead or sick betta fish in these little cups makes the situation even worse.

Betta fish are sold in cups because cups are convenient.

Why Are Betta Fish Sold In Cups?

The main reason why betta fish sold in cups is so common is because it is cost-effective and convenient.

For pet stores, cups are a cheap and space-saving way to display and sell betta fish.

Cups are also easy and convenient for transportation and storage, making it easier for pet stores to manage their inventory of betta fish and for customers to pick a betta fish and pay for it.

Selling betta fish in cups also helps prevent aggression and fighting among betta fish in pet store tanks.

Betta fish are known to be aggressive towards one another, so keeping them separated in individual cups can prevent fights and injuries.

Why Do People Think It Is Okay For Betta Fish To Live in Cups?

Betta fish have been touted as fish that can live in tiny bodies of water because they breathe in oxygen from the air.

What most people don’t understand is that these tiny bodies of water in the wild are part of a system of tiny streams that are constantly being fed by fresh water.

They are not stagnant pools.

Yes, betta fish can breathe in oxygen from the air but they do a lot of their breathing in the water and they occasionally surface to gulp in air.

Bettas in cups

Negative Effects of Selling Betta Fish In Cups

While selling betta fish in cups may have some benefits, the effects are more negative than positive.

One of the main concerns is that the small cup size can lead to inadequate water quality and poor living conditions.

Betta fish need a minimum of five gallons of water to thrive, but cups are often much smaller than this.

This can lead to poor water quality, which can cause health issues and even death for the fish.

Another concern is that the limited swimming space can lead to physical deformities and health issues.

Betta fish need space to swim and explore, but cups provide little room for movement.

This can lead to physical deformities such as crooked spines and bent tails, as well as other health issues.

Lack of environmental enrichment is another concern for betta fish kept in cups.

Without plants, rocks, and other environmental features to explore, betta fish can become bored and stressed.

This can lead to health issues such as fin rot and other diseases.

Finally, selling betta fish in cups can encourage the perception of betta fish as disposable pets rather than living creatures with complex needs.

Betta fish require proper care and attention to thrive, and selling them in cups can give pet owners the impression that they are low-maintenance pets that don’t require much attention.

Alternatives To Selling Betta Fish In Cups

There are a few alternatives that pet store owners can use instead of cups.

The pet stores that I frequent house their betta fish in a much better and more humane way.

The more peaceful betta fish are housed (one per tank) with some of the other peaceful fish like tetras and rasboras.

The huge advantage of this method is that you will already know that these betta fish can be housed in a community tank.

The rest of the betta fish are housed in a bank of small 1-gallon tanks.

Although these are not ideal, they are so much better than a tiny cup.

The bank of 1-gallon tanks is all plugged into a filter system so the betta fish have a constant supply of fresh cycled water.

The water is also set to the correct temperature.

You must remember that these small tanks are a temporary measure until the fish gets sold.

Then they will need at least a 5-gallon tank to stay healthy and happy.

Betta fish in tanks

What Should You Do If You See Betta Fish Sold In Cups?

As distressing as it is to see these wonderful fish suffer, you need to stay calm and ask to speak to the manager.

Education is key here.

Sometimes pet store managers have no idea what is right and what is wrong.

Speak calmly to the manager and explain that betta fish do not do well in small cups.

Let them know that it is in their best interest to house them in a better way as the fish will be healthier and there is less chance of them dying and impacting their profits.

Suggest the alternatives that I listed above.

If you see dead betta fish or that the water is disgusting and it is very clear that the water has not been changed in days, then please report the store to the relevant authorities for animal abuse.

These kinds of pet stores have a ‘no care’ attitude and will not want to listen to what you have to say or implement what you suggest.

At the end of the day, you can only try and change the situation but don’t beat yourself up if they don’t take your advice or listen to what you want to say.

Betta fish cups

Should You Buy A Betta Fish That Is In A Cup?

That is a decision only you can make.

If the betta fish looks healthy, has no rotting fins, and is quite active then it should be okay to buy it and upgrade its living conditions to a minimum 5-gallon tank.

I would suggest guaranteeing it first to make sure it does not pass on any diseases.

If the betta fish looks close to death or has a clear disease then again the decision is yours.

If you think you have the expertise to nurse it back to health then by all means go for it.

Just keep it separate from any other fish.

There have been many success stories of people buying dying betta fish and them recovering and becoming magnificent animals.

I am all for rescuing an animal and trying to save its life.

If you do buy a betta fish that is in a cup then make sure you know how to transfer it from the cup to its new tank.


How long can betta fish survive in a cup?

A betta fish in a cup at a pet store is supposed to be a very temporary situation. In my opinion, the faster the betta fish is removed from the cup the better. I don’t think they can survive more than a week or two.

Can you keep betta fish in cups?

No, you definitely cannot keep betta fish in cups. The minimum tank size for a betta fish is 5 gallons.

How old are the betta fish at Petsmart?

The fish found at Petsmart and other similar pet stores are normally over a year old. The breeder waits for them to develop color and finnage before selling them on.

Photo of author


Irma Bense is the founder of BetterFishkeeping.com. She has over 42 years of experience in keeping fish.She has kept both freshwater and saltwater fish through the years.She has extensive knowledge in breeding numerous species of fish from Show Guppies, Cory Catfish, German Blue Rams to Apistogrammas.You can learn more about Irma on the 'About' page.

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