Betta Boy

Some may flippantly flush fish down the commode at the first sign of trouble, but I think they are missing something.

Betta boy lives in a heated, 2.5 gallon planted aquarium with driftwood and snails. Six months ago, the Betta splendens in my bathroom developed swim bladder disease for unknown reasons. That meant that this fish- who must come to the surface periodically for oxygen- would have to struggle to the surface every time.

I struggled myself. Euthanasia? Was his life worth living? I decided that it was not my call. So every day, I cupped my hand under him and helped him to the surface to eat. Sometimes I did this twice daily. He rebounded, swimming to the surface on his own and regaining weight. I lowered the water level enough that he could perch on the drifwood to breathe and to eat. Twice I thought I was going to lose him; he stopped wanting his pellets and dried bloodworms. I enticed him with brine shrimp fed from a dropper, and he started eating again. Not just eating, but swimming and fluttering around.

Lately he’d been slipping again. I briefly thought of euthanasia again. I simply couldn’t do it, as long as he was still eating, undiseased, and seemed comfortable. I added brine shrimp daily in addition to his other foods. He nibbled, but didn’t really eat.

He wasn’t perched on his driftwood this morning. As I sat brushing my teeth and waiting for him to swim up from the plants, I worried that he was gone. I worry this every morning that he doesn’t immediately swim to greet me. But this time I was right.

Did I make the right decision, to let him die naturally when I could have ended it the minute he became disabled? I don’t know. Animals feel (and deal with) pain so differently from humans. Warm-blooded companion animals live with horrendous cancers with no whining. My own dog’s knee was hopelessly torn, but other than her limp, her personality did not change. Cold-blooded pets live with even worse diseases; I’ve seen fish covered in fungus but still alive. Does that mean that their quality of life is acceptable? At what point is it no longer good for them, and we are only easing our own pain by postponing their death? We’ll never know.

I do know that my Betta boy lived a relatively long and mostly happy life, almost five years old this summer. I’ll miss him.

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