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Betta Fish Hole In Head Disease: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

betta fish hole in head disease
Although Hole in the Head disease is not a common condition in betta fish, there have been several instances where bettas are found with pinholes in their head. If you are also noticing holes in your betta’s head and suspect that your fish might have contracted the disease, this article is for you.

The subsequent sections briefly overview a look-like condition often mistaken for hole-in-the-head disease in bettas. You’ll learn about the Hole in the Head (HITH) and Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), including their symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Hole In The Head Disease (Or Sensory Pores) In Betta Fish

The natural holes on the betta’s head can be easily misunderstood as hole-in-the-head infection, especially when they are outsized.

These pinholes are sensory receptors that run along the lateral line, helping betta fish to detect changes in the environment. Sensory pores are easily noticeable in lighter-colored bettas and ones with dragon-scale genetics.

As long as your betta is eating normally and actively swimming, there is nothing to worry about.

Moreover, if the holes in your fish appear to be symmetrical and evenly distributed, most likely, they are sensory receptors and not the hole-in-head disease.

Signs Of Hole In The Head Disease

betta fish hole in head disease
Depending on the infection severity and its current stage, your fish may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Several pinhole-sized dots over the head, behind the eyes, and/or around the nose
  • White stringy feces
  • Subdued coloration around the affected areas
  • Loss of appetite and lethargy
  • If the disease has progressed, wider lesions may appear on the head with yellow or white colored thread-like mucus discharging from the pits.

Bettas Hole In The Head: Common Causes and Contributing Factors

Hexamita and Stress

Hexamita, a parasite found in the gastrointestinal tract of a fish, is believed to be a significant cause of hole-in-the-head disease. Even though Hexamita is commonly associated with discus and cichlids, it can affect various fish species, including labyrinth fish such as bettas.

These parasites are already present in the fish’s gut but in a more subdued condition where they aren’t capable of causing any harm.

For Hexamita to attack and take hold, your fish needs to be stressed. It’s only when the fish’s immune system is weakened, these parasites get a chance to flourish.

Environmental stressors can come in many forms, but poor water quality and/or nutritional deficiency are found to be causative factors in hole-in-the-head disease cases.

NOTE: There is no scientific evidence that proves Hexamita causes HITH. The only reason it is believed that Hexamita is behind the disease is because the parasite is present in almost every case of hole in the head and lateral line erosion.

Poor Water Quality

This has to be the primary cause of hole-in-the-head disease. Water quality ranks among the top, if not the most significant, stressors in fish.

Too many toxins (usually in the form of nitrates) in the aquarium water put your fish through a physiological turmoil that can lead to the deterioration of sensitive tissues causing the pits to develop.

In many cases, simply improving water parameters is proven to be an effective cure.

Nutrient Deficiency

An inadequate diet, one which is devoid of necessary nutrients, has also emerged as a cause of fish suffering from hole-in-the-head disease.

Needless to say, nutrient deficiency cause stress and weakens the fish’s immune system, making them more susceptible to catching diseases.

Optimizing diet alone or along with water quality has shown significant effect in treating hole in the head disease.

Keep in mind, it’s not just a remedy but something that you must practice regardless – providing your betta with a balanced, varied diet and optimal water conditions.

How To Treat Hole In The Head Disease In Betta Fish?

betta fish hole in head disease
Before you resort to medication, you should identify why you betta got holes in the first place.

Taking up this approach helps fishkeepers effectively eliminate the disease and come up with preventive measures to keep the infection at bay.

Test Water Parameters

Clear water doesn’t mean clean water.

As you may know, poor water quality is one of the causes or a contributing factor to the hole in the head disease. Therefore, the first thing you should do is, test your aquarium water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Ideally, ammonia and nitrate should be at 0 ppm and nitrite closer to 20 ppm or less. If your test kit measures elevated levels, you need to perform frequent partial water changes for a week or two or until all the toxins are removed.

NOTE: If your test results come out clean, water quality can’t be held responsible for holes in the head, thus being ruled out.

Improve The Diet

Like humans, fish in captivity also has a certain nutritional requirement to stay healthy and disease-free.

Bettas are insectivores and require a diet that is relatively high in crude protein. As a staple food, you can feed them high-quality pellets or flakes specifically formulated for betta fish.

Occasionally treat your bettas with live or frozen foods like bloodworms, daphnia, or brine shrimp, as they closely mimic their natural diet and provide additional nutrients for optimal health and longevity.

Treat With Metronidazole

Metronidazole is by far the most effective medication for curing hole-in-head caused by Hexamita. It can be added to water, food or used in bath treatments.

Seachem MetroPlex is one of the best Metronidazole fish medicines available.

Within a few days of usage, you should see a significant improvement in your fish’s health, such as the lesions being healed or holes getting smaller and the white discharge reduced.

NOTE: In many cases, HITH is successfully treated by merely dosing with metronidazole. There are even more cases where the disease has been reversed using metronidazole accompanied by partial water changes.

NOTE: There is not a single cause to be pinpointed for the hole-in-the-head infection. So when you are unsure whether it’s poor nutrition, water quality, or Hexamita parasite, the best and probably the most optimal route is to treat all potential conditions.

Can Carbon In The Filter Cause Hole In The Head?

No scientific studies or evidence prove the presence of carbon as a causative factor for hole-in-the-head disease.

However, several cases have been reported where carbon is found in the filtration system when fish develop the disease.

Now, you may say, just because the carbon was present in the tank doesn’t mean it actually caused the hole in the head. And rightfully so, it doesn’t make any logical sense.

But in many cases, the disease went away when the carbon was removed. In pursuit of the truth, to see whether it is really the cause – when the carbon was brought back, so did the hole in the head disease.

We found that the occurrence of the aforementioned events can be due to carbon removing vital trace elements and micronutrients from the water.

It seems somewhat similar to how a poor diet (or a lack of vital nutrients) can stress the fish’s immune system and lead to holes in the head or head and lateral line erosion.

How To Prevent Hole In The Head Disease In Betta Fish?

betta fish hole in head disease
Bettas (and all fish) have an inherent ability to fight off and resist diseases to a certain extent. It’s only when they are stressed their immune system gets suppressed, allowing the pathogens to take hold.

So the first step to prevent the hole in the head or any other fish disease is to work on reducing the environmental stressors.

  • Maintain optimal quality water in your aquarium, which is to keep the water toxin-free. This can be achieved by adequate filtration and regular water changes.
  • Provide your bettas with the best diet you can. You can’t compromise with the nutritional requirements as it weakens their immune systems, making the tiny aquatic creatures an easy victim to hole in the head and various other diseases.
  • Bettas are hardy fish, but temperature fluctuations can stress them out.
  • Under no circumstances should aquariums be overcrowded and have incompatible tank mates.

Can Bettas Fully Recover From Hole In The Head?

HITH is not fatal and is easily treatable. However, if your betta has developed severe lesions, it may leave a scar, such as your fish may not regain its original color around the infected area.

This is why early detection and prompt intervention is the key. It keeps the disease from progressing, thus reducing the damage.

Providing attentive care, appropriate treatment, and a stress-free environment greatly enhances the betta’s chances of completely recovering from hole in the head disease.

During the recovery period, monitoring the betta’s progress is essential. If the fish shows signs of improvement, such as a reduction in lesion size or a boost in appetite and activity, it indicates a positive response to treatment.

However, if there is no improvement or the condition worsens, it is an indication that you have misdiagnosed the disease. In this case, consulting a veterinarian is suggested.

Wrapping Up

So that is it for this article. We hope the information shared here sufficiently educated you on the hole-in-the-head disease and head and lateral line erosion in betta fish.

Remember, HITH and HLLE is not prevalent in bettas. If you see small pin-sized holes around your betta’s head, it is likely to be sensory pores, especially when there are no signs of illness, such as food refusal, subdued coloration, and lethargic behavior.